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A NAS has many useful features, you can use it to schedule backups of your data and access it securely from anywhere in the world. You can also use it to store your photos, movies and music which you can then access from your television, computer and mobile devices. It can even go as far as hosting your website on it. As you can see there are a plethora of features and options you can use to improve your data storage needs.
Usually, its best practice to buy a NAS with two bays cause in a case of harddrive failure you will have a backup drive that can take over while you are replacing the broken one.
Yes, you can connect an existing external USB harddrive to most modern routers and enable NAS functionality within the interface of your router. This however will only act as harddrive which you can access from your network, it will not have additional features that may require computing power.