QNAP TS-253A Review

QNAP TS-253A Review

Qnap sitting in my spare room/office. As you can see it’s sitting on a A4 Pukka Pad, purely to keep the sound of the vibrations down that you can hear in the kitchen, which is the room directly below.

Background to reason behind purchase
I purchased the QNAP TS-253A back in March from Amazon UK for a price of £289.99*. This was a few months before I decided to kickstart this blog, so afraid there are no unboxing vids or tutorials of the setup. 🙁

This review has taken many weeks to complete, as there’s a lot to go into, I’d also like to state I purchased this with my own money and this review is totally impartial and not connected to QNAP systems in any way.

I’d been in the market for a new NAS device for several months. My existing NAS the QNAP TS-212 was coming to the end of life on QNAPs support roadmap (a decision they later reversed, but since the release of firmware 4.3.3 there are many reports on QNAP forums that it has made this essentially low powered NAS box almost unusable, so perhaps I planned this well anyway)

For a while I was convinced I would not buy another QNAP, and was looking at Synology devices. QNAP’s persistence of messing up with their firmware releases and constantly botching the VPN client had made my mind up, I was running older firmware for quite a while, and using forum posting workarounds for the VPN client, which would often break after each new firmware release.

Once I had the cash however to spend on a new NAS, the decision was less simple then I expected. QNAP had released some nice spec NAS boxes, which in the price range I was looking at, were simply just much better than what Synology were offering in the same price bracket. Also checking the QNAP forum out I could see that some further work had been done on the VPN client, it still needed a workaround but it meant I could upgrade the firmware on my existing TS-212 to try it out first, and it actually went far better than I expected. Add to that a 3rd party repository had been made available to install many new apps on the QNAP that I was interested in. So I decided better the devil I know  and went with the QNAP TS-253A.

The Specs
So lets get some of the geeky specs out the way first, mainly concentrating on what appealed to me the most

Data Transfer rate: 224 Mb per second
2 x Gigabit RJ45 Ethernet ports
Hot swapable drives
4GB of RAM preinstalled, upgradable to 8GB
Wattage 14.43 watts
Quad Core Intel Celeron N3150 CPU
RAID 1

Now obviously the device can do a hell of a lot, and we’ll get onto that in the next few sections

What’s in the box
As I’ve had the item a while, and decided to write this review a few months later, I’m afraid I have no decent unboxing pics. However if you’re interested in that, then there’s some good stuff over at Modders-Inc.com . What you will find in the box is, the QNAP itself, power supply, power lead, a remote control, two Ethernet leads and a quick installation guide.

Setup

Bck of the unit in situ

Inserting the drives in this model compared to the 212 was incredibly simple. With the 212 I had to power down the device and literally unscrew the case if I needed to replace a drive. With the 253A the front hot swappable SATA slots means it’s simply a case of screwing the drive to the tray, and then slotting it into the bay. I’d purchased a new 5TB drive to go in the QNAP, along with an existing 4TB drive and would be setting them up with a RAID1 mirroring configuration. Firstly, yes, I’m aware I have two separate drive sizes here, and there’s a reason for what which I’ll get to later, so my RAID capacity was going to be 4TB (around 3.53TB after formatting.)

I had decided NOT to do the QNAP NAS migration with this unit and would start from fresh, the main reason for this was because of the upcoming QTS 4.3.3 firmware, which at the time was on BETA only, it also had many new features I wanted to try, and many of the apps on QTS 4.2. could potentially be incompatible with 4.3.3 and require re-installation at a later date. More on that later however.

Once the drives were inserted the connection of things into the back for me was pretty simple. I wasn’t interested in hooking the device up to a TV, but that is possible, via the HDMI outputs. All I needed to do was plug in the power and also attach an Ethernet cable to one of the ports and attach the drives.

As I was already replacing my existing QNAP, which I had already took offline, I wanted the new QNAP to also go onto the same IP address that the existing one was on, this would make things much smoother for other devices to be able to find the QNAP where I had hard encoded the network path via IP address. I had a number of ways to find the QNAP, including the Qfinder tool from QNAP, however I want for the much simplier route of just logging into my router, and finding the newest device via DHCP lease, this also enabled me to set up a simple DHCP reservation from the router using the MAC address of the QNAP, so I set it to always connect to the IP of my choice from the router and set that to a reservation. As I now knew the IP of the QNAP, I simply just had to type it into my web browser.

The QNAP initial setup wizard has come on leaps and bounds since I last used it, and is also very technical. There’s two paths to take, one designed for corporations and one designed for home users. As I am quite techie and already familiar with the product, I went with the corporation route. In hindsight, using the home user setup would probably have been quicker, as far as I’m aware once the device is set up, there’s nothing stopping you enabling the many advanced features straight from within the QNAP QTS interface afterwards.

I had many advanced feature questions presented to me, such as if i wanted to setup snapshots of the QNAP and how I intended to set up the disks. At this point I choose to not bother with the snapshots and choose to set the space I could use for data storage to the maximum amount. I would be doing weekly backups to an external drive, and had been doing this process for a number of years, and was happy with how it was working, so as to not want to sacrifice storage space, I went with that option. I also had downloaded the 4.3.3 Beta firmware and applied that. It didn’t take too long to apply the firmware and get the discs set up. Impressive.

Usage

The next step was to get the initial data from the backup of the old QNAP onto the new QNAP. As I had selected to not install photo station/media centre or download station during the setup process, I was surprised to see the standard Multimedia and Download shares had not been setup.

Logging into the QTS software I set up the folder shares, it’s probably important to point out at this point, that I still only had an admin user account set up, so setting these folders up at the moment meant only admin had access. Also I needed a share for my personal data that was related to multimedia stuff, this is essentially my home drive, or ‘my documents’ folder on the network storage. I created the user account for my share and during the setup for the user, allowed the QTS software to set up a home folder, and then allowed this to be shared.

Once my shared folders were back in business, I connected the external drive backup of my data and began the long process of copying over 2TB of data over to the correct folders. As I’d also purchased a USB 3 docking station purely to speed up this process, it took about 2 hours to copy all the data across to the new QNAP.

It was now just a case of ensuring all the devices that needed to access the data on the QNAP could and I was back in business.

So that was the initial point of the QNAP setup done. It’s what a NAS does, provide network storage, but what else does this QNAP unit do that I am utilising other than file storage.

The Extra Bells & Whistles

So other than doing the actual point of a NAS box, what else am I doing with this little box to justify the almost £300 price tag, which obviously rises considerably once you’ve purchased some drives to go into it as well.

Backup Station
Backup Station gives a whole host of backup options for your QNAP and what folders you want to back up, you can backup to external drives using the USB 3 ports, Use a backup server using either Rsync, RTRR or Time Machine, Use remote replication tools to backup via NAS to NAS, Rsync, RTRR, Snapshot or LUNs. You can add cloud services also to backup. I’d advise you do some heavy research before deciding where to backup your data too if you’re going to use a cloud service. As the data on my QNAP personally does not change all that much,I just do weekly backups to an external drive every Thursday evening. I then return the external drive back to my place of work and store it in my desk draws. So as long as my house doesn’t go up in flames on a Thursday night, I’ve got a decent offsite backup solution. The only downside is when I take annual leave! Also to revisit the point I made earlier about why I’ve got different size drives in the NAS is purely down to how to backup. My backup drive is 3TB, yes, another TB smaller than the RAID in the NAS. This forces me to be more conscious of my storage space, and to allow me to progressively upgrade my storage space when it comes to it. The next drive I buy will probably be 6TB. The 4TB drive will be relegated from the NAS to the backup drive. And the RAID increased to 5TB, and so forth. It might seem wacky, but it works for me. It all started because when I started with the 212, I only had one drive in it, a bigger drive was purchased, the other drive became backup, and later on, I went down the raid route, and again ended up with a bigger drive for the money, so that’s how it’s all ended up being progressively larger discs.

File Services
I currently have the SMB service enabled only as the majority of my home devices, well all 2 of them, are Windows based. Enabling me to easily map the shared folders I have created to my Windows hosts. I’ve also got a Raspberry Pi that has LibreElec installed on it, so again in order for that to access the required media directries I set them up as SMB sources and it works quite well. You can also enable AFP and NFS, but I find the more you have enabled, the more resources get used on your QNAP, as the Pi can access SMB fine and I can use QNAPs apps on my iPhone I see no reason for me personally to have the other sevices enabled.

Webserver
The QNAP comes with the ability to be used as a webserver, using Apache and PHP as the underlying technology. I use this quite regular for testing purposes for web projects. Including this website. It enables me to use the latest WordPress installations and plug in’s to test before going live. One nice addition is the ability to host virtual sites as well, allowing you to point domains/subdomains/DDNS addresses at a certain folder giving you the ability to test numerous website setups. One cool thing I am using the webserver for is to host a Kodi add on called Movielib. Which basically gives me a nice graphical web portal of my Kodi system, showing me the Movies and TV shows I have stored, allows me quickly see at a glance what I’ve watched/recently added, and also links straight to Youtube trailers. I could go on about it for ages, but it would warrant a post for itself.

SQL Database Server
There’s not much point having a Webserver capability if you can’t do SQL Databases either, WordPress obviously needs a SQL database in order to store it’s information, as does the Movielib site I mentioned above. With a QNAP provided MyPHPAdmin app which you can install separately, administration of your Database server becomes a doddle, and makes editing the database easy. It’s worth noting that MariaDB has now replaced MySQL as the default installed database server on QNAP.

FTP Server
Used purely internally for me, you can turn your QNAP into an FTP server to easily transfer files inside and outside of your QNAP.

MyQNAPCloud
My QNAPCloud is a DNS service provided by QNAP to give you an easily rememerable name to access your QNAP remotely. Once you’ve setup your name and account you can visit the MyQNAPcloud website and access any of the QNAPs systems that you’ve enabled for external access. I generally use this purely for the DDNS purposes. Opening up your QNAP remotely has it’s advantages and disadvantages, and in a world where data theft, mining and hacking is becoming a problem, the disadvantages probably outweigh the advantages, but obviously the choice is for you to make. If you are going to open some of your QNAPs services to the outside world, I recommend you subscribe yourself to QNAPs Security Bulletins and Advisories.

Qfile/Qmanager
QNAP offer a number of phone apps, the two I primiarly use are Qfile and Qmanager. Qfile allows me to access my file shares on my phone, so I can download files from the QNAP to my mobile device easily. Qmanager allows me to monitor the health of my QNAP easily, and also kick off backups easily without having to go into the web admin interface.

AppCenter

This is where the QNAP becomes an even more powrful beast. Like your smartphone, QNAP provides a number of apps you can install on your NAS. A recent nice addition is also the fact 3rd party repositories can also be added. Obviously this comes with the usual security warnings. So what additional official QNAP store apps have I installed. You can even install Docker to try and run applications that haven’t been built for QNAP yourself.

QVPN Service
The QVPN service allows me to setup my QNAP as both a VPN server and a client. This obviously has a whole host of advantages. I can set my QNAP up to be a VPN server, allowing me to connect in remotely much more safer than just opening ports up on my router and allowing services to be published to the net. Instead I can VPN in to access those resources. Also I can use the VPN server as a layer of security when I’m in public places and want to browse the web on an open wifi. Instead I can connect in to the QNAP, and then use my home internet connection as my gateway to access the internet from where I am. This kind of service again deserves a whole post to itself. I’m becoming a bit of a security conscious soul when it comes to technology in my older age and the many growing IOT devices that are out there, so expect to see some security driven posts soon.
The VPN service on the QNAP doesn’t stop there. I am can also connect the QNAP up to other VPNs via the client side of this application. If I decide to put my older QNAP somewhere else, I could for example set up a VPN tunnel between the two, in order to securely do backups of my data to an offsite location. I can also set up OpenVPN profiles, which allows me to connect my QNAP to my paid PIA VPN subscription, allowing my QNAP to think it’s practically anywhere in the world. Useful if you’re into torrenting or usenet and what to hide your ID, as the QNAP can also be used to load on  such software and even has it’s own inbuilt torrent software called Download Station. At the top of the review I mentioned how QNAP were constantly botching their VPN client software, well the good news is, since the release of this QVPN app, it now works out the box, an no further workarounds are required.

The rest of the applications I have installed on my QNAP come from a 3rd party app store. Qnapclub.eu they post regular in the QNAP forums and keep their apps up to date. Obviously I am at their mercy should they either decide to vanish off the planet, or go rogue!

QTransmission
Transmission torrent client which allows a bit more advanced configuration. Having the QNAP be an always on torrent client, means I can set up downloads easily without having to have such software installed on any of my computers, plus the data ends up straight on the QNAP.

QCouchPotato
Is simply the couchpotato software setup straight for QNAP, it also updates itself from the GIT source without the need to install extra GIT software on the QNAP.

QSickrage
As above is the Sickrage software setup to work out the box on QNAP, again no need to manually update, as the software will straight update itself.

WakeOnLan
A little cool tool that you install to the websever and then edit the files with the MAC addresses of your devices which you can wake up. I use this quite often to wake up one of my home machines, which I then remote onto if I want to use a full blown system from my home remotely. It’s worth noting the app comes with no inbuilt security, so I would advise as I have to setup a .htaccess file within the folder it installs to on your webserver in order to keep other people out.

There’s a whole host of other stuff you can do with your QNAP from apps, either from QNAP or 3rd parties, the lists are pretty much endless.

Cool stuff I don’t use the QNAP for but worth mentioning

Advanced network file sharing
If you were a small business you could use the QNAP to manage your company data or user shares. You can set up a whole host of users and user groups and set up various permissions for folders. Folders can be setup with Quotas to try and ensure they don’t go over a certain capacity to keep file storage in check for certain projects and users. You can also easily add the QNAP to an Active Directory domain, or even set it up as a domain controller. i’m not quite sure how that works, and not certain I’d want to rely on a QNAP as being my domain controller!

Network and Virtual Switch
This QNAP has two gigabit ethernet ports. At the moment I don’t require it, but I could go down the route of doing some port trunking to enable two devices at once to access the NAS at full speed. In a corporate set up this would come in handy in order to load balance data access to the QNAP if coming from multiple hosts. You need a switch on the opposite end of the QNAP that also supports port trunking.
The virtual switch mainly comes into it’s own when you’ve got virtual machines running on the QNAP, which brings me to…

HybridDesk Station
HybridDesk Station is a very cool feature for those that want a full rich multimedia centre setup, hooked up to their TV, using the HDMI output of the QNAP to a TV, you can run a whole host of other applications/systems straight from the QNAP, this could include full blown Windows/Linux desktop setups, Kodi, web browsers, loads of stuff. The main reason I haven’t done this as of yet is because It wasn’t the intention of why I have a NAS. Although my NAS does host a lot of multimedia, and I do access it from a Raspberry Pi running the Librelec version of Kodi, so why haven’t I got the QNAP under he TV?
1, I want it next to my router, which is upstairs, my house doesn’t have internal networking other than powerline adapters, so I’d lose a lot of bandwidth straight away. 2. It’s just too noisy a device to have in the living room. There’s plenty of posts about the 253A being a bit on the noisy side and I’d have to agree. It seems even louder from the bathroom or the kitchen where I can hear it’s hum, and the drives, possibly down to what I’ve purchased, are obviously being accessed quite a lot, so these are quite noisy too. For me, at least at this moment, the QNAPs place is not in the living room, but a lot of people will disagree.

Qsync
This feature is basically your own personal Dropbox, if you don’t trust cloud services, or they don’t offer enough storage, then this is possibly your best solution, the main drawback obviously being how fast your home internet connection is, especially the upload, if you need to suddenly download a large file whilst you’re on the move.

Video Station/Media Streaming/Transcoding
As I have a Raspberry Pi with Librelec on it, I don’t use this, but for people with DLNA capable smart TVs this is a good feature, if you can get it work properly! Basically it turns your QNAP into a DLNA capable media centre, enabling your smart device to access all of the videos/music/pictures on your QNAP and view them straight from the TV. There may be issues with some codec formats from what I’ve read however, nothing is ever simple hey!

OceanKTV
I’m not sure why anyone would want to do this, but QNAP are based in Taiwan, so that may explain it, you can turn your QNAP into a fully featured Karoke system! Seriously.

Surveillance Station
If you can find a compatible camera, you can hook it straight into your QNAP for recording and monitoring your property.

Encryption/2 factor authentication
What? Ade? You’re not using encryption or 2FA on your QNAP. I know, I know. There’s two reasons I don’t do this. 1) I don’t trust it! The last thing I want is to be locked out of my system and the headache of trying to decrypt the disks if something goes wrong. Also for me, encrypting the disks is pointless. The system is always on, so the discs are unlocked, the filessystem is open. All someone has to do is hack my passwords if they really want access. Although my firewall should prevent external access anyway. The encryption only really comes into play if the device is stolen, the data is then non readable. But again, if the thief knew what they were doing they could quite easily reset the NAS with the hardware reset button. There’s various concerns on all this in QNAP community forums which I won’t go into here, but I see the full drive encryption as pointless. Instead I would recommend you create VeraCrypt containers for your really important data on the QNAP, and keep tha data stored in the encrypted container instead. Much more simple, and also much more secure. Why don’t I use 2FA, again I’m only going to be accessing the web admin from home, my firewall should prevent the web admin from being accessible remotely. This is possibly me being a bit lax on this one, but again, my really important data is in a Veracrypt container, the multimedia I’m not bothered about, everything is backed up to an external drive, the worst that could happen is my whole QNAP got reset, which would be a pain, but the geek inside me would probably enjoy setting it all back up! As well as then setting up 2FA! 😉

Video Overview of the QTS 4.3.3 firmware

Verdict
This review just picks out some of the core functionality of why you might want a NAS device. There’s a whole host of manufacturers out there now, that can offer you the basic file storage solution out of the box, for much less, however the QNAP offers so much more and I’ve only really touched on it here. This review is over 4000 words long and still doesn’t really go into the system in great detail. I’ve had the 253A  now for 3 months and I love it. It’s a hell of a lot more powerful that my existing 212 and QNAP have added a wole bunch of new features like the HybridDesk Station which looks incredibly cool, and I hope to have a play with at some point, but for the time being, the core functionality of my NAS requirements have been met, and then some!

The only downsides are still QNAPs poor communication with their firmware updates, I saved myself a lot of headaches by reading up on the 4.3 firmware before I initially set this device up and decided to go with the Beta, rather than 4.2 and then upgrade to 4.3 Had I had to do the upgrade I’d probably have been swearing a lot more.

Also as I touched on slightly above, the hum from the fan on this device is loud, someone has recommened I put a mouse mat underneath it, to soften the sound. I haven’t got round to it yet. Also possibly due to the drives I purchased, they also seem louder than they did in the 212.

Final Score 4/5

*This is an affiliate link, and I will gain commission from Amazon, should you purchase the product via that link.

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