Insider Details: QNAP TVS-863+ Turbo vNAS
Before we dig into the real innards of the QNAP TVS-863+, here’s the “drive’s eye” view of the NAS. Twenty pins worth of DC power enter from the upper left, because eight NAS HDDs can demand a lot of power. Higher capacity drives tend to have more platters, and take more current to get them spun up to operating speed. The eight power and signal connectors for the SATA interfaces are located towards the bottom of the board, and although the backplane looks like it’s just a passive connector board, there are three Marvell SATA controller chips located just to the left of drive slots 3-4, 5-6, and 7-8. One of the main cooling fans is partially visible from here, and the fins from the CPU cooler are too, although they’re tougher to see when viewed on edge. The CPU cooler fins are partially blocked by the power connector, which should probably be located in the center anyways.
The top cover is easily removed once a number of small screws on the back panel are removed. Disassembly of the unit to this level does not void the warranty. Going further, as I did for this review will eventually disturb a number of screws that are marked to indicate tampering. I do have to thank our friends at TechPowerUp for the clue on how to fully disassemble the device. The front cover has to be removed in order to access the final screw that holds the main system board in place. The modular layout is quite evident; the main board takes up the whole left side of the unit, and the integral PSU is sitting right on top of the drive bays. The two 120mm cooling fans are mounted on the rear panel, right in line with the drive bay. The two SO-DIMM memory modules dominate the back surface of the controller board, evidence that this device has more power on tap than usual. It’s very easy to upgrade the DRAM once the top cover is removed, and QNAP supports a number of memory upgrade options for all the various models in the TVS-x63 series. This particular unit came fully populated with the maximum supported configuration, 16GB of DDR3L-1600.
Looking straight down from the top, you can see the installed expansion card better, as well as the power supply wiring to the main board and the backplane. The wiring from the PSU to these two PCBs is very straightforward and short. The backplane PCB gets its own dedicated power connector direct from the PSU, for all those power-hungry HDDs. If you think about how much current it takes to spin up large capacity drives, with three or four heavy platters inside each one of them, it’s clearly a good idea to have substantial power cables feeding the backplane PCB directly. The blue expansion card in the upper left-hand corner with the big silver heat spreader, is a QNAP single-port 10 Gigabit 10GBASE-T network expansion card for tower models; model LAN-10G1T-D, with an x4 PCIe 2.0 interface. The PCIe interface is standard, but the physical format of the cards is unique to NAS applications. The vNAS server firmware instantly recognizes the 10GbE NIC and there is never any manual configuration required to get any of the NICs up and running. Several models from Intel and Emulex are also supported, with options for fiber optic cabling and SFP+ ports, too. I’ve personally tested the Intel X520-T2 (E10G42BT) adapter on an enterprise-class QNAP Turbo NAS and also had a solid, carefree experience with that combo. Similar to the memory upgrade process, all that is required to access the expansion slot, where the optional network cards plug in, is to remove the top cover.
It’s plain to see that this main controller board is pretty much a one-chip show. The GX-424CC AMD Embedded G-Series System-on-Chip (SOC) sitting under the aluminum block has almost all of the necessary functions built in already. It’s built with four very efficient and low-power 28nm Jaguar+ CPU cores, and its architecture is aimed directly at systems just like this. There are two SODIMM slots located on the back side of the board, and we’ll look at those later. Low power systems that feature a SOC solution typically feature a CPU cooler that’s an insignificant part of the overall landscape. When that SOC is a quad-core running all four CPU cores at 2.4GHz, that changes everything. 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. All the switches, rear panel connectors and the front panel SuperSpeed USB 3.0 port are contained on this board, reducing cost and increasing reliability. Because it has to accommodate all those rear panel connectors, and span the distance from the front of the NAS all the way to the back, the board is bigger than it really needs to be and it’s not that densely populated. The two black edge connectors mounted at right angles to one another are both PCI Express x4 sockets. One is used for the SATA backplane and the other is for the expansion slot that holds the network interface card. The two 4-pin PWM fan controllers are also integrated on this board, as is the Disk-On-Module (DOM) that holds the operating system for the NAS.
Speaking of the SATA backplane, here it is, in its entirety. The edge connector on the far right transfers the PCIe signals to this board that serves as the backplane for all the SATA HDD connectors. It’s not just a passive board, as there are three drive controller ICs located on the backplane. This is consistent with how QNAP builds most of their larger tower models, putting the controllers closer to the drives they are responsible for. Each Marvell 88SE9215 controller chip handles two drives, so the board isn’t littered with active ICs, but they are easy enough to spot. All the other larger components mounted on the board are power supply and monitoring chips. The steel mounting plate that it is bolted to is very rigid, and offers a very stable and rugged support foundation for the board itself and the eight SATA connectors that it contains. A soggy SATA connection makes me cringe and the TVS-863+ was having none of that!
The SO-DIMM memory slots are located on the back side of the main system board, for easy access once the outer sheet metal cover is removed. This is one of many NAS servers in the QNAP line that provide an easy upgrade path for the system memory. In the early days of the NAS industry, memory was not a significant factor in system performance. With the increased sophistication of the operating systems, the hundreds of apps that can be loaded on a modern NAS to provide a broad array of services, and the introduction of virtualization capabilities to large portions of the product line, memory capacity is now a big deal. The memory controller is integrated on the AMD GX-424CC SOC, and it’s designed to handle up to 16GB of DDR3-1866 memory modules in single-channel mode. The specs for the TVS-863+ call out two retail versions; one with a memory capacity of 8GB installed, and another with 16GB. In the first case, only one of the SO-DIMM slots is loaded, with an 8GB memory module. 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 also 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…..