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Asustor Nimbustor 4 (AS5304T): What performance for this 2x 2.5 Gb/s NAS?

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If having a 10 Gb/s local network is still a dream for many of us, it remains difficult to access due to the cost of complete equipment. To put an end to Gigabit at a lower cost, standards such as MultiGig at 2.5 or 5 Gb/s have nevertheless appeared. Asustor seized it with its Nimbustor 4, for what result? When looking for a consumer NAS, we most often tend to turn first to the two giants QNAP and Synology, offering turnkey solutions. We can also build a homemade machine, perfectly suited to our needs, but with a software layer that is less practical on a daily basis.

In this sector, there is another player who tries to offer products that are at the same time simple, with interesting characteristics, at prices that want to be affordable in the face of the competition: Asustor. The brand took advantage of Computex last May  to launch new ranges with reworked design and denominations. For the general public, these are the Nimbustor 2 (AS5202T) and 4 (AS5304T), a figure that reflects the number of bays they integrate, but not only. They also have 2.5 Gb/s network ports. 

But in practice, what are such products worth? Are the performances there and is the ADM 3.4 interface at the level of what the competition offers? To find out, we shelled and tested a Nimbustor 4 provided by Asustor, available in Europe for 515 euros.

Asustor Nimbustor 4

Multi-Gig arrives in NAS

Multi Gig is still a rare feature in NAS. Manufacturers such as QNAP and Synology rather offering three other solutions in general: 1 Gb/s with or without aggregation of different ports, 10 Gb / s integrated (RJ45 / SFP +) or the presence of a PCIe port leaving users the possibility of '' buy an optional network card. The QNAP is starting to bet on 5 Gb/s with its  TVS-672N and TVS-872N, but these are still high-end models at more than 1,300 euros. Asustor Nimbustor 2 and 4 are offered from 350 euros for one and 515 euros for the other. We therefore fall more into the mid-range niche for such products.

The choice of 2.5 Gb/s is interesting since it corresponds to a basic trend among manufacturers, who see it as a way of offering better than the (theoretical) 128 MB/s of Gigabit, while remaining in the cost reasonable. But as we explained in a recent file, there remains one problem: that of switches.

Nimbustor: rather balanced machines

But back to our Nimbustor. The figure at the end of the reference does not only reflect the number of integrated bays, but also the number of CPU cores and the amount of DDR4 integrated. An unusual overall consistency, quite appreciable in a market where it is easy to get lost in technical details. Asustor is also revising other elements on the rise for the Nimbustor 4 which is entitled to a 120 mm fan rather than 90 mm and a power supply of 90 watts rather than 65 watts. Its power consumption in operation is given for 27 watts, against 17 watts for its little brother. 

Asustor is based in both cases on an Intel Celeron J4x05 platform (Gemini Lake), engraved in 14 nm. These processors support the hardware acceleration of AES-NI encryption, integrate a UHD Graphics 600 graphics part managing 4K at 60 Hz, virtualization, etc. For the Nimbustor 4 it is a J4105.

Once again, we can only regret the choice of such a CPU in a machine costing more than 500 euros, especially since virtualization functionalities can be exploited within the ADM 3.4 interface. But it is undoubtedly the possibility of a passive design, without socket, and at a lower cost which interested the manufacturer here, like its competitors.

The Nimbustor 2 and 4 integrate two 2.5 Gb/s ports managed by Realtek RTL8125 chips (PCIe 2.0 interface), with the possibility of aggregating them if you wish (802.3ad is supported). There is also an infrared port (AS-RC13 remote control not included), an HDMI 2.0a at the rear and three USB 3.2 ports at 5 Gb/s: two at the rear, one at the front. The latter is accompanied by a button to initiate a copy of data from an external device to the NAS. If desired, an AS6004U module can supplement the storage capacities with four additional bays. It connects via one of the machine's USB 3.2 ports, at a maximum speed of 5 Gb/s.

Easy assembly

The Nimbustor 4 bundle contains the bare essentials, such as the power adapter and fixing screws for 2.5 "HDD / SSD, but still incorporates two RJ45 (Cat 5e) cables. As mentioned above, the remote control is optional, which can be replaced by using the Ai Remote application (Android or iOS). The design of the product is rather pleasant, taking up the lines of the manufacturer's recent ranges, but with some more vivid / red elements to give it a “Gamer” touch which is fortunately quite light. The shell is in ABS plastic, with a removable magnetic front, unfortunately shiny (beware of fingerprints).

The HDD/SSD are installed in rather conventional cages, with a screwless device for the 3.5 "models: simply remove and then replace two bars containing plastic lugs at the location of the holes. Access to the SO-DIMM slots is direct, once all the bays have been removed. By default, a SO-DIMM is integrated, but it can be extended since two slots are present on the PCB. 4 GB of eMMC Kingston (MLC, EMMC04G-M627) are present to accommodate the system. The power supply is external, it is a model providing 12 V for 7.5 A.

The case is quite simple to open, removing four screws is enough. Six more hold the berries in place. This block is connected to the motherboard by a specific connector. Once these two elements have been removed, we have access to the entire PCB or to the fan, which will undoubtedly facilitate the support and the replacement of parts.

The dimensions of the NAS are 170 x 174 x 230 mm for an empty weight of 2.2 kg. An interesting point is to note: the guarantee of these products is assured for three years without supplement. The installation is as with any NAS: you place your HDD / SSD there, connect the necessary ports as well as the network and go! A Windows application helps you find its IP on the local network: ASUSTOR Control Center  (ACC). The tool has the advantage of being fairly complete, allowing you to access the online interface or launch an update, but also to restart or put the NAS to sleep with one click, for example.

A few years ago, the ADM interface was quite austere. Since then, things have improved a lot, although there are still some elements that are a bit "old-fashioned" such as the desktop and its somewhat dated-looking icons. Hopefully a version 3.5 or 4.0 will improve this soon.

But in the end, Asustor found its place through a fairly fair tone located between the DSM of Synology where a clear organization is sometimes lacking and a very complete QNAP QTS at the risk of being too complex, multiplying the windows at all costs. Here, everything seems in its place, the essential functionalities are there.

There are of course more advanced possibilities such as iSCSI or even the mounting of external shares. Thus, the feeling of simplicity that emerges from ADM is not based on the absence of possibilities, but on interesting and coherent choices. Not all of them are also offered by the competition.

We therefore appreciate MyArchive, allowing to make one or more hot-removable HDD/SSD, formatted via ext4, NTFS or HFS+ so that they can be used from another machine while being accessible in the NAS interface as a simple directory. Enough to easily copy files to keep in an HDD/SSD to put it in safety or lend it to a friend while it recovers data for example.

Asustor ADM 3.4 Installation 

But other features are also pleasant on a daily basis such as the automatic configuration of EZRouteur routers, the possibility of defining a time slot for standby or forcing it on demand, the grouping of certain features in a single application such as "Services" for sharing and remote access or “Backup and restore” protocols, etc. 

Admittedly, there are still some small flaws, like the installation procedure which detects the language but does not use the date / time parameters which must be modified manually or the management of numerous storage services in the "Cloud". which goes through individual applications.

More generally, if we appreciate the fact that the App Central application store contains many services such as aria2, Duplicati, Emby / Plex, Jeedom, Nextcloud, Résilio Sync or even Wallabag, there are several that are no longer maintained For years. It would be time for Asustor to do some cleaning up, or to allow users not to display them to avoid disappointment.

Management of IP cameras through Surveillance Center is free for up to four channels. Beyond that, you have to go through a paid license, as for exFAT support (ext4 and btrfs are offered by default). Asustor also highlights the multimedia possibilities of this product, managing 4K, HDR, 10-bits and H.264 / H.265 / VP9, with hardware transcoding thanks to the Intel CPU used.

For its part, ADM 3.4 has mainly provided support for Btrfs and snapshots through the Snapshot Center that can be used to browse the history of files in case of a problem. A point eagerly awaited by users, which makes Asustor NAS much more usable in a professional context. Of course, the NAS can also be managed from mobile applications, available on Android or iOS. Their finish isn't always perfect, but they get the job done. 

A multi-faceted HDMI port

As with QNAP, the HDMI port can be operated in two ways. Or via a “portal” offering specific applications, many of which are web pages. Or via Linux Center which allows you to install Debian in its desktop version and to use your NAS as a small PC. 

On the other hand, we also feel a bit behind since Debian 8 is set up by default while the distribution is already in its tenth iteration. We would like a little more possibilities (on embedded distributions) but also a better follow-up of the updates of those proposed.

Some functionality relies on Docker, which is usable through the Portainer interface, but virtualization can also be exploited. Here, Asustor is fishing a bit against its competition, since we are only entitled to an integration of Virtual Box rather than a home interface based on the Qemu / KVM duo for example.

What performance in practice?

As usual, let's start our performance analysis with a simple CPU test, which here should show fairly low results since it is a Celeron J, derived from the Atom branch of Intel. The fact that it is last generation (Gemini Lake) should not change much, the architecture having changed little. This Celeron J4105 shows the following performance under OpenSSL (via SSH):

1 CPU:

  • 62 signatures/s
  • 3,494 checks/s

4 CPU:

  • 222 signatures/s
  • 12,437 checks/s

Figures fairly close to other NAS using such a chip, which are roughly double a Raspberry Pi 4 running  Manjaro or Ubuntu. Some will regret Asustor choice to offer two 2.5 Gb/s ports rather than one at 5 or 10 Gb/s. Indeed, this limits the speeds to 320 Mb/s, the user having to use several flows and / or the aggregation to go beyond. As 802.3AD is not necessarily mastered by the majority of people, that is to say that this will rarely be the case.

Conversely, it allows you to manage port failure, manage multiple (V) LAN and multiple clients with a single device. Everyone will therefore see noon at their doorstep. Those tempted by 10 Gb/s at a lower cost can turn to the AS4004T  sold for 390 euros, using a SoC Marvell ARMADA-7020 (2C at 1.6 GHz) and 2 GB of memory.

But having a fast connection is one thing, you still have to be able to use it in all conditions. Is this the case here? To verify this in the case of the Nimbustor 4, we used a PC connected at 5 Gb / s to our Netgear MS510TXPP switch, in order to copy 11 large files of 37 GB (ISO, videos). Tests carried out in Btrfs on four Intel 545s 256 GB SSD  so as not to be constrained by the performance of an HDD, in RAID 0 then in RAID 5, with and without encryption.

Asustor Nimbustor 4 Performances

In theory, a 2.5 Gb/s port has a maximum throughput of 320 Mb/s. With 10/15% loss due to the protocol, we are generally rather under the 280 Mb/s bar in practice. Here, we do indeed reach this figure. The only exceptions to the rule are writing in RAID 5 which caps at around 250 MB/s and when encryption is active. In this second case, the impact on performance is quite significant. Note also that at Asustor, it is only activated at the level of shared folders and not when creating volumes. This is a point on which the manufacturer will have to work. As it stands, we can only advise you to use client-side encryption with such a NAS instead to avoid seeing more than half of your performance go up in smoke. 

Now let's see what happens if we use the second port at 2.5 Gb/s. To verify this, we have connected another 5 Gb/s NAS to our switch and are transferring to it at the same time as our test PC. We note the time required for the two copies made simultaneously (the files being located in different folders on the NAS) to obtain an overall throughput, again in read / write and RAID 0/5:

If we don't double the performance, we're almost there. We cap here at 530 MB/s in reading, the CPU beginning to show its limits in various cases as in writing even in the absence of encryption: 330 to 380 MB/s approximately. With encryption we do not exceed 180 MB/s. 

Note that we have also tested the 4K transcoding on Tears of Steel in 480p and 1080p via the LooksGood app provided by Asustor and it works perfectly. It takes a few seconds for the video stream to be compressed, then it can be read and browsed as if its native definition. On the consumption side, we found between 23 watts watts in full copy via the two ports at 2.5 Gb/s and 16 watts on one. At rest, we drop to 10 watts. A figure that can be lowered further by putting it on standby or completely shutting it down during certain hours of the day. Note that this may be higher with HDD.

A NAS that holds up, Asustor becomes a credible alternative

In the end, the Asustor Nimbustor 4 keeps its promises. Its design is pleasant, its interface simple to use, its fairly complete features and performance to match its connectivity. Admittedly, the Celeron J4105 shows its limits as soon as you put too much stress on it, but you are at 330 MB/s in the worst case.

There are, however, a few hiccups that the manufacturer needs to work on. The performances when the encryption is active for example, or the applications allowing to exploit Linux or the virtualization within its ADM interface. This is not up to the competition and could therefore put some users off. A slight graphic improvement of the whole would be welcome, the rendering of the desktop starting to date a little.

For the rest, those looking for a product for fairly classic file sharing or multimedia access up to 4K will find in this product everything they need. Above all, they will have two network ports natively at 2.5 Gb/s allowing them to be ready for an evolution of their local network, if it is not already done.

A feature that cannot be found in the competition, except through updates or much more expensive models. Enough to forget the absence of a PCIe port. As memory can change very easily. We would only appreciate having the right to an alternative 5 Gb / s model for those who do not have to do with aggregation. In any case, at 515 euros, this model finds its place between the DS418play from Synology at 470 euros with 2 GB of memory and 2x 1 Gb/s for the network and the TS-453Be from QNAP. If it has 4 GB of memory for 530 euros, the latter requires an update of the network via a PCIe card or a USB adapter to climb to 2.5 or 5 Gb/s.

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