Review of QNAP NAS 209 II Pro

2TB and not much bigger than a coffee cup

What is a NAS

It stands for Network Attached Storage and that pretty much describes the whole idea. Traditionally the only storage available to you were the hard disks that lived within your computer but NAS devices move the available storage out onto huge disks that can reside on your network and allows everyone on your network to share them.

The NAS device is just a metal box about the size of a toaster. It has no keyboard, no screen and you control it via a web page that you need to log on to. It contains a pair of huge disks (2TB) and a small, low power, computer. The outside of the box has a few flashing LEDs on the front and a power line and network cable on the back. Because it's low power you can leave it on all the time and because it contains a computer you can have programs running continuously on it.

Why get one

I could do with the extra storage and I liked the idea of backing up my data. Possibly the biggest feature was being able to transfer my MP3 collection to the NAS and then use that to stream the music to any PC or media player around the house. I was currently doing this with a PC but didn't like leaving the PC on all day just on the off chance that someone might want to listen to some music. The NAS also has various packages that can be downloaded such as bit torrent clients etc that make the NAS even more usefull.

If you fitted out your PC with a couple of large disks and then left your PC on all day then you could easily mimic all the functions of the NAS but then the NAS will only use a maximum of 15 watts and be a lot quieter to. But perhaps the biggest benif it of the NAS was that it was a new toy to play with and, with a bit of luck, it might get paid for by my business.

What does it offer

The QNAP 209 II Pro can hold 2 SATA disks for up to 2TB of disk space however depending on your RAID configuration this might leave you with 1TB. It contains a faster processors than is normal for a NAS but this means you can do more with it (Web server, database server, Squeezecenter, Bittorrent). It's quite small so it doesn't take up much space and uses little power. It's also supposed to be an a simple set up.

Is it easy to set up?

In short the answer is no. A CD is supplied that helps you find your QNAP on your network - remember you have to log in to it from another machine. From here you can assign it a static IP address, give it a name and turn on the services you require. A this point you'll need to tell your router about the new device and ensure it sends external requests from the right ports (80, 8080 and 443) to the IP address of your new NAS. This will mean you can access your NAS from outside your network. While your doing this it might be worth assigning the bit torrent ports (6881 - 6889) to your NAS as well.

It's a good idea to download the latest firmware to ensure you are up to date and download any extra packages you might require, I downloaded the squeezecenter and torrent clients. I must admit I found this part to be quite confusing - suddenly you're having to use completely different screen to control various aspects of your NAS. The standard screens tend to have to many advanced options on them for a stabndard home user but at least they always followed the same pattern. I found having to switch between the standard NAS web pages, the web pages for each indivdual package and the web pages that controlled the router quite confusing.

I'd of prefered if each package was already installed or installed when updating the firmware. Obviously any new packages would be disabled once they were installed and it would be nice if they had similar screens to the standard NAS screens. It would also be good if each NAS web page had two modes, simple and advanced, so you'd only see the options that made sense to you. It would also be usefull if each field had popup text that simply explained its purpose.

Must admit though, before I started this project, I didn't know anything about routers and networks etc - I know feel like I could lecture on the subject. As a new hobby it's quite good to have a learning curve to climb otherwise you'd get bored quickly but this certainly isn't a plug and play item.

Accessing the NAS locally

The NAS is easy to access locally assuming it has a static IP address set up. In the Windows Explorer screen you use for looking at the contents of a directory there is a Tools button and under this you can map a network drive. At the moment you probably have a C drive that points to a hard disk inside your PC but now you can have a Z drive that goes to your NAS. Look under your network for the NAS and then browse for the directory you want to give access to ie Public. You can also log on to the NAS via Putty to get a UNIX shell, you'll need your admin password for this but it will allow you to see how the whole everything has been put together. This will be of limited use if you don't know any UNIX commands but it may be interesting to some people.

Accessing the NAS remotely

You can access your NAS from outside your local network - it's actually quite cool being able to control the thing from anywhere in the world - but of course it's not a simple thing to set up. I assume you've already forwarded the ports 8080 and 443 on your router to your NAS. This means any queries comming in from the outside world will get forwarded to the NAS. To access your router you need to know your IP address and to do this you need either :

I use the third option and because I have port 443 being forwarded it means I can also use https access which makes the communication more secure. My only problem at the moment is that the software that checks my IP address runs every 15 seconds and I end up with a log message saying that the program has run. This means I end up with 10,000 messages in my logs and I suspect it also keeps my hard disks spining rather tahn going to sleep when nothing is happening. It is also rather frustrating as my IP address only changes once a day.

Using https automatically switches you to port 443 and this worked fine for me however when I tried a normal http connection (port 80) I found nothing happened - I suspect my ISP quietly blocks this port but there is no easy way to confirm this. The alternative 8080 port works fine but I then need to specify the port along with the URL ie http://my_home_nas.no-ip.com:8080

BT client

You need to install a package first - this doesn't take long but it seems an unnecessary pain. The package then needs to be enabled and the standard BT ports (6881 - 6889) need to be forwarded from your router to the NAS. I'd read that you needed a PC based tool called Sancho to controll the torrents but I found Sancho to be a complete pain to use. I was actually in the middle of writing an email to QNAP telling them how they should of configured things when I discovered that the standard download center on the QNAP did everything I wanted! I uninstalled Sancho from my PC and tried out the download center.

You just need to find a torrent and save it to your PC then connect to your NAS via the web page. Go to the download center and select "add a new torrent" - it will prompt you to find the torrent on your PC. Once it's loaded then it will begin to download the file. It all seems to work quite well though it can be a pain to move media files from the download directory to the various media directories - perhaps this isn't neccessary but I like to have thing well organised. I might write a small cron job that will transfer the main files automatically when they're ready.

Squeeze center

This is the package that can stream your MP3 collection to media players around your house. I have two Squeezebox media players in my house and use them to either listen to my own music collection on MP3, internet radio or to listen to old radio 4 programs through the AlienBBC interface - I think it's great to be able to turn on the "radio" and listen to any program thats been broadcast in the last week. The only problem with my current set up is that I need to have my PC permantly on and it's both noisy and consumes a lot of power. By transfering everything to the NAS I aimed to solve these issues. I installed the squeezecenter package onto the NAS, enabled it and then transfered my music collection to the NAS.

While this was copying accross I turned off the squeezecenter on my PC. I also loaded up the extra packages I use such as weather reports, news and a great lazy search facility. I then had to go to each of my media players and get them to scan for the new source but this didn't take long. Finally I went through all the options in the squeeze center and on the media players so everything was set up the way I liked. Finally I sat back and listened to my music - it seemed to work quite well - though I can still remember when you just used to turn a radio on to listen to music!

Automatic USB backup

If you plug a USB storage into the front of the NAS then it will automatically take all the files and store them away. This works fine but seems to be very slow. If I plug the same device into another PC and then copy the files from the USB device over the network to the NAS then it's much faster. I'm not sure why this (could it be USB version 1) but I'm unlikely to need this much so it doesn't really matter to me.

Is it easy to live with?

It's not plug and play so you need to accept that before you start but if you're prepared to put in a little effort then it does everything it's supposed to do very well. It's quiter than my PC but it still makes some fan noise but I'm hoping to work out why this is - at the moment I have checked the option that tells it to adjust the fan as needed but it still seems to come on all the time. I personally like the LEDs on the front but it would of been nice to have an option to turn them off. I have no qualms about leaving the NAS on all the time - it uses little power and never seems to get hot. It's also small enough to not get an objection from my better half.

Have I mastered it yet?

Nope. But to be fair there's a lot to learn I'm still waiting to even attempt the following :

Overall

It does everything it says on the box ... eventually. I found it very interesting to set up and I've learnt a lot but I can't imagine anyone being able to get everything running without a fair amount of technical knowledge. For me the main benifit is just having the squeezecenter working 24/7 - I think I'd of been happy just having this feature alone. I also like a technical challenge so I've quite enjoyed getting everything to work properly. Anybody should be able to get the network storage side of things running but I believe many may find it too difficult setting up the other features. I guess QNAP should test all the interfaces with a middle aged mother and see where she comes unstuck.

It's a bit like owning your own small mainframe. It just sits there in it's metal box with all the LEDs flashing on the front - it looks like something off a 1980's sci-fi film, it just needs a spining tape drive to sit on the top to complete the look. It would be better if ...

1 year on

I'd been quite happy with the QNAP - I could turn of my PC's and still have full access to my mp3 collection and torrents were handled well by the little box. but things went a little haywire when I tried to add another 1TB disk to the unit. I presumed it would just be a case of plugging in the drive and then ticking an option to say whether you wanted the drive in RAID mode or just used for extra storage. In truth I didn't mind which option I chose as I could see advantages with either method. So what happened?

I plugged in my first drive and nothing happened - I went to the QNAP forum which suggested I try the disk in a PC to see if it wasn't the disk that was faulty. It was the disk so I had it replaced. When the new disk arrived I thought I may as well check the disk was ok in the PC before trying it in the QNAP. This proved the disk was fine but it also formated the disk in a manner that was incompatible to the QNAP. I contacted the forum again and expected everything to be sorted in an hour or two.

A week later I was about ready to just buy another NAS device. I'd been advised to contact the QNAP help desk but found they only operate between the hours of 2am and 7am London time. This wouldn't be so bad if they actually answered the questions I had but instead I'd get half a question answered and in such a way I'd be left feeling worse off than before. This is obviously a personal feeling but then this is a personal review. I didn't think I was asking a difficult question - how do I add a new disk drive to my NAS device - there was a slot for the new drive to go into so I certainly wasn't expecting this to be difficult. It certainly appeared too difficult for their help staff and after nearlly two weeks I gave up on them and tried looking at what others had done - I found a forum post suggesting you could just plug in the device and click reformat - it said your current data would not get reformatted.

Sadly this wasn't the case (at least on my TS209). I ended up loosing all my data. It took over a week to get everything back together. The forums are quite difficult to use as they are split into 100's of tiny forums so you're never sure whether you've posted in the right place. The advice you read on the forums may be applicable to your device and equally might just wipe your whole unit. I came away confused why something so simple had turned out to be so difficult.

Acronyms

IPInternet protocol
ISPInternet service provider
LEDLight Emiting Diode
MP3Encoded music file
MySQLA free database server used on many web applications
NASNetwork Attached Storage
OSOperating System
SATASerial connection for disk drives
SQLiteLight weight database server
TBTera bytes of storage