QNAP TS-412 Turbo NAS server
The QNAP TS-412 NAS server is the four-bay version of the two-bay QNAP TS-259 and competes directly with Synology's DiskStation DS410. While the TS-412 beats the DS410 hands-down in terms of hard-drive bay design, it's inferior in performance and robustness. Considering the DS410 was released a long time ago, we expected the new TS-412 to do better.
Nonetheless, the new QNAP NAS server is in no way to be taken lightly. It's one of a few NAS servers on the market that offer a great combination of performance and features while managing to remain relatively easy to use, at least for advanced users. It also offers a host of advanced features and its performance in our tests proved itself sufficient for even heavy data sharing and storage needs.
At a price of around $460 (no hard drive included), the QNAP TS-412 makes a very good investment, especially with its convenient hard-drive bay design. If you're looking for something even better and don't mind opening it up to service the hard drives, we'd also recommend the Synology DiskStation DS410.
We love the TS-412's design. The server's hard-drive bays are accessible from the front with removable drive trays. These trays can be removed or inserted into the bay without any tools. You do need a screwdriver to attach the hard drives to the trays, however. For security, each tray has a lock to prevent the drive from being removed without permission. The tray can handle both 2.5-inch (laptop) and 3.5-inch (desktop) standard SATA hard drives. In our trials the server also supported 3TB hard drives, making it one of few that do on the market.
The QNAP supports multiple RAID configurations, including the popular RAID 5, which balances performance, storage space, and data integrity. While Synology has its Hybrid RAID that enables use of hard drives of different capacities or increasing the RAID's total capacity without having to rebuild it from scratch, QNAP doesn't offer a special RAID configuration for its NAS servers.
On the front, in addition to the drive bays, the TS-412 has an array of LED lights that show the server's status. There's also a USB port, and there's a one-touch Copy Button for a quick backup of the entire content of an external storage device plugged into that USB port. On the back the server has another three USB ports and two eSATA ports that can be used to extend its storage space or to host a printer.
The QNAP TS-412, like other high-end NAS servers, comes with two Gigabit Ethernet ports. These ports can be used together for fail-safe or load-balancing purposes, but unfortunately don't increase the throughput speed when the two ports are used at the same time.
After installing the hard drives, the rest of the setup process involves installing the firmware and bringing the drives into readiness. This process is simple and straightforward--especially with the included instructions--for tech-savvy users. Novice home users may have some problems, as the instructions are not written for laymen.
We were able to get the NAS server up and running fairly quickly without any problems. We did notice, however, that the NAS takes a much shorter time than previous versions to put the hard drives into a RAID configuration. In our trials with four 750GB hard drives, it took only a couple of hours to finish setting up a RAID 5 configuration and much less time to set up RAID 0. All in all, as with most NAS servers, you should put aside a few hours to set up the server the way you want it.
Using the included QNAP Finder software, you can quickly find the TS-412 in the network, map its share folders, and launch its Web interface to access the server's vast number of features.
Powered by a Linux-based operating system, the TS-412 offers more than you might generally expect from a NAS server. Apart from standard features found in advanced NAS servers, such as FTP servers, HTTP servers, DNLA media-streaming servers, an iTunes server, a self-download feature, iSCSi, a print server that supports up to three printers, and so on, its novelties include support for four IP cameras for a surveillance system and the new DynDNS-based MyCloudNAS service for accessing the server over the Internet.
We tried MyCloudNAS out and it was quite easy to set up as long as your router supports UPnP, which most new routers do. Once it's set up, you can access the server via http://xyz.mycloudnas.com, where xyz is the unique name for the server that you picked during the setup process. Accessing the router remotely is a different story, however. While it worked well most of the time and we were able to administrate and play back contents from the server via the Internet, certain portions of the remote access service would randomly became unavailable. Instead we would get a "page not found" error, but when we refreshed the page it would work again.
As for the server's support for IP cameras, we tried it with a LevelOne WCS-2030 wireless IP camera and weren't able to set up the camera with the surveillance feature. The setup process felt like the feature was still in beta and gave incomprehensible error messages, such as "-1." After about an hour of trying we gave up. This is rather disappointing as we were able to try out this feature with the TS-259, and it worked well. We also had a completely different experience with Synology's NAS servers, on which Synology's Surveillance Station worked flawlessly and was very easy to set up. Synology and QNAP are currently two NAS vendors that offer comprehensive surveillance features in their products. Judging from the TS-412, Synology is currently way ahead of QNAP in the field.
All this made the server's operating system seem buggy at times, and hopefully this will be fixed via an update. Other standard features of the QNAP worked well, however, and we liked the way user account and network share folders are managed.
For example, if you want to add more users, you can use the "Create User" wizard to walk you through various steps for creating a username and password and assigning privileges to different folders of the internal storage. There are similar wizards for other functions and features of the server.
Like most advanced NAS servers, the QNAP has built-in support for Apple's Time Machine, meaning Mac computers running run OS X 10.5 or later can use the server's storage for backup the way they would an external hard drive. As a storage server the TS-412 can be easily be accessed on a local network, just as you would access any other workstation. You can browse for shares on a Windows computer using a network browser, such as Windows Explorer, while a Mac OS X computer in the network will find the TS-412 automatically and add it to the storage device list in the Finder.
The TS-412 also supports Active Directory, which enables it to join a Windows Server domain and serve as a storage extension of the domain controller.
While the QNAP TS-412 Turbo NAS was very fast in our testing, it could still be better, especially when compared with the Synology DiskStation DS410.
We tested the device in both RAID 5 and RAID 0 configurations. In RAID 5, which is the most popular RAID, designed to balance performance and storage space while protecting the data against single-drive failure, the server scored 26.2MBps and 59.6MB for writing and reading, respectively. For comparison, the DiskStation DS410 scored 43.4MBps and 105.4MBps for writing and reading respectively, noticeably faster.
In RAID 0, which is optimized for performance at the expensive of data safety, the TS-412 did better with 42.7MBps for writing and 80.8MBps for reading. Still, that's quite far behind the DS410's 53.7MBps and 108.4MBps.
Nonetheless, the QNAP is fast enough for most heavy data sharing, backing up, and media streaming, and remains cool. In our testing, we found the server also remains quiet even during heavy operations, despite the large ventilation fan on the back.
Service and support
QNAP backs the TS-412 Turbo NAS with a one-year warranty, which is short, albeit standard for most NAS servers. The company's technical support by phone is available from 8 a.m. till 5 p.m. PT, Monday through Friday. At its Web site, there are also downloads of new firmware and applications as well as a forum where you can find help from other users or search for existing solutions.
We loved the QNAP TS-412 Turbo NAS' hardware design but were let down by its rather buggy operating system and lower-than-expected throughput performance. In its current state, however, it can still easily make a very good advanced NAS server for a home or a small business.