Technology Details: QNAP TVS-863+ Turbo vNAS
The biggest chip on the board is the AMD GX-424CC CPU, a quad-core member of the 28nm Jaguar family. It’s architected as a System-On-Chip (SOC) in this iteration, so most of the peripheral interfaces like USB, SATA, Video, Audio, etc. are built right into the die from the start. NAS devices are a perfect application for this sort of chip, as smaller, lighter, cheaper, easy to integrate are what every NAS designer wants. It consumes a little more power than some of the smallest SOC chips on the market, with a max TDP of 25W. Part of the reason for that is the high clock frequency of 2.4GHZ, for this particular version. Critical to this marketplace is the presence of a 497MHz Radeon R5E GPU, integrated on the SOC. That’s the other reason the TDP of the chip is slightly higher than some. If you don’t think graphics processing power is important in the NAS market, you haven’t been paying attention to the consistent move towards putting NAS servers at the center of the multimedia experience. There’s lots of work to do, transcoding video streams to fit on the myriad screen resolutions that are connected to a typical network, usually on portable devices. The AMD GX-424CC is the only chip on the main board that needs a heatsink, and the modern heatpipe and fin construction is used to good effect here, pulling the heat out of the main system board and into the airstream that flows through the TVS-863+ from front to back.
As much work as the CPU does in its usual role of counting digits, it also has to communicate and control most of the subsystems that would normally be handled by an Intel Platform Controller Hub (PCH) in a normal PC, notebook, or NAS. The PCH is usually the second hardest working chip on the main board, and integrating all those interfaces into the AMD SOC also increases the TDP of the overall package somewhat. The GPU section of the AMD GX-424CC is based on a Radeon R5E Graphics engine, and it supports DirectX 11.1, OpenGL 4.2 and OpenCL1.23 (on Windows). This isn’t exactly a gaming-ready GPU, but it’s perfectly suitable for handling hi-res streaming video for multiple clients. The quantity and arrangement of PCI Express connections is well suited for this application, although a packet switching chip is needed to combine four of the single x1 PCIe lanes into an x4 signal that gets routed to one of the x4 PCIe connectors on the system board. The integral SATA connections from the SOC are used for drive bays #1 and #2, where QNAP suggests you place any SSDs you want to use as cache devices.
Asmedia supplies two key ICs that complement the integrated interfaces available on the AMD G-Series SOC. The ASM1182 packet switching chip takes four of the PCIe x1 lanes and turns them into one of two PCIe x4 interfaces that are present on the main board. One of them is used for communicating with the SATA chips on the backplane where the drives plug in. The other is used for the expansion port that typically houses the network interface card. With the option of supporting dual 10GbE interfaces from this port, bandwidth is important, and the full PCIe x4 throughput is needed to keep up with requirements. The second Asmedia chip is the ASM1074, which provides additional SuperSpeed USB (AKA USB 3.0) connections for the TVS-863+, which has a total of five available USB 3.0 ports spread between the front and back panels. The AMD SOC handles all the display requirements with a Radeon R5E GPU running at 497MHz, feeding dual HDMI output connections.
Marvell supplies the three SATA interface chips, which are used for drive bays 3-8. The 88SE9215 chip is actually capable of handling four SATA drives on its own, but for maximum throughput QNAP uses just one of the ICs to supports the three pairs of drives. There is a potential for a bottleneck on the PCIe side of the chip, and the TVS-x63 architecture ensures that the bandwidth of a single x1 PCIe lane is only split across two drives, not four. Bays #1 and #2 are directly supported by the SATA interface on the GX-424CC SOC. For that reason, QNAP suggests that users who want to take advantage of the SSD cache feature put their SSD devices in drive bays 1 and 2. Intel provides two identical ICs for driving the dual GbE ports that are integrated onto the main system board, which are standard for every model in the TVS-x63 product line. With a launch date of 4Q12, this is a full-featured NIC, with all the latest technologies for increasing application-specific throughput and reducing overall power requirements. For obvious reasons, almost all of my review is focused on the capabilities that are unleashed with the 10GbE NIC that comes standard on the TVS-863+ model, but it’s always useful to have high quality network interfaces. There are subtle compatibility and performance advantages that come with the better chips, and QNAP knows that better than most.
Let’s take a deeper look at the 10GbE Network Interface Card that is included as a standard feature with the TVS-863+ Turbo vNAS server. The biggest chip on the NIC is the Marvell Alaska X 88X3110 – a fourth generation PHY transceiver that performs physical layer functions for 10Gbps signals over 10GBASE-T copper wiring. That’s a key capability, because it means you can run 10GbE connections over CAT5e wiring, for reasonably short runs. Full 100 meter capability needs CAT 6 cabling, but that’s also a garden variety component these days. The 88X3110 features a small footprint and low power consumption – only 2.5W per port for full 100m drive capability.
The smaller chip on the NIC is Tehuti’s new 3rd generation TN4010 controller, an optimized 10 Gigabit Ethernet MAC designed for low-power, low-cost, single-port connectivity. I believe the entire board is produced by Tehuti, as a private label model for multiple manufacturers. I’ve seen similar boards, supplied for Thecus for example. The TN4010 MAC, paired with the Marvell Alaska 88×3110 transceiver, provides 10GBase-T, 1000Base-T, and 100Base-TX compatibility over low-cost standard CAT-6a Ethernet cabling, up to 100m. This combination creates a new choice for cost-conscious consumer applications, as well as to embedded applications like this. 10GbE hardware has been a challenge, in terms of cost, for a while now, and it’s good to see some new players in the game that are offering lower cost options.
As a wrap up to this technology section, Benchmark Reviews looks at the total NAS package and measures the overall power consumption that is needed to operate all these components. Benchmark Reviews uses the Kill-A-Watt EZ (model P4460) power meter made by P3 International for testing purposes, and we are able to measure not just power, but voltage, frequency, power factor, and the raw VA product. 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, and the drives, cool. When the device first started up it briefly pulled a max of 80W when all four HDDs were spinning up, the SSDs were initializing, and the system fans were running open loop, before the temperature sensors were able to let the fan controllers know that everything was cool. Once the system completed its boot process, it then went into normal operating mode, where it consumed between 55-60W. During heavy file transfer operations, it drew a maximum of 75W during some of our more challenging benchmarking tests. After a period of time, which is configurable in the system software, the Turbo vNAS server goes into an idle mode that consumed just 35W. Further cuts in power consumption are possible, down to the single digits, via special sleep settings. I didn’t test those, because I don’t believe the test equipment is all that accurate once it gets down to the 1W level.
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.