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QNAP TS-451 Turbo NAS Server Review

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Insider Details: QNAP TS-451 Turbo NAS

Before we dig into the real innards of the QNAP TS-451, here’s the “drives eye” view of the NAS. All power for the drives comes through the PCIe connection on the main controller board and makes its way towards the power portion of the four SATA connectors. The signal portion of the SATA interfaces are located right below them, and although the backplane looks like it’s just a passive connector board, there are two Asmedia SATA controller chips located on the backplane.  The cooling fan is partially visible from here, and there is plenty of wide open space in the chassis framework for the fan to pull air through. Of course, the hard drives will fill up most of that space, but it’s good that they are the only thing holding back the airflow.

QNAP_TS-451_Turbo_NAS_Server_Backplane_01

The top cover is easily removed once four small screws on the back panel are removed. From this point on, it’s evident that QNAP has done a wholesale redesign on the chassis. Previous QNAP models with the small tower format had a complex and rugged inner frame that looked like it could stand up to mobile deployment in an industrial environment. Whether it was a 2, 4, or 6-bay device, the basic mechanical infrastructure was always the same. At some point, value engineering always beats out economy of scale, and QNAP has created a new, less expensive platform that meets all the needs of a typical home or office user and costs a whole lot less to produce. Given the increased competition in the NAS market, I think it makes perfect sense to spend more on the electronics and software, if you can save a few bucks on the case. This still a good, modern, sophisticated, mechanical design package; QNAP has not sunk to the lowest common denominator here. To reiterate, it meets all the needs of a typical home or office user, looks good doing it, and weighs a couple pounds less than the previous generation. Sounds like a millennial…..just kidding. The modular layout is quite evident; the main board takes up the whole left side of the unit, and the drive bay takes up the lion’s share of the remainder. You can see that there’s a lot of spare real estate on top of the drive cage. That will no doubt be put to use in other higher-end models for a display, and perhaps a CPU cooler. You can see why I say this is a whole new platform, right?

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Once you take a few more screws out, the whole plot is exposed and you can see how the new design is very straightforward and simple. Once I got to this point several things struck me. The electronics package has also been simplified and more integrated.  There is only one wire harness needed, for the cooling fan, and all the indicators and interconnect jacks are soldered directly to the main controller card. Once again – simpler, cheaper, and more reliable, too. Secondly, the fan is really large, and I suspect that’s not because this particular model generates a lot of heat.  It’s a full 120mm, because the quietest fan you can use is almost always going to be the largest diameter fan that will fit. But, there may also be models down the road that have a beefier CPU that needs the cooling. Hmmmm…, did I hear that there’s a quad-core version coming out soon? With the new virtualization capability that QNAP has released, that makes a lot of sense. Lastly, it looks like you have to remove the drive cage at least, in order to access the second SODIMM slot, in case you need to upgrade the memory. I looked at it all different ways when the drive cage was still attached, and couldn’t figure out a way to get the memory module in or out of its socket. That’s a bit more work than I’m used to seeing on QNAP units, but it’s not harder than before, just more work. QNAP has a web tutorial available to spell it all out for you.

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Once the drive cage is removed, the main controller board is fully exposed, and you can see from this view that it is pretty densely packed. Not quite to the level of a graphics card, but close. We’ll get into more details in the next section, but it’s plain to see that this main controller board is pretty much a one-chip show.  The Celeron J1800 sitting under the modest heatsink has almost all of the necessary functions built in already. It’s built on a very efficient and low-power 22nm Bay Trail core, and its architecture is aimed directly at systems just like this. There are two SODIMM slots located at right angles to each other, and one of them is partially covered by the sheet metal tray that the board is mounted to.

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If you could crawl inside the drive bay, and had X-ray vision, this is the view you would get of the main controller board for the QNAP TS-451. Typical for low power systems that feature a SOC solution, the CPU cooler is an insignificant part of the overall landscape. The large rectangular hole on the left side is where outside air enters the left chamber of the chassis, and it passes right through the jagged channels of the heatsink atop the CPU as it makes its way to the 120mm fan on the rear panel. The CPU is the only thing that really needs any cooling on this board, as even the power supply circuits are optimized for low power dissipation. Along the left edge of the board are all the switches and LED indicators for the front panel, along with the front panel SuperSpeed USB 3.0 port. Similarly, all of the rear panel interfaces are lined up along the right edge of the board. The only additional PCB that’s required is the SATA backplane which plugs into the short 4x PCIe connector on the lower right. All the power for the installed HDDs comes through this PCIe connection, so there are some dedicated power supply and regulation components located along side it. Along the bottom edge of the board is the 512MB DOM that contains the operating system and all the hardware configuration settings.

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Speaking of the SATA backplane, here it is, in its entirety. The edge connector transfers the PCIe signals to this vertical board that serves as the backplane for all the SATA HDD connectors. It’s not just a passive board, as there are two drive controller ICs located on the backplane. This is consistent with how QNAP builds their larger tower models, putting the controllers closer to the drives they are responsible for. Each Asmedia ASM1061 controller chip handles two drives, so the board isn’t littered with active ICs, but they are easy enough to spot. One is kitty-corner to the LH mounting hole, and the other is right below the bar code label on the upper right. All the other larger components mounted on the board are power supply and monitoring chips.

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The memory controller is integrated on the Intel J1800 Celeron CPU, and it’s designed to handle up to 8GB of DDR3L-1333 memory modules in its native configuration. The specs for the TS-451 call out two retail versions; one with a memory capacity of 1GB installed, and another with 4GB.  In both cases, I believe only one of the SODIMM slots are loaded with a memory module. The maximum memory capacity is 8GB, which is the limit of what the CPU can handle. Based on my testing, straight data transfers use very little of the NAS memory capacity.  There are dozens of more challenging apps that you can run on a QNAP NAS though, and the extra memory will have a bigger impact on some of those. Certainly, the new virtualization option that is available with the latest operating system will benefit from the extra memory.

So far we’ve had a good look at what there is to observe as far as hardware goes, but let’s dig down one more layer, down to the chip level where the technology really starts to get interesting. I love my hardware just as much as the next person, but it’s only half the story…..


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3 comments

  1. Piotr Z.

    If I’ve read the screenshot of ATTO correcty, you’ve just measured your C drive on SSD 🙂 1Gbit interface is exactly that – 1Gbit = theoretical 125MB/s. With the overhead it will max out on 110-180MB/s which you got in other softwares. I would suggest fixing that part of otherwise great review 😀

  2. Bruce

    Well, that might explain the very strange results I got….. Thank you so much for pointing that out. I will redo that test and post the true results.

  3. jamief

    QNAP suggest 3 possible usb tv tuners for use with this model….namely UPMOST DVB192A HD; Hauppauge Win TV Nova_T Stick (Device: 70019;HW rev DiF4) or Asus My Cinema U3100 Mini. I mistakenly bought a QNAP USB tv Stick when I originally acquired the above unit, thinking that it would naturally be compatible. Some of the above sticks are difficult to either isolate or acquire in UK and I was wondering if anyone else with similar NAS has had any luck with any other usb stick.

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