Closer Look: ASUSTOR AS-604T NAS Server
The bottom line with any high performance storage solution is that the number of drive spindles in play is often 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 always looks like a bargain instead of conspicuous consumption. This is the reason more and more people are opting for NAS systems with at least four bays, even though they may not need all that capacity now. 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 ASUSTOR AS-604T is a relatively small unit, which is arranged in a tower format and should fit in anywhere, in a variety of home or business settings. The standard model is a diskless unit; ASUSTOR doesn’t sell them with drives installed, but there are a number of distributors that will bundle the NAS with some sensible drive combinations. The size and weight are similar to competing models: 185.5mm (H) x 170mm (W) x 230mm (D), and 7.7 kg without drives installed. Each HDD you install will add about 1-1/2 pounds, depending on your choice of drive. Many users will be looking at 2TB and 3TB drives for a unit like this, and they’re heavier than most. There are no handles on the unit, which might make it a bit difficult to pick the whole thing up once it’s fully loaded, but its compact size works in its favor once you are actually carrying it. The top and side panels have a brushed metal finish, which has a pretty smooth texture compared to some of the rougher powder coat finish that covers some units.
We’ve all got data that we can’t live without, the question is, how long do you want to be without it? Very few people are going to want to live without their important information for any length of time, and a RAID configuration that includes some redundancy is undoubtedly called for. With four SATA drives installed, you can have:
RAID 0 (Disk Striping)
RAID 1 (Disk Mirroring)
RAID 5 (Block-level striping with distributed parity)
RAID 6 (Block-level striping with redundant distributed parity)
RAID 10 (Striped (RAID 0) array whose segments are mirrored)
The most popular choice is going to be RAID 5 because it offers the highest capacity with built-in redundancy. RAID 6 offers additional redundancy, allowing for continued operation even with two simultaneous drive failures, and this option is available for the ASUSTOR AS-604T. RAID 6 is very popular for larger NAS units and mission-critical data stores, because if one individual drive fails in a RAID 5 implementation, the array instantly starts operating as 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 and the remaining drives to the max, and can take several hours to complete. RAID 10 is mostly popular with database managers because it typically offers better performance than RAID 5 or RAID 6. It offers no better protection against data loss, however. There is no front door on the enclosure, all of the four drive trays, with their locking handles are exposed in the front. There are no locks on the handles, just a push button release at the bottom which needs to be activated in order to lift up the lever and remove the drive tray. I always advise people to use locks if they are available, and to think twice before unlocking the release lever. Trust me when I say that you do not want to start accidentally pulling drives out.
The LCD panel and the four square navigation buttons to the right of the display allow the user to find their way through a number of system configuration settings. This is a relatively common feature on mid or high-end NAS products, but the ASUSTOR goes way beyond this, by allowing you to customize the display to a degree. Under normal conditions, the display is only active when configuration changes are being made, or when there is a fault condition. The AS-604T software has an option for displaying the internal temperature (always a good thing to know on disk-based systems), or a custom text string entered by the administrator. The custom text scrolls continuously, which allows for long messages.
Around the back of the ASUSTOR AS-604T, you can see all of the hardwired I/O points. Starting at the top right is a single USB 3.0 jack, dressed up in blue. There is a mate to it on the front panel, also USB 3.0, also in Blue. Directly below is the system Reset button, followed by two eSATA connectors. Next, a 1000BASE-T Ethernet jack is paired with dual USB 2.0 jacks, with an additional set of identical jacks just below that. The Ethernet ports are labeled 1 and 2, which is thoughtful. Surprisingly, not everyone does that. Down in the right hand corner is an HDMI connector, which is meant to be used for delivering streaming video direct from the NAS. At the very bottom is a spot for a Kensington lock hole. The left hand side of the rear panel has the integrated power supply, with its own fan, and an IEC receptacle integrated into the rear panel. The main cooling fan is below that, taking up most of the real estate, with its 120mm dimensions. This is the largest cooling fan I’ve seen on a 4-bay NAS, and it paid dividends with low speeds and quiet-running.
There is one set of ventilation holes on the left side of the ASUSTOR AS-604T, which serves to direct cool air directly to the main control board. Most of the cool air is drawn through the front of the unit, through the drive trays. That air passes over the HDDs and is then exhausted out the rear of the unit. The additional holes in the side panel also help to balance the flow, especially if you let dust build up on the drive trays in front. I’ve yet to use a NAS that had effective filtering, although a few had mesh on the front door to help catch some dust. In order to keep things cool when needed and quiet the rest of the time, the fan speed is modulated by a temperature controller on the main PCB. Most of the smaller NAS models I’ve reviewed were reasonably quiet, and the fan noise was never really noticeable during my daily use. The ASUSTOR AS-604T continued that pattern, blending in to the background noise of my study. The larger fan really helped keep the noise down. I actually noticed drive noise more than the fan on this NAS, which is unusual.
The bottom of the ASUSTOR AS-604T is a simple affair with four composite feet, and a product label with MAC IDs and Serial numbers. I do wish that the default user name and password were printed on the bottom label. I know it’s a minor security risk, but it’s always a struggle for me to find the right paperwork with that information in it, if I ever have to do a hard reset on a device like this. For the most part, a NAS usually just sits there and runs for very long periods of time without attention. Then, when it finally does need attention, all the manuals and user guides have long been discarded. The feet are held in place with screws, which is much better than relying on adhesive, as the feet can slip sideways a bit if the glue gets loosened somehow. The bottom surfaces of the feet have a soft polymer compound in the center, which prevents scratches, while the hard plastic outer shell keeps everything securely in place. The feet are pretty low profile, but there is enough room to get your fingers underneath when lifting the unit up.
Now that we’ve had a thorough tour of the exterior, let’s do a complete tear-down and see what the insides look like. The next section covers Insider Details.