Cost effective ways to upgrade your digital storage


 Upgrade your firmware


Probably the most straight forward upgrade but always should be a consideration, namely, Upgrade your firmware. It may seems obvious but is often overlooked and a simple update of the software on your storage device or even in some cases the drives themselves. Like any system upgrade it has its own advantages and disadvantages and should be weighed up carefully before hand, as some updates are irreversible.

  • Software from some manufacturers updates regularly and alongside performance tweaks, fixes and patches will also provide updated utilities and apps for the device to perform many tasks more efficiently
  • Some Hard Drive firmware actually improves the performance of Drive operations (WD Red NASware 3.0 is a prime example)


  • Hard Drive Firmware is mostly done at factory level and can be difficult or impossible to implement locally
  • Always be sure to check patch/update notes for any firmware update prior to installation in case they are incompatible with your existing setup outside the enclosure – requiring difficult and occasionally impossible downgrading.
  • Some enclosures will require the Hard Drives inside to be formatted alongside with the new firmware for system stability


 Change your RAID level


The next free method of upgrading your storage set up is to alter your RAID level. Now this is something for the more technically minded and may very well not apply to you as this is only really an option for those with 2 or more Hard Drives or SSDs in their storage environment. However if you are able to alter your RAID setup, than this can be a cost effective way of improving performance or capacity levels. Recommended RAID levels are below:



JBOD – all drives are lose and singular – no combination and joining


RAID 0 - Creates a giant drive combining all available capacity as well as improving Read and Write Speeds. However there is no redundancy


RAID 1 – Constantly creates a clone of the contents of one disc onto the other and increases Read and Write Speeds as well as providing total Redundancy. However it halves your capacity


RAID 5 – Needs at least 3 Disks, you effectively lose 1 disk of capacity, which acts as redundancy. Read speeds are faster however write speed is decreased due to background calculations


RAID 6 – Needs at least 4 Disks, you effectively lose 2 disks of capacity, which acts as redundancy. Like RAID 5, Read speeds are faster however write speed is decreased due to background calculations


RAID 10 (aka RAID 1+0) - Needs at least 4 Disks, pairs the discs up and mirrors between them (like RAID 1) and provides much faster rebuilds in the event of drive failure. However you lose a total of Half the available capacity to keep a sufficient clone of the data (eg 4x 4TB drives would result in 8TB of available storage) so it is an expensive choice.



  • It can free up storage that till that point was occupied by redundancy (eg, switching from RAID 1/MIRROR to a RAID 5)

  • It can speed up your Read and Write operations

  • Costs nothing to change and most enclosures support multiple RAID levels



  • You need to duplicate your data outside your existing Digital Storage setup whilst the Hard Drives are re-configured

  • Limited by Drive #s – eg, you cannot RAID 5 with just 2 HDDs

  • Some RAID levels can decrease your overall available Capacity, Read/Write speed or Redundancy, so choose carefully



 In the case of NAS, SAN or DAS -  Upgrade your RAM


Many of the most popular Network Attached Storage (NAS), Storage Area Network (SAN) and Direct Attached Storage (DAS) devices over the last few years have been fitted with numerous ways to expand or upgrade them internally. One of the easiest and most cost effective of which is to upgrade the memory of your device. NAS manufacturers especially have really been pushing for Upgrades of their DDR3 memory internally and the difference in performance is instantly noticeable, and not just in simple terms of Read and Write. In many aspects, an increase in available memory improves performance of all operations of your device. 


  • Cost effective way to increase process speeds as well as read and write operations

  • Dependant on your model, some memory can be expanded to 16GB

  • Fastest way to upgrade your enclosure and with the most instantaneous result



  • Limited by manufacturer – some units do not give you the ability to upgrade and actually prevent removal of the original RAM stick

  • Some manufacturers insist on their own branded sticks of RAM to be used, declaring alternatives from the likes of corsair and Kingston as incompatible

  • Though you will see performance differences immediately, you will not see the operational increases that you would see from upgrading to a new device with a higher frequency CPU


 Utilise USB and eSATA to expand  your Storage Options


Almost all Digital storage devices include additional external connections. Be they Universal Serial Bus connections such as USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 , or even the more specialist eSATA, Firewire and Thunderbolt you can always make improvements in your Digital Storage environment with a well chosen external drive. This gives you the ability to create a periodic backup or even utilise it as additional storage when required. This also means it will not affect any pre-built RAID setups or require hasty file deletions unnecessarily.


  • No additional Power required with USB Expansions

  • Cost effective and also means you have a  portable backup in hand

  • Almost any USB/Esata drive will work so you can add Terabytes of data at a low, low price



  • You are limited with regard to the operations that can be conducted remotely with the drive – aside from Direct Actioned Reading and Writing of files, the drive cannot be used operationally

  • Some enclosures will only let you use the additional USB and eSATA slots as a form of image backup (such as Apple Time Machine), so be sure to check with your manufacturer before proceeding



 Upgrade your Hard Drives to Larger Capacities


Probably the most direct and recommended fast upgrade of your Digital Storage setup is to replace the Hard Disks with a newer drives. This is not always just for storage capacity increases. Many times it can be easier to upgrade to drives that (though the same or lower in capacity) with give you increased performance, lower power consumption or larger cache to speed repetitive processes up.


  • Prices for capacities are always going down as newer and newer drives are released. So you will most likely be able to buy even the capacity of the drives you previously had at half the cost

  • Replacing the old drives will give you the option of selling them  to recoup lost budget or to install in a lower sec enclosure and use as a backup

  • Rather than invest in higher capacity drives, you can invest in faster or drives that are tailored to your storage environment (eg NAS or Data Center). Again, prices will have gone down since you bought your original drives



  • You will need an additional temporary storage option to clone/copy your data to whilst installing the new drives.

  • You will need to rebuild your RAID which can take (with larger capacities and multiple drives) 12-24hours depending on hardware

  • Some technical Hardware Knowledge maybe required in the purchasing, installation and integration of the drives



 Upgrade your Hard Drives to Solid State Drives, or Hybrid Drives


Probably the most expensive upgrade we will discuss today, replacing your HDDs with newer, faster, more reliable SSDs is probably the best upgrade in terms of performance that you can go for. However, it is always noticeably higher in terms of cost and only worth considering if you need live, on-the-fly, file editing from your Digital Storage. Almost any NAS, DAS or SAN device that is compatible with SATA Hard Drives will be able to use SSDs. Alternatively there is a growing market for Hybrid Drive Technology. Namely, a Traditional Hard Disk with a portion of solid State memory attached to the drive. This provides the user with the high capacities available from HDD but also a small 8-20GB of SSD on board for your Operating system or priority files.


  • Unquestionably faster, both in terms or Read and write, as well as in general preparations

  • Longer warranties are available on a lot of SSDs (eg Samsung Red Pro Drive arrive with a 10 Year warranty, compared to the  traditional 2-5yers on most HDDs)

  • Lower temperatures, energy consumption and noise whilst in use



  • Unarguable more expensive gigabyte for gigabyte compared to traditional Hard Drives. Worth comparing costs again replacing your enclosure instead

  • Some SSDs have RAID issues and the manufacturer will tell you if there are issues of creating an array with multiple units

  • Some older Enclosures are not SSD compatible – though all are SATA or mSATA, the enclosure may not interface correctly with them and may  limit the speed significantly or not register them at all



 Add to your Existing Digital Storage with an Expansion Box


More and more companies are finding themselves in need of additional storage and with the technical and physical limitations of Hard Disks capacities it is becoming increasingly profitable to invest in an expansion device. The majority of NAS, SAN and DAS manufacturers are now releasing series-specific Expansion units. These give you the ability to add countless Terabytes of storage to your existing Storage System and now have to remove, delete, re-RAID or ultimate change your current setup. The majority of Expansion units do not come with Drives included but can be added quite easily, as well as the added bonus of (if the need suits you) being able to spread a RAID across your original Storage device AND the expansion.


  • Normally half or less of the price a full enclosure

  • Raid levels can be spread across the Original enclosure and the expansion, bolstering redundancy as well as read and write.

  • Also the ability to split the raid levels apart, maintaining Capacity

  • Many expansions feature their own CPU and RAM so they will not drain on the original enclosures system resources



  • You will need to purchase additional drives to go inside the expansion enclosure – can work more expensive than just upgrading the original hard drives

  • Some enclosures cannot be expanded or older boxes are not compatible with newer expansions, check with your manufacturer before you proceed

  • Additional power consumption, as well as noise from fans is a possibility



 Upgrade your enclosure but keep your Hard Drives


Perhaps you are happy with your level of storage but just want your output to be a little quicker, or more task orientated. If that is the case then perhaps the cost effective upgrade for you is replacing the enclosure but re-using the drives. This is becoming surprisingly popular with more modern installations as the drives have 5 and even 10 year warranties in some cases and the enclosure may have just 2 or 3 years coverage. So it can be both in terms of performance as well as hardware insurance that you may change your Storage enclosure. Whilst not the most expensive means to upgrade your Digital Storage, it still can be quite costly. However that cost can often be recouped by re-purposing or selling your old enclosure.


  • The newer box will be compatible with your older drives (unless its IDE)

  • You can fill your older enclosure will a compliment of older, smaller drives and use as an efficient backup

  • Replacing the Enclosure often works out more cost efficient than replacing drives




  • Your Drives (from the previous enclosure) will normally have a shorter warranty than the Enclosure, so you leave yourself open to not being covered in the event of drive failure

  • Once again, You will need an additional temporary storage option to clone/copy your data to whilst installing the old drives in the new enclosure.


Still wondering which NAS from Synology, QNAP, WD, Thecus or more to buy? Check out our Top 10 NAS of the year



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