Closer Look: QNAP TS-470 Turbo NAS Server
The QNAP TS-470 looks like a lot of small NAS units in the market; four bays in a small tower format. That’s the sweet spot for home office usage, because it allows you to use RAID 5 or RAID 6 and greatly decreases the risk of losing continuous access to your data. The four bays can theoretically hold 16TB of data, in JBOD or RAID 0 modes, with today’s state-of-the-art 4TB drives installed in each bay. If you need REALLY fast front-line storage, that’s an option, albeit a risky one that requires some sort of compensating storage strategy. Most users will choose the compromise method of RAID 5, which is still quite fast, given the right supporting infrastructure. The bottom line with any high performance storage solution is that the number of drive spindles in play is more important than almost any other factor, assuming that everything else is based on reasonably modern technology. When you combine the higher level of performance with the greater flexibility for online RAID capacity expansion & online RAID level migration, the additional cost of the extra drive bays looks like a bargain instead of conspicuous consumption. What initially looks like overkill in a NAS system might just be the very thing that saves the day some years down the road.
The TS-470 shares much of the same technology and features as the current QNAP TS-870U-RP model, but the TS-x70 series repackages them in a tower format. The TS-x70 series is meant to provide high performance on the low end of the business class series. There are 4, 6, and 8 bay units available, in the same tower format. The size and weight of the TS-470U are typical for a device of this class: 177mm(H) x 180mm(W) x 235mm(D), and 10 pounds without drives installed. Each HDD you install will add about 1-1/2 pounds, depending on your choice of drive. Most users will probably be looking at 2, 3, or 4TB drives for a NAS unit like this, and they’re heavier than most.
The TS-470 is aimed at business users, and most businesses are going to want to have continuous access to the data that enables their operations (AKA cash flow…), so a RAID configuration that includes some redundancy is undoubtedly called for. Multiple SATA 6Gb/s drives can be installed as: a single disk, RAID 0 (Disk Striping), RAID 1 (Disk Mirroring), RAID 5 (Block-level striping with distributed parity), RAID 6 (Block-level striping with double distributed parity), RAID 10 (AKA RAID 1+0, a stripe of mirrors), and JBOD (Linear Disk Volume). RAID 5 has the option of a hot spare, which decreases MTTR but also decreases overall device capacity. The most common choices are going to be RAID 5 or 6. RAID 6 offers some additional redundancy, allowing for continued operation even with two simultaneous drive failures, with no additional performance hit and only one additional drive. This option is very popular because if one individual drive fails in a RAID 5 implementation, the array instantly starts operating like a RAID 0 configuration, which has NO redundancy. It stays in that vulnerable state until the array is rebuilt, which is a slow process that generally taxes the system to the max, and can take several hours to complete. More than once, I’ve seen that situation go South; we lost the whole array and had to restore from tape backup, which meant lost work and a lot more downtime.
Each drive can be formatted with FAT, NTFS, EXT3, or EXT4 file systems. All Intel-based QNAP NAS units offer the additional option of AES 256-bit encryption and some of the larger units in the TS-x79 series offer native CPU support for the recent AES-NI additions to the Intel64 instruction set. The Celeron CPU in the TS-470 does not have this capability, and I’ve learned that it’s a waste of time to try using full volume encryption with a system that doesn’t have AES-NI support hard coded inside the CPU. At least one vendor has implemented folder-based encryption, where you can limit the amount of data that gets encrypted to specific folders in the data structure. If only a small portion of your data needs it, you can enjoy a balance of performance and security that isn’t available on the all-or-nothing units. Our tests on all QNAP systems have utilized EXT4-formatted disks without encryption.
QNAP uses a fairly simple steel-framed tray to hold each drive on the TS-470, which is a common part across much of the product line. In the tower models, each tray slides in with the HDD in the vertical position and locks firmly into place with the lever on the front. Key locks are included to secure the trays in place, which may or may not be a security requirement for you. The drive trays easily accommodate 2.5″ drives without any additional hardware; just use the correct mounting holes located on the bottom surface. QNAP used to not recommend mixing 3.5″ and 2.5″ drives in the same enclosure, but the advent of SSD caching in their business-class devices put an end to that restriction. The trays are not labeled with the chassis slot number, which sounds like a small thing. They are all physically identical and you can mix and match them all you want, until you build a drive array and then you had better remember which one goes where. If you mix them up the NAS won’t recognize the array, and worst case you could end up destroying data as you try to figure out which drive is which.
The chassis of the TS-470 is built from three major modules, the drive bay, the power supply sitting on top, and the main controller board located along the left side. There is enough room at the top of the front panel for an LCD display with a two-button input switch, LEDs for System Status, presence of a USB Storage device, and LAN activity. Each of the hard drive bays also has multi-color LED indicators on it as well, showing HDD activity and error status. Green means the drive is present and OK, flashing Green means the drive is being accessed, and Red means there’s an error. On the lower left, are power buttons and a multi-function USB copy button with an integrated USB port. A brand new feature that hasn’t been included on any NAS model I’ve reviewed so far is the infrared (IR) receiver on the front panel. With all the new multimedia features that come with the enhanced hardware and software, adding in the capability to use an IR remote control really makes those features more accessible.
There are no ventilation holes on the top or bottom of the QNAP TS-470 Turbo NAS chassis. The only entry points for cool air are through the front of the drive trays and this strip of small holes on the side panel. The air that comes in the front passes over the HDDs, then hits the fins of the CPU heatsink and is finally exhausted out the rear of the unit by the 92mm fan. The air coming in the side cools off the rest of the components on the main controller board. I usually don’t pay much attention to fan noise in the smaller NAS models, as it is never really noticeable during my daily use. The TS-470 also fits that scenario, even though it has to keep a larger CPU cool. Noise was just not an issue, even though I had the unit on my desktop, quite near me. The 6-bay and 8-bay versions have twin fans to cool the additional drives, so they get a bit louder.
Looking at the back panel of the TS-470, you can see most of the hardwired I/O points along the right hand side of the unit. Starting at the top are two GbE ports, courtesy of the included expansion card. There are several options available that can be substituted here, and the factory default is two GbE connections. These ports are not explicitly labeled, but they show up as ports #3 and #4 in software. Below that are two 3.5mm audio jacks, one for line-level Audio Out, and one for Mic In. Next up are two eSATA ports, which allow for easy capacity expansion for the TS-470. More drive management options in the QTS 4.0 Software make this option particularly useful for expansion. Just barely visible below the eSATA ports is the small hole that guards the reset button from accidental actuation. Two levels of reset capability are provided, Basic System Reset (hold for 3 sec), and Advanced System Reset (hold for 10 sec). Next in line are two stacks of Ethernet ports integrated with two pairs of USB connections. The two Ethernet ports are the same, with basic GbE connectivity. They show up in the QTS software as ports #1 and #2, and that’s how they are labeled on the panel. The top set of USB ports are USB SuperSpeed (USB 3.0) spec, all dressed in bright blue. The bottom two are USB 2.0, in their normal black livery. Continuing to the bottom right, there is a single, full-sized HDMI video port, which is an indicator of the new functionality that’s inside. On the upper left is the IEC input for AC power, and the small cooling fan of the internal power supply.
Now that we’ve had a thorough tour of the exterior, let’s do a tear-down and see what the insides look like. The next section covers Insider Details.