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QNAP TS-453BT3: Thunderbolt 3, 10 Gb/s, NVMe and HDMI in a four-bay NAS


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Who says better? QNAP TS-453BT3: Thunderbolt 3, 10 Gb/s, NVMe and HDMI in a four-bay NAS. Connectivity is more and more important in NAS. And if we are often entitled to rather high-sounding models on this side, there are exceptions that rely on the multiple possibilities of modern machines. This is the case with QNAP's TS-453BT3 which does not fit with the back of the spoon.

In the small world of NAS, products follow and resemble each other. On the general public market, they have adopted the “shoebox” form of certain mini PC, more or less wide depending on the number of bays they have. Among professionals, it is the rack format, from 1U to 2U in general, which wins.

With a few exceptions, manufacturers operate similar ARM or Intel SoCs. The same goes for interfaces and features where Synology and its DSM reign supreme. His little comrades take up the main principles, adapted to their sauces, sometimes with some interesting innovations.

QNAP recently announced some of them at its annual conference. The Taiwanese, moreover, has learned to do things differently on several points in recent years, having understood that it is by marking his difference that he would manage to get out of his image of "under Synology".

Thus, although the bulk of the range is rather classic, there are some models with interesting specificities on the hardware side. This is the case with the TS-453BT3 that we are testing today. A wise model in appearance, but rather colorful in practice, integrating a small OLED screen, a voice that speaks to you, the 10 Gb/s network but also Thunderbolt 3 ports at 40 Gb/s and NVMe slots. Enough to enjoy your data at full speed.

QNAP TS-453BT3: Thunderbolt 3, 10 Gb/s, NVMe and HDMI in a four-bay NAS

QNAP TS-453BT3 - A rather classic design

The architecture of this NAS is nothing exceptional. It integrates a single Intel Celeron J3455 (Apollo Lake, 64-bit) quad-core processor from the Atom branch. Engraved in 14 nm, it is clocked between 1.5 and 2.3 GHz, with 2 MB of cache and a TDP of 10 watts. It can manage up to two S-ATA ports and eight USB 3.x (5 Gb/s) ports on its own.

It is therefore the chipset and third-party chips that come to the rescue on the connectivity side, as we will see later. Support for AES-NI encryption is present, as well as an HD Graphics 500 graphics part (12 units, from 250 to 750 MHz). It manages the hardware acceleration of videos, Quick Sync for transcoding and up to three screens.

This processor comes with nothing less than 2x 4 GB of DDR3L, which may be useful in scenarios such as using virtualization for example. On the other hand, it is the maximum supported by the machine according to QNAP. The modules are accessible through a hatch inside the NAS, when all bays are removed.

A total of five USB 3.0 (5 Gb/s) ports are present, four on the back, one on the front. There is the usual Kensington device and a large 120mm fan on the back. Power is supplied by a large external block (135 x 57 x 33 mm) supplying 19 V for a maximum of 10 A.

The QNAP TS-453BT3: Except for many details

The rather complete connection is confirmed with the presence of two HDMI 1.4b ports (4K at 30Hz), two microphone sockets (perfect for karaoke battles) and an audio jack output. The NAS is also delivered with an RM-IR004 remote control  (two AAA batteries) and has an infrared receiver. Another small subtlety, it is equipped with an OLED screen.

It displays information like the IP address of the NAS, which can be handy to avoid having to search for it through applications. You can also find the CPU temperature, fan speed, status of different volumes / LUNs, etc. Two buttons accompany it for navigation (Select, Enter), as well as four diodes for the status of the different bays.

A small voice completes the whole. Unfortunately only available in English and Chinese, quite robotic, it can warn you in the event of an alert or during procedures such as restarting and updating the NAS. Of course, it can be deactivated in the settings.

In addition to the Power button, another allows you to initiate a copy from the front USB port. Above all, we are entitled to two Thunderbolt 3 ports (40 Gb/s), which can therefore be used to connect two elements, such as a PC and a machine under macOS, which can then work on an identical file base in certain applications. You can also place the NAS in a  daisy chain, of which it would then only be a simple link.

Be careful though, unlike Ethernet, Thunderbolt is quickly limited in distance, the cables also being quite expensive. QNAP offers 0.5 and 2 meters. Note also that the manufacturer offers Thunderbolt to Ethernet (T2E) mode allowing a machine to take advantage of its 10 Gb/s port as a network card through the Thunderbolt 3 port, as if the NAS were a simple adapter. Rather clever.

4 GB of storage are present, integrating the basic OS which is protected by redundancy via Dual boot OS mechanics. In addition to the four 3.5 "bays, which can also accommodate 2.5" HDD/SSD, we are entitled to two M.2 2280 slots to form a cache via QTier. They are surmounted by a heat sink and a fan.

They take place on a rather special PCIe card, the QM2-2S10G1TB, which also offers a 10 Gb/s network port in RJ45 format. Not bad for a simple low profile model. LEDs are present on the back indicating the status of each element. The NAS also integrates two more traditional 1 Gb/s network ports. All three are exploitable. The whole has dimensions of 168 × 170 × 226 mm for a weight of 2.51 kg.

QTS 4.4.1 at the controls: easy installation

The installation is like any other NAS from QNAP, with one difference: you can find its IP on the OLED screen in addition to the Finder Pro application  available for macOS, Ubuntu and Windows. A fairly complete tool since, in addition to listing the NAS on your local network, it allows you to view their resources remotely, send photos to them, connect them as a network drive, locate them, etc.

If the NAS is not yet initialized, you can click on Configuration which will take you to its web interface. QTS then takes over, the latest version 4.4.1 in our case. It is configured in English by default, but you can change it. You are prompted to either do a classic installation or use QTS Hero which allows the use of ZFS. We opted for the first case.

You will then have to declare the name of the NAS on the network, then the parameters of the main user account. This one is necessarily named admin, a choice that we can regret. We would indeed like to be able to customize it to ensure that it is not known in advance to a possible attacker. The password cannot exceed 64 characters. Here again, we would like a little more flexibility. A visual indicator will show you the strength of the latter.

The parameters are then linked: time zone and NTP server, network, Thunderbolt. This last point can be an opportunity to configure the NAS as a network adapter as we mentioned above. You will then have to indicate the protocols to be implemented, sorted by OS, without granularity at this time.

In practice, this amounts to activating SMB / CIFS in all cases, as well as File Station. NFS is not offered for Windows, AFP specific to Apple. A summary will finally be displayed, before saving the parameters and initializing the NAS. All files on storage devices will then be deleted after an alert. This initialization phase will take a few minutes. We appreciate that QNAP had the good idea to offer Thunderbolt-specific guides highlighted at this point in the installation. Unfortunately, the link used refers to the manufacturer's technology page and not the guides.

A graphic and complete system sometimes a little too much

In general, QTS is intended to be very educational. In addition to its rather pleasant graphics, whether for the general interface up to the component monitoring modules, we are systematically entitled to explanatory phases, accompanied by images, facilitating the life of the layman user (to the extent of the possible). A good point.

Once the initialization is complete, you will have access to the classic NAS interface where you will have to log in with the account created during installation. You will then be entitled to some information bubbles showing you how QTS works, which looks like a classic desktop with its central icons and notification bar.

Then it will be window spam, which is one of the problems with QTS: the features are numerous, the display of information sometimes very dense and the system tends to like to overlap elements. Of course, you can opt for a Tab or Borderless mode, but that doesn't change much to this basic problem. Thus, at the first display you will have to give or not your consent to the data collection, the help center appears, hidden by the storage management.

Because you must first create a space where to place your files. A short presentation of the basic concepts (volume, LUN, snapshots, etc.) is given to you, before the creation of your first "pool". The TS-453-BT3 manages from RAID 0 to RAID 60, depending on how it is configured: number of disks, presence or not of NVMe SSD, etc. 

You can indicate a spare disk, then an alert threshold if the maximum storage capacity is approaching (80% by default). For our part, we have opted for a simple RAID 5 without spare disk. Then you have to think about creating a volume (static, heavy or light), encrypted or not (QNAP says "encryption", ouch!).

Here again, we are sometimes faced with many advanced options. An interesting point for specialists, not necessarily for inexperienced users. The Storage and Snapshots application gives you access to manage many settings like RAID cleaning schedule, TRIM for SSDs, file system check, temperature alerts, SMART, etc. There is also the management of snapshots, the cache or advanced features such as VJBOD / HybridMount. This is also where iSCSI and Fiber Channel are managed.

Hybrid mode, containers / VT, multimedia: for all tastes

By default, few other applications are installed: the control panel, file explorer, App Center, SSD management tool or HybridDesk Station. The latter allows you to manage the use of HDMI outputs, transforming your NAS into a multimedia screen with certain applications such as Chrome, Firefox, LibreOffice, Skype, etc. Or even as a PC that can be operated as is under Linux via Linux Station. An unusual use, which can have its advantages.

High-end model requires, you will have access to all the features of QTS and its applications: management of online storage, containers and virtualization, multimedia services, video surveillance. As with Synology, some third-party applications are also available such as Acronis True Image, Resilio Sync, Domotz or Plex Media Server, but you have to go to community repositories like QNAP Club to see this list explode.

We will not go through all the features here as there are so many in such systems, a demonstration of QTS is available here anyway (when it works). Although it can be a bit heavy to use for simple tasks, the whole is rather intuitive and successful. Complete, at the risk of sometimes doing a little too much. We regret that a light mode of operation is not offered, if only for novice users.

On the other hand, we particularly appreciate the three functionalities allowing the use of a third-party system within the OS: Container, Virtualization and Linux Station. The latter allows you to simply set up a Linux distribution with a graphical interface. We will come back to how they work and others shortly.

Performance limited by the CPU

Let's move on to performance, where the CPU may quickly show its limits. As often in the NAS, it is a Celeron from the Atom branch of Intel, which is not really designed for extreme performance and which quickly finds itself underwater as soon as you activate different RAID 5/6 and encryption, especially in writing. The Celeron J3455 displays the following performance under OpenSSL (via SSH):

1 CPU:

  • 54 signatures/s
  • 3,523 checks/s
     

4 CPU:

  • 181 signatures/s
  • 11,984 checks/s

This is roughly twice as much as what a Raspberry Pi 4 displays when it is used with an OS with a recent and optimized kernel, as we have seen in Manjaro or Ubuntu. When copying 37,848.94 MB of large files (ISO, video, drivers) without cache, we were thus able to reach 573 MB/s read and 511 MB/s write in the best case (RAID 0 without encryption). 364/321 MB/s when switching to RAID 5. However, we did not notice any additional drop in performance on an encrypted volume.

We are therefore almost at what we could achieve with a 5 Gb/s adapter like the QNA-UC5G1T from QNAP. Using a cache or SSD can undoubtedly make it possible to go further, but it is again difficult to understand the choice of processors from the Atom branch on high-end NAS with advanced connectivity.

An unparalleled NAS, which comes at a high price

Because we are indeed in the presence of a small concentrate of technology, which could have deserved better. This model is also rare among dealers as it is expensive, since it is generally displayed in the 1,200 euros. Too bad that for this price we do not also have a Thunderbolt 3 cable in the bundle.

The whole thing seems quite expensive in the end even if we put end to end the price of a four-bay NAS with 8 GB of memory and the presence of two Thunderbolt 3 ports, the 10 Gb/s network card with slots for NVMe SSD, OLED display and remote control. The manufacturer probably thinks (rightly) that its product has no equivalent on the market, and that customers who want to have all these elements in a compact machine will be ready to pay the price.

For the others, the TS-453 range has other references. In a classic format, we find the 453Bmini-4G, 453Be-2G and 453B-4G between 450 and 620 euros approximately. They all have the same technical basis, none with 10 Gb/s, Thunderbolt 3 or NVMe slots. They are distinguished by the amount of onboard memory and some details.

The TS-453B-4G: An alternative to consider

The TS-453Bmini4G thus has a specific chassis, less wide (210 × 151 × 200 mm for 2 kg), the bays being accessible from the top. It does not have the 120 mm fan, but advertised as quieter than the other models: 16.9 dB (A) against 18.8 dB (A). But also more energy efficient with a consumption between 11 and 24 watts against 15 to 30/38 watts. Without a PCIe port, it also integrates only 512 MB of storage for the OS.

One of the USB 3.0 ports is replaced by a USB 2.0. It is only compatible with the remote RM-IR002, supplied in the bundle and has only one HDMI port and no jack. The TS-453Be-2G is limited to 2 GB of memory, without remote control and OLED display.

Ultimately, the TS-453B-4G seems to be the best compromise. Indeed, it has all the advantages of the range, being limited to 4 GB of memory, which remains reasonable. There are the two network ports, the two HDMI, the RM-IR004 remote control, the OLED screen, the PCIe slot for scalability to 10G / NVMe.

But also a USB 3.0 Type-C "Quick Connect" connector. This allows a direct connection to a machine, allowing to access the files of the NAS as if it were an external device, in the manner of what is possible to do via Thunderbolt 3 on the TS -453BT3-8G.

But you can also use it to share a network connection via USB, or to connect a 5 Gb/s adapter, which costs only a hundred dollars. We arrive at a set of 700 euros, which is certainly less complete than what the TS-453BT3 offers, but appears to be more reasonable.

A diverse and enticing TS-453 range

So, if you absolutely must have Thunderbolt 3, but also a 10 Gb/s connection and NVMe slots, the TS-453TB3 will undoubtedly be a NAS of choice. In any case, it will be the most affordable of the QNAP range to offer these features, absent from the competition. If you have smaller needs, the rest of the TS-453 range may appeal to you. There are indeed variations for all tastes, with the same functionalities and the same platform, which allows to obtain a similar level of performance. 

The TS-453B-4G will certainly cost 600 euros, but for that price it will have a USB Type-C connector with direct connection, in addition to all the other high-end little touches. Those wanting better performance can use a PCIe/USB adapter, and or a little more memory and compose their NAS to the card. 

An appreciable practice, even if it multiplies the references. At least, those who want a full four-bay NAS don't have to limit themselves to one choice made by the QNAP teams, having to look to completely different models when they just want an evolution in connectivity.

As always, we only regret the presence of a processor from the Atom range in products that exceed 500 euros and offer virtualization features, performance being then limited by the low capacities of the chip. A long-standing practice among NAS manufacturers, which is hoped to end eventually, unless low TDP CPUs eventually get better.

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