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QNAP TS-109 Pro NAS

Date: March 26, 2008
Author(s): Greg King

Network storage if growing more popular each day, and thanks to that, there are countless NAS boxes to choose from. We take our first look at a QNAP offering, that proves you do get what you pay for. This single-bay NAS offers pure silence, a great feature-set and simple setup.



Introduction


If you have ever visited our little corner of the ‘net, I feel safe in assuming that you are one of two things. Either you’re a fan of everything computer related, or, you’re flat out lost. Regardless of which category you fall under, we appreciate your patronage and hope that you see something that might bring you to the decision that you’ll return.

If you happen to fall into that first group and actually came to the site under your own free will, I am sticking with my assumption that you’re somewhat of a tech head in one regard or another. If you’re like me, being a “computer guy” means that in your circle of friends and family, you are asked a lot of computer related questions.

While I tend not to not shy away from helping anybody that might legitimately need it, my time is often spent fixing printers or explaining to people that a certain degree of common sense has to be used when navigating the often treacherous open seas that we call the internet. When simple advice is all that is requested, regardless of what the subject matter might be, I can’t stress enough to people that some form of a backup plan is absolutely critical if there is anything of value stored on the PC in question.

For those that heed my warnings, a quick rundown of the various ways to back data up their personal data is usually what follows. From simple CD-R/W backups to backups over their home network or online, a backup plan cannot be overlooked. For students it’s assignments and for many others it’s a digital photo album filled with a lifetime of memories. But regardless of what you hold near and dear to you in binary form, if your PC one day decides to give up the ghost, you and your precious data are hosed. That my friends, absolutely sucks.

While a simple CD-R (or a few) can solve most people’s backup needs, there are those that have many, many gigabytes of data that can make a CD or DVD backup an absolute nightmare. There are also those who have multiple computers in their home. Those with families more often than not fall into this category. Do you want to get hands on with each and every PC on your network? No a chance. This is where a network attached storage device comes in quite handy.

We have looked at many different NAS devices here at Techgage from many different vendors. Companies like Thecus, Vantec, D-Link and Synology have all been kind enough to provide us with test hardware and being able to provide you, or readers, with performance information on these products has benefited Techgage greatly.

When we posted our review of the Synology DS207 last year, I got quite a few emails asking about QNAP, a large player in the NAS market and how their products compared to those that we have evaluated in the past. This prompted us to get in touch with QNAP and the fruits of those emails and phone calls resulted in their immensely popular single drive NAS box, the TS-109 Pro showing up in our labs.

Having reviewed the Synology DS107e not too long ago, we had an idea of what to expect from the single drive TS-109 Pro but from the get go, there was simply no comparison as the markets that each product is being marketed to couldn’t be any more different.

QNAP is positioning the TS-109 Pro to be sold to those who might use the device in an office setting as a central storage hub that can be rolled out into production in little or no time at all. With support for active directory authentication, a powerful 500 MHz Marvell 5182 CPU and 128MB of DDR2 memory, the TS-109 Pro is a giant on paper.

In addition, by supporting up to a 1 TB SATA II drive, the TS-109 Pro can offer a lot of storage in a small compact package, saving the network administrator rack space as well and money by eliminating the need for a standalone file server as well as using a faction of the energy of said server. The TS-109 Pro appears to be a winner but sometimes looks can be deceiving so let’s get into our testing and see what we can turn up.



Packaging and Initial Thoughts

As with most products worth the paper they are written on, the TS-109 Pro comes in a simple but informative box providing most of the major features that the NAS has to offer. Giving those examples the quick one over, it’s obvious who QNAP is marketing this device towards.

With its support for active directory, built in MySQL server and web server, TS-109 Pro is aimed directly at those who operate in small business environments. While this doesn’t mean that home users like you and I wouldn’t be able to get a lot of great uses out of the TS-109 Pro but with multiple users connecting to the device on a daily basis, a NAS like this one would be right at home in any SOHO environment.

QNAP has taken a simplistic approach to the bundle included with the TS-109 Pro and from the looks of it, have hit that nail directly on the head. Shipping with the bare essentials, the TS-109 Pro comes with a small length of Cat5, a power supply and cable, a driver/setup disk, a small bag of screws, a manual and a pair of aluminum stands to allow the NAS to be setup vertically.

Once out of the box, the TS-109 Pro stands vertically with the help of the two included all aluminum stands. These pieces have soft rubber on the bottom of their feet to not only dampen any vibrational noise that the NAS might create but also protect the surface that it is sitting on from scratches. This soft rubber also lines the inside of the stands to protect the TS-109 Pro itself from damage caused by hot metal on metal action.

As with most other NAS devices, there is a slew of indicator lights and buttons running the entire face of the TS-109 Pro. Starting at the top and working our way down, we see a copy button, a USB port, a status, HDD, eSATA, LAN and power indicator lights and at the bottom sits the power on/off button.

Moving back up to the top, the copy button controls whatever device is plugged into the USB port. By plugging in your thumb drive (or even a digital camera!) and pressing the copy button, the TS-109 Pro automatically copies the contents of the attached device in its entirety to a pre-setup folder on the hard drive itself. In our testing, we found this to be a welcome feature on the TS-109 Pro. While not unique to the QNAP device, the ability to quickly backup your USB based hardware is a wonderful addition to any NAS.

Turning the TS-109 Pro around and laying it on its side for a better view, we can see a multitude of connections available on the NAS. Starting from left and working our way right (from the bottom up if the unit is standing vertically) we can see a spot for a Kensington lock, a power in port, one gigabit Ethernet port, a eSATA connection and a pair of USB 2.0 ports.

While somewhat unnecessary on many devices, I can see the Kensington lock being a perfect fit for a NAS box. With so much sensitive data and the realistic approach that a device like the TS-109 Pro will rarely be moved, the added security of a physical lock is a logical choice. I have never liked them for notebooks as they limit the extreme mobility that I have come to expect out of my notebooks.

Turning our attention to the eSATA port, this is for the addition of an eSATA HDD as added storage capacity and not to connect the TS-109 Pro to your PC and use as an external drive. The USB ports can be used to connect a USB drive and used in the same fashion that an eSATA drive would be. You can also setup the TS-109 Pro to be a print server and connect a USB printer to one of the rear USB ports as well.

Notice the pair of screws that flank the I/O ports on the back of the TS-109 Pro. These are all that need be removed to access the interior of the QNAP NAS and install or uninstall your hard drive.

As stated above, all that is needed to install a disk drive into the NAS is to remove the two screws that sit on either side of the back end of the TS-109 Pro. With these removed the sides of the NAS slide is opposite directions, similar to that of the DS107e. If you’re looking at the front of the TS-109 Pro, the right side of the device will come towards you while the left side will withdraw backwards.

As shown in the following picture, the ends of each side fit into grooves in the adjoining side. This makes access to the hard drive a simple procedure.

Once open, we can see that unlike the DS107e (and the DS207 that we also looked at) the TS-109 Pro uses a single data and power strip that the drive’s connections slide into. The hard drive itself fits in between the two vertical sides and is held in place with four mounting screws. Installation of a drive into the TS-109 Pro is absolutely painless and has a difficulty factor of something like a 2.

For further evaluation, we removed the motherboard of the TS-109 Pro and examined it closely. We can see that the TS-109 Pro uses a pair of Marvell chips. One of these chips controls the gigabit Ethernet port while the other one is the device’s CPU. Using the Marvell 5182, the TS-109 Pro is powered by the 500 MHz ARM based RISC processor.

Directly to the left of the CPU is a pair of Hynix DDR2 chips for the onboard memory. Unlike the Thecus N2100 that we looked at last year, the onboard memory is not expandable so what you see here is what you get. 128MB of DDR2 memory is provided on board and should prove to be more than enough for virtually all users.

Also onboard is a small 8MB flash chip that handles the basic bootstrapping needed to get the TS-109 Pro up and running. The operating system of the TS-109 Pro is housed on the installed hard drive rather than on any individual on-board chip. This takes up such little space and offers a great deal of practicality as if an install goes awry, you can simply reformat the drive and try again.

With my physical look out of the way, let’s next check out software features and the setup process.



Features and Setup

Not wanting to bore you with specs that most won’t care about (as well as attempting to not make an entire page of the review only copied stats, ripped from the manufacturers web page), we have listed only the most notable features of the QNAP TS-109 Pro. While the features and specs of the TS-109 Pro are numerous, the most relevant to a majority of people interested include:

File Server

Now that we have a firm idea of what the TS-109 Pro has to offer, let’s get into the setup of the NAS.

Setting up the TS-109 Pro for all intents and purposes is a straight forward affair assuming your home network is setup correctly from the beginning. As with most other NAS devices that we have looked at in the past, QNAP has included is a small utility that will scan the network for any connected QNAP products. This is useful if you have DHCP setup on your home router to assign the NAS a valid address but don’t happen to know the given address. Running the QNAP finder, we see that the app found our device and has listed it’s IP address, software version and MAC address.

When we click connect, we are taken to a window that allows us to change the name of the device from the default name (last 6 digits of the MAC with NAS in front) to anything we want. You can also set the date, time and TCP/IP settings. Once the desired settings are in place, the TS-109 Pro needs to restart for them to take effect.

If you choose to go the easy setup route, you can let the wizard ask you about each setting that you want to change. You start out with the ability to choose the name of your TS-109 Pro as well as setup a administrative password. By default, the logon credentials are admin/admin but you can change this to whatever you see fit when you setup yours.

For system time, you can manually set the time and time zone or you can point the device to an external time server on the ‘net. If you are anal about the time and have an internet connection, why not do this? Many universities across the nation have connections setup so if your into atomic timing, point your TS-109 Pro in their direction.

Offered on the TS-109 Pro is a selection of many different languages as well. Offering all of the major American, European and Asian languages, regardless of there your located, the probability of you being able to read the TS-109 Pro’s display is quite good.

Not much has changed in the network address settings page. You can either assign the TS-109 Pro its own unique IP address of you can allow your local DHCP server to foot the work of network addressing.

Now that we have the TS-109 Pro setup, we need to initialize the installed hard drive. In our case, we are using our tried and true test drive, a Seagate ST3750640NS. You will be reminded that once the process of initiation is completed; all data that was currently on the drive will be lost. If your cool with the thought of that (if not, what are you using it in the first place?), we now need to point the TS-109 Pro to the correct location of the install software. Like we stated earlier, the OS is installed directly onto the hard drive much like it is in a regular PC.

Once you have everything setup the way that you want it, you are given one last option to go back through the setup process and change anything that you might have overlooked. If you’re satisfied with your selections, clicking through to the next window will get the ball rolling in the right direction.

In our case, our 750GB drive took a while to initialize but given the sheer size of the disk, it wasn’t surprising. Once completed, we are given the chance to let the included setup software map our drives for us by simply checking a box. Clicking finish will finalize the setup process and write your settings to the NAS itself.

By default, QNAP has five different folders setup on the TS-109 Pro. These include Qdownload, Qmultimedia, Qusb, Qweb and Public. Any of these five folders can be mapped to your PC either will the help of the included software or manual within Windows. You can go into the web interface and create as many additional folders as you would like but to start out with, these five will have to do. They all have a purpose but more on this later.

An in-depth look at the software is next.



Software

Once setup, all that is needed to access the web interface of the TS-109 Pro is to either type in the IP address of the NAS or the name. Either one will bring up the TS-109 Pro home page. From here we can choose to enter into the administration page to setup additional users, change permissions and fiddle with how the device functions by enabling and disabling features that you either want or do not want to use.

Also available here is the ability to logon using SSL, change your password, change the system language as well as enter into the various other functions of the TS-109 Pro including the web file manager, web server, multimedia station and download station. If you’re familiar with our other reviews of the Synology boxes, you might recognize these features from there. Functionality and extras like the ones just mentioned seem to be the standard these days on higher end NAS boxes and we are glad to report that TS-109 Pro falls in well with similar devices on this front.

Logging into the TS-109 Pro’s administration page using the default credentials or ones determined by you or your system administrator, presents us with this page. The different features are divided into eight different groups keeping likeminded settings in the same group.

Each group is given a symbol and those symbols can be clicked on to open up the different options available to each cluster of settings. We will skip over the first two groups. QNAP calls them quick configuration and system settings and seeing how we have already been through those in the initial setup of the TS-109 Pro, we don’t see a need to get repetitive.

Starting with the network settings, it’s here where we can change the TS-109 Pro’s name, setup the date and time as well as character encoding and file systems. There are a lot of little settings that are changeable in the system settings group. This is a trend that will be continues in the other areas.

In the network settings page, we can change our IP settings, enable the built in services such as download station, multimedia station, FTP and MySQL. It should also be mentioned that the QNAP TS-109 Pro supports Jumbo Frame networks as well.

Under the device settings group, we can setup USB attached devices such as printers and hard drives as well as attached eSATA drives as well. One interesting feature built into the TS-109 Pro’s software is the ability to scan the installed drive for bad sectors as well as run a check disk utility.

For those that will be using the TS-109 Pro in a multi-user network, the User management page might be your home away from home. It is here that you can setup users, create different groups and setup permissions for either to meet the needs of your network. The TS-109 Pro works with active directory networks as well saving the administrator the hassle of setting up users and groups, along with their permissions, all over again when the TS-109 Pro is introduced onto the network.

In the network share management page, we are given the ability to setup addition folders and also control who can view their contents and who is restricted. We see the default five folders but additional folders can be setup if the ones provided do not meet the needs of your network. The default folders are for the different functions of the TS-109 Pro with the Qdownload designated at the destination for downloads, Qmultimedia is where songs can be housed, Qusb is where devices attached via USB cables will dump their data and Qweb will house the web pages you setup should you decide to use the built in web server capabilities of the TS-109 Pro.

Under system tools we can setup the TS-109 Pro to email a specific account when any event takes place, restart the NAS if needed, backup and restore system settings, filter out unwanted IP addresses as well as enable a network recycle bin. This is by far the most interesting, and unique, feature of the TS-109 Pro in my opinion. By enabling the recycling bin, any file dumped from the NAS by any user, intentionally or unintentionally, can be retrieved by finding the missing file in the recycling bin folder.

If logs are what your into, you can monitor the activities of users on the TS-109 Pro, as well as hardware up time and reasons for down time by navigating to the event logs page. You can also sort the events by errors and warnings, errors only or if you have the time, you can display them all and find what you need that way.

Taking a look at a few of the built in features, we start with the FTP server. Operating like any other FTP, we see the available folders to browse, each with their unique contents. If we browse the public folder, we can see each of the contents available to grab. In our case, we navigated to our pictures folder.

We also went through and uploaded a few songs from the local PC. Our example was a pair of songs by Angels and Airwaves and the only gripe we encountered here was that we can only upload one file at a time. Batch uploads were not possible.

Getting to the multimedia station, this is where we can share photo albums with other users on the network. These pictures are housed in the Qmultimedia folder and will be seen in thumbnail form. We can setup permissions here as well, allowing users to control who sees their albums and who cannot.

There is also a very handy help page that can be loaded if any question arise about the TS-109 Pro. These pages are helpful and very informative.

In the download station, we are given the ability to setup torrent downloads or any standard FTP or HTTP download task that we might want. Working in tandem with downloadable software that allows local users to control the download stations settings, downloads can be setup to download without a PC ever having to get involved. The administrator can also control the amount of downloads allowed at each time, place a cap on the download rate (Kb/s) and also setup ports for the torrents.

As with the other areas of the TS-109 Pro, there is a built in help page that describes what the different settings mean and how they affect how the NAS works.

Finally, let’s wrap the review up with my testing results and also my final thoughts.



Testing, Final Thoughts

We are in the middle of reevaluating the way we test the performance of the hardware in our networking reviews and because of this, we have added one addition test to the list. Not only will we be using our tried and true real world file transfer but will also be using a folder of the same size consisting of 361 individual files. This will not only give us a good idea of how well the TS-109 Pro performs under large data transfers but also how well it performs in more day to day situations of transfers consisting of individual files.

While most will never transfer hundreds of files at a time, keeping both the test folders the same size will allow us to keep track of how the performance compares across the tests.

Another addition to our testing methodology is the Sandra Network Bandwidth benchmark. While synthetic, when the same version is ran on all hardware involved in the test, it should at the very least give us an idea of how the performance of one device compares to that of another. Synthetics should often be taken with a grain of salt but it will be interesting to see how well the TS-109 Pro stacks up to our comparison subject, the Synology DS207+.

The hardware uses in these tests consists of:

Test System

The network card used in these tests was the on board Realtek RTL8169/8110 gigabit Ethernet controller. The abit board used in the testing has a pair of these Ethernet jacks on them but only needing one, the other was disabled. Jumbo frames have been disabled as well to provide the reader with as close to an environment as most would have at home.

The comparison NAS used in these tests is the Synology DS207+. The DS207+ is a dual bay NAS but for the sake of fairness, only one is being used. Both devices contain similar 500 MHz processors as well as 128MB of onboard memory. The QNAP product uses DDR2 while the Synology device uses DDR. All in all, the two are similar enough that a good opinion should be able to be drawn from our results.

Starting out with our Sandra results, we were surprised to see the DS207+ jump out ahead in every category. It will be interesting to see if these performance numbers carry over into our real world tests.

In our real world tests, we have taken a single 585 MB .iso of our Windows XP SP2 install disk and have transferred it to and from the pair of NAS boxes. This is the same file used in all of our recent reviews and will continue to be used to allow us to grow in our testing comparisons. To add to this test, we have also created a folder of 361 files, totaling out at 585MB. This should allow us to gauge how well the devices handle multiple file transfers at once. As in our other reviews, all tests were ran three times each and the totals of those runs were averaged out.

Interestingly enough, the TS-109 Pro fell behind the DS207+ in every category but the solid write. While most were close, the multiple reads worried us a bit as it took twice as long to pull the 585MB folder than it did with the Synology DS207+ with only one drive installed! Leary of our original results, we ran the test again multiple times with all ending in the same result.

Final Thoughts

On paper, the TS-109 Pro looked like a giant and in many regards; it lived up to those claims. With its low wattage footprint (QNAP claims that the TS-109 Pro only uses 6.6w of power when in sleep mode and a paltry 14.4W when in use) and full list of features, the TS-109 Pro is definitely a winner in our book. What has impressed me the most though was the small features that we haven’t seen in other devices like hard drive block scanning, disk checking, a completely silent design and network recycling bin. It’s these features that have sold me on the QNAP TS-109 Pro.

Performance of the NAS was lower than we expected and because of this we were a bit let down. That said, the performance of the TS-109 Pro wasn’t bad either and the good in the NAS far out ways the bad that we uncovered.

Many have stated that they are a bit uncomfortable with the completely silent conductive cooling approach. For me however, this doesn’t bother me a bit. While a fan might give many peace of mind, our test drive never exceeded 46 degrees Celsius, and for a hot 750GB drive, that’s reasonable. Compare this to the 39 degrees that the drive in the Synology NAS hovered around and the trade off of a completely silent NAS isn’t that hard of a pill to swallow. The all-aluminum casing does an adequate job of keeping our test drive well within its threshold temperatures and as we have said before, has done so without so much as a whisper.

The major selling points of the TS-109 Pro will not be the performance numbers. For most, the biggest allure of the TS-109 Pro is its rather large feature set. Offering many features that anyone who has worked in an office can appreciate, QNAP has done a great job of adding just what SOHO users will need in a NAS device. Theoretically a company can eliminate the need for a file server and an FTP server with a simple purchase of a device like the TS-109 Pro. For home users though, I would suggest the Pro’s smaller brother, the TS-109. Containing the same hardware, the TS-109’s biggest difference is its lack for active directory support.

On a multimedia front, the built-in TwonkyMedia server enables those with DNLA certified media players to pull songs, video and pictures off of the TS-109 Pro. Those with friends and family scattered across the globe will also appreciate the easy photo sharing feature and many will love download station perfect for setting up large BT downloads and forgetting about them until they complete.

At the end of the day, we weren’t blown away by the performance of the TS-109 Pro but we were left very impressed. Similar to those the Synology brand of NAS, the features found on the TS-109 Pro are extensive and should be able to keep most everyone happy whether in an office or in a home. The most critical role of a NAS is to be a convenient, reachable backup source and the TS-109 Pro does that in spades. Holding up the 1TB hard drives, and being able to sync with attached drives over eSATA or USB, the single drive TS-109 Pro is suddenly a RAIDable NAS. Keeping all of your eggs in one basket has never been, nor ever will be, a good idea and allows the user to backup the contents of their TS-109 Pro over the USB or eSATA line is a great idea.

All in all, the TS-109 Pro from QNAP has earned a 9 out of 10. With plenty of features to go around, very few will find the TS-109 Pro to not live up to their expectations. Available online for just under $300, the TS-109 Pro isn’t cheap but it’s well worth every penny.

Pros

Cons

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