NAS shoot-out: QNAP TS-659 Pro II Turbo NAS

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The QNAP NAS leads the pack with a smooth Web GUI and excellent performance

The QNAP Turbo NAS became my favorite during the testing. What this unit lacks in special cloud features (see the Iomega and Netgear reviews), it makes up in performance and solid functionality. My feeling is that the QNAP would be best suited to a company that has a little more tech knowledge on hand, so the staff could take advantage of all that this box can do. The hardware is solid, and setup and administration are well documented and easy to manage, but with all of the functionality that this box offers, I'm not sure I'd give it to a nontechnical business user.

QNAP even does an excellent job of packaging the system. The outside of the box helpfully lists all the specifications of the product -- hardware, software, and file services -- and when you open the lid, the three-step process of setting up the NAS (without any PC) is right there for you to follow. QNAP even includes two Ethernet cables -- that's right, two Ethernet cables. Sure, it seems like a small point, but let me ask you this: How would it feel to spend $3,000 or $4,000 for a NAS device that boasts dual-gigabit Ethernet ports, and then you open the box and find only one cable? That's like opening a Cracker Jack box to find no prize.

I received the QNAP TS-659 Pro II with six 2TB drives (Western Digital RE4). Like the other manufacturers, QNAP provides a hard drive compatibility list on its website. I give QNAP another star for breaking down this list into business- and consumer-grade hard drives. If you want to use 3TB hard drives, Hitachi and Seagate are the only options. One disappointment: Although QNAP touts its support for SATA III (6Gbps) drives, the unit arrived with SATA II (3Gbps) drives. I would have liked to see how the box performed with the faster disks.

QNAP TS-659 Pro II Turbo NAS: Hardware considerations
The QNAP TS-659 Pro II is solidly built, and you might even call it stylish. You could place it in any business setting and no one would bat an eye. The unit's fan ran quietly, but I noticed a little more hard drive noise than in some of the competitors. No doubt that's partly due to the hard drives being directly accessible from the front of the unit, rather than hidden behind a door. Even without a door, each of the hot-swappable drive trays can be locked.

The unit's LCD has Select and Enter buttons that allow you to interact with the unit to make changes. This proved to be a handy feature during my testing, but it took several tries for me to understand how to navigate the menus with just two buttons. The front of the unit also has the power button, the standard LED status indicators, a USB 3.0 port, and a backup button.

The back of the unit has an abundance of ports: a single USB 3.0 port, four USB 2.0 ports, two eSATA ports, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, a VGA port, and a Kensington security slot. The USB 3.0 ports allow you to connect an external USB hard drive to use for backup. By pressing the backup button, you can make a quick copy of certain folders and files to the attached drive. The eSATA ports are a bit of a head scratcher. These offer more flexibility for expansion and backup; they're nice to have, but I'm not sure they'd get much use in this market segment.

QNAP TS-659 Pro II Turbo NAS: Software and administration
I enjoyed using the QNAP Web interface, but having the ability to do some tasks via the display on the front of the unit was useful as well. I spent a considerable amount of time in front of the various Web interfaces for the NAS boxes in this test, and QNAP's was easily my favorite. Functions were well organized, the GUI was clean, and it was snappy. I spent much less time hunting and searching for the functions that I needed than in any of the other products.

For those who need more hand-holding, QNAP provides a software utility called QFinder that will help you set up the system. The amount of online help QNAP makes available is impressive as well. There is a live demo of the software and quite a few videos you can watch, as well as a very well-written help page available in the GUI and on the QNAP website. It is nice to see a vendor bending over backward to help the users as much as possible.

As I discussed in the introduction to this shoot-out, many of these NAS devices include everything but the kitchen sink. The QNAP falls in this camp, bundling many nonessential features such as an iTunes server, UPnP media server, torrent downloader, and IP camera surveillance system. I'm sure most businesses will ignore these features, even if home and power users might enjoy having them. You can get many more features by adding packages using QNAP's QPKG system.

QNAP TS-659 Pro II Turbo NAS: Backup and cloud services
QNAP is lighter on backup options than the Netgear and Iomega systems, but it's no slouch. Rsync and Apple Time Machine support are there as you'd expect, as is the ability to back up to an external device via USB or eSATA. QNAP also includes a feature it calls Real-time Remote Replication (RTRR), which allows two QNAP NAS boxes to do one-way syncing in either real time or on a schedule over the local network or the Internet. 

MyCloudNAS is very easy to set up. Sign up on the QNAP website, provide a unique name for your server, and a wizard walks you through the process of choosing the NAS services to publish, whether they're public or private, and which users are allowed to access which service. If you have a UPnP router, the wizard will take care of the port forwarding. If you're a little more paranoid or security conscious (sometimes they go hand in hand) you can set up a QCloud Access Code that users must have in addition to their user account on the NAS. Purists might point out that this is nothing more than dynamic DNS and port forwarding, and I'd agree with them. The beauty of MyCloudNAS is that a user with little networking knowledge can set it up easily and quickly.

QNAP TS-659 Pro II Turbo NAS: Performance
QNAP shined in my performance tests. It was the top performer in almost every category of my testing. The Thecus performed better on several of the tests but never by much. What surprised me was the perceived speed. As I ran through my various tests of NFS, AFP, SMB/CIFS, iSCSI, rsync, and Time Machine backups, I began to get a feel for what was quick and what wasn't. The QNAP always seemed as fast as the performance numbers showed. I know that sounds very subjective (and it is), but anyone who has spent a lot of time with networking and file server hardware will know what I'm talking about.

For the results of my performance tests, see the mainbar, "NAS shoot-out: 5 storage servers battle for business." For the reviews of the competing products, follow these links: Iomega StorCenter px6-300d | Netgear ReadyNAS Pro 6 | Synology DiskStation DS1511+ | Thecus N5200XXX.

QNAP TS-659 Pro II Turbo

Drives tested6 x Five Western Digital RE4 (model WD2003FYYS). Specs: 2TB, 7,200 rpm, 64MB cache, SATA 3.0Gbps interface
Pricing12TB, $2,399.99 (as tested); Diskless, $1,199.99

This article, "NAS shoot-out: QNAP TS-659 Pro II Turbo NAS," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in storage at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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