At Computex 2014, we visited QNAP and came away with a lot of information (some of which we had already seen at CES). After Computex, QNAP got in touch with me to better explain the various features of the newly introduced TS-x51 series (which was not at CES). And, boy, was I floored?! Usually, you don't see me getting very excited over product announcements. They usually get a small write-up with analysis in our pipeline section. However, I believe that QNAP's TS-x51 family has the capability to revolutionize the NAS market for home users and media enthusiasts, particularly in the way it utilizes Intel Quick Sync technology. It also gives us an opportunity to understand the state of the market and where it is headed.

The consumer / SOHO / SMB NAS market (which, in our definition, is comprised of units costing less than $5K) has two major platform vendors. In the cost-sensitive low power / performance segment, we have Marvell, with its ARM-based SoCs. Units requiring higher processing power (where cost is not a primary factor) have typically utilized Intel's x86 platforms. Over the last year or so, the delineation has been blurring quite a bit. Marvell's ARMADA 370 is no slouch when it comes to CPU performance, and it integrates a healthy number of PCIe and SATA lanes. On the other hand, Intel realized that its Bonnell-based D525 and D27xx-based solutions for the NAS market (which required an additional PCH) were not particularly power or cost efficient. While announcing its Silvermont architecture last year, Intel mentioned that the Bonnell follow-up would be part of multiple SoCs for microservers (Avoton) as well as other infrastructure equipment (Rangeley). It was widely expected that NAS vendors would move to Silvermont soon for their x86-based units. We were expecting some announcements at CES, but there was really nothing new.

QNAP's TS-x51 series has been introduced into the market just as it is on the verge of a major change. The details of the various members of the TS-x51 series are provided below. The Celeron CPU mentioned in the first row happens to be the J1800.

Before analyzing the product line and its features, let us take a short detour to understand Intel's play in this market.

Intel Storage Platforms for the NAS Market
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  • ganeshts - Sunday, June 22, 2014 - link

    The 'killer app' tag line was written from a HTPC / media-centric perspective. For a long time, users wanted QS to be taken advantage of by Plex. As a media transcoder, QS's potential was pretty much not taken advantage of by non-proprietary applications (OS X - Has Apple even exposed QS functionality to developers? Last I remember seeing, HandBrake on OS X doesn't support QS -- may have changed recently ; Remote Desktop acceleration using QS is not exactly media, but, yes, playback to AppleTV is a valid application wrapped in something proprietary).

    Another major point I wanted to convey in the piece was that Intel's VA-API efforts (making QS accessible through open APIs on Linux) has finally paid off in the consumer market.

    Finally, I couldn't probably tag it as 'Killer App for Media Applications' -- that would just make it too long :)
  • shank15217 - Sunday, June 22, 2014 - link

    Virtualization station is damn useful, imagine a open vpn server or even a samba domain server. If qnap develops this feature a bit more it would essentially make it one of the best soho nas out there.
  • Beany2013 - Wednesday, July 2, 2014 - link

    I'd be concerned about resource usage - VMs are different to apps, in that they host the entire OS, crud and all.

    I'd rather drop the relevant SAMBA domain packages into the NAS, than put it in a full debian VM, chewing resources that it doesn't need; the NAS already emulates the filesystem, why blow (limited) resources making the guest OS also have to do this?

    That said, I can see the benefits for some purposes, but it's pretty niche IMHO, until this class of device comes with a minimum of 4gb of RAM, which is by far the biggest limiter here. I'd never want an unattended full install of Windows 7 in a VM, for example, have you seen how big the WinSXS folder can get and how much disk access it can chew up when it's doing housekeeping tasks? Pretty much every time my scabby old (SSD equipped) Macbook starts dragging, it's because the Windows VM I use for troubleshooting has decided it's time to start pissing about with windows update - and not having a Windows (or any, frankly) unattended VM updated is just asking for trouble....

    I like having the option, but I don't think I'd use it!
  • RoboKaren - Sunday, June 22, 2014 - link

    FreeNAS running on FreeBSD. About the only thing it doesn't have is virtualization (it does have jails). And I trust ZFS (RAIDZ2) more than RAID5/6.
  • ganeshts - Sunday, June 22, 2014 - link

    Mobile apps for on-the-go access? The market segment where that is important is what is being targeted by these types of appliances.
  • tuxRoller - Monday, June 23, 2014 - link

    Not sure why you went with wowza when you could have just grabbed vlc and have it handle the quick syncing:)
  • ganeshts - Monday, June 23, 2014 - link

    Is that available on Linux? I see Windows support was added last year....
  • tuxRoller - Monday, June 23, 2014 - link

    Vaapi has had transcoder support for more than a year, now. The problem has been apps who don't use proper frameworks but their own solutions.
    For instance, you can use the latest transmageddon (which uses gstreamer 1.4.x) to access quick sync functions. If you feel up to it you can even roll your own pipelines for custom accelerated transcoding by using the commandline tools gstreamer provides.
    In the future, go to some of the open source forums and ask for recommendations (don't take what commenters say as gospel). Not trying to lecture you:)
    You'd be amazed at what's available (for instance, I'd disagree with your final page summation that you can't still "throw" Linux onto a nas and get comparable features to what you've shown here).
    For info, irc is usually the best, but even the Ubuntu forums have vast numbers of knowledgeable folks.
    AT might think about asking someone immersed in oss to chime in from time to time.
  • ganeshts - Monday, June 23, 2014 - link

    I am yet to see a Linux-based DIY build which is backed up by a good suite of mobile apps (similar to what Synology and QNAP are providing). All that I see in the various forums are ways to access the mobile interface of the NAS's web UI.

    Is there some way to automatically back up the photos that I am taking on my smartphone to, say, a FreeNAS-based (or some other similar) OS ? Any mobile app which can access content on my DIY NAS and get it to my smartphone or tablet with the appropriate hardware-accelerated transcoding at the NAS end ? For the latter, Plex could potentially be useful, but they are not bringing hardware acceleration into the picture at all.
  • lmcd - Monday, June 23, 2014 - link

    All I know: that's pretty obnoxious that first-stepping Bay Trail didn't get this. All those "Full Windows" tablets could be doing a whole lot better now if Intel shipped the product in its finished state.

    If AMD or Nvidia did this, there'd be a lot more coverage.

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