Network-attached storage, or NAS, is one of the dullest—but most underrated—upgrades we can think of. If you’ve got a couple Macs on a network, a single drive can hold documents and stream media without having to leave one Mac on all the time.
Perhaps the greatest part about the new AirPort Express is simply that Apple brought back the AirPort Express—the previous edition had all but disappeared from store shelves, and Internet message boards buzzed with worry that Apple was discontinuing it altogether. Luckily, those fears were unfounded: The new AirPort Express does everything the old model can, and it features the fastest Wi-Fi standard (802.11n) and ProxySTA, which acts as a bridge between wireless and Ethernet networks without requiring you to set up a Wireless Distribution System (WDS).
This powerful system comes without a drive, but installing your own is a piece of cake. Of all the NAS devices we tested, the Synology DS107+ promised the most extensive feature list, and the device consistently impressed us with its Swiss-Army-like capabilities on our network. The enclosure ships without a hard drive, so your first task is to install one. The instructions for doing so are simple and easy to follow, and we were plugging the device into our wireless router within minutes. (Disclosure: Synology was kind enough to install a drive in our test model, so we removed it and installed a second drive to duplicate the standard user experience.)
iBackup’s list of default sources includes all the files that most home users will want to save. iBackup’s Spartan interface may give the impression of a featherweight, but looks in this case are deceiving. Although it eschews the slew of options offered by ChronoSync, the application retains just enough power to best Apple’s Backup 3 at running regular network backups. iBackup saves and organizes backup plans as profiles, each of which has its own set of options within the Preferences menu. For network backups, the application can automatically connect to network volumes by IP address, and can automatically disconnect when the backup is finished. Backup profiles can be scheduled to repeat daily or weekly.
Déjà Vu lists all saved backup plans in its pane inside System Preferences. Déjà Vu stands out as the most effortless and invisible application that we tested, offering an intuitive interface that collects all of the features most essential for network backups.