Best SBCs for NAS Use

A home server is one of the best upgrades you can make. Whether that's for media server functionality using the likes of Plex, Emby, Jellyfin, Madsonic, or similar software, a file server, or something else entirely, it's a solid means of allowing for cloud-accessible content. You can purchase many off-the-shelf network-attached storage (NAS) devices from the likes of QNAP. But you can always make your own. And single-board computers (SBCs) provide a fertile NAS landscape. Learn about the best SBCs for NAS use!

What is a NAS?

A network-attached storage device, or NAS, is basically a harddrive (or multiple harddrives) connected to the internet. Then, those files may be accessed from other machines on your home network, outside your home, or both. It's a personal cloud. Whereas Google Drive or DropBox allow you to upload your files to the cloud for access across virtually any device, a NAS lets you store files locally, and serve them to compatible PCs, mobile devices, and more. 

Why Use a Single-board Computer as a NAS?

Having a cloud storage provider like Google Drive or DropBox is an excellent choice. Off-site backups are essential. In the event of a catastrophe such as a fire, flood, or even just accidentally mistaking your Western Digital 14TB MyBook for a microwavable dinner, your data is protected. However, a home server is a spectacular choice. You'll have complete control over your files and the underlying hardware infrastructure. Unlike a subscription to a remote cloud provider, you'll have the upfront costs of the hardware, but no long-term fees. 

Whereas pre-built NAS devices such as offerings from TerraMaster, Synology, and QNAP retail for often $200 or more USD sans harddrives, the price of a single-board computer NAS is much lower. You can snag many SBCs for around $35, and for a simple set up, just install some software and hook up an external hard-drive. Several maker boards even feature NAS-specific cases with harddrive bays and RAID controllers.

SBC NAS pros:

  • More affordable than off-the-shelf pre-built NAS devices
  • Lots of options
  • NAS-specific case options available
  • Tons of apps and OSes for spinning up a server

SBC server cons:

  • More complex to set up

Single-board Computer Server Considerations

When selecting a maker board for home server funcitonality, you'll want to consider a few things. First up, price is a factor. The Raspberry Pi slides in at well under $50, but high-end SBCs can clock in at a few hundred dollars. If you're ok simply connecting an external harddrive to your device, any board should do just fine. But if, like me, you're fond of self-contained units, you'll want to see the availability of NAS cases, either from vendors of 3D printable. Your use case will determine the specs you need. A media server for streaming video will require more CPU power, whereas a simple file or music server can get by on more modest processing power. Finally, think about what operating system and apps you want to run. 

Single-board computer home server considerations:

  • SBC price
  • Operating systems and apps
  • Case availability - specifically NAS cases with room for harddrives
  • Processing power

Best SBCs for NAS Use

From the Raspberry Pi to the UDOO Bolt and everything in between, these are the best SBCs you can transform NAS devices for home server purposes.

1. Raspberry Pi - Best SBC for NAS Use Overall

best sbc for nas - raspberry pi 4

There's a reason that the Raspberry Pi is the top home server SBC you can buy. And, moreover, the best single-board computer on the planet. Although the Raspberry Pi might not be the most powerful development board, it benefits from an overwhelmingly massive community with loads of official and third-party resources. Whether it's the Raspberry Pi website and forums, subreddits, books, or one of its related communities, there's a bevy of support. 

There are plenty of Raspberry Pi releases to pick from. For a basic file or even music server, a Raspberry Pi 3 B+ or A+ should suffice, and you could maybe even get by with a Raspberry Pi Zero/Zero W. However, the Raspberry Pi 4 affords the best specs for home server use. Despite the plenty of SBCs more powerful than the Pi, its software is extremely optimized to run on the underlying hardware. You can find NAS-intended operating systems (OSes) such as OpenMediaVault, or install server apps like Plex, Emby, and NextCloud. 

  • Tons of OSes and apps (OpenMediaVault, Plex, Emby, Madsonic, Jellyfin, etc.)
  • Affordable
  • Lots of options: Raspberry Pi 4, 3/3 B+/A+, 0/0 W
  • Large user base
  • Tons of resources

Buy the Raspberry Pi 4

2. Pine64 RockPro64 - A Great Single-Board Computer Home Server Option

best sbc for nas - rockpro64 single-board compiter server case

The Pine64 RockPro64 is one of my favorite dev boards, and a true Raspberry Pi competitor. A slew of server software options for the RockPro64 make it a beefy little SBC NAS consideration. Its Rockchip RK3399 hexa-core CPU and up to 4GB of RAM alongside a USB 3.0 port give it additional horsepower, great for a media server. Plus, there's even a NAS case for the RockPro64 allowing you to add two 2.5" or 3.5" SATA drives for a self-contained server unit. It's a bit more expensive than a Raspberry Pi for instance, but not by much. And you'll still save quite a bit when compared with a pre-built NAS. Install your favorite Linux distro and install server applications, or use OpenMediaVault which runs like a champ. 

  • Tons of server OSes and apps (OpenMediaVault, Plex, Emby, Madsonic, etc.)
  • Affordable
  • Excellent specs
  • NAS case available

Buy the RockPro64 - Save $1 off purchase of $10 or more with code EMSUPPORTER at check out

Buy the RockPro64 NAS case - Save $1 off purchase of $10 or more with code EMSUPPORTER at check out

3. Odroid XU4 - A SBC NAS with Octa-core Processing Power

best sbc for nas - odroid xu4

HardKernel's Odroid XU4 is a shockingly capable maker board. Its octa-core processing and Mali-T628 MP6 GPU paired with 2GB of LPDDR3 RAM even makes if more powerful than many NAS devices that come ready to use out-of-the-box. For an Odroid XU4 home server, you can install specific server OSes such as OMV, or download server apps like Plex, Emby, and OwnCloud on top of an existing Linux OS. With the CloudShell2 NAS kit, you can transform your Odroid XU4 into a full-blown NAS. Sporting superb specs, tons of accessories including the CloudShell2 kit, and a smattering of server apps and operating systems, the Odroid XU4 is a neat little SBC for home server use. 

  • Octa-core processor
  • Tons of server OSes and apps (Plex, Emby, OpenMediaVault, OwnCloud, etc.)
  • Affordable
  • Excellent specs
  • NAS case available

Buy the Odroid XU4 - Save $1 off purchase of $10 or more with code EMSUPPORTER at check out

Buy the Odroid XU4 - Save $1 off purchase of $10 or more with code EMSUPPORTER at check out

4. Helios4 - A NAS-specific SBC

best sbc for nas - helios4

Although many single-board computers may be used as home servers, the Helios4 is engineered from the ground up as a server. And the specs show it. There's Gigabit Ethernet, SATA 3.0 ports onboard, HDD power connectors, a microSD card slot, and fan headers. The Helios4 SBC NAS kit even includes a case with fans, four SATA bays, and 2GB of DDR3. It's a superb set up that yields the ease of use of a pre-built server, with the flexibility and control of a do-it-yourself configuration. 

  • Excellent specs
  • Engineered for NAS use
  • Standalone SBC or NAS kit available

Buy the Helios4

5. Odroid H2

best single-board computer nas - odroid h2

With its x86 64-bit Intel quad-core J4105 CPU, dual-channel DDR4 RAM, four PCIe 2.0 slots, and Intel UHD Graphics 600, the Odroid-H2 is in a league of its own. This SBC packs an impressive wallop, even rivaling the performance of many Intel NUCs. While the H2 is a bit pricier than the average maker board such as a Raspberry Pi, it's still pretty affordable, particularly for the specs. What's more, HardKernel offers the Type 1, 2, and 4 cases which allow for the addition of harddrives. The Type 1 and 4 even let you slot in 3.5" and 2.5" drives. Plus, the Intel x86 64-bit processor means you can even run many traditional desktop distros, not just ARM variants. 

  • Competitively priced
  • NAS case available
  • Excellent specs
  • Tons of server apps and OSes

Buy the Odroid H2 - Save $1 off purchase of $10 or more with code EMSUPPORTER at check out

Buy the Odroid H2 KKSB NAS case - Save $1 off purchase of $10 or more with code EMSUPPORTER at check out

Buy the Odroid H2 Type 4 case - Save $1 off purchase of $10 or more with code EMSUPPORTER at check out

6. UDOO Bolt

The UDOO Bolt is hands-down the best SBC you can buy. However, its price is often a deterrent. Using a UDOO Bolt for a home server affords the ability to transcode just about any video you can think of, even handling multiple concurrent video streams and remote, out of home streaming. It can play many AAA games, and even emulate GameCube or PlayStation 2 titles. Yet, its price is pretty high. When you consider the hardware you're getting, it's a true laptop or desktop replacement. Its Ryzen embedded chip is a beast. If you're seeking a server, home theatre PC (HTPC), gaming console combo, the UDOO Bolt could be a great option. Especially considering that it can run virtually any desktop distro you throw at, both Linux and Windows. 

  • Runs desktop OSes
  • Excellent specs
  • Tons of server apps and OSes
  • Desktop-replacement caliber performance
  • Pricey compared to most SBCs, but with the performance gains to justify it

Buy the UDOO Bolt V8

Buy the UDOO Bolt V3

The Best Single-Board Computers for NAS Use - Final Thoughts

There are loads of single-board computers you can buy. What you'll want for running Android or retro gaming though differs from NAS use. I've had spectacular experiences spinning up Raspberry Pi home servers, and the RockPro64 with OpenMediaVault installed was an easy network-attached storage unit. The Odroid XU4 is a top contender with a NAS case available, as is the Odroid H2 with Intel NUC-worthy specs. For true power users, the UDOO Bolt is a nifty choice. 

What SBCs are you using as NAS devices?

Leave your feedback...