Its not very often we see new names coming to market that appear to have such a strong presence about them. Typically it takes quite a period for a new name to be classed as on of the common brands, rather than being left on the sidelines, however there is a new name to the NAS scene that has only taken a couple of years to become more commonly known. Asustor, who have been around for only the last two years, are as some might guess a subsidiary of Asus, one of the leading brands in graphics cards and motherboards.
Taking the expertise in design, innovation and quality that Asus have, Asustor NAS systems are, in their desktop format, designed straight for the home user with clean and stylish looks, a user interface that makes the process of managing a NAS a lot simpler and more intuitive to work with and an app for iOS devices that allows the system to be remotely controlled when a HD TV is connected for its media centre functions.
Being a relatively new player in to the NAS market, Asustor are going to have their work cut out when it comes to taking on the big names such as QNAP and Thecus but with the backing of Asus, they do have a good change of being right up there with the big guns so to speak.
To give an overview of the Asustor range, there are currently eight systems in their product catalogue split into three groups. The first of these groups, aimed at home to power users comprises of a two and four bay system in the AS-3xx series, ideal for budget users who want a system to get them up and going. Next up from this is the power to business group, also known as the AS-6xx series (of which the system we’re looking at today is part of) and this comprises of four systems ranging from two to eight bays. The last group is for the SMB market and here lies two rack mount NAS, one four-bay 1U system and a nine-bay 2U system at the top end of the Asustor range.
Setting the NAS aside to see what else is included as an accessory set, Asustor bundle in a CD with the user manuals, to sets of screws for 2.5″ an 3.5″ drives, two Cat5e patch leads and a UK 3-pin kettle lead.
A Closer Look
Like pretty much every other desktop 4-bay NAS that is on the market, the AS-604T has a cube like build, which is no bad thing as it is compact, meaning that it doesn’t take up too much space on the desk or floor. Asustor have aimed these new units at the home user an so we see some design aspects that are pleasing to the eye and at the same time don’t make the unit look hard to use, which can be a key factor that would put some potential users off buying.
As part of the user friendly approach, Asustor have placed four over sized buttons to the top right, which whilst giving a chunky feel, also give a less fiddly feel to using the on-screen menus.
Below the Asustor branding, there is a large power button with incorporated power LED and below a system status LED.
Further down the left hand side are two smaller LEDs for LAN activity on each port and at the bottom a USB3.0 port with a large button surrounding it, again with incorporated LED.
Whilst I don’t normally take a closer look at the system lights when powered on, this unit (and consequently the rest of the AS-6xxT family) has something about it that draws me in. What I’m referring to here is the warm colours the the system lights up with and a refreshing change to the LCD with the pleasant white text on a black background rather than the bright blue screens that I’m used to seeing.
The four bays within the AS-604T are arranged vertically, with bay one on the left through to bay four on the right. In keeping with the up-to-date design of the system, the trays each feature some simple curves to the handles with a smooth black finish that give a nice style to the system. On the top of each bay we can see that there are two lights, one indicating drive power and activity and the other which would light to indicate a drive failure.
Looking a little closer at the trays, each of the handles is released by pressing down on a latch at the right hand edge of the handle, allowing it to spring up and unlock for removal. The trays all have a solid feel to them and are well lined inside with a plastic coating on the base to reduce any noise from vibration of the drives.
The trays are also well ventilated and with a disk fitted we can see more clearly how air can flow through the front of the tray and around to the drive itself.
With all the drives removed from the system and having a first peek inside, we can first of all see at the top of the image below four pairs of LEDs that light up through the trays to be seen from the front of the system. Below these there is also a good amount of ventilation provided by a series of holes in the PCB, allowing air to flow past the drives and out the back of the system.
Looking at the back of the NAS, the vast majority of the rear is taken up by the huge 120mm fan with the power supply nestled above. To the right is a secondary USB3.0 port, two, eSATA, four USB2.0, HDMI and two Gigabit Ethernet ports, supporting link aggregation.
Removing the cover, we can first of all see the power supply for the NAS. The AS-604T is specified to use 33.2W of power under full operation whilst at full idle it is rated to use a mere 1.4W. The motherboard is mounted on its side to the left of the drive bays and this orientation, as found on most other systems of this type, contributes to a relatively compact build with no space left to waste.
On the back of the motherboard there is a black plastic cover to protect the PCB from shorting out on the chassis, however towards the front the is a portion that has been cut. Lifting up this flap reveals a SO-DIMM slot, allowing for a memory upgrade from the shipped 1GB, up to a max of 3GB.
The motherboard is very well secured into the NAS and unfortunately it was almost impossible to remove, short of completely de-constructing the system. Fortunately though we can peer through the top of the system and see that the systems OS is stored on a DOM courtesy of ADATA. To the left of the image is a heatsink, below which is a dual-core Intel Atom CPU clocked to 2.13GHz.
Peering through the opposite side of the chassis, we can also see that the factory fitted 1GB DDR3 1333Mz SO-DIMM is supplied by ADATA like the DOM.
In general, a NAS box is just like an external hard drive caddy that is attached to your network rather than by USB or even Firewire. Because of this we can find a whole host of other features and utilities bundled into them giving them the leading edge over the other options available on the market.
One key feature that we will point out from the extensive list below for this particular system, and one that we have not seen or used to date is the support for for RAID 50. For those who are not full familiar with how the RAID systems work when mixed together, RAID 50 is basically two 3 drive RAID 5 arrays that are then striped together to give the benefit of a RAID 5 parity array but with effectively with a speed boost. With this in mind we should expect to see this array type showing some good results in our NASPT suite when it gets put to the test.
- CPU: Intel® Atom™ 2.13 GHz Dual-Core Processor
- Memory: 1GB SO-DIMM DDR3 (Expandable. Max. 3GB)
- HDD: 2.5″ / 3.5″ SATA II/ III or SSD x 4¹
- Expansion: USB 3.0 x 2, USB 2.0 x 4, eSATA x 2
- Network: Gigabit Ethernet x 2
- LCD Panel
- Output: HDMI x 1
- System Fan: 120mm x 1
- Input Power Voltage: 100V to 240V AC
- Certification: FCC, CE, VCCI, BSMI, C-TICK
- Power Consumption: 33.2W (Operation); 26.2W (Disk Hibernation); 1.4W (Sleep Mode)
- Noise Level: 22.3 dB(A)
- Operation Temperature: 5°C~35°C (40°F~95°F)
- Humidity: 5% to 95% RH
- System Migration
- Cloud Connect
- 2-way Backup
- Task Monitor
- System Sleep Mode (S3)
- Auto-Standby for Both Internal and External Disks
- Auto Fan Control
- LED Night Mode
- Power Schedule: On, Off, Restart, and Sleep
Size and Weight
- Size: 185.5(H) x 170(W) x 230(D) mm
- Weight: 3.5 kg / 7.72 lb
Software & Features
- ADM 1.0 Onwards
- Built-in App Central for Various Apps
- Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, Server 2003, Server 2008, Server 2012
- Mac OS X 10.6 Onwards
- UNIX, Linux, and BSD
- Deutsch, English, Français, Italiano, Nederlands, Русский, 日本語, 한글, 简体中文, 繁體中文, Česká, Polski
- Internet Explorer 9 Onwards
- CIFS/SMB, AFP, NFS, FTP, WebDAV, Rsync, SSH, SFTP, iSCSI, HTTP, HTTPS
- Internal Disk: EXT4
- External Disk: FAT32, NTFS, EXT3, EXT4, HFS+
- Support Multiple Volumes with Spare Disks
- Volume Type: Single disk, JBOD, RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 6, RAID 10
- Support for Online RAID Level Migration
- Support for Online RAID Capacity Expansion
- Maximum Targets: 256
- Maximum LUNs: 256
- Target Masking
- LUN Mapping
- ISO File Mounting
- Supports MPIO & MCS
- Persistent (SCSI-3) Reservations
- Scheduled Bad Block Scans
- Scheduled S.M.A.R.T Scans
- TCP/IP (IPv4 & IPv6)
- Link Aggregation: Supports 802.3ad and Six Other Modes for Load Balancing and/or Network Failover
- Jumbo Frame (MTU)
- Cloud Connect
- Wireless Network²
- DDNS and EZ-Router
- Rsync (Remote Sync) Backup
- Cloud Backup
- FTP Backup
- External Backup
- One Touch Backup
- Log Type: System Log, Connection Log, File Access Log
- Real-time Online User Monitor
- Real-time System Monitor
- Network Recycle Bin
- User Quota
- Virtual Drive (ISO Mounting, Maximum 16)
- UPS Support
- Maximum Number of Users: 4096
- Maximum Number of Groups: 512
- Maximum Number of Shared Folders: 512
- Maximum Number of Concurrent Connections: 512
- Supports Windows Active Directory
- AES 256-Bit Folder Encryption
- Firewall: Prevent Unauthorized Access
- Network Defender: Prevent Network Attacks
- Alert Notifications: E-mail, SMS
- Encrypted Connections: HTTPS, FTP over SSL/TLS, SSH, SFTP, Rsync over SSH
- Web-based File Management
- ISO File Mounting
- Share Links
- Live Monitoring (4 Free Channels)
- Multiple Channel Playback with Audio
- Supported Browsers: Internet Explorer, Chrome, FireFox (Windows only)
- Event Notification
UPnP Media Server
- Supports PS3 and other Digital Media Player Capable Devices
- Supports On-The-Fly Transcoding for Most RAW Images and Audio(OGG, FLAC)
- Supported Image Formats: BMP, GIF, ICO, JPG, PNG, PSD, TIF, RAW Image³ (3FR, ARW, CR2, CRW, DCR, DNG, ERF, KDC, MEF, MOS, MRW, NEF, NRW, ORF, PEF, RAF, RAW, RW2, SR2, X3F)
- Supported Audio Formats: 3GP, AAC, AC3, AIFC, AIFF, AMR, APE, AU, AWB, FLAC1, M4A, M4R, MP2, MP3, OGG Vorbis1, PCM, WAV, WMA
- Supported Video Formats: 3GP, 3G2, ASF, AVI, DAT, FLV, ISO, M2T, M2V, M2TS, M4V, MKV, MPv4, MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, MTS, MOV, QT, SWF, TP, TRP, TS, VOB, WMV, RMVB, VDR, MPE
- Directory Structure View with Drag & Drop Transfers
- Task Monitor
- Stopping of Transmission Task & Resumption of Connection
- Encrypted Connections: Explicit over TLS, Implicit over TLS
- FTP Site Manager
- Bandwidth Control
- Maximum Simultaneous Transfer Control
- Supported VPN Protocols: PPTP, OpenVPN
- Transmission Package Monitor
- PPTP Authentication: PAP, CHAP, MS CHAP, MS CHAP2
- PPTP Encryption: No MPPE, MPPE (40, 128 bit), Maximum MPPE (128 bit)
- OpenVPN Port Control
- OpenVPN Link Compression
- For iTunes on Mac & Windows
- Supports AirPlay
- Supports iOS Remote Pairing
- Supported Audio Formats: AIF⁴, M4A (AAC & Apple Loseless), M4P, M4R, MP3, WAV⁴
- Supported Video Formats: M4V, MOV, MP4
- Supported Playlist Formats: M3U, WPL
- Supports BT(Torrent & Magnet Link), HTTP and FTP Downloads
- Torrent Search
- Choose Files Before a BT Task Starts
- Customizable Download Schedule
- Bandwidth Control
- RSS Subscription and Automatic Downloading (Broadcatching)
- ASUSTOR Download Assistant for Windows & Mac
- AiDownload for iOS & Android
Boxee / XBMC (Beta) ⁵
- Play All Media Content Stored on NAS
- Video Output via HDMI
- TV Shows, Movies, Apps and More
- ASUSTOR Customized Features
- AiRemote Mobile App
- Import Personal/Public Music Collection
- Personal/Public Music Collection Permission Control
- Playlist Editor
- ID3 Tag Editor
- Local Speaker Support: HDMI, USB, Audio Jack
- Supported Audio Formats for Browser: MP3, WAV, Ogg
- Supported Audio Formats for Transcoding Through Browser: AAC, AIFF, Flac, Apple lossless, WMA
- Supported Audio Formats for Local Speaker: MP3, WAV, Ogg, AAC, AIFF, Flac, Apple lossless, WMA
- ASUS DAC Support
¹ Hard disks not included.
² USB Wi-Fi dongle not included.
³ You must first enable real time transcoding for these files in order to play them.
⁴ Metadata (e.g. title) may not be able to displayed in iTunes.
⁵ Currently, Boxee is only available on the 6 series while XBMC is only available on the 3 series.
The Asustor GUI is something that makes this NAS [and the rest of their NAS range] shine over competitor products. Having a user interface that is simple, intuitive and most of all user friendly is very important in this day in age where NAS’ are become more an more popular – especially in the home environment. Rather than having a multitude of menus down the left hand side of the window like we typically see, Asustor have opted to have icons that lead to different areas of the NAS that can be moved around and customised on different pages. Being able to download apps to run on the NAS is also important for extra features such as media centre back ends for example and these again can be moved around and put on to customised and named pages for easy access.
Another feature that I really like is the ability to quickly change between windows. Along the top bar next to the Asustor logo are a series of small icons, these are individual areas of the interface that I’d gone into and rather than closing them, they can be minimised for quick and easy access later on without having to once again go through sub-menus.
One of the most unique features I found within the interface is a settings page for the LEDs on the front of the system. With the night mode enabled, during the twilight hours, all the LEDs on the front of the system can be set to automatically turn off and then come back on again during the day. This great for users who have to unit positioned in a bedroom for example where a load of bright, flashing LEDs would be rather annoying for some people.
When testing a device of this sort, the system that we use to test with is not a major factor in its performance. The performance of the NAS box comes down to the network its running on 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.
As part of the testing, the NAS is connected to our core network through a Netgear GS724TPS managed gigabit switch and then to our test bench to give the best real world setup test that we can. The NAS itself is packed out with Western Digital’s latest line of Enterprise class hard drive, the Se and also with the highest capacity possible, in this case 4TB each.
The system that we use to run the Intel NASPT software does require us to drop the memory right down to 2GB as any more than this leads to data caching and therefore skews the results from the NAS box.
Following on from this we test the NAS box performance under each of the RAID options that it has available, to show, depending on the end users needs, the relational differences in speed from the drive and thus one can decide which particular RAID configuration will be best for them.
HD Video Playback
HD Video playback is a read test, where a single 2Gb file is read in 256kB 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.
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.
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 upto a simulated 4 media players.
HD Video Record
The HD Video Record test is as the name suggests a write test to the NAS box. A single 2GB file is written to the device in 256kB blocks sequentially to the disk.
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.
For content creation, Intel have simulated access to via video creation applications. This is made up of 98 files with 12MB reads and 14MB 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.
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 1.4GB 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 1kB writes.
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 1.4GB file is copied to the drive and written in 64kB blocks.
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 1.4GB file is read off the NAS in 64kB blocks.
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 247MB are moved but the file sizes vary considerably with an average size of 41.4kB. Due to the varying sizes of the files, only around 50% of the writes are sequential.
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.
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.
Being a new name into a particular market segment is not always going to be easy for any vendor, but thankfully Asustor have got the association with Asus, who we all know are one of the biggest names in the motherboard and GPU sectors. Coming in with such a strong product in the mid-range group, Asustor are looking like they have exactly what it takes to take on the big guns.
Design wise, four bay NAS’ generically are going to have a close resemblance to each other in basic system layouts, but there is something about the finer points in the units design that stand out for me. The drive trays for example with the smooth curves and the extra large buttons beside the LCD stand out for me and thus it would blend in to a home or office environment wit h today’s modern design principles.
The GUI also is very impressive. I love the use of application tiles and pages that different management areas and applications can be grouped on to. In the current era where the number of user of smart phones is booming, the ‘at home’ feeling of an icon based interface is going to be far more welcome than some may imagine. Another thing that is also very welcome to see is the task-bar style section at the top of the GUI that allows for open windows to be quickly changed between, making management so much more fluid.
Before I move on to the performance, there is one other little feature that I feel is a little understated within this range of systems. For those of use out there that have a computer in our homes, particularly the bedroom or even the living room, at night having a series of bright lights flashing away at you can be rather distracting and this is where the night mode comes into play. Through the GUI, all the LEDs on the front of the NAS can be set to turn off during the twilight hours or even manually. As simple as this sounds, this option simply turns all the activity LEDs off, whilst behind the scenes the AS-604T continues to hum away doing what it does best – serving data.
Performance is another area where Asustor have got off to a great start. Looking over the performance figures, particularly within the HD Video Record test where the AS-604T came close on a couple of occasions to topping out the LAN connection with as much bandwidth as is theoretically possible. Throughout the remainder of the test areas and through all the RAID configurations, the AS-604T gave some impressive figures that show they are just as good as the other leading brands out there.
When it comes round the price, this is the be all and end all for NAS sales, the system may have top end performance, but if the price is not right, then the sales just not going to happen. At a shade over £500 the AS-604T is in the midst of similarly spec’d models from other vendors, giving it a highly competitive price tag.
Bottom line: Being a newcomer to a market sector is not always going to be plain sailing for everyone, but with the knowledge on product design and innovation from Asus behind them, Asustor have made a huge impact within the NAS playing fields with the AS-604T.