NAS = Network Attached Storage
RAID = Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks
LAN = Local Area Network
I know many of you have read the abbreviation NAS over in the forums and wondered what the heck is NAS. A very easy way to think of NAS is like this: The hard drive in your computer is attached to the motherboard by a SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) cable. NAS is a hard drive attached to the motherboard by an Ethernet cable instead of a SATA cable. SATA cables are limited in length to one meter and Ethernet cables are limited to 100 meters. In addition to using an Ethernet cable NAS devices communicate via IP or Internet Protocol. Thus, a NAS disk storage device can be accessed from anywhere in the world over the Internet or from another room in your house over your LAN (Local Area Network).
The advantages of a NAS disk storage device are many. The two most important advantages for audiophiles are noise reduction and data redundancy. Hard drive noise is eliminated because a NAS device can be placed outside of your listening room. The QNAP TS-409 Turbo NAS is holding my iTunes library and sitting in an ajacent room as I write this review. My music sever is pulling the files from the TS-409 seemlessly over my LAN and without a sound. Data redundancy, as we've discussed before, is hugely important. A NAS device such as the TS-409 allows you to store your music files in a RAID array with built-in fault tollerance. RAID is a Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks that appear as one disk to the computer. The QNAP device supports many types of RAID. Audiophiles should be most interested in RAID1 and RAID5. Both types are fully supported by the TS-409. RAID1 is also know as disk mirroring. With two 1 terabyte drives in the TS-409 a RAID1 array provides 1 TB of usable space because one disk is a mirror of the other. RAID5 is known as disk striping with parity. The QNAP NAS will accept three or four disks in a RAID5 array. The data is stripped accross all four disks instead of written to one disk. When the data is stripped accross the disks extra data derived from the original data is also stripped accross the disks. When one disk fails no data is lost. Simply replace the failed drive and the data formerly on the bad drive is rebuit on to the new drive using the parity information contained on the remaining good drives. There are a couple disadvantages to a NAS device, but they are far outweighed by the advantages n my opinion. Ripping CDs to a NAS disk is slower than a directly connected drive. This really isn't a problem because the initial data load can be done via USB Copy. Adding a few CDs per week is also no problem because the extra minute it takes to load each disk is really no big deal in low volume situations. The biggest disadvantage of a NAS device such as the TS-409 is the technical skills required to set the device up. Don't get me wrong this is far from a complicated device and the instructions can pretty much walk anyone through the configuration. The QNAP, as well as most other NAS disks, is not as easy as the Drobo automated storage robot but it's about $150 cheaper and offers far more functionality.
QNAP TS-409 Turbo NAS Features
As I elluded to earlier this NAS device can do many things in addition to storing your music collection. A USB printer can be connected to the TS-409 allowing a formerly direct connect only printer to become accessible over your LAN by all users. Your kids can use the NAS as a file server to store their school papers on the RAID array. The TS-409 also has built-in photo sharing, UPnP Media Server support, FTP and bit torrent capablities, and built-in Myphp and a Joomla web server. Those are what I call the extra features.
Audiophiles will love the TS-409 because it supports SqueezeCenter 7 and has a built-in iTunes server. Audiophiles with expanding music collections will be happy to know the TS-409 supports online RAID capacity expansion. This is the technical / marketing term for upgrading your 1 TB disks to 1.5 TB disks on the fly when they are released in August. Replacing all the drives at once is a bad thing of course, but replacing one drive at a time and allowing it to rebuild through the parity information contained on the existing drives is a fabulous feature. You may never need to replace the QNAP TS-409 NAS device if you can continually upgrade its capacity.
Fans of the Squeezebox will really like the ability to install SqueezeCenter 7 on this NAS. Four TB of music available directly off a NAS disk is an attractive feature. Even if you don't like the sound of the SB its convenience enhanced with the TS-409 is really something unmatched right now.
The built-in iTunes server is likely the feature that will garner the most attention. During the review period I got a lot of use out of the iTunes server. I used my MacBook Air to work on the website and answer questions in the forums while listening to a whole slew of music through iTunes that was stored on the TS-409. Here is how the feature works. The TS-409 has a folder called Qmultimedia. All the music copied into this folder becomes part of the QNAP iTunes library. This library is accessible from any computer running iTunes as long as iTunes is setup to look for shared libraries. If you aren't familiar with accessing shared iTunes libraries don't worry the procedure is quite simple. Open iTunes, wait about one minute and the NAS device will appear under "Shared" on the left side above "Playlists." Selecting the QNAP library within iTunes from any computer displays the list of music stored on the NAS. This can be very nice if you don't want other family members messing with your highly customized music server or you want your music available without leaving your music server on all the time. Shared libraries don't allow full access to the music files so there so there is no ned to worry about your customized meta data or cover art disappearing because of an errant keystroke or an upset spouse.
Online RAID capacity expansion is a very cool feature to say the least. It may actually be bad for QNAP NAS business in the long run because users may not need to upgrade their unit as disk capacity grows. My four 1 TB drives currently in the TS-409 will easily be swapped out for four 1.5 TB drives next month when Seagate releases the industries largest hard drives. QNAP does have a list of supported hard drives and the 1.5s are certainly not on the list yet. My experience with NAS devices and hard drives has been very good. If a drive is not on the list, but it's manufacturered by Seagate, Hitachi, or one of the other popular brands that comprises most of the list, then you should be fine. No promises, just an opinion based on experience.
The QNAP TS-409 Turbo NAS rests comfortably between the Drobo and the Thecus 5200B Pro for ease of use and setup. The TS-409 blows away this competition when it comes to features. Not only are there great features for audiophiles there are great features for the rest of the family. The TS-409 Turbo Pro is available for about $550 from online retailers. This is well below the Drobo and Thecus NAS devices. Overall I really can't say the TS-409 is the best NAS because each one of these three is really a different animal satisfying different audiophile needs. I can easily say it's the best NAS for the money and is a great way to get all your music off your local drive and out of your listening room in more ways than one.
More information available from QNAP.com and the TS-409 product manual