£249 inc VAT • qnap.com/en
QNAP is one of the major brands when it comes to network attached storage disks for the home and the TS-251A is another strong proposition. It offers a high-end specification 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 there for a reason – it claims to offer 4K playback and decoding on the fly, so you can watch high-quality files on your TV smoothly.
That power doesn’t come cheaply, though. This model can be picked up online for around £250 but that doesn’t include any hard disks, so you’ll have to purchase those separately. It comes in 2GB or 4G variants – our supplied model was 2GB.
At the back are two USB 3.0 ports and two Gigabit Ethernet sockets. There’s also an HDMI port, so you can even hook the QNAP up directly to a TV and watch content direct from the drive on it. And if your network is down 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, suitable for basic operations.
There are two USB 3.0 ports on the front but one of these is an unusual Micro-B connection. This is for hooking up to an external drive, so you can back up or copy content from or to the drive. This seems an unusual 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 isn’t included in the box, though 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 transfer the photos from your DSLR straight onto the NAS.
The drive bays slide out easily, but installation is not tool-less – getting the disks in will require the use of a screwdriver. When 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 identified and set itself up. This didn’t work smoothly for us as it didn’t detect the drive, so we went with a more traditional approach. We downloaded and installed the QFinder Pro utility to our computer and using this the drive was duly detected and the latest firmware installed. In fact, you’ll need 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.
Once set up, and you’ve logged in to your NAS via a browser, you’ll discover the TS-251A to be powered by one of the most comprehensive NAS operating systems on the market. The simple icon and window based interface is speedy and easy to use. QTS offers a huge range of apps available to install. There are staples 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 wealth 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.
There’s also a Video Station app, though this has no support for MKVs, which means it won’t be much use to many. Of all the apps available, the one that interested us most was Plex, the media organisation software. Interestingly, you can run both the Plex Media Server and the Plex client on the same box. It works very well and with the QNAP attached to the TV we were able to browse and play content using the supplied remote control. You can also access it via a Plex client on an Xbox One or PS4.
One issue we found was the noise level. Our drive was filled by two Seagate ST8000VN0002 8TB drives set up in RAID one. This proved to be noisier in operation than we would have liked. This could be corrected if we slightly moved the unit.
To test performance, we used CrystalDiskMark and with a 1GB sequential test with saw read performance of 111MB/s and write performance of 118.5MB/s – very impressive indeed. You won’t be wanting for performance from this drive.
To test the port on the front we hooked up to a MacBook Pro laptop and using BlackMagic Disk Test we saw speeds of 106MB/s write and 107MB/s read – very good indeed.
The QNAP is an undoubtedly impressive NAS drive. There’s plenty of power for virtually all tasks, and H.265 aside it will handle anything you throw at it. The range of apps is very comprehensive and the interface is excellent. The downside 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’s not 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 at the price.