In the consumer/SOHO space, there's two prevailing theories on how to build a NAS. On the one hand, there are NAS units that come fully packed, built and sealed in, and these tend to be aesthetically more pleasant units -- we're thinking of manufacturers such as Iomega and Seagate here. On the other hand, there are the tinkerer units, which look more towards the enterprise/network box style of design. QNAP's TS-209 Pro is such a beast; when you first unpack it from the box it doesn't even have a front faceplate attached, instead greeting you with lots of bare (and somewhat sharp) metal. It's a BYOD (Bring Your Own Disk) NAS that utilises two SATA drive bays. For review purposes, we were provided with two Western Digital 500GB SATA drives; QNAP offers a list of compatible tested drives. The first task in setting up the TS-209 Pro is thus one of installing drives, which may panic some novice hardware builders. While the quick set-up sheet is a multi-lingual affair, which is usually bad news in terms of comprehension, QNAP redeems itself by offering excellent diagrams of every step. Even the most timid of tinkerers would have a hard time of getting the installation wrong, and everything except a screwdriver is provided in the box for you. Once the drives are installed, it's simply a matter of screwing in the front faceplate -- this could be optional if you wanted quick drive access and easily sliced fingers when you get it wrong -- and connecting the unit up to your network and a power supply. The rest of the installation is handled via a quick software utility that sniffs out the TS-209 Pro's IP address, and from there the installation is a purely web-based affair.
Aside from acting as a basic NAS appliance, the TS-209 Pro also has a lot of functions that you'd normally associate with a dedicated server appliance. Backup is an obvious utility, with simple Windows backup software provided, but beyond that, the TS-209 Pro also offers FTP, Web, MySQL, Print, UPnP, iTunes and Photo server functions. Whether you're installing it in a small business, or just as a home backup server, there's bound to be something that the TS-209 Pro can do for you. On the often-shadier side of legal, it'll even act as its own BitTorrent download client remotely, although the functionality of this is less impressive than it sounds, as it doesn't support proper scheduling, and most PC-based BT clients outshine it.
On a hardware front, the TS-209 Pro runs on a 500Mhz processor with 128MB of internal RAM. There's a single Gigabit Ethernet port on the back, along with USB ports on the back for printer sharing and a USB port on the front for attaching other USB storage devices. There's a dedicated one-touch copy button on the front of the TS-209 Pro for quickly dumping the contents of a USB drive to the TS-209 Pro. Alternatively, it can be used if you're very cautious about the contents of the installed drives as an adjunct to the TS-209 Pro's RAID 1 Mirroring capability. Raid 0 is also supported for striping drives to gain extra storage space across a single drive.
As mentioned, setting up the TS-209 Pro was pleasantly simple for the most part, apart from one minor, OS X Leopard-centric quirk we hit. For whatever reason, the supplied Mac software wouldn't set the date on the TS-209 Pro properly, and this caused the setup wizard to stall. We also encountered some problems copying files and then seeing them properly, and a quick look at QNAP's discussion forums reveals plenty of other Mac users in the same kind of trouble. For what it's worth, a firmware update fixed the majority of our Mac problems, but it was noticeable that Windows performance was much better throughout our testing period.
In terms of raw throughput, the TS-209 Pro performed very well across multiple network connections. Data rates may vary depending on the speed and quality of your connection and drives, but we managed a comfortable 10MB/sec over a direct connection copying files from various sources. Switching over to 10/100 and WiFi dropped these speeds markedly, and those looking to do a full backup of their systems will understandably need to schedule such activities over a number of hours.
The TS-209 Pro isn't a massively cheap NAS solution, especially when you take into consideration the fact that it ships sans any kind of drive. Still, its additional functionality, which covers everything from PS3/Xbox 360 media streaming through to dedicated web serving do place it nicely ahead of the BYOD pack.