QNAP TS-473A First Impressions

Christmas came early at the Wood household, as we decided to make good on years of talk about separating the gift-giving from the celebration of the Savior’s birth. Picking a day when we would all be available, and so on, we settled on December 18.

One of the new toys is the QNAP NAS system referenced in the post title.

The interface could be a little more explanatory, and I was glad that I had read up to know that I would need to select the new QuTS hero OS right away if I wanted to use it.

OS installation took a while, but I just left it running and went to do other things, and before long it was all there.

One reason I wanted to use the new QuTS hero 5 OS is that it uses ZFS1 by default. ZFS is said to be the OS for preventing bit rot, or the gradual degradation of data from random changes to the storage medium, so I’ve been using it on my homebuilt NAS (that currently runs TrueNAS).

QNAP has a pretty good reputation for their software (and are popular enough that they are the targets of specially-designed malware), but I was still a little nervous about migration. Supposedly, you can also wipe the box and put another OS on it (like TrueNAS), so I could theoretically end up with a similar setup to what I have, but on more NAS-friendly hardware. Still, I have been struggling with the media streaming element of my home server setup.

We’ve traditionally been using file shares and Kodi to stream our media around the house, but it didn’t work quite as well as we’d like. For one thing, running Kodi on each machine that wanted to consume media meant that we had a separate library on each machine. Some of our media is a little quixotic, and the “matches” found in the movie database were usually not very family-friendly. Trying to get the info updated on all client machines was frustrating.

So far, the new QNAP looks promising as a way to get around some of these difficulties. For one thing, the DLNA2 implementation “just works”. (My client is VLC, which I had generally avoided as a media player in the past, but the interface has gotten a lot better.) This should mean that I can edit the metadata for my music, movies, and TV shows, and the clients (including Kodi) will pull that information when they connect to the DLNA server.

What about the hardware?

Drive installation was really painless. It’s a “nearly” tool-free process that is tool-free if you want it to be. Basically, the device uses drive sleds (provided) that have the old clip-style drive rails. They attach to the outside of the sled and poke through the holes into the mounting screw holes on the drive. For better retention, you can (optionally) use the provided3 screws to secure the drive to the sled using the screw holes on the underside of the drive.

It’s not as simple and straightforward as the sled-free system on the Synology JBOD4 system I have, but I really have no complaints.

There are USB ports on the front of the device, and you can program an action to take place when the button on the front is pressed. (Basically, do you want to automatically import media to your server — like connecting your camera, for instance — or back up to NAS storage, etc.)

There are also USB ports on the back, so you can attach more storage (like the Synology JBOD device I have) if the four drive bays (in my model) aren’t enough for you, and you don’t want to spring for a whole new NAS system.

Other details

There are a lot of options for connecting the QNAP to other storage services, either to use cloud services as a backup to the QNAP, or to use the QNAP as a local cache of the cloud services. You can link it together with other NAS devices to back up off-site, so it really makes it easy to make backups, rather than just copies.

I mentioned ZFS briefly when I started this post — one of the other features of ZFS is that it can very easily make RAID systems of varying flexibility. It’s relatively easy to add and remove drives from the RAID, and as long as you’re patient, and your hardware isn’t too slow, you shouldn’t lose data. I have four 8TB drives that will end up living in this QNAP, and that should provide a certain amount of redundancy to the data storage in this NAS.

Final observation, before I go back to playing with this thing: QuTS provides an app called Ubuntu Linux Station, that allows me to install an Ubuntu 20.04 or 18.04 VM on the NAS. While this is terrible overkill for most things that I want a NAS to do, it does allow me a simple way to set up a Calibre Content Server on the network. I’ve been running one from my desktop, but not only will I feel better with that stuff stored away from the rest of my stuff (okay, backed up, since I’ll be keeping a copy of everything on my computer, too), but it will make it easier for me to convince my family to look to the network for ebooks.

I’m sure as time goes by I will find out other things that I want this server to do, and so far I’m really impressed by the flexibility of the QuTS to let me do them.

  1. Z File System
  2. Digital Living Networking Alliance. Basically, they wanted something that sounded like DNA to talk about streaming media, just like WiFi helped Best Buy sell routers because it sounded like Hi-Fi.
  3. in a cellophane bag, so they’ll get lost
  4. Just (a) Bunch of Disks

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