QNAP TVS-873

A powerful 8-bay NAS from QNAP



  1. Ian
    The QNAP TVS-873 looks a little different from most other NAS products at first glance, and the internal components are quite surprising too. This NAS features a powerful quad-core AMD CPU and an integrated R7 GPU – both beyond the demands of what you would expect from a file-server NAS. As you may have guessed, TVS-873 isn’t designed to function as a simple “network attached storage” device. We’ve used this NAS as a fully-fledged all round server for a month, running several Virtual Machines, a file server, docker containers, Plex media server and several other smaller services. If you’ve not used a high-end NAS, it’s time to re-think what they can do.

    The most striking thing about the TVS-873 is the gold colour. I can’t remember the last time I saw gold colour computer hardware, never mind for something that may sit in a boring office cabinet. Personally, I’d prefer an all-black design so that this unit fits in with other hardware – but this is very much personal taste. I have to admit, it doesn’t look quite as garish in the office as it did in the initial press photos. This is one of the few things I dislike about the NAS, but it has been off-set by the capabilities of this powerful little unit.

    QNAP TVS-873.jpg

    The AMD R-Series RX-421BD is a quad-core processor (2.1 GHz, with burst up to 3.4 GHz) – this sits somewhere between a comparable i5 and i7 in terms of performance. It includes AES-NI hardware acceleration (for speedy encryption) and 4k video decoding and encoding (app depending). This comes with an integrated R7 GPU and either 8/16/64 GB DDR4 RAM. We opted for the based 8GB model and upgraded it to a total of 24GB RAM – this is easily done and does not void the warranty.

    Rear.jpg

    The TVS-x73 series comes in 3 different models, all with similar specs – the 473/673/873 models feature either 4,6 or 8 x 3.5” SATA drive bays. There are also 2 x M.2 SSD slots within the chassis, which can be used as standalone or cache drives. A 10GbE network card can be added to the spare PCI.e slot, if required.

    Full Specifications:

    • CPU: AMD R-Series RX-421BD quad-core 2.1 GHz processor, burst up to 3.4 GHz
    • GPU: Embedded Radeon™ R7 Graphics Processor
    • Memory: 8/16/64GB DDR4 (max 64GB, 4 slots)
    • HDDs: 8 x 2.5/3.5" SATA Drive Bays
    • M.2 SSD: 2 x 2280/2260 SATA internal slots
    • LAN: 4 x Gigabit RJ45
    • USB: 2 x USB 3.1 port, and 4 x USB 3.0 Type-A port
    • HDMI: 2 x up to 3840 x 2160 @ 30Hz resolution
    • Connectivity: IR Receiver (and remote control),
    • Dimensions: 188.2 x 329.3 x 279.6 mm
    • Weight: 6.52 kg

    Installation and Setup

    We configured our TVS-873 with 24GB RAM, 8 x 4TB Seagate IronWolf NAS drives and 2 x Crucial MX300 M.2 1GB SSDs and it has been used heavily for around one month. The M.2 SSDs were used to host a separate storage space for Virtual Machines (which would benefit from faster storage), and the spinning disks were used for the file server storage.

    Adding the 3.5” HDDs was a simple as sliding out a drive tray and clicking a pair of rails on to the site, which hold the drive in place via the screw holes. No screws are needed, so it’s a quick process. However, there are no drive locks (which may be a problem in a shared office environment).

    DriveTray.jpg

    Installing the M.2 SSDs and additional memory required unscrewing the chassis lid and clipping the sticks in place. It only takes a few minutes to get any hardware installed:

    Memory.jpg

    When you first set up the NAS, it’s as simple as connecting the power, inserting the drives and adding an Ethernet cable to your switch/router. It’ll automatically obtain an IP address from your network, which you can then find via a QNAP app, or you can just read it from the LCD panel and type it in to a browser. The web interface will guide you through the initialization process, allowing you to choose how the drives are configured (in to various storage pools, encryption type, RAID type, etc…). It is worth noting that the NAS will create a system partition on the first drive array – as we had SSDs installed, we initialised this first to ensure that this is where the system partition was created. This should minimise any drive-based OS bottlenecks.

    The initial setup will prompt you to enable basic file sharing services, based on the operating systems that you will use. Almost all users will require SMB shares, but you can enable AFP or NFS networking if you wish (for Linux/Apple).

    Installation.jpg

    Once all your drives are configured, you’ll arrive at the QNAP “QTS” desktop, which is where the fun begins. As this is a high end server, there are plenty of options that you may wish to configure. We spent another 10 minutes adding firewall rules and installing some of the apps that we wished to use.

    QTS Interface

    A significant benefit to buying an off the shelf solution is that you get an interface dedicated to managing your NAS. Although it is perfectly possible to buy great hardware and install Windows Server, FreeNAS or other software options – it requires a lot more effort to achieve the same results.

    QNAP have significant experience with NAS devices and as such, the QTS interface is one of the best around. QTS 4.3 has been recently released, and it provides a familiar desktop-like interface in the web management portal:

    QTS.jpg

    From here, you can launch applications from desktop shortcuts, or use the hamburger menu to access other common utilities. Helpful status icons are also provided on the toolbar, informing you of operations in progress or alerts if there are problems:

    Alerts.jpg

    The interface is straight-forward to navigate and use, but it is certainly more complex than DSM from Synology – mainly due to the huge number of features that this NAS supports. It is likely that a number of QTS upgrades will be supported on this hardware, meaning that new features could still be added in future.

    Applications

    One of the standout features of this NAS is the availability and quality of applications. Many of these are bundled with the QNAP for Backups, Virtualization, Plex, etc… We extensively use the “Hybrid Backup Station” to perform daily RSYNC backup operations. This app can pretty much do anything you’d expect from NAS backup software: including one way backups, synchronisation, RTRR, remote backups to S3/Azure/Dropbox/FTP, etc… If you want to backup data from your PCs or other sources to the NAS, there are plenty of integration options. We backup from our system to the NAS, but also use the RSYNC function to create a secondary backup on a Synology NAS unit.

    The Container station is a Docker platform, a really useful way of running many Linux based applications without needing to configure a full virtual machine. For example, if you’d like to run a Minecraft server, you can search the appropriate container within the app, then click install and configure a handful of options… you can deploy so many applications with just few clicks. If you’re not already familiar with what “Docker” is, I’d strongly suggest reading up on this powerful tool. It enables so many powerful features with a very simple to use app. We run a lot of web development servers on the QNAP, allowing us to access a test platform from anywhere on our network.

    Container Station.jpg

    Our favourite application/feature of the QNAP TVS-873 has to be the Virtualization Station. On this little server, we’re running: CentOS, Ubuntu, Linux Mint, 3 x Windows Server 2016 and 2 x Windows 10 installations. All of the Windows instances run 24/7, and the Linux instances are used for occasional testing:

    Virtualization Station.jpg

    It’s possible to configure the virtual hardware very easily within the web interface – so you can limit the memory or number of cores, to make sure that there is reserved power for the other parts of the NAS. We generally assign 2 cores (out of 4), alongside 2-4GB RAM. We’ve noticed no performance problems with the file server during this time. There’s even an HTML5 KVM interface for interacting with the machine within the browser.

    It is important to note that we’re running Virtualization Station 3.0 Beta – we’ve not noticed any bugs, however there is no option to use GPU pass-through in this version. Previous versions appeared to allow this, so hopefully we’ll see this enabled at some point in the future. Given that the TVS-873 comes with an R7 GPU, it would be extremely helpful to have this accessible within a VM instance. If this does end up happening, it would open up the possibility of having a virtual machine that could stream games to a steam box (perhaps only low end gaming, but a possibility nonetheless).

    If you’re intending to connect the TVS 873 direct to a TV, you’ll be particularly interested in the HybridDesk Station. This will allow you to use one of the HDMI ports to connect directly to a Virtual Machine instance, the Surveillance Station app (for CCTV control/recording) or a whole host of other 3rd party apps like Plex, Facebook, Skype. We tested this interface as a way to operate a media server (using the bundled remote control) – it worked exactly as described and may be a useful addition if you’re using this as a streaming solution.

    If you’d like to take a look at the full range of possible applications, check out this link on the QNAP website:

    https://www.qnap.com/en-uk/app_center/

    There are a huge number of things you can run directly on the QNAP TVS-873. Even more if you use Docker or VMs. If there’s some software you’d like to offload from your PC, or a server you’d like to use, there’s a very good chance it is possible.

    Performance

    When testing the performance of the NAS, we encountered warnings from the server that the 2 x M.2 SSD chipsets were overheating. The warning level was designed to alert us at 65C and we occasionally reached 67C under peak load. It looks like when we had scheduled backups of the VMs (hosted on the SSDs), we pushed these temperature limits. QNAP did include 2 x mini heatsinks in their accessories package, so I suspect that they were aware that this may happen. I wonder if this suggest that more airflow may be required in this part of the chassis. Adding the heatsinks did help reduce the temperature and prevent warning alerts, so I can strongly suggest applying these if you use M.2 drives in your NAS.

    Considering the hardware that this QNAP packs, benchmarking the NAS over a standard gigabit connection would prove to be a limiting factor. Even a modest mechanical drive will easily be able to saturate a gigabit connection. When we tested file transfers to/from the NAS on our unencrypted RAID 5 config (SSD cache disabled), we maxed out at around 110MB/s – which isn’t far off the maximum transfer speed our spinning disks/gigabit connection are capable of. However, SSD based shares, multiple spinning disk and mixed mode cache throughput requirements can far exceed these transfer values. One option is to invest in a 10GbE card and switch, but it is also possible to use port trunking to combine all 4 x 1GbE connections – giving a more reasonable 4GbE transfer limit. This is a very cost effective way of maximising performance if you have many devices connecting to the NAS at the same time. Transfer performance may be limited at the receiving end if you are still using a 1GbE port per device.

    To test port trunking results, we maxed out the NAS from as many attached devices as possible, downloading large files from different shares/drives (to ensure that drives weren’t the bottleneck). Using the NAS resource monitor, we could monitor the combined network throughput and managed to achieve around 410MB/s, peaking slightly higher at times:

    PortTrunking.png

    If you have a switch that supports link aggregation, this is a good method to maximise possible throughput for minimal cost and effort. Whilst it doesn’t give the flexibility or maximum potential as a 10GbE connection, it’s a good solution until hardware reduces in price. If you require faster transfer rates to a single PC, you would however need to invest in 10GbE hardware.

    Conclusion

    At the time of writing, we’ve used this NAS for around a month and we’re currently using it for all of the following things:
    • Backup Server for 6 systems
    • Media server with on-the-fly encoding (Plex)
    • Virtual Machine host for 8 operating systems, 5 of which run 24/7
    • File Server
    • 5 Docker instances for server applications
    This is far above and beyond what a normal NAS could do, and it’s all thanks to the generous hardware specifications of this particular model. It’s rare that we exceed 50% CPU load unless we’re running something particularly intensive.

    The only complaint is that the drive trays have been slightly nosier than previous NAS models we have used, at least when using 8 x Seagate IronWolf drives. To solve this, we added a small amount of strip foam (the sort used for door surround insulation) to the side of each drive tray, and it has reduced the HDD noise considerably.

    The QNAP QTS software is very flexible and allows for a very wide range of uses, far more than competing products from like likes of Synology, Netgear and WD. However, this enormous feature set does mean that the admin interface does have the occasional bug. When we were testing the integrated Domain Controller server, we ended up with some vague errors which required the help of QNAP support. I’m not aware of any NAS or NAS software that comes anywhere close to the feature set of QTS 4.3.

    I can wholeheartedly recommend this NAS to anyone seeking a particular powerful all-in-one solution for their home or small office. We’ve been able to offload so many tasks on to this server, enabling us to downsize hardware to a single device running virtual machines.
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