Generally, for network storage needs, I would recommend getting a dedicated NAS server, such as the Synology DiskStation DS1511+. However, if your needs are limited to casual usage, such as sharing documents and streaming music and photos, then a router with built-in network storage capability -- one that comes with internal storage or can host an external storage device and shares that with the rest of the network -- fits the bill better.
While much inferior to a NAS server in terms of features and especially performance, some routers actually have more to offer, in terms of storage, than one might expect and may just be what you need. In any case, getting a router of this type plus an external hard drive is a lot cheaper than a dedicated NAS server.
Following is a list of five top routers with built-in support for network storage that I've reviewed in recent years.
WD My Net N900 Central
The WD My Net N900 Central is a derivative of the WD My Net N900 HD, with up to 2TB of built-in storage space. This is the only router that made this list that comes with internal storage, and is basically a superior alternative to Apple's Time Capsule.
The My Net Central can do all that the Time Capsule can (it supports Time Machine natively) and a lot more, including streaming digital content not just to local devices but also over the Internet via a browser or mobile apps. In addition to the internal hard drive (available in 1TB and 2TB capacities), the router can host more storage via a USB port. Most importantly, the router's storage performance was very good in my testing. On top of that, the device is also an exciting N900 router. Read the full review of the WD My Net N900 Central.
Linksys Smart Wi-Fi Router EA4500
The Linksys EA4500 N900 router represents a new breed of Wi-Fi routers belonging to Cisco's latest EA series, thanks to its advanced (and controversial) Cisco Connect Cloud concept. The router has one USB port for hosting an external hard drive and it makes this list thanks to the fact that its network storage performance, when coupled with an external hard drive, is among the best, almost as fast as that of a dedicated NAS server.
Apart from sharing the data stored on a connected external hard drive with the rest of the network, with advanced sharing options -- where you can restrict access (Read-only, Read/Write and no access) to share folders based on user accounts -- the router can also stream digital content to network media players. In the future, Cisco Conect Cloud, which is available to mobile devices, will likely also make possible streaming content over the Internet.
Note that the EA4500 is not the only router from Cisco that offers excellent network storage performance. This type of performance has been available starting with the Linksys E4200 and Linksys E4200v2, which are also great network storage-capable routers. They didn't make this list simply because the Linksys EA4500 is intended to replace them. Read the full review of the Linksys EA4500.
D-Link DIR-857 HD Media Router 3000
The DIR-857 N900 router is the latest in D-Link's family of media routers. It's the only router on this list with a USB 3.0 port (the rest only have USB 2.0) and, when coupled with an external hard drive, it offers an extensive amount of storage-related features, including digital streaming. It's also an all-around great Wi-Fi router. Read the full review of the D-Link DIR-857 HD Media Router 3000.
Asus RT-N66U Dark Knight Double 450Mbps N Router
The Asus RT-N66U is my favorite N900 router. It makes a great upgrade to the already excellent RT-N56U N600 router and is still somewhat better than the newer RT-AC66U router, at least for now. The router has two USB ports, meaning you can use up to two external hard drives with it at the same time, and offers a lot of storage-based features, including sharing data over the Internet (via its AiDisk feature) and download data by itself (via the Download Master feature).
On top of that, the router boasts a robust Web interface, and offers features not found in others, such as up to six guest networks (three on each band) and a built-in VPN server for business customers. Read the full review of the Asus RT-N66U.
The Netgear WNDR3800 is the only N600 router on this list and is the only one from Netgear that offers storage features normally available only in the company's ReadyNAS NAS servers. Once coupled with an external hard drive, the router provides VPN-like remote access, so remote users can access data stored on the connected hard drive the way a local user can, and do such things as making a mapped network drive, (similar to what the WD My Net N900 Central has to offer). On top of that the router also offers great Wi-Fi performance with excellent range, and support for Gigabit Ethernet. Currently, the WNDR3800 is still one of the best routers from Netgear and it's the most affordable on this list. Read the full review of the Netgear WNDR3800.
Looking for specs and pricing? Compare these routers head-to-head.