QNAP TS 251A review

QNAP, a pioneer in storage devices has been in the thick of things for a while now. Therefore, it makes sense that they come up with new product rangers that caters to the requirement of the market. The home market for NAS has been steadily on the rise and more and more people are warming up to the brilliant opportunities presented by this storage. We already have quite a few options in the market today, but it is safe to say that this is still a developing segment and in all probability, there has been a wilful attempt by QNAP to take a fair share for themselves.

QNAP is a major name in the Network Attached Storage segment for home users and the TS-251A is yet another step in this direction. It’s promises a high-end spec for a home NAS, powered by an Intel Celeron N3060 dual-core processor running at 1.6GHz, with boost speeds up to 2.48GHz. That performance is not there without a reason – it claims to offer 4K playback and decoding on the fly, so you can watch high-quality files on your TV smoothly. We’ll find out how much truth that holds.

Understandably, such high specs and configuration doesn’t come at a cheap price. This model can be bought online for around £250 (we found it at Amazon) but that doesn’t include any hard disks, so you’ll have to purchase those separately. It comes in either 2GB or 4G – our supplied model was 2GB.

QNAP TS 251A REVIEW: DESIGN AND FEATURES

The QNAP TS 251A has a couple of USB 3.0 ports and Gigabit Ethernet sockets at the rear. There’s also an HDMI port at the rear, which allows you to hook the QNAP up directly to a TV and watch content direct from the drive on it. And if your network is not working for any reason you can also plug in a mouse and keyboard and operate the NAS directly, like you would with a conventional computer. A remote control is supplied, which can be used to perform basic operations.

At the front, the QNAP TS 251A has a couple of USB 3.0 ports of which one is an unusual micro B connection. This is for connecting to an external drive, so you can backup or copy content from or to the drive. This seems an unconventional option to have, but has been designed so that you can back up your files without having to worry about the network. Bizarrely though, the necessary cable does not come with the box, but you can pick one up for a fiver, so it’s not the end of the world. An SD card slot is also available so you can copy the photos from your DSLR straight onto the NAS.

One can easily remove the drive bays but installing it back will require a screwdriver. Once done you turn on the drive and it’s hooked up via Ethernet you should, in theory, be able to set it up via a ‘Cloud Installation’ – whereby you scan a QR code with a reader app on your mobile and the drive will be detected and set itself up. This didn’t work smoothly for us as it didn’t detect the drive, so we went with a more conventional approach. We downloaded and installed the QFinder Pro utility to our Mac and using this, the drive was duly found and the latest firmware installed. In fact, you’ll require this utility installed to be able to make use of the USB 3.0 micro B port on the front for hooking up an external drive.

It is quite obvious from the feature loaded platform they have launched that QNAP wanted a NAS that is a significant upgrade over the other home NASs currently available in the market. It makes perfect sense that they are willing to introduce more features and promise higher performance in a segment that is still growing and has the potential to outgrow the enterprise storage sector. This massive upgrade from QNAP will surely see reciprocating response from its competitors which is definitely going to push the competition higher and at the end of it all, the customer definitely stands to gain from it.

QNAP TS 251A REVIEW: SOFTWARE

One of the first things you will notice after you have logged into the TS-251A via browser is that it has one of the most efficient NAS OS’s on the market. The simple icon and window based interface is fast and easy to use. QTS offers a wide range of apps available to install. There are regulars such as a Photo Station, Music Station, and a Download Station, from which you can search for P2P files without having to use a PC. There’s also a lot of choice in the App Center with a wide range of categories, from surveillance apps, to software that enables you to run a WordPress site to an email server.

It also comes with a Video Station app, but since it does not support MKV format, not many will have use for this. Of all the apps available the one that excited me most was Plex, the media organisation software. Interestingly, you can operate both the Plex Media Server and the Plex client on the same box. It works very well and with the QNAP connected to the TV. I was able to browse and play content using the provided remote control. You can also browse it via a Plex client on an Xbox One or PS4.

The level of noise was found to be an issue. Our drive had two Seagate ST8000VN0002 8TB drives setup in RAID one. This proved to be noisier in operation than expected, and at times emitted a slightly irritating vibration noise. This could be corrected if we slightly adjusted the unit, but it was a pain to have to do so. The unit was certainly louder than a four disk Synology unit that we’ve had been using since 2008.

QNAP TS 251A REVIEW: PERFORMANCE

In order to analyze the performance of the NAS, we employed CrystalDiskMark and with a 1GB sequential test which delivered a stellar performance of 111MB/s and write performance of 118.5MB/s – quite impressive! You won’t ask for more performance from this drive.

We connected a Macbook Pro laptop to the front port in a bid to test it and used BlackMagic Disk Test which gave speeds of 106 MB/s write and 107 MB/s read – again excellent!

QNAP TS 251A: SPECS

• Intel Celeron N3060 dual-core 1.6GHz (up to 2.48GHz)
• 2GB DDR3L (2 x 1GB) (expandable to 8GB)
• 2x Gigabit Ethernet
• 2x rear USB 3.0 port, 1 x HDMI, 1 x front USB 3.0 port, 1 x USB 3.0 micro B port, 1 x SD card slot
• 1x 70mm fan
• Max capacity: 2x 8TB 3.5in SATA 3 disks
• 102 x 169 x 219 mm (HxWxD)

OUR VERDICT

The QNAP is without question an impressive NAS drive. There’s lots of power for virtually all tasks, and H.265 aside it will handle anything you throw at it. The range of apps is quite comprehensive and the interface is excellent. The drawback is the lack of support for MKV from its native app, which will mean having to pay for Plex to play files on mobile devices. The unit was also noisier than we would have liked in operation and while it’s good value – it does not come cheap. If you’re willing to stretch to paying this much for a diskless system, the QNAP TS-251A is the best featured NAS drive in this budget.

And undoubtedly, the QNAP TS-251A has been able to generate quite a lot of interest in the hardware community. Customers who are used to the low performance NAS’s available in the market today, the QNAP TS-251A comes quite as a pleasant surprise. Its high performance, features loaded platform, functionality has all been working in its favour. Lets hope that QNAP has a system in place which allows to garner the feedback from the ground and incorporate disks into the next version as well as offer support for MKV formats, the absence of which we find quite appalling in an otherwise stupendous NAS.