Hands-on with QNAP's new QTS 4.0 NAS operating system

QNAP's QTS 4.0 operating system, standard with its new models, is designed to make NAS set-up simple. Does it?

It's now nine months or so since I installed my 'new' music storage solution, in the form of a QNAP TS-412 four-bay Network Attached Storage (NAS) device, and charted my experience in a How to build a NAS blog, designed to help others conquer their fear of storage and get on with setting up a system at home.

The set-up went pretty swimmingly – much smoother than with my previous attempt with a bargain D-Link housing and a lot of hackery – and since then the QNAP has been running extremely smoothly, albeit with a few additions to tyne basic specification.

I added the Bliss software to my computer, and used it to run scans of the content on the server and sort out some of the tagging and artwork discrepancies I'd found along the way while using the system – it took a long time to chug through the substantial music library, but that was a side-effect of running it remotely over the network.

At the time I installed it there wasn't yet a version of Bliss designed to be installed on QNAPs via the QPKG system, but I gather that one is in the making now by a third-party developer, so I'm waiting for news of its availability.

A change of server

The other main addition to my QNAP has been the addition of Minimserver, a very well-sorted UPnP server package especially well-suited to classical music – in that it handles the tagging of classical works particularly well, allowing search by composer and so on – and with the advantage of on-the-fly transcoding from FLAC to WAV.

Since installation it's become my default server, not least because the associated Minimwatch software, running on my computer, is able to rescan/restart the server remotely, rather than having to go into the NAS interface and tinker around under the hood.

So, that's where I'm at – I can upload and download music remotely from the office by accessing the server at home via a web interface, stream to several devices at once (handy when reviewing, especially as a large part of my workload of late seems to be network music hardware).

I can even play content from the server anywhere I happen to be, using an iOS device or my trusty travelling MacBook Air – well, provided there's a reasonably fast internet connection, that is.

Or at least that was where I was at until I read about the new QNAP NAS units – the TS-x20 and TS-x21 series – and the all-new operating system, QTS 4.0.

The idea of QTS 4.0 is to make set-up and operation of a NAS simple, not least by the use of a new web-based multi window design, allowing multiple tasks to run at once, smartphone and tablet apps to control the NAS, and so on.

Only one answer, then: get one of the new units with the new OS, and see how easy it was to set-up and run.

Within a week or so a TS-221 two-bay arrived from QNAP, from the faster of the two new ranges offered by QNAP. This one runs a 2.0GHz Marvell processor with 1GB of RAM, whereas the less expensive TS-220 runs the 1.6GHz Marvell with 512MB of RAM.

Both two-bay models have 16MB of flash memory and can house two drives of up to 4GB each, as well as having a USB 2.0 port on the front for quick copying using the one-touch backup button, two USB 3.0 ports on the rear for external disks, printers and the like, and two rear-mounted eSATA ports for expansion.

I ordered up a couple more WD Red 3TB hard drives on an overnight delivery with which to use the NAS (it's supplied empty), deciding that if I closed my eyes tight when I hit the 'submit order' button spending £200 in an instant wouldn't be too painful!

I'm a good deal more confident now about setting these things up, and so it only took about half an hour to get the QNAP unpacked, the drives installed and the NAS up and running.

Mind you, it would only have taken a quarter of an hour had one of the four little screws used to attach drive to carrier not made a break for the border, off the kitchen table and away into a dark corner where only the LED torch could find it. Hmmm…

After that, time to run the NAS up, break out the MacBook, fire up the excellent QFinder app and – well - find it. It worked first time, the QFinder window showing both the 'old' four-bay QNAP and the new model, and telling me the new one wasn't set up, and offering to lead me through doing so.

Followed the procedure as a lamb to the slaughter, and all was done. Changed the IP address on the network and fixed it, making it easier for network players to find, and then set about formatting.

After the RAID shenanigans last time round, where I got caught in the crossfire between various suggestions, this one was going to be easy: the two-bayer was formatted for maximum capacity, as a single striping disk volume, so it could be used as a backup to the four-bay device I already have, which runs four 3TB discs to give 6TB of storage in a RAID configuration.

In other words, this is going to be the back-up drive, replacing my increasingly slow (and noisy) D-Link two-discer.

The new operating system makes setting up synchronisation between the two NAS units simple, as it does synchronisation between computers and other devices for back-up, while I really like the pull-down menus enabling swift access to the status of the NAS, log-in and other admin tasks.

And for those who like their interface to be even more personalised, it's possible to change backgrounds from a choice of pre-installed images, or even upload your own picture to act as the background wallpaper, over which the menu items, time and such information is laid.

The review sample now has the same image as my computer desktop, which is a neat touch.

With the new NAS in place, it chugged for a couple of days copying over the contents of my main music drive, and then was ready to use.

Every time I upload something to the main music store, it's backed up to the new one – more than which you really couldn't want – and as before I can access both NAS units remotely via a web interface, provided I remember the differences in operational layout between the two.

All the fun of the NAS

And that's about it: not going to claim the new OS makes the latest QNAPs sound better, wash whiter or save the planet, but simply that it makes both set-up and operation simpler, more logical and even more fun – if using a NAS can be described as fun.

If that encourages more users to build and set-up a NAS unit – I mean, how hard can fixing eight screws and then following a simple walk-through be? – then QTS 4.0 can't be anything but a good thing.

Anyway, here's a short video showing how QNAP sees the benefits of the new system – I'd probably watch it with the sound down to avoid the annoying music if I were you…

Written by Andrew Everard

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Andrew has written about audio and video products for the past 20+ years, and been a consumer journalist for more than 30 years, starting his career on camera magazines. Andrew has contributed to titles including What Hi-Fi?, GramophoneJazzwise and Hi-Fi CriticHi-Fi News & Record Review and Hi-Fi Choice. I’ve also written for a number of non-specialist and overseas magazines.