In all my decades in dabbling with computers and technology, I have never owned a Network Attached Storage (NAS). Many routers come with basic NAS support but there aren’t a lot of functions, and they are difficult to access outside the home network. The biggest brands in NAS are Synology and QNAP, with many other storage brands also offering basic NAS features, like Seagate and Western Digital. When QNAP approached me to review NAS, I initially declined because I still held the old mindset that they are slow and I don’t have the real need to run another device at home.
But after QNAP introduced to me their popular entry-level NAS, TS-230, retailing at S$289 (without HDD), it got me interested. I read up further on QNAP and found out that their NAS runs on their own QTS operating system and supports hundreds of installable applications, of which many are free, while some are chargeable by license subscription.
If you are looking for a more advanced comparison of NAS products, I recommend you to visit Lester Chan’s blog. He has over 10 years of experience in running NAS. What I am covering here is from a new user’s perspective. And I am going to relate my experience to people who are new to NAS and are wondering – like myself – why you should run a NAS at home.
If you are impatient to finish reading my review, then here’s my conclusion: I will definitely be keeping the TS-230 running after my review. I have developed a workflow that would reduce my reliance on my desktop which I have used for backing up my smartphones and DSLRs.
What is NAS?
A simple way to define NAS is that it is an intelligent HDD that is remotely accessible. But good NAS can do a lot more, and can even function like a mini-server and data centre to perform powerful functions. What differentiates one NAS from the other is the number of apps that can be handled. When you buy a QNAP NAS, you also get the operating system and the library of applications which you can install. QNAP NAS makes it convenient to perform file backup and retrieval, media consumption, and even run a web server to host webpages. It also has a handful of monitoring tools to check the health of the NAS and manage security.
The TS-230 looks more like a gaming console than a desktop. It’s entire chassis is covered in baby blue colour, and a single screw is all you need to remove the casing. There are two HDD slots that are big enough for 3.5-inch HDD or 2.5-inch SSD. There are no screws needed to secure the 3.5-inch drives to the tray, which makes the installation so hassle-free.
I bought one Seagate IronWolf 4TB NAS HDD from Dynacore, a local hardware merchant, through Shopee. As a starter, there is no need to go for RAID configuration which helps in data recovery in the event of HDD failure. There are three USB ports (two at the back and one in front) and an Ethernet port. The internal RAM is fixed with no option for upgrade.
After the TS-230 is plugged into the Ethernet port, I installed Qfinder Pro to help me locate the NAS on the home network. I then got a notification to update firmware which takes about 10 minutes, then I was prompted to install the QTS operating system and create an admin account. After the installation was complete, I logged in and accessed the NAS dashboard view, where I proceeded to create a storage pool and storage volume. The entire installation process is clearly explained in this YouTube video, so I recommend you to watch it to understand what you will go through during the TS-230 setup.
Once all is done, the NAS is ready for operation. The next thing is to determine what apps to install in the NAS and where you want the files to backup to within the NAS.
Hundreds of Apps
Over the weeks of review, I found that there are so many useful apps that could be run on QNAP NAS, the only considerant is the hardware limitation. As an entry-level product, the TS-230 runs on Realtek RTD1296 quad-core 1.4GHz processor and 2GB RAM. Some apps require a powerful processor to run efficiently, so when I run those apps on the TS-230, it took a toll on the operations which affected other concurrent tasks. As my target audience for this article would probably not understand some of the apps, I will just share the more commonly used ones that you should use.
Access With Custom URL – myQNAPcloud allows you to access your NAS securely via the Internet through a personalised URL. With this configured, you do not have to remember the local IP address, and it will auto-route to the fastest connection method – via LAN if you are within the same home network.
Multimedia Consumption – the TS-230 supports several apps that conveniently let you access photos, stream music and videos stored on the NAS. QuMagie is the latest photo browser with A.I. that analyses photos and groups them into logical tags, for instance, places, events, people. Other QTS apps like Photo Station, Music Station, Video Station let you access the respective media quickly.
Personal Search Engine – Qsirch is an app that scans the metadata of the files, like photo location or object found in the photo, so that you can find the content you need faster. The Lite version is free while the Premium version supports people image search. Qsirch beats the native search tool on apps like FileStation.
Qsync Pro – one of my favourite apps, it synchronises folders on my laptop, desktop and smartphones to specific NAS folders. I can sync the folders one-way or two-way. When done properly, I can access data created by any device centrally, and store duplicate copies in multiple devices as redundancy.
Backup NAS – the NAS is there to backup your data, but who backs up the NAS? That’s where “Snapshots” come in. It allows QNAP NAS to record the state of the system at any time. If an unexpected disaster occurs on your system, you can revert it to the previous state that the snapshot has recorded.
File Archiving – the QNAP NAS has an app called “Qfiling” which can batch process files before archiving them. The processing can be applying watermark, encrypting, compressing, converting formats, followed by storing into specific folder structures in the destination site.
File Sharing – files stored in the NAS can be shared to anyone via a special URL link even if they do not have access to the NAS, similar to all the cloud drives like Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox. You can set up a password and expiry date to the link.
Mobile Apps – all the above features are easily accessible from your smartphone through dedicated apps developed by QNAP. A wide range of mobile apps for NAS management, multimedia, surveillance, and download management, providing you with a hands-on way to control your NAS wherever you are.
More Advanced Tools – there are many other advanced features that I won’t cover here, but I’m just covering the basics that most beginners would want from NAS. On QNAP NAS, you could easily run a web server, set up virtual machines, run SD-WAN. It also supports hybrid backup which accesses your existing cloud services and even other NAS, and centrally store multiple surveillance videos. There are also tools to monitor the performance of the NAS remotely, just like a professional data centre. You can also run an email, calendar, contacts clients and download all the content from your existing cloud mailbox (Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, etc.) to your private cloud on the NAS.
Read more about all the file management tools and capabilities here.
I spent some time understanding the functions of the apps and determined what works best for me. The most heavily-used feature I use is Qsync Pro, which I installed on my Windows OS and my Android smartphones. I picked the folders that I would want to sync to the QNAP NAS and it will run the task based on my defined schedule. Once done, I will be able to access all my files on any device by connecting to the TS-230. Previously I would have to manually transfer the files from my smartphones via USB cable to my desktop.
Similarly, I uploaded all my photos, music and video files to the TS-230 and added the folder list to the Multimedia Console so that they are accessible from supported smartphone apps like Qphoto, Qmusic, Qvideo. Depending on your network speed, I am getting rather fast streaming output. In the past, I would copy the large video files from the source computer to an external HDD, then plug it to the target computer to download. While it was inconvenient, I do not have a lot of huge files to move around, so I lived with that all these while. Now with a network drive, all these manual transfers will be a thing of a past.
Despite storing files in my personal cloud drive, I would have no problems sharing files to outsiders, just like what I would do on Google Drive. Just browse for the file on Qfile or FileStation app, select the share option, and a unique download link will be generated. You can also manage the list of existing shared links and do a cleanup.
Also, QNAP’s QTS supports Seagate’s IronWolf Health Management (IHM) which helps to continuously safeguard the health of your data. IHM is better than S.M.A.R.T. hard disk monitoring, where the overall system reliability is improved by providing users with actionable prevention, intervention, and recovery options. Under the Disk Health setting page, it validates the HDD with Seagate and identifies the duration of the data rescue plan that is available.
An End to Google Photos Free Storage
From 1 June 2021, high quality photos stored on Google Photos will start to count towards storage. If you own a NAS, you can simply backup your photos to your NAS instead of Google Photos, which has a shared free storage of 15GB with the rest of your Google applications (like Gmail, Gdrive). Compare that to your own NAS and your own HDD (or SSD) that can store way more than 15GB. It will certainly cost you more in the short term, but if you handle a lot of content and you do not trust the privacy of public cloud services, then running your own NAS is the right move.
It has become clear that the QNAP TS-230 is my very own private cloud server that I have complete control and ownership as compared to storing on Google or OneDrive. While these popular platforms offer faster connectivity and generally more powerful features, there are always risks of data security if you have sensitive data that you want to guard closely. And if the Internet is down, it would be impossible to access the content stored in another part of the world.
I am very impressed with what the QNAP NAS can offer. Besides the usual backing up files and streaming content, it can run servers where you can host Wordpress, Python, VPN, proxy, firewall, and more. With QNAP NAS, I do not need to pay for a shared hosting service to run a simple website. The number of security and monitoring apps should put most people at ease.
If most of you are only interested in data backup and media streaming, then perhaps those all-in-one “cloud drives” from Western Digital and Seagate might just do the job. But if you are looking for slightly more granular controls in managing data and getting the interactive features that are comparable to Google, the QNAP NAS products are better matched to your expectations. The QNAP TS-230 retails at around S$289, and a brand new 1TB IronWolf HDD costs below S$100, so it’s really not that expensive to own your private cloud server and retain full control over your data within your home premises. And once you outgrow the entry-level NAS (the slow performance can be frustrating at times), you can upgrade to a faster processor, more RAM and larger storage.
Here are the links to get you started on NAS:
Pros of QNAP NAS
Available at Lazada.
- Supports Plex Media Server in NAS
- Supports Virtual Machine and Container Solutions in NAS
- The best range of SSD Caching Solutions in the Industry
- Two Surveillance Solutions (with 4/8 Camera Licenses included)
- USB 3.0 DAS Connectivity on some devices
- Technical information far more readily available
- Business-class NAS devices include ZFS as a file system (QuTS Hero)
- Lower price compared with Synology in terms of hardware
- Best software for business and Media users
- Much better business options and virtual machines
Cons of QNAP NAS
- Entry-level hardware used on the TS-230 results in system slowdowns and operational delays when running intensive tasks
- Effective use of NAS requires some understanding of computer systems management to get the most out of it
Thanks to QNAP for letting me experience my first proper NAS which I get to keep after the review. The TS-230 retails at S$369, with LazMall selling at S$289. Internal storage is not included in the package and I purchased mine from Shopee.