When we look at where a NAS is typically designed to be placed, integration into a home A/V setup is not overly common surprisingly. Whilst there are a countless number of two and four bay systems that offer media playback capabilities, which I will add is great to see for the SOHO markets, their tower like design is not always that convenient to fit in with the DVD players, surround sound systems and game console stack that many of us have underneath our TV’s in the lounge – like the photo above funnily enough which is a quick glimpse into the system that we are taking a look at today.
QNAP as we know are one of the big players in the NAS market, lining up alongside Thecus, Asustor and Synology to name but a few and like everyone else, their product range spreads out from the basic single bay systems that are found on the entry-level end of the scale, right up to the 16+ bay rackmount systems that are built for enterprise and datacentre use. What QNAP have noticed though is that there is a gap in the market for systems like the one in hand today and considering many home users are now looking towards a network storage solution for their home media, now is a perfect time to hit that market with a system that blends right in to the A/V stacks that we all have in one way or another.
Built around a two bay design and supporting the latest 5TB drives, the HS-210 SilentNAS is, as the name would suggest, a system that takes noise head on and following some carefully planned design work, they have created a system that is totally passive with no fans included in the system. No fans = no noise and whilst we do have to account for the fact that spinning platter do generate a certain level of acoustic output, they are nowhere near as acoustic as they were only a few years ago. Another challenge that QNAP have decided to take on is hiding the drive bays away from view. Whereas having drive bays on view on a typical desktop NAS, in a home theater setup they’re not the most elegant of objects to look at, so a front cover that hides the bays away acts as a simple, yet effective solution.
In addition to offering up the looks that home theatre users are likely to want, QNAP are aware that the price point is also key to securing the purchase, so a price point of around $290 / £240 should whet the appetite of any tech enthusiast – at least that is the theory.
There is no surprises in seeing a simple and to the point kit list with this being an entry-level system. Along side a quick setup guide and a couple of sets of screws for 2.5″ and 3.5″ drives, we get a single Ethernet cable and a DC power adaptor with regional mains cable to suit.
A Closer Look
When we see a desktop NAS, typically we find the drive bays orientated in a vertical fashion and whilst this results in a small footprint, in a home theatre setup, this is not necessarily the best format to have. To address this QNAP have rotate the drive bays to sit flat and beside each other, resulting in a system that is no bigger than a typical DVD or Blu-Ray player.
As highlighted on the previous page, QNAP have identified that drive bays are not always the most glamorous things to look at so on the HS-210 we find a magnetic front panel that attaches over the drive bays to hide them out of sight, resulting in a sleek appearance. As the front panel is offered up to the system, the magnet is quick to take hold of the panel and keep it firmly in place. Behind the cover we can see the two drive bays positioned to either side of the system with the tray latches and system LED sat between them. On the upper face of the HS-210, QNAP have finished the NAS off with a brushed metal coating and a single QNAP badge sits towards the front left corner.
Looking closer between the drives we can get a better view of the two push latches that hold the drive trays in place with the system LED sat at the top of the system. Although the front panel appears dark, the LED is powerful enough to shine through the plastic, making it visible from a glance, a red LED would indicate that their was a problem with the system whilst green shows everything is OK. Below the LED is a small recess inside which is the magnet to hold the front cover in place. Setting the magnet back ensures that the front cover sits flush and square with the rest of the chassis when fitted.
Sliding each drive out of the chassis, it would first appear that QNAP have installed the trays upside down, however as we will see further down, there is a reason for this upside-down approach for the drives.
Around on the back of the HS-210 we find a number of connectivity options starting off with a pair of USB3.0 ports towards the right of the system as we look at it. Beside these ports is a power button which we would typically expect to see on the front – moving it round to the back helps to keep the front of the system clean and tidy and as the system falls into sleep mode where it uses only a small amount of power, the power button is only really needed to turn the system on.
Further along towards the left hand side we have a further two USB ports, this time of USB2.0 specification, a Gigabit Ethernet port, SD card reader and a DC power jack.
On the underside of the NAS four soft rubber feet assist in giving the HS-210 it’s ‘SilentNAS’ labelling by reducing the resonant noise of any spinning platters that may be in the drive bays.
Lifting off the cover, which is actually on the bottom of this setup, we can see two metal plates which assist in keeping the drive trays in place as they are inserted into the system.
Turning the open system upside down and having a look inside we can see where each of the drives slides into place with the motherboard positioned at the rear and running in between the bays. This design means QNAP are able to give the HS-210 a slim appearance that would easily fit in with other devices that would be in a home A/V stack under the TV. Additionally, by having the system mounted upside down so-to-speak, heat generated by the drives and the CPU rises up to the thick metal plate that acts as the top cover. The two drive trays have a very close contact with this plate as well and this, along with the rubber feet, is where QNAP aim to keep the system virtually silent. How this affects the system and drive temperatures is yet to be found out, but in theory it could work rather well.
Lifting the motherboard out, below where the CPU is positioned we find a pair of metal discs that are attached to the metal casing with a thermal pad on top. These discs act as a heatpipe if it were, giving the CPU as passive cooling method. With no fans present in this design, using a small heatsink like we typically find would not be as effective due to the fact there is no form of air flow through the system.
Looking a little closer at the motherboard we find that all of the I/O is mounted on to the underside of the board, with the addition of a speaker for system alerts and a battery for the BIOS.
Over on the other side of the board and looking at the processor to start with, the core of choice here is a Marvell 88F6282 1.6GHz single core ARMADA SoC paired with 512MB of SKhynix H5TQ2G83CFA 1333MHz RAM.
Although the SoC is capable of driving an Ethernet port itself, a separate Marvell 88E1318 Gigabit LAN controller is used, taking a small amount of load from the processor, which will assist in keeping the load and temperatures down overall.
Further round the board we once again find the USB3.0 ports being taken care of by the trust EtronTech EJ168A USB3.0 host controller.
Lastly on the very front of the motherboard is a surface mounted LED which, with the aid of a clear plastic strip, illuminates on the front panel of the system.
System Spec, GUI & Power Consumption
Although each manufacturer tends to use the same release of their proprietary operating system for all of their products, there are one or two features that are incorporated that are directed at the SOHO user. On the HS-210 this includes a welcome screen displaying photos that the user has saved on the NAS, giving a more personal feel and therefore a more open-hand experience.
Once logged in, we find a [now] typical dashboard layout with a system menu running along the top of the UI and below a series of icons that lead to various areas of the systems settings.
After going into each section of the systems properties we then find all of the options that are on offer to configure the system as required. One of the key options that I would recommend you enter when first setting up your system is the firmware update. Whilst QNAP ship their products with the latest release of their OS where possible, updates are continually rolling out and these can included additional features, bug fixes and security updates where necessary.
As seen above, towards the bottom right corner of the dashboard is a dial which, when clicked on, brings up a window showing the system status and activity along with information on the hard drive usage and temperatures.
Power consumption as we have recently seen is a more important factor that has to be taken into account when selecting the right system for you needs. It is all and well in having a system that offers all the performance and features, but if it’s a power-hungry system that will cost you more to run over the course of a number of months, its total cost of ownership will quickly push it down the rankings. The HS-210 during our testing peaked at 36.6W whilst the drives were under full load which is overall not that bad. When not in use the drives will spin down and enter sleep mode and at this point we see the power draw drop by over 66%
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 it’s 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.
In addition to measuring the performance of the NAS as it is built to be used, we have noticed that ma number of users are using the USB3.0 ports (where available) to connect up secondary storage devices such as external hard drives or flash drives. Consequently I will now be testing the throughput of the USB3.0 port by connecting our high performing Patriot Magnum 256GB flash drive.
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 up to 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.
In the SOHO market the price, as I’m sure you’ll imagine, is a key factor that can make or break the decision to buy a particular system. Priced at around $270-290 through Newegg, Amazon.com and TigerDirect in the US and around £240 in the UK through Scan and Amazon.co.uk, the HS-210 is right in there with the pricing of a number of other two-bay systems that are positioned at this point in the market. Pre-populated systems are also available with capacities varying from 1TB through a single drive, up to 8TB with a pair of 4TB drives, although the prices of these do vary; with the choice of drives and their respective prices varying across the board.
Taking a step back and looking at the design that QNAP have chosen with the HS-210, I have to give them credit for coming up with a product that fits right in with the home cinema setups that many of use have in our own homes. The glossy black plastic strip that runs right around the system works well with many other A/V products and the brushed aluminium upper contrasts and compliments the plastic well.
Sadly though there are a number of areas that I feel need addressing and the first of these has to be the running temperature of the hard drives. I can completely understand where QNAP are coming from as they come up with the concept of having a silent and passively cooled system, during our testing I noted that our Western Digital Se drives were running at around 53c and in turn this caused the Marvell processor to end up running at around 45c. Now on their own, these temperatures are well within the parameters that Marvell and WD outline for their products, but considering our hard drives normally run at around 40-42c in any other system, it is clear that the passive design causes this sharp rise in temperature, which would reduce their lifespan in the long run. Additionally I noted that the aluminium plate that makes up the top cover was very warm when touched, indicating that things are running very warm inside. The long and short from this is that I would prefer to see a small fan somewhere in the system that creates even a small amount of air flow over the drives to keep them cool, after all there are fans out there that run with very low acoustic properties so it is possible.
The second thing that I would like to question is the positioning of the USB ports and particularly the SD card reader. The only time someone is likely to use the card reader is when sharing photos from their camera or for copying them to the system itself, but positioning them on the front, or even the side would be far more logical as opposed to trying to feel where the slot is on the back and trying to manipulate a card into the reader virtually blind. This positioning and the feature of wanting to share content also brings me on to my last area of doubt. If QNAP are set on designing a system that the user would want to place in the midst of a home theatre setup, why is there no way of connecting a TV or other playback device to the NAS for direct viewing of the stored content. Many systems these days offer up this capability so why doesn’t the HS-210?
Performance wise though we do see some good results and whilst they are not pushing the limits of what is possible, for the purpose of sharing films, music and photos to your home entertainment devices they are more than enough.
Overall I do feel a little disheartened by the HS-210. From the moment I got it in I was looking forward to seeing a system that would be far more suited to the home entertainment setup that we all want to have, but sadly the above points really do let it down and QNAP I feel would benefit from giving the chassis and feature set a complete rethink in order to make something that gives just as much as any other two-bay system that can be had for a similar price.
- Slim design to fit in with other home cinema devices
- Magnetic front cover to hide drive bays
- Friendly user interface
- System runs a bit too hot for my liking
- Card reader and USB ports not easy to access
- No means of connecting a TV for direct playback of content
“QNAP’s SilentNAS HS-210 is a great concept, allowing users to easy incorporate the system in to a home entertainment setup, however there are a number of key areas that need addressing in order to justify why the user would want it at the heart of their home theatre.”
Thanks to QNAP for providing us with this review sample.