Asustor AS-604T NAS server review: Highly sophisticated NAS server, simplified
Looking for a fast, feature-rich advanced NAS server that's as fun to use as an iPad? Look no further than the Asustor AS-604T!
The four-bay AS-604T NAS server is the first storage product I've reviewed from Asustor -- the storage division of Asus -- and it was quite a pleasant surprise. The server was very fast in my testing, and its Web-based user interface looks and functions very similarly to that of an iOS device. This means if you can handle the iPad, you can probably manage this server.
The server is highly customizable and offers virtually all you'd ask for from a NAS server and possibly even more. Its long list of free add-on apps makes it one of the most comprehensive network storage products I've seen.
The AS-604T's only shortcoming is the lack of a special RAID configuration that could scale up its storage dynamically and cut down RAID build time. At around $720 (no storage included), it's also slightly more expensive than some other equally excellent four-bay NAS servers, such as the
The Asustor AS-604T NAS server comes with no storage included, but installing your own hard drives is a very quick process, thanks to the front-facing drive bays. Each of these bays includes a tray that can be easily unlocked and pulled out. After that it's simple to assemble a standard 3.5-inch hard drive on it. There are more than enough screws included for all four hard drives, always a good thing. You don't need to fill all four drive bays to use the server, but it's recommended that you do so, and use drives of the highest capacity for your storage needs.
This is because the AS-604T supports only standard RAID configurations (RAID 0, RAID 6, and RAID 5) and not any special RAID. (Read more about RAID configurations.) This means once you've set it up, there's no way to change to larger-capacity drives without rebuilding the RAID from the beginning. Other NAS servers, such as those from Synology, Netgear, and LaCie, come with a vendor-specific RAID configuration that makes it possible to dynamically scale up the storage space without even turning the server off.
With current hard drives maxing out at 4TB each, the AS-604T offers up to 16TB of unprotected storage space in RAID 0 or 12TB of protected storage space in RAID 5. It took me just about 5 minutes to install all four hard drives, and when I turned the server on for the first time, it prompted me, via a tiny LCD screen located on top of the drive bays, to initiate the server. This LCD is accompanied by four navigation buttons that enable you to interact with the server. When I pressed the button to answer affirmatively to the prompt, the server automatically started building the four hard drives into a RAID 5 setup.
This was the first time I've experienced a RAID build without the need for a computer. While the server was building the RAID, I finished the rest of the setup process, including hooking it up to the network and installing setup software on a connected computer. The server comes with a CD of the Asustor Control Center desktop applications that detect the NAS server in the network, perform quick basic setup, and help launch the Web interface from which you can manage all of the router's features and settings. The server's interface can also be reached by pointing a browser to its IP address. The default log-in information is "admin" for both username and password.
While the setup process took just a few minutes, I couldn't test the server's performance until much later because the RAID-building process with four 1TB hard drives took a couple of hours to finish. Generally, RAID build time can be very long, ranging from a few hours to more than a day, depending on the type of RAID and the total storage space. This is a common issue with standard RAID configurations, which is another reason why some vendors opt for a special RAID configuration.
Also on the front of the server are a USB 3.0 port and a One-Touch backup button that can be used to quickly back up an external drive to the server's internal storage or back up the server's shared folder to the connected external hard drive. You can change the function of this One-Touch backup feature via the server's Web interface.
On the back, the server comes with another USB 3.0 port, four USB 2.0 ports, and two eSATA ports. This is the largest number of peripheral ports I've seen in a NAS server. Using these ports you can add more storage to the server, as well as other peripheral devices, such as printers or Wi-Fi adapters. On top of that, the server also comes with an HDMI port (in case you want to connect it to a big-screen TV), and two Gigabit Ethernet network ports.
iOS-like Web interface
If you like the user interface of iOS devices, such as the iPad, you'll like the Web interface of the AS-604T, because once you're logged in, you'll be presented with almost exactly the same interface.
The interface Web page is designed to hold three rows of app icons, with five icons in each row. There are a few icons that are integrated with the server's management and settings that can't be removed, such as Settings, App Central, and Storage Manager. The rest of them belong to add-on applications and will disappear when you remove or disable the associated apps. The page holds up to 15 icons. You can also create more pages, then move icons between them by right-clicking the icon and selecting to move it to the desired page. You can scroll back and forth between pages, and name the pages to your liking. Essentially it's the same procedure you'd use to organize apps on an iPad.
To launch an app, just double-click its icon. Each app has its own window within the Web interface, and you can minimize the window to a button on the task bar located on the top of the interface. You can run multiple apps at once.
On the left end of the task bar is the minimize-all button, which quickly minimizes all open windows, similar to the way the Show Desktop button works in the Windows operating system. On the other end of the task bar is a search function that allows you to search for both apps and server settings, much in the way that Spotlight works in iOS.
This search is an excellent design feature that helps a great deal with managing the server, considering the number of settings and features it has to offer. For example, if you want to turn on support for Time Machine, just click the search icon and search for "Apple" or "Time Machine" or "Mac." A list of related items will be displayed, and you can quickly jump to the right setting. This eliminates the need to remember where certain settings are located, or having to scroll between pages of apps to look for the one you want to run.
Overall, the interface is very impressive with smooth animation and fading effects. It's also very responsive, making the server really a pleasure to use.
The Asustor AS-604T supports all platforms, including Windows, Mac, and Linux. As mentioned above, the server can work as a native Time Machine backup server, and you can also make it part of a domain when used in a centralized network. On top of that, you can add a huge number of features to the server via add-on apps using Asus' App Central.
App Central is Asus' equivalent of the App Store for iOS devices, where you can browse existing software, and add, remove, or update it. You can download up to five apps at a time -- and there are hundreds of them available. App Central also permits adding an app manually, should you want to develop one yourself. Those listed in App Central, however, have been officially verified by Asus to ensure their function and stability.
Owing to the large inventory of apps I was unable to test them all, but those I tried worked very well. The Download Center, for example, is a comprehensive tool for obtaining software. Here you can do a torrent search for what you want, then double-click the result to start downloading it immediately. Each search is saved should you want to go back to refresh the search. The app can also download from other sources, such as HTTP or FTP sites, and it supports downloading from sites that require authentication.
The Asustor AS-604T needs only one network port to work, but its two ports can be used together for all the applicable purposes. This means you can use both for load-balancing, fail-safe, or, when used with a supported switch, link-aggregation for better data speed.
Overall, the Asustor AS-604T is one of few servers on the market that offers an array of features as varied as this. The server also worked very smoothly during the testing period and remained quiet even during heavy loads.
I tested the Asustor AS-604T with just one of its network ports in RAID 5 and RAID 0 configurations, and it excelled in both.
In RAID 5, which is the most popular since it balances storage space, performance, and data safety, the server scored 91MBps and 95MBps for writing and reading, respectively. In RAID 0, the server performed even better, charting scores of 109MBps for writing and 111MBps reading.
Overall, these numbers were among the fastest I've seen, topping the charts for four-bay NAS servers.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
With a large selection of add-on apps, an intuitive and robust interface, and stellar performance, the Asustor AS-604T NAS server is an excellent network storage device. Kudos to Asus for successfully combining useful features of both Windows and Mac OS into a new and pleasant NAS experience.