Quality Network Appliance Partner is quite a mouthful, so we’re grateful that this Taiwan-based specialist in network-attached storage (NAS) goes by the familiar of QNAP.
QNAP has an extensive portfolio of NAS enclosures, supplied without hard disks but compatible with most of the usual disks and drives on the market. Looking at the company’s listing in May 2011, we counted 32 different NAS models in production - and that’s omitting almost as many again network multimedia players and network video recorders.
QNAP’s NAS range stretches from single-bay home drives up to eight-bay rack-mount units. We took a closer look at a recent model that sits around the middle of the range, the four-bay TS-419P+.
To get a better idea of its capabilities, we need only decipher the company’s naming conventions: the first digit tells us the number of disks it can hold; the second two, the type of processor running the show inside.
At the professional end of the range are units like the QNAP TS-639 Pro, where x39 and x59 names now refer to Intel Atom processors (single-core 1.8GHz D425 and dual-core D525 respectively), while x10, x12 and x19P+ names allude to Marvell ARM chips, of 800MHz, 1.2GHz and 1.6GHz clock speeds. A U suffix is rack-mounted, while the remainder are desktop boxes.
So the TS-419P+ here is a four-bay NAS with 1.6GHz ARM processor, a configuration that’s cheaper to buy and consumes less power than the Intel-powered devices. Performance is a little below the top models, though, usually apparent as slower write speeds in normal use.
The basic layout of QNAP NAS drives is the same across the range, with vertically mounted drives hot-swappable through lever-operated drawers.
A USB socket on the front can be set to automatically copy data, either to or from connected USB storage, using the Copy button on the panel. Unlike the higher-specified models, the QNAP TS-419P+ omits the security lock for each bay.
Thanks to the lower power consumption of an ARM NAS, the power supply can be downsized. In fact, QNAP takes this outside the main box and instead supplies a small laptop-style charger. There’s also just the one cooling fan, whose duty is just move air across the hard disks rather than keep on-board CPU and PSU cool too.
On the back of the box are a useful selection of interfaces. You can add USB printers to any of three USB 2.0 ports, as well as augment storage here.
Alternatively there’s a pair of eSATA ports, which allow native SATA 3Gbps performance from connected hard disks. Unfortunately, unlike the internal drives, there’s no power management included to spin down external disks after a period of inactivity.
And for the all-important network interface, there are two gigabit ethernet ports. This allows connecting the same NAS to two different LANs, or for combining the two in a load-balancing configuration.
Build quality of the NAS box is high, and system noise is low from a quiet fan. You can also fit 2.5in SATA drives for even cooler and quieter operation.
QNAP Turbo NAS 3.4 firmware
That’s the hardware, but that’s only half the story: a good NAS solution is as much about the software to configure and maintain the system. QNAP embeds Linux with its own graphical interface, accessed through the usual web browser. The firmware version current at time of writing is 3.4.2.
With four bays to play with, you can set up software RAID on two or more disks; RAID 0 for performance on two, for example; RAID 1 for mirroring, while using three or more disks allows RAID 5, and four disks adds the option of RAID 6.
In both the latter setups you get the benefits of both speed and security: RAID 5 allows one disk failure, RAID 6 can accomodate two concurrent breakdowns without data loss.
We set up the QNAP TS-419P+ with three 2TB Hitachi Deskstar 7K3000 disks, initially in a RAID 5 array. But QNAP also allows for live RAID migration, so we tried adding a fourth drive and moving from RAID 5 to 6. The process is slow, but does usefully allow you to continue working with the NAS all the time.
The QNAP TS-419P+ is aimed at home and SOHO users, and performance is a notch above many home NAS drives.
QNAP cites read/write speeds of 100MBps and 45MBps, and in our real-world file copy tests we measured speeds of 94MBps and 34MBps respectively.
Once the disks are installed, you can explore the software interface. QNAP Turbo NAS 3.4 is a very sophisticated environment, thankfully packaged in a relatively attractive and approachable interface.
It’s more traditional-looking than, say, the Synology DSM interface which looks more like a dekstop OS inside a browser. But QNAP’s features are enough to satisfy the small to large business user, along with home power users.
Core features include file sharing over the usual platform protocols of SMB, AFP and NFS, along with FTP access, and media streaming for UPnP and iTunes.
You can also set up the NAS as a central PC backup repository for PCs and Macs, using NetBak Replicator and Time Machine respectively, as well as Rsync to backup to another NAS drive.
Remote access options are available, including over HTTPS once you’ve generated your own SSL certificate.