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At around $270 with 500GB of storage ($400 for 2TB), the dual-bay Asus TS Mini NAS server has a good bang for your buck, especially when considering its really fast throughput performance.
However, like other NAS servers that run Windows Home Server operating system, the TS Mini comes with just a standard set of features that Microsoft bundles within the OS and not much more. It's also hard to get to the server's internal hard drive bay to add or upgrade its storage. To make up for this, the TS Mini comes with a slew of USB and eSATA ports to host external storage devices.
If you are looking for a fast and simple easy-to-use NAS sever, the TS Mini fits the bill. Those who want to get more out of their NAS servers, however, would porabaly want to check out the similarly priced HP MediaSmart EX495 or the slightly more expensive Synology DS209+ NAS server .
Design and setup
Contrary to its name, the TS Mini isn't the most compact dual-bay NAS server we seen. It's actually larger than the Synology DS209+. It's aesthetically pleasing; it's square in shape and has a small footprint when used in its intended vertical position.
Powered by Microsoft's Windows Home Server and Intel's Atom N280 processor running at 1.66Ghz and 2GB of 800Mhz DDR2 system memory, the Asus TS Mini significantly outspecs the Acer Aspire H340. And like other Windows Home Server-based NAS servers, the Asus is very much like a Windows server computer without a keyboard, mouse, or monitor. That said, the server can be controlled from a second computer on the same network via its Windows Home Server Console (for home users) or via remote desktop (for advanced users).
The TS Mini comes with one of its bays occupied by a 500GB hard drive (or 2TB in the more expensive version) that includes the operating system. If you want to expand for more storage or duplicate to protect your data, you'll need at least two physical hard drives. Unfortunately, it's very hard to add a second hard drive or replace the server's original hard drive, as you'll need to literally dismantle the server using a screwdriver. The TS Mini's design does not allow you to easily service its internal storage.
It's a much better idea to add more storage to the NAS server using external hard drives, and the TS Mini can handle a lot of them. The server comes with six USB 2.0 ports and two eSATA ports on the back. This is twice the number of ports found in other dual-bay NAS servers.
Setting up the Asus TS Mini is an easy but time-consuming task. The server comes with three software disks, including the software installation CD. We popped this disk into a network PC and then followed the onscreen instructions. The setup process quickly detected the NAS server in the network and then installed the Windows Home Server Connector software. After that, the automatic setup process kicked in and took almost an hour to finish, during which time we just needed to wait. Once it was done, the Home Server Console software also installed on the PC, and we could use this to manage the server.
The other two disks are the PC restore CD and the server recovery DVD. The first restores a network computer from a backup image stored on the server and the second will recover the server to its factory default status if need be. This set of DVDs is standard for all Windows Home Server-based NAS servers that we've reviewed.
Windows Home Server allows developers to create add-ins to further extend the functionality of the server. Asus bundles two add-ins with the TS Mini: Asus Webstorage WHS Connector and Asus Xtor Manager.
Webstorage allows users to back up selected folders onto Asus' Webstorage cloud service. The TS Mini comes with a one-year subscription for 500GB; after that the service costs $68 per year.
The Xtor Manager, on the other hand, is a nifty application that enables you to sync any folder that's on the NAS server with one that's on an external hard drive. This is a great feature for those who want to keep identical copies of a folder in two places in real time.
We tried these two features out and they worked as intended. Note, however, that Webstorage uses a lot of Internet bandwidth, and you shouldn't back up folders that have more than around 10GB of data.
User account and share folders
Just like any Windows machine, the TS Mini has a standard user management setup. To create a new user, run the Windows Home Server Console and click on the tab called User Accounts. Here, you can create new users just like you would using a Windows computer, with one difference: you have the option of giving the user remote access to the NAS server. Once a user is created, the wizard will display a list of existing share folders that the new user can be given access to. Access privileges include Full (write and read), Read (read only), and None (no access).
Note that though you can create as many user accounts as you'd like, the server only allows for a maximum of 10 concurrent connections.
Creating a new share folder is similar to creating a new user; simply click on the "Share Folder" tab and follow the wizard. Once a new folder has been created, the wizard allows you to assign access to that folder via a list of existing users. An unlimited number of share folders can be created.
The NAS server comes with four media-related default folders, including Photos, RecordTV, Music, and Video. Files inside these folders are streamed to any media-server-compatible devices, including set-top boxes, game consoles, iTunes, and other computers. You can turn the streaming features on or off at the Windows Home Server Console's Settings page. The server supports virtually all popular digital content formats currently available on the market.
As the Asus TS Mini is just another Windows computer, it's very easy to access its share folder by browsing your network with Windows Explorer. Mac users will also see it automatically in Finder. Unfortunately, unlike the HP EX495, it doesn't offer any support for Time Machine.
Storage and backup
Despite the fact that this is a dual-bay NAS server, the Asus TS Mini doesn't offer support for RAID configurations, such as RAID 1, which allows you to set up the hard drive in redundant settings to protect data. Instead, the TS mini uses Windows Home Server's folder duplication feature as a redundant backup. You can turn this feature on or off for any shared folder; once it's turned on, the folder's content will be duplicated across different physical hard drives to be protected against single hard-drive failure. When a new hard drive is installed, the server will automatically rebuild the copies of data that have been lost. You can use this feature with any folders of your choosing; however, you'll need at least one additional hard drive installed. This hard drive can be internal or external (connected via the USB or eSATA connections) but it must be added as an extension of the server's storage.
Though this features worked very well in our tests, we noticed that when you choose to duplicate a folder that contains lots of large files (such as movies), working with these files noticeably slows down the overall performance of the computer.
The NAS server accepts extra hard drives in two modes: extension and backup. In extension mode, the added drives will be the extension of the internal hard drive with their storage blended together. You won't have control over which hard drive your data is stored to, unless you use the duplication feature. In this mode, the NAS will format the drive before you can use it, meaning you won't be able to use a hard drive with existing data on it. In order to add a drive that already contains data, you'll need to use the backup mode. In this mode, the added drive will act as a separate volume that can be removed later. You can only use this drive to be the destination to back up the NAS' internal hard drives. This is useful, as it allows for backing up the server's main hard drive for recovery in case it fails.
The Asus TS Mini offers a convenient backup solution for PCs. The server can silently pull backups from any network computers that have Windows Home Server Console installed without any interaction from the user. The NAS can even automatically wake the computer from standby mode to do the backup if need be. Restoring files is made easy thanks to the interface. When viewing a backup file, the NAS will convert it to a virtual drive. Then, you can just browse for files and copy them over using Windows Explorer just like you would do with an external hard drive.
Like other Windows Home Server-based NAS servers, the Asus TS Mini doesn't allow for backing up or restoring multiple PCs at a time. This means if you use it as the backup destination of multiple computers that have lots of data, some computer will have to wait for a long time before they can start backing up.
The Asus TS Mini offers remote access via the free Windows Live Custom domain service. You can use this service as long as you have a Hotmail or MSN account. Just type in your account information, and everything is set up for you. Now you can remotely access the server from anywhere via the Internet by going to xyz.homeserver.com, where xyz is the name of your Hotmail account.
Remote access allows for access to multiple accounts on the server that have the remote access feature enabled. You can browse files stored in the shared folder and upload/download files from and to the remote computer. The Asus TS Mini allows for downloading multiple files or an entire folder from the NAS server to the remote computer. If you choose to download a folder, you have the option of downloading that folder in the form of a ZIP file or an executable file that will decompress the downloaded content for you.
The Asus TS Mini did very well in CNET Labs' performance tests, topping our charts of single-volume NAS servers.
In the write test, the server scored 467.1Mbps, outdoing the HP MediaSmart Server LX195, which scored 341.8Mbps, by a large margin.
The server did even better in the read test, registering a staggering 690.3Mbps, by far the fastest among single-volume NAS servers.
The TS Mini worked smoothly in our testing process without any hiccups. It was also relatively quiet, even during heavy loads. The server felt rather warm, however, even with just one hard drive installed internally.
Service and support
Asus backs the TS Mini with a rather parsimonious one-year warranty, though this is now very much the standard for a lot of NAS servers. At the company's Web site, you'll find downloads, FAQs, the manual, and other support-related materials. You can contact the company's tech support via e-mail.