QNAP Turbo Station TS-431 4-Bay SOHO NAS Review

by - 5 years ago

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Introduction


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I loved what the QNAPs TS-x31 series sports right from the first time that I heard of it. It just sounded like the perfect SOHO device for people who want a lot of features, easy setup, simple maintenance and a reasonable price.

Today I’m taking a closer look at the QNAP TurboNAS TS-431 4-bay Personal Cloud Storage for Home and SOHO users. It features an ARM Cortex A9 1.2GHz dual-core processor that delivers performance enough for multitasking, creating your personal cloud for digital notes, and multimedia streaming via DLNA & AirPlay.

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With the TS-431 you can build a private cloud-based notebook and share it with friends and colleagues with Notes Station and Qnotes mobile App. It allows you to easily organize and manage files and backup tasks in one centralized location and synchronize files between computers, laptops, tablets, phones and other devices. You can archive, manage, watch and share your media collections with the dedicated Photo Station, Video Station and Music Station apps as well as enjoy all these moments on the big screen via DLNA and AirPlay streaming.

That is all pretty much default for QNAP devices, just as the 24/7 surveillance center you can create for your home or small office. The CPU in the TS-431 also allows you to transcode videos offline and enjoy smooth video streaming even when your network connection or playback possibilities are restricted.

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The Freescale ARM Cortex-A9 dual-core CPU runs at 1.2GHz and gives the NAS a great performance ratio. It can provide transfer speeds up to 110MB/s reading and 80MB/s at writing. Maybe you need to increase your data safety to prevent unauthorized access to the files, well QNAP has that covered too with full NAS volume encryption with speeds of over 30MB/s with AES-256 bit.

The network connectivity on this device is safeguarded with dual Gigabit LAN and support for the latest 802.11ac dual-band Wi-Fi adapters. It further features three USB 3.0 ports and one eSATA for attaching high-speed external storage. The LAN ports support multiple port-trunking modes, allowing you to set up link aggregation to increase data transmission capabilities, as well as failover and dual IP for continuous system operation. The supported port-trunking modes include: Balance-rr (Round-Robin), Active Backup, Balance XOR, Broadcast, IEEE 802.3ad, Balance-tlb (Adaptive Transmit Load Balancing) and Balance-alb (Adaptive Load Balancing).

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QNAPs operating system is better than ever and it keeps improving. The ‘intelligent’ desktop allows you to find the desired functions quickly and it allows you to create shortcuts of your choice for even quicker access. You can monitor the NAS’ vitals, install new function or change in your user setup with just a few clicks. Automated backup function can be set to kick in as soon as recognized devices are connected, creating backups to and from your drives and NAS, this includes rsync, QNAP’s NetBack Replicator and works equally well with Windows and Mac OS X Time Machine systems.

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The new myQNAPcloud allows you to setup your NAS even easier and quicker than before. Just connect and power on the NAS and go to the URL from the sticker either manually or by scanning the QR-Code. Enter the key (partially whitened in the above image) and you’ll have your NAS setup in a couple of minutes, ready to use. Thumbs up to QNAP, the system works like a charm. You will of course need a network where the NAS gets it IP automatically and an internet connection. Don’t worry if you don’t, the old-fashioned way to initialize it works just as well as it always has.

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The cross-platform file-sharing covers all sides with SMB/CIFS, NFS, and AFP protocols for sharing across Windows, Mac and Linux/UNIX. Data, logs and ISO image of CDs and DVDs can be centrally stored in the TS-431 and protected by an integrated antivirus solution. You can even manage your files via the internet by use of the File Station. It brings conventional desktop styled file operation to web browsers, allowing you to easily upload, download and manage your files no matter where you are, as long as you got a connection via LAN or the internet. It even supports file extraction, smart search as well as sharing specific files with friends and family via unique URLs.

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One of the key aspects of this device is the capabilities for your private cloud. I’ve mentioned some functions above, but most of all it gives you a lot more space without a monthly cost. It also eliminates security concerns you might have by using public cloud services. The TS-431 is ready to establish a secure and large-capacity private cloud just for you and the myQNAPcloud service allows remote access without any tricky setups and router configurations.

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A closer look inside


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That was a lot of talk about what the QNAP TS-431 can do, now let us take a closer look at what is inside of this NAS. Opening up the enclosure will expose a very simple and basic layout with the motherboard mounted on the side and a PCIe adapter for the SATA connections.

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Removing the drive cage and the rest of the plastic enclosure reveals a single metal frame that holds the 120mm silent fan on the rear and the simple motherboard with the rest on the other side. The CPU is passively cooled which is easily enough for such a low TDP and the large fan not far from it.

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We get a much better view of the motherboard once it is removed. There is a lot of free space as most is done by a few key features. The SoC ARM-A9 alone has the ability to handle most things. The rear of the motherboard has nothing attached to like seen on other system, but why would there be with so much space on the top side of it.

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The PCI Express SATA bridge looks a bit more packed with two ASmedia chips, among others, placed between the SATA data and power connectors.

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QNAP_TS431-Photo-SATA_bridge_back

I’ve created an image compilation to get a better look of some of the chips used in this NAS. Below you can see the two Micron 4DK17 D9PTK RAM chips, a Samsung 407 K9F4G08UOE SCB0 NAND flash chip for the operating system, two ASMedia ASM1061 SATA controller, two Atheros AR8035-A Gigabit Ethernet controller and a GL3522 USB controller.

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System Specifications, Features & Power Consumption


Hardware Specifications

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Software Specification

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Power Consumption

The power consumption is measured at the outlet and the device itself is packed with all possible disk, internal and external. This will give a look at a real world usage scenario and the power draw coming from that.

QNAP_TS431-Chart-30_Power Consumption

The QNAP TurboStation TS-431 has an impressive low power consumption considering it’s loaded with four 6TB drives.

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Setup – Initialization & Storage


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The QNAP TurboNAS TS-431 belongs to the Personal Cloud Storage for Home and SOHO users, and as such features the easy cloud-code for connecting and setting it up. With such an option at my disposal, I have to take that route to initialize this great NAS. As we saw on the previous pages, the NAS has a large sticker on the side with the information for this NAS and how to connect to it. We just navigate to the URL provided, read and scroll or click your way to your preferred method or setup, in this case Cloud Key and we’ve previously seen how the QNAP finder works in our other reviews.

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It will find and connect to your new NAS and you can connect it to your existing myQNAPcloud or create a new one. Enter your desired names and passwords and we’re ready for the next step.

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For now there’s only one thing left to do, set your device name for remote cloud access.

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The final initialization step is to download and install the latest firmware update; just press the button and wait a little for it to finish.

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Our brand new personal cloud is running, but we’ll have to configure a little bit more before we get access to it. QNAP created the Smart Installation Guide for this and it will guide you through the process in a couple very simple steps.

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The first step is to give your unit a name and define your administrator password. Make this something you can remember even though you don’t use it often. The administrator should only be used in critical situations and maintenance, for normal sharing and access you should create another user for yourself; you’ll also need to select your preferred basic network settings.

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The next step is more up to what you need. In my case I only need Windows shares, so I’ll only enable that, but QNAP also supports Mac, Linux, and Unix sharing. Below you’ll find options to enable some of the most basic applications during the initialization, and all of this can be changed at a later time if you should change your mind. So don’t worry.

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As the final step, you’ll need to setup your disk configuration. We have a 16TB file system limitation, so we won’t be able to take full advantage of our 6TB drives here. A shame, but that comes from using these drives in this NAS. Which disk setup you choose is totally up to you and what you need and prefer.

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QNAP_TS431-SS_SIG_5

Everything is done and we can apply all the settings we just made. The guide will show you a summary on the last page where you can double-check and edit individual parts if needed.

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The system will now apply your changes while it tells you a little about some of the features, just lean back and relax for a little bit.

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The final page will give you options to launch the admin panel as well as get more utilities directly, ready to continue with your setup.

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Now that was real easy and there wasn’t many changes and information needed besides names and passwords, most of it can just be left as it is. Easy enough for everyone, I like that.

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Setup – Basic configuration & Add-Ons


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When logging into the QTS dashboard for the first time, you’ll be presented with a welcome guide that introduces you to some of the functions. Clock your way through it and you’ll be at the familiar dashboard interface. We have the charm at the bottom right corner that opens the system information for a quick glance at how everything is running.

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We’ll first want to enter the control panel and create ourself some users. One or multiple for yourself and also for all of your friends and family that you want to give access to your server. A little tip, if you use the same username and password combination on the NAS as you do in Windows, then windows will automatically log you in when connecting to the server in your file explorer or other locations. Handy trick that saves a lot of entering passwords each time.

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The next step to do is create some network shares, it’s rare that the couple pre-created are enough. You can edit users and groups access rights right from the page as well as define how the folder is treated by the system.

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QNAPs operating system has no trouble handling any of the external drives connected either. Both our high-speed SSD as well as the 6TB WD RED drive connected to the eSATA port is recognized instantly. For the purpose of testing here, those drives have both been formatted as EXT4 for maximum performance under this Linux-based system.

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If you weren’t happy with the initial setup of drive, you can of course change it at a later time, but you will lose the data on them by doing so; certainly something to keep in mind.

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Don’t forget to update the system too, although it should inform you automatically if an update is available. Just pay attention to the notifications at the top right corner.

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A final aspect that you might want to take a look at, is the network configuration. The NAS has two LAN ports, so it’s only natural to set up some fault tolerance or bandwidth aggregation.

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And that is it for the a basic setup of the QNAP TurboStation TS-431, but there is a long row of other apps and features for it.

Applications

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QTS provides a list of default applications and we also choose to install some during the initialization. We can configure those Station apps and the basics directly from the control panel as with all the other features. At the same time each application page will tell you the URL to use to access it in your web browser.

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One of the most used features is most likely the DLNA media server. This allows you to watch the stored media such as movies, shows, and pictures on your DLNA capable device such as gaming console or directly on the TV. No need to have an extra system running just for that.

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Background and Auto Transcoding is another awesome feature provided. You can select which shared folders will be included and the quality as well as schedule times when it should occur. Awesome.

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In these days where everyone with a little power is snooping on our details, more and more users start to use VPN services. QNAP also supports this, so there’s no reason not to include it in your setup.

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If all the included applications shouldn’t be enough, then don’t worry as there is a very long list of other applications and features you can add to your brand new NAS. If you later on find out that you don’t need it anymore or don’t like it, then just remove it again and be done with it. Simple and effective.

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Testing Method


Test system:

  • Supermicro C7Z87-OCE
  • Intel Xeon E3-1230Lv3
  • Excelleram EP3001A 2GB PC3-10666
  • Kingston HyperX 240GB SSD

Disks in Product:

  • Western Digital RED 6TB 3.5-inch
  • Angelbird SSD2go Pocket 512GB

We would like to thank our sponsors for supplying us with the components needed for the test system as well as drives.

Software used:

The performance of the system we use to test with isn’t a major factor when testing a device of this sort. The performance of the NAS box comes down to the network it is running on, the protocol used to connect, and its own internal hardware.

With a device of this sort having so many different applications, Intel’s NASPT software covers all the bases and also gives us a set of results that we will be able to utilise and therefore give a benchmark against other similar systems in the future.

Intel NASPT (Network Attached Storage Performance Toolkit) performs its test by transferring varying sizes and quantities of data to and from the device based on twelve different scenarios.

Intel_NASPT

As part of the testing, the NAS is connected through a Netgear GS724TPS managed Gigabit switch and then to our test bench to give the best real world setup test that we can and the NAS itself will be packed with Western Digital’s latest RED NAS drives. Intel’s NASPT software does require us to drop the memory down to 2GB, as using any more would lead to data caching and therefore skew the results.

I will be testing the NAS box performance under each of the RAID options that it has available as well as single drive. The USB 3.0 speeds will be measured with our trusted Angelbird SSD2go Pocket drive.

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HD Video Playback


HD Video playback is a read test, where a single 2 Gb file is read in 256 kB blocks sequentially from the drive. This simulates where a 720p HD video is being watched across the network to a media player on the other end.

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2x HD Video Playback


2x HD Video Playback works with exactly the same data set as the first HD Video test, however this time the same content is streamed twice from the NAS box simulating two simultaneous streams being made to external media players.

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4x HD Video Playback


In the same way that the 2x Video Playback streams to the equivalent of 2 external media players at the same time, the test here doubles that again up to a simulated 4 media players.

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HD Video Record


The HD Video Record test is as the name suggests a write test to the NAS box. A single 2 GB file is written to the device in 256 kB blocks sequentially to the disk.

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HD Playback & Record


The HD playback and record test now put the drive under the same single record and playback tests as before, but now at the same time. This will factor for the quick changes needed to switch between reading and writing two large blocks of data across the network to the device.

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Content Creation


For content creation, Intel have simulated access to via video creation applications. This is made up of 98 files with 12 MB reads and 14 MB writes in varying sizes of blocks. The activity is predominantly non-sequential with the majority of access time made up of writing to the drives. There are quiet periods of read/write activity interrupted with busy periods to present a difficult workload on the drives.

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Office Productivity


The office productivity simulation is very similar to the content creation, with a total of 607 files written to and read from the drive. A total of 1.4 GB of data is written to and read from the drive with a close balance between each made – the majority of write access is made up of 1 kB writes.

QNAP_TS431-Chart-07_Office_Productivity

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File Copy To NAS


This test quite simply put copies a single large file from the test system to the NAS box to show how well the system can sustain a single write speed. The 1.4 GB file is copied to the drive and written in 64 kB blocks.

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File Copy From NAS


File copy from the NAS works in exactly the same way as the copy test, however it works in the opposite direction. The single 1.4 GB file is read off the NAS in 64 kB blocks.

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Directory Copy To NAS


In the directory copy to NAS test, a directory tree representing that of a typical commercially available office suite is copied to the NAS to trace the bulk copy of a complex directory. A total of 2833 files making up 247 MB are moved, but the file sizes vary considerably with an average size of 41.4 kB. Due to the varying sizes of the files, only around 50% of the writes are sequential.

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Directory Copy From NAS


In the same way that the file copy from NAS traces the same file back across to the test system, the directory copy from NAS does exactly the same but to the entire directory that it copied across previously.

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Photo Album


Last of all is a test based around a photo album. When a photo album is viewed on-screen, only the images that you see are loaded from the drive and so when you scroll through the album, the new images have to be fetched and read. The album here contains 169 photos with varying file sizes based on the size, quality and detail in the image. Reading the files in a photo album puts an unusual read load upon the drive as the metadata is read, a thumbnail constructed and finally the image viewed.

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Complete Benchmark: Average Throughput


Intel NASPT provides a summary at the end of each benchmark, included in this is the average throughput from all the previous test as one number. This is a pretty good overall view of a device and as such I’ve started to included this as well. The numbers below are the average of the previous 12 tests.

QNAP_TS431-Chart-20_Average_Throughput

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Final Thoughts


Pricing

When most people think pre-built NAS with four bays, they also think that it will cost them an arm and a leg to get it. But not so with the QNAP TS-431 that can be had for a very reasonable £209.98 at Amazon or £209.99 at Overclockers UK. US readers can pick it up at Amazon for $289.99 or NewEgg for $289.99 while German readers can find it starting from €270 through Geizhals.

Overview

QNAP has been in the NAS business for a long time and they have an amazing operating system running on their devices. The QTS becomes better with each update and more functions and features are added. I like where it has gotten to and where it’s going. The new cloud-based setup was a breeze and I like the option to do it that way and from any browser on any device.

The hardware used is simple from a strictly parts point of view, but they work great together. The NAS performed just as well in our real-world NAS performance testing as it was promised on the product page with up to 110MB/s transfer speeds. I love the dual LAN connection and the functionality that brings along, especially in this price category. USB 3.0 and eSATA ports ensure that you can connect plenty of extra storage as well as WiFi sticks, webcams, printers and much more directly to your NAS.

The white design is a much wanted one at the moment as the TS-431 fits right into that scheme. It has a subtle design without any distractions, but it works. It is a well-built unit and the insides are sturdier than you’d think for the overall weight. The only thing that felt a little cheap were the drive-trays. Not that they didn’t work or that I think that they’ll break or something, but simply from the somewhat hard locking mechanism; how often do we change our drives anyway – not often.

Looking at all this and putting it together and there is no doubt that this is a great device. A device well suited for home users, both beginners and enthusiasts, just as well as small businesses without a too big a staff. Combined with the low purchase cost and the ever-growing hard disks capacities at cheaper prices and you have a powerful budget entry into the NAS world.

Pros:

  • Great price vs performance ratio
  • USB 3.0 and eSATA
  • Great operating system
  • Dual Gigabit Ethernet

Cons:

  • Drive-tray locking mechanism felt a bit cheap

“QNAP has created one of the best SOHO NAS’ when looking at the performance vs price. It’s packed with feature, has a good performance, and doesn’t even cost much. That’s a winner.”

Bang-For-Buck

Thanks to QNAP for providing us with this review sample.

Article Index

  1. Introduction
  2. A closer look inside
  3. System Specifications, Features & Power Consumption
  4. Setup - Initialization & Storage
  5. Setup - Basic configuration & Add-Ons
  6. Testing Method
  7. HD Video Playback
  8. 2x HD Video Playback
  9. 4x HD Video Playback
  10. HD Video Record
  11. HD Playback & Record
  12. Content Creation
  13. Office Productivity
  14. File Copy to NAS
  15. File Copy from NAS
  16. Directory Copy to NAS
  17. Directory Copy from NAS
  18. Photo Album
  19. Complete Benchmark: Average Throughput
  20. Final Thoughts
  21. View All

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