QNAP

TS-251+ 2-Bay Turbo Net­work At­tached Stor­age (NAS)

NOVO - - REVIEW -

Love it or hate it, we live in a world driven by data. Every­thing from your favourite TV shows to fam­ily pic­tures and work files re­side as data on some type of a stor­age de­vice. The trou­ble is that our data is usu­ally scat­tered among a num­ber of de­vices such as desk­top com­put­ers, lap­tops, smart­phones and tablets. As a re­sult, lo­cat­ing a spe­cific file can be as much fun as try­ing to find a lost friend at a big music fes­ti­val, where cell phone re­cep­tion is spotty at best. So wouldn’t it be great if you had a cen­tral­ized stor­age de­vice for all your data, one that would al­low you to ac­cess these files from any­where on the planet?

You may have never heard the term Net­work At­tached Stor­age (or NAS) but in fact, this prod­uct cat­e­gory has ex­isted for a num­ber of years now. Those who al­ready have one in their home or of­fice prob­a­bly couldn’t imag­ine life with­out it. So what is a NAS you ask? A NAS is es­sen­tially a mini­com­puter ded­i­cated to file stor­age, sharing and data backup, al­low­ing you to ac­cess the files from all de­vices connected to your home net­work. It also al­lows you to ac­cess your files re­motely over the in­ter­net via your lap­top or smart­phone while trav­el­ling. In a home set­ting, a NAS is com­monly also used as a me­dia cen­ter, used to store video, music, pic­tures and doc­u­ments. These files can be ac­cessed by other com­put­ers on your home net­work, as well as TVs, smart­phones and tablets. In a busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment, a NAS is typ­i­cally used to share files be­tween co-work­ers in re­mote lo­ca­tions, and con­fig­ured with ad­vanced se­cu­rity set­tings. If you have se­cu­rity cam­eras in your home or busi­ness, a NAS can also be used to store loops of se­cu­rity video footage. Re­gard­less of the set­ting, a NAS ba­si­cally al­lows you to set up your “per­sonal cloud” stor­age with a mas­sive amount of stor­age space, and with­out any monthly fees. NAS servers were once rel­e­gated to the world of com­puter geeks be­cause they re­quired a lot of tech­ni­cal know-how to con­fig­ure and op­er­ate. How­ever luck­ily com­pa­nies like QNAP, have de­vel­oped app-based NAS com­put­ers that are much eas­ier to set up and friend­lier than ever to use.

QNAP, which is short form for Qual­ity Net­work Ap­pli­ance Provider, is a Tai­wan based com­pany that was founded in 2004 and ex­panded rapidly to make its prod­ucts avail­able world­wide. In ad­di­tion to a full range of con­sumer and busi­ness NAS so­lu­tions, QNAP also of­fers a great se­lec­tion of net­work video recorder (NVR) sur­veil­lance prod­ucts.

DE­SIGN & FEA­TURES

In this ar­ti­cle, I take a de­tailed look at the QNAP TS-251+ NAS model from the com­pany’s “Home & SOHO” prod­uct range. Priced at $349 US, this unit is equipped with a Quad-core In­tel Celeron 2.0GHz pro­ces­sor, 8 GBs of RAM, 2-hard drive bays, real-time & off­line 1080p video transcod­ing, and a 1080p video out­put via an HDMI con­nec­tion. An HDMI out­put is a bit of a rare gem on NAS de­vices and makes this QNAP stand out from

the crowd, it also makes it per­fectly suited for use as a home me­dia cen­tre. Other high­lights in­clude 2 x Gi­ga­bit LAN ports, 2 x 3.0 USB ports and 2 x 2.0 USB ports. To see full spec­i­fi­ca­tions, please visit www.qnap. com. As with most NAS so­lu­tions, the user needs to pro­vide their own choice of hard drive(s). The TS-251+ is com­pat­i­ble with stan­dard 2.5” and 3.5” drives as well as Solid State Drives (SSD). A small re­mote con­trol is pro­vided to make mul­ti­me­dia play­back on your TV a snap.

PER­FOR­MANCE

Out of the box, you can have this QNAP run­ning in about 30 min­utes with the de­fault set­tings but as with any com­puter sys­tem, there are near lim­it­less ways to tweak its con­fig­u­ra­tion. Ad­vanced users can con­fig­ure this QNAP as a Vir­tual Ma­chine (VM), which al­lows you to run soft­ware on dif­fer­ent op­er­at­ing sys­tems. The hard drives can be in­stalled in a RAID 1 con­fig­u­ra­tion for data stor­age re­dun­dancy, in case one of the drives fails. A RAID 0 con­fig­u­ra­tion is also pos­si­ble, if you pre­fer speed over re­dun­dancy.

Ini­tial setup of the QNAP was a breeze. I popped in a fresh hard drive, and plugged in the power and an Eth­er­net cable, con­nect­ing it to my home net­work, out of sight in a base­ment room. I then fol­lowed the soft­ware setup in­struc­tions in my web browser. I left all set­tings in their de­fault modes, some­thing most home users will likely do, but ad­vanced users might want to ad­just some of the ini­tial set­tings. What I re­ally en­joyed about the set up of the QNAP were the guided on-screen tu­to­ri­als which clearly ex­plained ev­ery step in de­tail. As with any ini­tial com­puter or NAS setup, it helps to be com­fort­able work­ing with com­put­ers. I ran into a cou­ple of small is­sues dur­ing the setup and had to turn to Google to find a so­lu­tion. Luck­ily, lots of so­lu­tions for QNAP prod­ucts can be eas­ily found on­line.

With the first-time setup com­pleted, I was off to the races. The management and file stor­age of the QNAP is con­trolled via the QTS op­er­at­ing sys­tem, in an in­ter­net browser. The QTS in­ter­face of­fers an at­trac­tive look and lay­out, and app based func­tion­al­ity, much like the An­droid or iOS op­er­at­ing sys­tem. If you are com­fort­able play­ing on your smart­phone, you’ll feel right at home us­ing the QTS op­er­at­ing sys­tem. When you first launch the QTS op­er­at­ing sys­tem, you’ll be greeted with a se­lec­tion of de­fault apps, but dozens more free apps can be down­load to cus­tomize and ex­pand your QNAP ex­pe­ri­ence. QNAP has just about ev­ery app cat­e­gory cov­ered, in­clud­ing backup/sync, busi­ness, devel­oper tools, en­ter­tain­ment, sur­veil­lance, home au­to­ma­tion and more.

In or­der to learn more about this QNAP’s me­dia server ca­pa­bil­i­ties, I trans­ferred a few movies, TV shows, pic­tures and music from my of­fice com­puter over to the QNAP drive. Over in my liv­ing room, my Sam­sung smart TV im­me­di­ately iden­ti­fied the QNAP as a new

video source and the con­tent was ready to be un­leashed on the big screen. Video play­back was in­stan­ta­neous and smooth, and the same was true with music play­back and pic­tures.

If you don’t own a smart TV, an al­ter­na­tive way to set up the QNAP in your home, is to place it in your liv­ing room and con­nect it to the TV via the HDMI out­put. This will then al­low you to use the QNAP Graph­i­cal User In­ter­face (GUI) on the TV screen, as op­posed to the TV’s GUI. In this con­fig­u­ra­tion, you can also use the pro­vided re­mote con­trol for nav­i­gat­ing the op­er­at­ing sys­tem and mul­ti­me­dia play­back. I tried the QNAP in this con­fig­u­ra­tion and was just as pleased with the re­sults of video, music and pic­ture play­back.

If you travel fre­quently for work or va­ca­tion of­ten, you will gain even greater ben­e­fits from own­ing a NAS com­puter. Of course you’ll be able to ac­cess the files stored on the QNAP from any com­puter connected to the in­ter­net. But what if you only have your smart­phone with you? The QNAP An­driod/ iOS app al­lows a re­mark­able amount of func­tion­al­ity. This app al­lows you to man­age files, stream mul­ti­me­dia con­tent from the NAP to your mo­bile de­vice, share files and fold­ers with oth­ers, auto-up­load pho­tos from your mo­bile de­vice, and even down­load files for off­line us­age. Within sec­onds of down­load­ing the app, I was able to seam­lessly stream video, play music and view pic­tures from my NAS on to my phone. This app also lets you stream the con­tent di­rectly to AirPlay de­vices and DLNA com­pat­i­ble TVs. I used it a friend’s house to stream a movie from the NAS drive di­rectly to their TV. How cool is that? Equal­ity as im­pres­sive, you can share a down­load link to any file stored on the NAS by email or text, or you can sim­ply email it di­rectly to any­one. And if that wasn’t enough you can also AirPrint files to a wifi printer.

The QNAP TS-251+ is an ac­ces­si­bly priced and re­mark­ably flex­i­ble NAS de­vice. It is per­fectly suited for fam­i­lies with mul­ti­ple com­put­ers and users who de­sire to set up their own, per­sonal cloud stor­age. I also can’t think of a bet­ter so­lu­tion for busi­ness own­ers who spent a lot of time on the road and of­ten share files with their col­leagues. If you in­te­grate one of these pup­pies in your home or of­fice, you’ll won­der how you ever sur­vived with­out one.

All QNAP sys­tems are con­trolled through a well de­signed, app-based QTS op­er­at­ing sys­tem (OS). The QNAP OS is ac­cessed via any web browser.

This screen shows the QNAP App Cen­ter, where ad­di­tional apps can be down­loaded. Apps in just about ev­ery cat­e­gory are of­fered, in­clud­ing backup/sync, busi­ness, devel­oper tools, en­ter­tain­ment, sur­veil­lance, home au­to­ma­tion and more.

Files stored on your QNAP NAS can be eas­ily ac­cessed when away from your home or of­fice, via an at­trac­tively de­signed graphic in­ter­face on your smart­phone or tablet.

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