Cloud storage is great for many things, but if you want the absolute fastest performance within your home or office, or if you just want to have more control over your data, then a NAS device is definitely the way to go. I've reviewed many such devices over the years from vendors such as Synology, Thecus, and QNAP. Today, I'm going to take a look at the QNAP TS-453D, a 4-bay NAS device that has one specific special feature: Built-in 2.5GbE for faster network performance. How does it perform? Let's find out!

Specifications

Powering the QNAP TS-453D is an Intel Celeron J4125 2.0 GHz quad-core processor. By default, the device has 4GB of DDR4 RAM, but with two SODIMM memory slots, you can easily upgrade the device with up to 8GB of memory. My review unit had 4GB of RAM in it, which made virtualization testing difficult.

Back view of QNAP TS-453D

There's a single 120mm system fan in the back to keep theTS-453D cool. I had it running in my office for over a month and found it to be very quiet, so it won't be distracting in a home office setting. QNAP has it rated at 21.1db.

CPU Intel Celeron J4125 quad-core 2.0GHz, burst up to 2.7GHz, with AES-NI encryption
Memory Up to 8GB (2x4GB) SODIMM DDR4 2400 MT/s
Disk Capacity

72TB (18TB drive x 4)

Network

2 x 2.5GbE (RJ-45)

USB Ports

1x USB 3.2 Gen 1 (5Gbps) in front, 3 x USB 2.0 in back, 1 x USB 3.2 Gen 1 (5Gbps) in back

NVMe Slots None
Other 1xHDMI 2.0, 1xIR Sensor, 1xPCIe Gen 2 x2, 1xCopy Button
Size

6.61" × 6.69" × 8.9" / 16.79 x 16.99 x 22.61cm

Weight

4.98lbs / 2.259kg

From a connectivity perspective, there are two 2.5GbE ports on the back that can be aggregated into one to improve performance. Note that you can't double your throughput from a single stream, but rather the aggregation can be used as either failover in case a switch port dies, or to improve bandwidth on multiple streams, assuming your network equipement supports this functionality.

Hardware Installation

Back in the day, there was something to talk about with the hardware installation section. It usually required unscrewing a front panel to access the drive bays, and then screwing the actual hard drives into the sleds before undoing the whole thing. Nowadays, pretty much every NAS device has easily accessilble hot-swappable drive bays and the sleds are tool-less, meaning you just snap them into place and slide them into the array.

QNAP TS-453D side showing front panel lock

The QNAP TS-453D falls into the latter category, with the only wrinkle being the device has a plastic shield in front of the drive bays. To remove the shield, there's a slide lock on the left side of the device that needs to be in the lower position before you're able to slide the plastic to the left in order to expose the drives. When the drives are in place, simply slide the cover back over the front - magnets help snap it in place - and then lift the slide lock up to keep it in place. It gives the TS-453D a cool look, even if it doesn't seem to offer any functional improvements, but note that it does seem to have a lot of static electricity that causes dust particles and pet dander to cling to it.

After that, simply plug in the included Ethernet cable, connect the power, and turn it on.

Initial Setup

Initial setup is normally pretty straight forward, but I had some issues with the QNAP TS-453D.

My initial test had the NAS device as well as my PC plugged into a QNAP 2.5GbE switch. This switch was plugged into a Ubiquiti US-8-60W, an 8-port switch. The switch, in turn, is connected to a 24-port Ubiquti switch, which ultimately connects to the Synology RT1900ac router that provides addressing via DHCP.

With this configuration, my PC was able to obtain a DHCP lease, but the TS-453D was not receiving an IP address. After some troubleshooting, I disconnected the NAS from the QNAP switch and plugged it directly into the 8-port Ubiquiti switch, and the device was able to obtain an address. I had to then hardcode the IP address (something I would recommend for any server on your network anyway) before plugging it back into the QNAP 2.5GbE switch. Since then everything worked fine, but I still don't understand why it wasn't able to obtain a lease through the initial configuration, and QNAP support was stumped as well. After the initial setup, I was even able to re-configure the device to use DHCP, and everything worked fine.

Other than this minor hiccup, the initial installation was simple. After installing the QFinder Pro application on my desktop, the device was detected and I was given the option to go through the Smart Installation Guide to start the initial configuration.

Initial Setup of QNAP NAS

The system starts by asking you to click a button to upgrade to the latest version of firmware, a process that takes several minutes to complete. The current version is QTS 4, similar to Synology's DSM 6.

Setup of file transfer protocols on QNAP

Next, you follow a typical installation wizard, where you set the name of the device, set up an admin password, set the timezone, configure network addressing, and determine which file services you want to enable, a combination of SMB/CIFS, File Station, AFB, and NFS.

QNAP Installation Finalization

You're then presented with a summary page to review before clicking apply and setting up your new device.

QNAP installation complete

After waiting a few minutes for the system to configure, you're done with the initial setup!

Disk Configuration

After the initial setup, the next step is to configure your disks in a way that makes the storage usable on the network. This process, like the initial setup, is also done via a wizard that walks you through each step.

QNAP showing no volumes or pools

When you first go into the Storage menu, you're greeted with a message noting that you have no volumes or storage pools, and are told to click the "New Storage Pool" button to begin the process.

Introduction to QNAP Storage Pool Wizard

One of the advanced features that QNAP provides is the ability to auto-tier storage. Called Qtier, it allows frequently accessed data to be automatically migrated to SSDs, while less accessed data can be moved to SATA disks. This would be a useful feature for a larger array, but for a NAS device with only four disks, most people are probably going to simply use four of the same types of disks.

QNAP Storage Pool Wizard - selecting disk and RAID type

After determining whether you want Qtier (you probably don't on this device), you select the disks to put into the pool and determine the RAID type. For the review, I put the four disks in a RAID-5 configuration. This means that one of the four disks is used for parity, meaning if one drive fails, I won't lose any data. It's important to remember that RAID is not a backup and that you should still have a second copy of your data somewhere else and a third copy offsite.

QNAP Storage Pool Wizard confirmation page

Next, under the Configure tab, you can enable SSD over-provisioning if you're using SSDs, and when the system should alert you regarding free space. You're then presented with a summary page telling you the settings for the storage pool before you click Create to start the process.

Now that you have a Storage Pool created, you can make one or more volumes that live in that pool. Since I only have four drives, I created a single volume.

There are three types to choose from. The more basic form is the Static Volume. It's created directly on the RAID group and has the best performance for random file access, but lacks advanced features such as snapshots, that you may want to use as part of a backup plan. The second type is a Thick Volume. This volume type provides snapshots, can be easily extended, and is what QNAP recommends for most uses. Finally, you can create a Thin Volume. This type only uses the storage space as data is written to the volume and are useful when creating multiple volumes as they ensure space is used efficiently. The prevailing theme continues here: These are awesome features for larger arrays, but for a small four-bay array, Thick Volumes are the way to go.

QNAP Volume Wizard Block Size Selection

After selecting the volume type, you select how much of the pool is allocated to the volume, and what size blocks you want. If you're working with large files, like pictures or video, selecting a larger block size will improve performance, whereas smaller files could benefit from a smaller block size.

QNAP Volume Creation Wizard Confirmation Page

As with the other QNAP wizards, you're presented with a summary page that lays out all of your selections before you finalize the configuration. The actual length of time it takes to create the volume depends on the size and speed of the drives.

Performance

There used to be a time when different NAS devices had somewhat significant differences in read and write performance on a regular Gigabit Ethernet connection, but those days seem to be gone, with NAS devices practically saturating the connection.

Performance Chart comparing QNAP with other NAS devices

Performance Chart comparing QNAP with other NAS devices

The QNAP TS-453D is no exception. Transferring large (multi-gigabyte) files to and from the NAS device yielded 113 MB/s, while copying smaller (several megabyte) files to and from the NAS was slightly slower, clocking in at around 104 MB/s. Both are very fast and about the maximum you can expect from the network.

Where things get interesting is with the TS-453D's built-in 2.5GbE NIC. In theory, this promises 2.5x the performance, assuming you have a network that supports these speeds. For the review, QNAP sent me the QSW-1105-5T, a 5-port unmanaged switch. Since the switch is unmanaged, there's no configuration. Simply plug it into your network, and you're good to go. The QSW-1105-5T retails for roughly $110.

Performance Graph comparing GbE to 25GbE on the QNAP TS-453D

After running through a series of file transfers, I found that copying large files clearly showed nearly a 2.5x speed improvement. Instead of the copies capping out at 113 MB/s, I saw up to 280 MB/s, a significant improvement. When it came to copying small files, the increase was only 2.2x, increasing from 102 MB/s to 222 MB/s, but that's still a great bump in performance.

If you want to upgrade your network to support 2.5GbE, you'll be extremely happy with the performance of the QNAP TS-453D.

Virtualization

I first explored QNAP's virtualization in the TS-451 back in 2014, and it's clear the company has improved the user experience since then. To get started, simply download the VirtualizationStation from the App store.

The first difference I realized was that there's no longer a need to use the second NIC to access the virtual machines, a welcome improvement. After installing VirtualizationStation or ContainerStation, the system automatically creates virtual switches that manage the internal networking of the devices.

QNAP VM Marketplace in VirtualizationStation

The entire interface of VirtualizationStation 3 has streamlined the process extremely well. In addition to creating your own VMs, there's a VM Marketplace. Similar to the QNAP App store, these marketplace has ready-to-use appliances. To use one, simply select it, provide some basic information like the name, CPU cores, and memory, and QNAP takes care of the rest.

QNAP VirtualizationStation 3 Overview

VirtualizationStation also has a button on the main page to "Try a free Windows VM" for browser testing. Clicking this automates the process of downloading a Windows 7 or Windows 10 image with a specific version of Internet Explorer or Edge for your testing. Alternatively, you could use this as a way to build a secure browsing environment, similar to the process I described using VirtualBox.

QNAP Container Station Overview display

If full operating systems aren't your thing, you can look into QNAP's ContainerStation, which allows you to pull Docker images from any registry (Docker Hub by default). Simply type what you want and the image is automatically pulled down.

Since I only had 4GB of RAM in the review unit, virtualization was difficult. By default, the Windows 10 image wanted to use 4GB of RAM itself, but after accounting for the QNAP OS, I only had three to spare. I was able to modify the requirements, but that negatively impacts performance: It took over two minutes to boot up the Windows 10 VM. It also means that, unless you're running small instances, you won't be able to do much with the virtualization unless you upgrade to 8GB of RAM.

Miscellaneous Observations

The review has really only touched upon the main features of QTS, but there are many more I haven't looked at, such as iSCSI targets, snapshots, and HDMI output. There are also a wide variety of apps to make the NAS device do whatever you want, from serving up music and photos, to running a full-fledged Content Management System with Joomla. Many of these features (like Joomla) probably require a much bigger box, but the point is that the only limit to a NAS is your imagination.

Running QTS feels very similar to Synology's DSM, but there are some key differences. From my experience, the DSM interface is a little cleaner and more streamlined, whereas QTS has more features provided front and center. For example, snapshots are a menu option in QTS, whereas in DSM, you have to download the Synology Replication Service. Snapshots can negatively impact performance, as QNAP states a reduction between 5 and 30 percent. Both approaches have their pros and cons.

Desktop view of QNAP QTS 4 operating system

The one (very minor) complaint I have about QTS is that applications are installed in the middle of the desktop. This means when you're using various tools, the icons are covered up and it's harder to access them, whereas DSM puts the icons on the left side of the screen, out of the way. It's a minor observation, but one that I've often thought should be user configurable.

Angled shot of QNAP TS-453D

The other observation I wanted to make is that the black plastic that covers the drive bays attracts dust like no other device I've seen. The material, especially in a Minnesota winter, has a lot of static electricity that just pulls in dust particles. So while it looks sleek right out of the box, if you have any pets at all in your house, expect their fur to cover the front within hours, if not minutes.

Internal view of QNAP TS-453D showing PCIe slot

Finally, the QNAP TS-453D does support a PCIe Gen 2 x2 card. This can be used to provide 5GbE or even GbE. You can also purchase a QM2 card that allows installation of M.2 SSD slots if you want to add more storage. Although I haven't tested this, but unlike Synology, QTS apparently allows users to configure those drives as extra storage instead of just cache.

Conclusion

The QNAP TS-453D is a robust piece of hardware that supports many advanced features, although many of them won't be useful on this model due to lack of drive bays and RAM. However if you're looking for a small device for your home environment that packs great performance along with amazing transfer speeds at a reasonable price, this NAS device should be on your short list. While most people don't have a 2.5 GbE switch, adding one to your network is a relatively cheap upgrade compared to the performance increases you'll see and is definitely a worthwhile upgrade.

Inside the drive area of the QNAP TS-453D

If you have bigger storage needs, or want to do more with virtualization or other features that require more performance, QNAP has other devices that might fit the bill.

 

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