Technology Details: QNAP TS-470 Turbo NAS
The biggest chip on the board is the Intel Celeron G550 CPU, a dual-core member of the 32nm Sandy Bridge family. It’s certainly got the biggest heatsink, a finned aluminum block held in place by four heavy-duty springs, and two heatpipes coming off at a right angle, leading to a small fin assembly which is strategically placed in the airflow created by the 92mm rear cooling fan. I’ve often wondered why almost all NAS vendors seemed to be stuck on the Intel Atom platform, and now I can see why. It’s been a question of thermal packaging all along. QNAP had to use a few tricks to get enough cooling capacity into the same size chassis as the Atom-powered servers, and their work paid off. The marketing material is very vague about exactly what CPU is inside the TS-470; that’s what drove me to pull the whole thing apart and remove the newly designed heatsink from the Socket 1155 CPU mount. Part of me thinks that there is an upgrade coming down the line, as the G1610 CPU, from the Ivy Bridge family is pretty much a one-for-one replacement in this application. With a 22nm technology, instead of the 32nm employed on the G550, TDP is reduced from 65W to 55W. Now that the cooling puzzle has been solved, I expect QNAP to up the ante at least once more, in a future model upgrade somewhere down the line. The G1610 is only about 5% faster than the G550, but the lower TDP is a nice bonus and the price difference may cross over sooner, rather than later. Technically, the G550 is listed as “end of life” by Intel, but I’m sure there are lots of chips in the pipeline.
As much work as the CPU does, it’s isolated from directly communicating with most of the subsystems by the Intel Platform Controller Hub (PCH), which we all used to call the Southbridge (back when there was this thing called a Northbridge…). This is the second hardest working chip on the main board, and it’s also got a heatsink on top, although it’s less that 1/10 the capacity of the one on the CPU. The Celeron CPU in the TS-470 does not have native CPU support for the Advanced Encryption Standard New Instructions (AES-NI) set. These new instructions speed up the encryption/decryption process by anywhere from 3x to 10x, depending on the implementation. As slow as the Atom-based and Marvell-based models are with encryption enabled, the QNAP TS-x70 models are the minimum level that can realistically support AES 256-bit Volume-based data Encryption. Even with the enhanced computing power offered by a Sandy Bridge CPU, the extra load of data encryption is just too much to handle without a major performance hit. If you need volume-based encryption, you really should consider spending the extra to get a CPU that will offer reasonable performance, which means a model that has native support for the AES-NI instruction set. So far, I have yet to see a NAS product based on an AMD CPU, but the Bulldozer and Piledriver cores are both supporting AES-NI now.
To mate with the much more powerful CPU employed in the TS-470, QNAP chose the H61 Platform Controller Hub. Its direct support for HDMI is one reason to choose it. The fact that it’s the go-to reference design for mini-ITX motherboards means it’s easy to source, and programming support is widespread.
Marvell supplies the SATA interface ICs for many of QNAP’s products, as well as for other manufacturers. There is only one used on the TS-470, marked 88SE9235, and it serve as the interface between the system’s PCI-Express lanes and the four SATA devices. The controller is physically located on the SATA backplane and it supports four 6 Gb/s SATA interface ports and a two-lane 5.0 GT/s PCIe 2.0 host interface back to the Intel H61 PCH. The primary usage of the TS-470 is with traditional 3.5″ HDDs in all the bays, none of which operate anywhere near the full capabilities of the SATA 6Gb/s interface. QNAP has provided an option in their latest QTS 4.0 software to add one or two SSDs as cache devices, and the Marvell controller will have to deal with their much higher throughput. I didn’t test that capability yet, but I will.
USB 3.0 is not one of the features supported by the Intel H61 Platform Hub Controller, so an extra chip is needed, and QNAP chose the EtronTech EJ188H. This is the first time I’ve anything besides the Renesas (nee NEC) µPD720200 controller for USB 3.0 duties. Someone had to break u the monopoly, and it looks like EtronTech finally did it. Every PC (…errrrr, NAS) needs a Super I/O + Hardware Monitor. In this case, those duties are handled by the Fintek F71869AD. It’s unlikely that QNAP needed the IEEE 1284 Parallel Port, Keyboard Controller, or Floppy Drive Controller that are included here, but they no doubt used the auto-controlling fans and temperature sensor pins for the CPU thermal diode. Once again, Fintek is a new name for me, and in this very mature application they are probably competing on price.
QNAP relies heavily on Intel for their Ethernet controllers in the high-end models of their product line. It’s a smart move, as Intel is a leader in this area, even though they’re not very well known for it by the public. The Intel WG82574L provides the interface for the twin GbE network ports on the rear panel. Additional network ports are available on a variety of PCIe NICs that can be added to expand the capability of the TS-470. We’ll see later, in our RAID testing, just how critical Ethernet performance is to a product like this. We’ll also see the impact of switching to 10GBASE-T, with QNAP’s LAN-10G2T-U, Dual-port 10 Gigabit Network Expansion Card. A Realtek ALC662 5.1 Channel High Audio Codec is used to drive the audio ports on the rear panel, and the embedded audio in the HDMI interface. This is a typical audio solution, just like you would find on a mid-range PC motherboard. Not over the top high-end sound, but a perfectly serviceable audio controller, nonetheless.
To measure isolated NAS power consumption, Benchmark Reviews uses the Kill-A-Watt EZ (model P4460) power meter made by P3 International. Obviously, power consumption is going to depend heavily on the number and type of drives that are installed. The power draw also depends on the fan speed that’s required to keep the unit cool. When the device first starts up and the system completes its boot process, it then gets into idle standby mode, where it consumed 42W. This is slightly higher than the 38.4W specified by QNAP for a system with four 500GB drives installed. With all drive bays filled and during heavy file transfer operations, it drew 63W. When the system goes into Sleep Mode and spins all the drives down, the power is reduced to 22 watts. When the unit is turned off, it still consumes 1-2W in Vampire mode; be aware that even when it’s turned off, the internal switch-mode power supply still pulls a small amount of power.
We’ve seen the ins and outs of the hardware, the new software, and the technology under the hood; now let’s take a detailed look through the extensive list of features that you get with most every QNAP Turbo NAS. I know the next couple of sections are overly long, but it’s critical to understand just how much these units can do. You don’t want to be fooled into thinking it’s just a big box full of drives. It’s capable of so much more than that.