TL;DR: There’s a reason QNAP is one of the top players. The AMD chipset means no Plex hardware transcoding, but it’s still a lovely box.
Preface: I started trying to replace my 2-bay QNAP TS-220 when I realized that it wouldn’t support my new 8TB hard drives without new drive caddies (whoops). The ARM chipset was getting a bit old, and it was time to upgrade to something that will still be supported in five more years. Or two. Whichever. After months of shopping, I tried out the TerraMaster F5-420, and it just… wasn’t great. Some good hardware and decent performance (or so I thought), but a damaging level of observable software engineering naivete (you can read about it here.
Then while I was returing the TerraMaster, B&H ran a sale on the QNAP TS-563. I had paid $299 for the TerraMaster, usually priced $499. The TS-563 was on sale for $409! Yes, it was $100 more expensive than I had paid, but man, that was a 5 bay QNAP at a lower price point than many of the 4-bay units I had looked at. Sure, it had an AMD chipset, but that was mostly going to impact power draw (still less than a desktop) and Plex encoding (which sometimes sucks as the algorithms aren’t as good, and is so situationally dependent for someone who doesn’t currently have a Plex setup or any recordings it’s basically a distraction). It was “only” the 2GB model, but I found you could upgrade the RAM — so I would, if it was necessary.
B&H does not offer Prime shipping, but I could afford to wait a week. I started setting it up the day after I got it, but it took a few days to put this review together.
PACKAGING: 4/5 – A slightly prettier outer box than the TerraMaster, but slightly harder to unpack — they made it deep, while TerraMaster had gone “wide.” In addition, their accessories weren’t as nicely packaged as TerraMaster’s, and I had to actually go look for a screwdriver!
PHYSICAL: 4/5 – Metal trays. Both cases were nice, but the metal caddies make a world of difference — even if it’s meaningless once they’re assembled. I do like the internal power supply as well. Even though the TerraMaster trays had come up higher on the sides, the QNAP trays were just more substantial. However, bay 3 — and only bay 3 — had issues with insertion. Not at the backplane, but at the front. I tried several times, and always had issues — but just with Bay 3. Bonus points to QNAP for not labelling the trays as being associated with specific bays.
SOUND: 4/5 – Maybe I just expect too much. The device is nearly silent on idle, but drive noise is audible when under load.
INSTALLATION: 4/5 – QNAP, if anything, has gotten easier to install. Their website (accessed via SSL) gives you a bunch of options for setting the device up — including one that’s entirely cloud based! I opted out of that option, and used their QFinder application. Nice installer, signed installer.
USAGE: 2/5 – Logged in remotely via my default browser, which QFinder invoked correctly, completed all the setup, including updating the firmware. No hiccups. No goofs. Possibly a little too helpful in the UI and too much going on, but I’m borderline competent — someone who knows more may have appreciated more information (“What’s a Thin Volume? What’s a Thick Voume?”), while a completely novice would likely have loved how much help they offered through the web flow. The web flow was also really nice — and bug free. No CSS errors, no minor mistakes.
PERFORMANCE: 4/5 – Faster than the TerraMaster! Surprisingly slow on Thin Volumes! Which I may never use, so the 4/5 is somewhat spurious.
Read performance saturates the 100MBps Gigabit ethernet connection. I tested via an isolated subnet behind a router (the Archer C7) supporting no other devices, connected via CAT6 cables. I used LAN Speed Test (registered!) to try a random assortment of 100 file sizes between 2MB and 5 GB written to the default public share on the TNAS device, with Network Recycle Bin turned on. LAN Speed Test writes a file, then reads it back to verify it, then deletes it. I tried against four different RAID configurations, all with the same 5 8TB drives; in all cases I waited while the drives configured, then restarted the TNAS, then waited until the TNAS web interface indicated the array was “Good.” I tried: RAID5, RAID5 with encryption, RAID6, and RAID6 with encryption. By the time I got to RAID6 I did have a few other things to do (attaching a bad USB device to a system can kill even network I/O — did you know?), so the data is a bit noisier on that test.
Encrypted results vary far more wildly than the unencrypted results. READ speeds for both RAID5 and RAID6 hovered above 100MB/s at all file sizes. WRITE operations on both RAID5 and RAID6 were about 85MB/s, clearly not saturating the network bandwidth, and probably constrained by the requisite parity calculations. Surprisingly, RAID6’s two distinct parity calculations didn’t more significantly impact throughput — but I don’t have CPU utilization information for this time, so I can’t guarantee that two cores were involved in RAID6 versus only one for RAID5. The noise on the RAID5 write information makes me wonder if I did something wrong, but the average is really clear. RAID6 I already acknowledged I caused some harm, but the removing the obvious noise makes a pretty clear picture that RAID6 doesn’t substantially impact READ or WRITE performance.
Encrypted READS were still saturating the network on both RAID5 and RAID6. WRITE speeds dropped by about 5MB/s, except some data outliers on RAID5 that I can’t explain. Still, average write performance was around 80MB/s.
Overall, average READ/WRITE performance trounces the TerraMaster, and READS are consistently saturating the network, with WRITES still at acceptable levels.
Wait! What’s that bottom row?
In addition to RAID levels, QNAP also offers mechanisms to virtualize constrained disk systems on top of a RAID array. They can be used for quota enforcement and block-level snapshots… and I’m sure they can be used for other things, but please see earlier where I admitted I hadn’t read all the documentation yet. I will likely be directly using RAID5 or RAID6, but I’ll read before I make a final decision. I decided to attempt a “Thin” volume solution. I configured it on top of a RAID disk storage. I chose Thin as it is “dynamically resized,” and I figured it had to have worse performance than the Thick (fixed size) option.
It appears that Thin Volumes with Snapshot on WRITE performance is even worse than encrypted RAID6.
So, will I use Thin Volumes? Probably not — but again, read the documentation. And, in every case, it’s still more performant than the TNAS F5-420.
APPLICATIONS: 5/5 -Wow. QNAP has most apps I could want! Well, they no longer have CrashPlan, but that’s not their fault.
CONCLUSION: 5/5 – I’m sure there are better options out there. I will, at some point, want to upgrade the minimal 2GB of RAM. But QNAP delivers an altogether killer package, with area for a technologist to play (Virtualization support!) as well as an abundance of information for the novice. Even though I will never use the majority of the apps, they are there. But the performance easily tops the TerraMaster I had to compare it to, and was a far more polished application package — even if I did miss the screwdrivers. And Bay 3. WTH, Bay 3? All in all, I feel confident that my data will still be there in the morning.