Introduction

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 - Tuesday, July 1, 2014 - link

    Yes, I have done it and it works. Reply
  • mannyvel - Tuesday, July 1, 2014 - link

    How did your PC reconstruct the RAID? Did you have to match the RAID driver versions on your linux box/pc with your nas?

    Do you have a blog post/etc on your steps/process?
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Wednesday, July 2, 2014 - link

    Use UFS Explorer. I have a RAID-1 example here:

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/4510/lg-n2a2-nas-rev...

    UFS Explorer will show you the volume as-is and does the heavy lifting of RAID reconstruction. I am not sure what you mean by RAID driver version, as these are all just software RAID, nothing proprietary involved - standard EXT4 file system with mdadm.

    I will try to write a post on RAID-5 rebuild sometime in the near future.
    Reply
  • mannyvel - Wednesday, July 2, 2014 - link

    Oh, what you're saying is they're using the standard linux LVM-based md-raid, not a hardware raid implementation - which is why UFS Explorer works. Reply
  • GreenThumb - Monday, June 23, 2014 - link

    snakyjake>> 4) Upgradability. I can't afford to keep purchasing a new complete system. And what about new vendor software?

    good point - does QNAP charge for software updates to the same hardware?
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, June 23, 2014 - link

    Nope.. They haven't charged till now (and none of their competitors in this market segment have that practice, either). Obviously, don't know about the future. Reply
  • bsd228 - Monday, June 23, 2014 - link

    These prosumer NAS units have made tremendous strides in the past 2 years, so I'll agree that for the disinterested, the DIY route makes less and less sense. But for those that care, it's as strong as ever. Haswell brought us 10W processors that can do everything Atom could, but 10x faster. For virtualization wishes, or background conversions of dvds/blurays to more highly compressed mp4s, this is essential, but with it sitting idle most of the time, 80W units were wasteful, hot, noisy.

    The key failing still present in this QNAP series is the lack of ECC memory. My HP Microservers have that that for 4 generations, as well as the ability to run numerous VMs (OS dependent - I use solaris). It was until the Gen8s stuck with a poor AMD processor and still isn't where I'd like it to be. So my next one will be truly DIY, not a nearly turnkey microserver.
    Reply
  • npz - Tuesday, June 24, 2014 - link

    It should be noted why open source projects and video enthusiasts have not exactly embraced Quick Sync. Aside from encoding quality (high bitrates is ok, low bitrates is bad), it's just not that flexible.

    The VAAPI table shows it's limited to h.264 High Profile @ Level 4.1 for both encode and decode.

    This means: 8-bit 1080p, max 30fps, with max of 4 reference frames.

    What if you've ripped your blu-rays for archiving at the best quality possible and now you want to transcode for mobile devices, or other home devices like roku, etc? Encoding is possible with QuickSync considering the constrained specs you're targeting, but DECODE is now impossible!
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, June 24, 2014 - link

    With storage being so cheap nowadays, you could just back up your Blu-rays at the best quality (i.e, just remux to MKV, no re-encoding) -- and they would still be compliant for QuickSync decoding.

    Btw, I have seen Quick Sync decoder work great for 1080p60 clips (but that is on Windows using Eric Gur's code). To be frank, I have not seen any non-10-bit H.264 file that is not decodable via Eric's filter. (You could theoretically make a 120 fps clip with crazy high bit-rates that might choke QS, but those are not seen in real life). It even decodes the Planet Earth 16 ref. clip in hardware on the Intel Haswell NUC.

    It might be that VA-API just put that 'restriction' in, because if you want to claim full L5.1 support, that would require supporting really crazy encodes that no one probably does. We will have to see how it works after I get a review sample in hand.
    Reply
  • npz - Tuesday, June 24, 2014 - link

    I haven't tried the windows filter since I normally use MPlayer, VLC, ffmpeg, but that's interesting to know. It could be that the QS hardware supports greater than L4.1 but not L5+ The VA-API lists a 40 Mb/s limit, so that would be one limitation for L5.0

    It's true storage is cheaper, but not that cheap yet. Storage density is also an issue. Recently just built 40TB machine, and it probably won't be enough later. BD remuxes are absolutely out of the question (BTW some Japanese BDs even use several times the bitrate as US BDs!) Also, most of mine L5.0 or thereabouts (meaning res, bitrate, ref limitations match L5), but there is also the additional issue of using features that is not supported by high profile. If you don't specify a profile, and just use CRF for constant iamge quality + very slow preset + tune (which adjusts psychovisual parameters), then x264 will pick the most optimal and efficient settings. I've noticed constraining to high profile will increase the size of my encodes.
    Reply

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