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Published on July 17th, 2013 | by Greg

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QNAP TS-221: Slick Network Storage, Slightly Overpriced

If you have more than a terabyte of data, and multiple computers that you use or manage, then you fall into a group with serious storage needs. You probably have looked into, or already own, external backup storage options like USB hard drives. But they have a host of downsides that make network-attached storage devices superior for most situations. Faster transfers and better multi-user abilities are just the start, since most of these devices can also save you money on your electric bill and provide you instant cloud storage.

The new QNAP TS-221 is a classic two-bay NAS model, with a metal enclosure and matte black plastic front. Add a power cable and plug it into your router via ethernet, and then you can add two compatible hard drives of your desired storage capacity. We added two 3TB WD SATA disks and had an extra 6TB of storage to share across our network. Your mileage may vary depending on options, especially if you choose to enable RAID, which provides you an extra level of security since even if one of the hard drives fails you have an extra that can provide full recovery.

We reviewed a fairly similar model earlier this month- the Synology DS213j- and in many ways they are comparable. Both come from companies with a long history of software and hardware support in the category, and they are similar sizes as well. The QNAP TS-221 offers a few advantages though, such as a front-accessible USB 2.0, and dual USB 3.0 ports in the back, great if you’re transferring lots of files from thumb drives or other external storage. The basic hardware specs- a Marvell 2.0GHz processor and 1 GB of RAM- are decent at first glance. This is definitely a model aimed at home or SOHO users; when we last saw QNAP gear we looked at a larger four-bay model that was capable of some enterprise-level functions. QNAP continues to offer a wide array of options, be sure to check through their catalog to find a model that is right for your needs.

As always, hardware is only half of the equation. Most users will want to make heavy use of the available applications, and their custom operating system and web interface has come a long way in terms of user-friendliness and accessibility. You can easily download BitTorrent files without needing to leave a computer on, connect shared printers, setup a music library for use in iTunes, and create a video collection that works with your Xbox, Ps3, iOS, or any computer. As with most competitors, there is a surveillance camera app, though there are many others that are less common, like the Asterisk IP telephony server (which we didn’t try). Media streaming is supported via uPnP and DLNA, and you can register for a fixed IP address via QNAP’s cloud service, which can give you access to files from anywhere in the world. One of the most amusingly-named is called “HappyGet”, which allows users to backup their social media profiles, but also create custom ringtones.

Ultimately, though, a NAS lives and dies on transfer speeds, and cost is definitely a consideration. And the QNAP TS-221 was a bit slow and slightly overpriced compared with the competition- our transfer rates reached a peak of about 50 MB/s and a sustained write test gave even slower results closer to 40 MB/s. Despite the extra RAM, the less-efficient processor of the QNAP compared to the Synology unit probably led to these results, and some occasional hiccups with transcoding and the user interface. Especially considering the price, we’d recommend the TS-221 with minor reservations- it’s quiet, easy on the eyes and simple to setup, but fails to impress on most other metrics.  Available for $330, in stores and online, we did appreciate the USB 3.0 ports and additional front port access.

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About the Author

Greg dreamed up the idea for the Truly Network while living in Hawaii, which began with a single site called TrulyObscure. In 2010, when advertisers and readers were requesting coverage beyond the scope of that site, TrulyNet was launched, reaching a broader audience over a variety of niche sites. Formerly the head technology correspondent for the Des Moines Register at age 16, he has since lived and worked in five states and two countries, helping a list of organizations and companies that includes the United States Census Bureau, TripAdvisor, Events Photo Group, Berlitz, and Computer Geeks. He also served as the Content Strategy Manager for HearPlanet, a multi-platform app that has reached over a million users and has been featured in the New York Times, Hemispheres Magazine, National Geographic Adventure, Fox Business News, PC Magazine, and even Apple’s own iPhone ads. Greg has written as a restaurant critic and feature journalist for a number of national and international publications, including City Weekend Magazine, Red Egg Magazine, the Newton Daily News, Capital Change Magazine, and an arm of China Daily, Beijing Weekend. In addition, he has served as a consulting editor for the Foreign Language Press of Beijing, as well as a writer and editor for the George Washington University Hatchet, the school newspaper of his alma mater. Originally from Iowa, Greg is currently living in the West Village of Manhattan.



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