(covers information from several alternate timelines)
The Narada was a Romulan mining vessel that was in service in the late 24th century. In 2387, the Narada was commanded by Nero; his second-in-command was Ayel. It was transported back in time to 2233 through a black hole after the destruction of Romulus, where it created the alternate reality by destroying the USS Kelvin.
Following the destruction of Romulus by the supernova of the Romulan sun in 2387, Nero took the Narada to intercept Ambassador Spock, who was attempting to create an artificial black hole which would consume the star before it destroyed more worlds. Both the Narada and Spock's ship, the Jellyfish, went missing after they were pulled into the black hole.
The Narada emerged from the black hole, 75,000 kilometers from the edge of Klingon space, in the year 2233, creating the alternate reality. There, the Narada encountered and attacked the USS Kelvin, easily overpowering the much smaller Federation starship. During the attack the Kelvin's commanding officer, Captain Richard Robau, was killed. Lieutenant Commander George Kirk took command. With his ship heavily damaged and facing imminent annihilation by the Narada, Kirk gave the order to abandon ship. To save the lives of those evacuating in shuttles, Kirk rammed the Kelvin into the Narada. Although the Narada sustained enough damage to ensure the safety of the Kelvin evacuees, the Narada was still operational.
Twenty five years later, the Narada was involved in an attack on a Klingon prison planet and the destruction of 47 Klingon warbirds. Shortly thereafter, the Jellyfish, with Spock aboard, emerged from the black hole and was immediately captured by the Narada. The Narada then left for Vulcan and drilled a hole into the planet, all the way to its core. When the Federation sent a small fleet to Vulcan to investigate the seismic disturbance, the Narada destroyed them shortly before the USS Enterprise arrived. The crew of the Enterprise successfully stopped the drill, but were unable to stop Nero from injecting red matter, taken from the Jellyfish, into the core of the planet, creating a black hole which quickly consumed Vulcan.
Following Vulcan's destruction, Nero interrogated the captured Pike using Centaurian slugs, forcing the helpless captain to reveal Earth's planetary defense codes. Nero took the Narada to Earth and began drilling into that planet. However, the drilling rig was destroyed by that era's Spock using the Jellyfish, which he confiscated from the Narada. After drawing the Narada away from Earth, Spock rammed the Jellyfish into the Narada. The remaining red matter that was aboard the Jellyfish was ignited, creating a massive black hole which slowly began to crush the ship. Kirk offered to assist the crew of the Narada, but Nero refused. Kirk then had the Enterprise fire upon the Narada to ensure its destruction until the ship was pulled apart and ultimately devoured by the black hole. (Star Trek)
|The Flight of the Narada|
|Attack on the USS Kelvin (2233) • Destruction of Vulcan (2258) • Battle of Earth (2258)|
- See: Narada personnel
Despite being only a mining vessel in its own time, the Narada possessed weaponry far more advanced than that of any ships it encountered in the 23rd century. The primary weapons seemed to be highly destructive missiles, each of which could break into several component projectiles. These projectiles were powerful enough to penetrate the standard shields which starships of the time utilized. The Narada housed at least enough of these weapons to easily destroy entire fleets of ships; more than fifty vessels were destroyed over twenty-five years.
As a mining vessel, the Narada also had an immense drilling apparatus, which was a platform at the end of a lengthy metal line seemingly hundreds of kilometers long. The drill emitted a powerful beam that could penetrate a planet's surface and continue all the way to its core. The high energy output from the beam itself also acted as a disruptor of sorts, causing localized interference in communications and transporter signals.
With the Jellyfish in its possession, the Narada could also deploy bombs loaded with incredibly destructive red matter.
The Narada was designed by James Clyne. Production designer Scott Chambliss wanted the ship to be assymetrical, in contrast to the "perfect symmetry" of the Enterprise. Chambliss contemplated "the scariest thing in space" and looked to a kitchen knife, imagining "500 gigantic knife-edge points". "That's how the Romulan ship developed, with a kitchen knife and the twisted imagination of James Clyne," he said. During development, the ship was referred to as "Hanson's Ranch" to keep its name secret. (Star Trek - The Art of the Film)
J.J. Abrams wanted the ship's interiors to feel mysterious by having them be "amorphous, to have a sense of no corners, ceilings or floors". To minimize the size of the set, Chambliss called on his experience in theater to build a set where parts could be moved around to create another section of the ship each day. Cinematographer Dan Mindel used "abrasive" yellow-green lighting to suggest the angry and fragmented mindset of the Romulan crew. Visual effects supervisor Roger Guyett complemented the feel by underlighting the digital shots "in classic horror movie style", based on a lighting test "that went wrong, but I actually liked the look" of.
ILM model supervisor Bruce Holcomb stated the Narada was six miles (ten kilometers) long,  while Post magazine mentions it is five miles (eight kilometers) long.  The film's Blu-ray gives a final estimate of the ship's length at 30,737.3 feet (9,368.7 meters). Regardless, the ship was one of the largest digital models ever built by the company: according to Roger Guyett, the detail required near 1:1 scale.
In the Star Trek prequel comic book miniseries Star Trek: Countdown, the Narada's advanced weaponry and appearance are explained as being the result of the ship being retrofitted with salvaged and reverse-engineered Borg technology. The Tal Shiar in the 24th century had been experimenting with Borg technology, and Nero's ship was the experimental vessel used. The Narada was retrofitted at The Vault (β), a cloaked military installation in deep space, subsequent to the destruction of Romulus. The Borg nanoprobes allowed the ship to grow and repair itself, and also take on a much larger and more menacing appearance. The ship's speed was increased from Warp 9.8 to "…immeasurable transwarp speeds." This information also appeared on the Blu-ray release of the film in the supplement section "Starships." While the Narada itself was not referenced in Star Trek: Picard, that series confirmed the Romulans had access to Borg technology in the form of a disabled Borg Cube).
The Borg connection paid off in the sequel to Countdown, Star Trek: Nero. After Nero escapes from Rura Penthe – the "Klingon prison planet" – the Narada takes him to V'Ger, which Nero uses to calculate where Spock will arrive. By then, the Narada had seemingly developed a telepathic link with Nero that allowed him to command the Narada remotely.
In Star Trek: Ongoing's "Mirrored, Part 1", set in the alternate reality's mirror universe, Kirk – Spock's first officer – commandeers the Narada from Nero following the Terran Empire's conquest of the Klingon Empire. He attacks and destroys the Enterprise, and sets course for Vulcan. However, after recovering Spock Prime, he is outmaneuvered by Spock Prime, Uhura, and Spock – Uhura having saved Spock's life before the destruction of the Enterprise – and is killed before he can destroy Vulcan, with the two Spocks remaining on Vulcan to rebuild while Uhura takes command of the Narada.
The Narada's connection to the Borg is confirmed in the Star Trek: Boldly Go series – set before the completion of the Enterprise-A – when the Federation is attacked by a Borg sphere seeking answers about the temporary presence of a fragment of the Collective in this galaxy, but their primitive technology at this time allows the Federation and the Romulans to destroy the sphere and save those who have been assimilated.
In Star Trek Online, while the Narada itself doesn't appear, it's revealed that after her disappearance, the Tal Shiar continued their experiments with Borg technology. This results in Mogai- and D'deridex-class ships being retrofitted in similar ways and looking almost identical to the Narada.