We have reviewed a QNAP desktop shared storage NAS before on FCP.co. This time we look at the TS-453BT3 4 disk unit from QNAP with 10GigE and Thunderbolt 3. 

We are creating more and more footage and thus more and more gigabytes of files daily, so the need arises to store this media on more than just a simple one disk Thunderbolt drive. Network attached NAS multi-disk boxes offer large storage options with RAID5 safety. These units also offer shared storage, the ability to have more than one user connected and working with the same media at a time.

I have been using a QNAP TS-453BT3 for a few months as it is squarely aimed at video editing users. The unit contains an Intel® Celeron® J3455 quad-core 1.5 GHz processor with 8GB installed. It retails for about £1,075 including VAT.

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What I liked

  • Quietness (Apart from alert)
  • Size
  • Apps
  • Connectivity
  • Regular firmware updates

What I didn't like

  • Complex back end
  • Cost
  • Annoying alert (That got turned off)

Unpacking & Installation

The first thing that strikes you is the size and light weight of the QNAP. We don’t think you could make a 4 bay NAS any smaller.

One of the reasons for its small size is the external PSU which is quite a chunky brick. Don’t know why, but I always feel better plugging the IEC cable into the actual machine rather than a separate PSU.

The unit comes with the PSU and mains cable, cat5 cable and remote control. We are using the QNAP with media for editing, so don’t really have a need to stream HD to a TV.

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The unit arrived without disks, although there are options available from retailers including Amazon that will supply the unit populated.  

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The plastic drive carriers are slightly flimsy but work well. Two strips detach either side then reattach to hold the drive firmly in place. Here you can see the new empty carrier next to the old carrier from the TVS-682T.

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Loading up the drives only took about 5 minutes, it will take you longer to get them out of the original packing!

I wasn’t using new drives this time though, I thought I would experiment by transferring the four Seagate IronWolf drives from the other NAS over to the TS-453BT3 and try to keep all the data. A quick Google and it all seemed possible, but I did need to get the order of drives the same from machine to machine.

I’d previously set up the disks as RAID 5, which means you will lose one of disk’s capacities. However with 10TB drives now retailing for £250 on Amazon, having a 10GigE connected 30TB shared storage system for just over £2000 is pretty amazing.

For price against storage size, I'd go for 8TB disks as these can be found on Amazon for the discounted price of $245 each.

This unit did not have the M2 cache fitted. This really helps with caching and helps boost NLE speed and if the unit was to stay, I’d install the SSD cache.

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On the front you will find a small OLED display which not only gives a system status, but will also show a seven category menu when the two capacitive buttons on the door are pressed. Not too sure I'd want to set an IP address this way, but it is handy to do a reboot or shutdown. The buttons actually work through the smoked plastic cover.

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Connectivity

As will nearly all QNAP NAS boxes, there is a lot of connectivity, this time on the front as well as the back.

With the arrival of the iMac Pro and (hopefully) the new 'modular' Mac Pro soon, 10GigE is the flavour of the month when it comes to fast shared storage connection. The QNAP has one 10GigE port, 2 1Gig ports, 4 USB3, 2 HDMI, 2 audio in and one audio out.

On the front, there are two Thunderbolt 3 USBC connections plus a USB3.

One note here, although the unit can act as an interface between Thunderbolt 3 and 10GigE for connecting to a fast network for example, the ports on the front go up to 514 MB/s. That's still fast enough for a lot of video to flow through the box.

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Setup

You only get a little multi-language quick installation guide with the QNAP. That is because the initial setup is fairly easy. Connect the QNAP to a router via GigE (Mine gave it an IP address via DHCP), download the Qfinder Pro app from the QNAP supplied URL, install that on a GigE connected computer and then connect to the NAS using that.

In Qfinder Pro, the configuration settings brings up a panel onscreen with the basic settings such as the device name, timezone, admin password and network settings.

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By clicking on the login option, you will be able to access the many different controls, storage options and extra apps through a web browser. This back-end interface is QNAP's strength and weakness. Yes, the box can be configured in many different ways for many different purposes, but configuring everything can be confusing. Take a look at how to hook up a point to point 10GigE connection if you are already connected via GigE in this tutorial.

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The Storage and Snapshots area is where you would expect to bind the drives together into a RAID. Luckily for me, the existing RAID structure from the previous QNAP showed up immediately, but unfortunately wouldn’t mount on my computer.

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30 minutes later, after a lot of restarting, the NAS and my computer and I were connected. No data lost, the exact folder structure was available on the new NAS, although the QNAP had a different name. This was my choice and I chose a different name to differentiate between the two QNAPS.

Being able to take the disks over to a new QNAP is a great feature, should you want to upgrade or replace a broken NAS. This means you don’t have to bounce all the data off another storage device.

The web interface has a very useful slide-out panel that measures system & disk health, performance and users.

The NAS does take a long time to boot, a lot longer than my previous model. As most users will be leaving the unit on 24/7 this isn’t a problem. If you need to have the unit power on every morning, this can be set to automatically boot at a certain time using the power schedule feature.

I do like the regular updates to the Qfinder Pro app and the machine firmware. This is especially important if you want to configure the NAS to connect to the outside world. Updating both the app and the firmware is easy, just follow the prompts.

I must mention the alert, it was pretty annoying and for some reason, it kept beeping. So it got turned it off. 

Speed

There are quite a few ways to measure the speed of this NAS due to the connectivity. As it has no SSD caching, the maximum performance will be dictated by how fast the spinning drives as a RAID can read/write. The 7200 PRM Seagates have an individual speed of around 180/200 MB/s, so realistically with emptyish drives, the unit isn't going to go over 600 MB/s.

Let's fire up the Blackmagic Speed Test app and try out the different connectivity speeds.

First up we have Thunderbolt 3 from the front of the machine to the iMac Pro using an Apple USB-C cable. A pretty healthy 438 MB/s write and over 600 MB/s read. The unit (as with all multi-disk RAIDS) can't offer the same write speed as it has to create the parity information required to protect data. 

Thunderbolt 3

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Onto the 10GigE connection and this time we went point to point with the same connector on the back of the iMac Pro. This was using the AFP share and resulted in the halving of the write speed and a reduction on the read.

10GigE

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As we Brits tend to turn everything up to 11, I decided to mount an NFS folder with Jumbo Frames enabled. As you can see from the grab below, I got a speed bump on both the read and write.

10GigE NFS & Jumbo Frames

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And finally for the one computer speed tests, I tried out one of the old reliable GigE sockets on the back. Surprise surprise, I got about 110 MB/s read & write which shows the limitation of the GigE connection.

GigE

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All good so far, but some shared storage devices get let down on speed when more than one user is connected.

So more speed tests and this time I will save you from the entire Blackmagic Speed Test GUI by just publishing the top.

First we have Thunderbolt 3 and another GigE connection (Sorry we didn't have enough iMac Pros!) As you can see from the grabs below the drive bandwidth has maxed out the GigE connection and taken that off the T3. Both test machines were running the speed test at the same time, but not to the same folder.

Thunderbolt 3 and GigE

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Then it was the turn for 10GigE and GigE to be tested together. Again the 10GigE was point to point, the GigE was via switch to a second machine. 

10GigE & GigE

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I won't bore you with the GigE test as it was more or less the same throughput as before. Either that or (erhem) I forget to do the grab :)

So overall, I was impressed the way that the NAS shared out the drive speed. It would have been good to have a second iMac Pro and a 10GigE switch to see what type of performance each would have had. 

When it came to editing with the QNAP NAS, I was pleasantly surprised at the performance over Thunderbolt 3 and 10GigE. As I have said, many, many times before, waveform generation is the achilles heel of NLEs and it was good to see the QNAP performing this task quickly.

I also forgot that there wasn't a SSD cache in the unit and stored and worked with FCPX Libraries directly from the disks. Seemed to work fine, although I ended up setting the cache to local and made all the media external. 

You still cannot open a FCPX Library that is in use by another client, hopefully collaborative workflow is on Apple's roadmap. (With audio automation and muticam flattening)

 

Time Machine

The QNAP allows Macs to use the storage for Time Machine backups. This has been a great feature with the previous QNAP as it replaced a rather old Time Capsule. However, because I renamed the machine, the connected Macs wouldn't continue to use the existing TM backup on the swapped out disks.

Returning to this problem whilst proof reading, I thought I'd try an experiment by renaming the QNAP to match the previous machine. After a reboot, the Time Machine backup kicked in, saving many hours of having to build another. Oh and also gave me the ability to dig back in time to fish out that file I deleted! 

 

Software

There is a lot of it in the back end webpage and much more that you can download. Should you want to run an IP CCTV system, backup your files to Amazon or just run a Plex server, you'll find an app in the QNAP store.

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This flexibility could also be a problem. The NAS can perform many jobs and any additional overhead will affect performance. 

Conclusion

I liked the QNAP TS-453BT3 a lot and got down to editing 4K promos using it with the iMac Pro. I would not buy another storage device without 10GigE connectivity, it's cheap and fast and QNAP has recently announced budget 10GigE switches that could provide a way to distribute the bandwidth more evenly than a 10GigE and GigE mix.

There is a limit to the bandwidth and that is from the disks themselves, not the connection method. So whatever configuration this unit ends up in, you will only have about 600 MB/s to share out.

And that makes it perfect for the one or two man band making 4K videos or loading up and editing large photo libraries. Yes, it is a touch expensive for a 4 disk unit, but seeing as a 10GigE to Thunderbolt converter box is £500 (and you get that functionality for free) it puts the unit's cost into perspective.

If you don't need Thunderbolt 3 or a 10GigE connection, then there is the QNAP TS-453Be-4G with two GigE ports on the back. 10Gige can be added later without losing the GigE connectivity . That NAS is currently selling for about $500 online. 

Over the next month or so, I intend to activate the myQNAPcloud features. Currently, I drag around with me a large twin disk 8TB drive with backups for software products and of course eight years of associated FCP.co files! Thankfully most places where I work have good internet connectivity, so being able to access the files remotely will help a lot and of course reduce the risk of my current drive being lost, stolen or damaged. 

So overall, I liked this QNAP a lot and it is pretty obvious that the company is putting a lot of time and effort into developing the hardware and the software to service creative pros and the media industry.  

 

peter wigginsPeter Wiggins is a broadcast freelance editor based in the UK although his work takes him around the world. An early adopter of FCP setting up pioneering broadcasts workflows, his weapon of choice is now Final Cut Pro X.

You can follow him on Twitter as @peterwiggins or as he runs the majority of this site, you can contact him here.