"" might be the latest (annoying) buzzword when it comes to storage, but for most people the thought of trusting all of their data to an Internet service is still a ways off.
External, networked storage is still one of the best solutions and — given the price of hard drives at the moment — very economical. We've seen excellent housings from the likes of D-Link and , so what is it that QNAP's offering brings to the table?
As far as external drives are concerned, this would have to be one of the ugliest. But what good are looks on a NAS anyway?
Yet despite its Stargate-via-Chronicles-of-Riddick appearance it's very sturdily made. The casing is made from brushed aluminium, and considering the lack of a fan, it acts as a heat sink for your drive. Assembly is easy if you've got a Philips head screwdriver handy, and the drive slots in easily. The housing comes with two dampened feet that allow the device to sit upright.
The drive isn't soundproofed, but we found that it was fairly quiet using both Samsung and Western Digital drives. And if you store it out of the way you won't even need to worry about noise at all.
Though the housing is relatively pricey, it also packs in a lot of features. These include a BitTorrent client, Web accessibility, and a DLNA server for streaming to network players, while the Pro version (AU$399) also adds a MySQL server which is well out of bounds of what most people reading this review would need.
Connectivity is very good with a front-mounted USB port for connecting and uploading USB drives, two more USB ports at the rear, an eSATA port and Gigabit Ethernet.
Being a single-drive at first glance it appears that it won't support redundancy in the form of RAID 1. However, QNAP has its own system called Q-RAID which allows mirroring via the USB and eSATA ports. Given that eSATA is as quick as an internal drive it's the option we'd recommend. While you can also set up automatic backups to any sized drive to enable Q-RAID the external drive needs to be the same size.
Set up was easy thanks to the included disk — but if you're replacing the drive, the QNAP finder program will tell you it hasn't been configured and will also lead you through the process.
Mystery meat navigation returns with the QNAP's user interface.
However, despite this, we initially had some problems with copying files and general stability. We originally thought this was due to a combination of hot weather and the unit's passive cooling. However, after experimenting with a desk fan and then a whole new drive we found the original drive was actually faulty. While this was relieving, the QNAP wasn't sophisticated enough to alert us to this fact and simply hung randomly.
And while we're on the topic of niggles, the QNAP makes a disconcerting beeping noise when turning it on and off. It's not exactly a klaxon horn, but certainly in the realm of "dude, your smoke detector battery needs changing".
One thing we'll mention about using this device is that you shouldn't use a disk with info already on it because the QNAP uses its own operating system and will wipe whatever is on the disk.
In use, it works reasonably well, but is much better as a "set-and-forget" device due to an overly antagonistic interface. In particular, the main Web configuration menu uses symbols instead of names. Shouldn't Mystery Meat navigation have gone out in the nineties?
The numerous features were more-or-less useful, though they each had their own unique degree of difficulty. One of the easiest to use was the iTunes client which was simply a matter of clicking a check box and ok. All iTunes clients on the network were then able to see it in a Shared file under the name we'd given the NAS. Conversely, enabling the TwonkyServer for sharing media with the network wasn't straightforward at all. After much gnashing of teeth we found it required clicking two separate, poorly-labelled check boxes and another link to get working. Once done, though, our PlayStation 3 and our Yamaha receiver were able to find media placed in our multimedia folder.
If you don't use the Quick Setup it can be a little difficult to find out how to set up network drives. The QNAP will be automatically assigned an IP address by your network, and thankfully this will display when you click the Connect button in QNAP Finder. (In our case this was http://192.168.1.34:8080/, and to connect to this drive change this address to \\192.168.1.34 and paste into Explorer. You'll then be presented with all the shares on the drive which will let you right click the one you want and "Map Network Drive".)
The torrent downloader works quite well — you don't even need a BitTorrent client on any of your networked machines. The Download Station lets you find a locally downloaded torrent on the network and assign it to the NAS. The torrent is set by default to finish as soon as it completes downloading — which means you won't unnecessarily eat up any upload quota.
While performance will depend on your network and drive, we found it took 1min 55sec to copy a 1GB file to a 1GB Western Digital drive — this is comparatively slower than some of the other NAS drives we've seen recently.