QNAP vs. Synology vs. Asustor
Meet the possible predecessors of the future home computer. None are ready for that title yet, but, as technology evolves, the future will regard this design as a direct ancestor. These are more than network disk drives. They’re application servers that support massive disk capacities. They run 24/7 and require an almost insignificant amount of electricity. Linux transparently controls the show. In terms of difficulty, they require only a little more effort to master than the advanced functions on a microwave oven, although some of the applications might force you to Google something new in order to learn how to use them. Your browser is your terminal.
Technologically, these devices will take over when:
- High rate megabit broadband speeds are universal
- i5 / i7 or better class processors with ARM or less power requirements are commonly available
- High capacity SSD drives in the terabyte range are inexpensive
But now, today, these are still mighty useful devices.
Three manufacturers dominate the smart network drive market. There’s no way to say one is better than the others. It’s a competitive market and, if one has cornered a niche, the others will move in shortly, or so it appears. I happened to purchase a QNAP TS-120 because I wanted certain features in a one drive configuration. Had I waited a few months, another manufacturer might have offered a better model, or not.
At this time, Synology is the most well known if you only look at mass marketers for information. QNAP is regarded just as highly but is a little less well known. Asustor is the newest kid on the block.
Each has a demo site that gives you hands on experience with their operating system.
Start QNAP’s demonstration from this page.
Sign in here.
This is the main QNAP screen.
The Control Panel is used for drive operations.
Additional applications are selected below. This is only a small number of what’s available.
This page will get you into the Synology demonstration.
The first thing you see.
The Control Panel
A few additional applications.
Access the Asustor Demonstration from this page.
Sign in here.
The main screen.
Some additional applications.
Update: April, 2017: All of the Above vs. An Off-Lease Used Laptop
I wrote this page in late 2013. Most of the above is still current information although the apps and screens may have changed a bit. One option available today that was not available in 2013 is purchasing a used off lease laptop with a 3rd generation (or better) Intel processor and using that as a file server – media server – application server – and more. There are large numbers of used laptops available in excellent condition from Dell, HP and others. They include i5 and i7 processors. eBay and Amazon are both excellent sources. If you shop well, one can be found in excellent condition for $150 to under $300 if you cherry pick. In some cases, you would want to upgrade the RAM to 8GB or 16GB and possibly install a new SSD, raising the cost by perhaps another $150. An upgrade AC class wi-fi card could add another $25. If you put the originally installed hard drive in a quality USB 3.0 portable case, you have additional storage and didn’t waste the hard drive if you upgraded. Some used laptops have specs that include these recommended upgrades and still cost less than $300. When new, many of these laptops would have cost well over $1000. They’re solid and compare favorably to those being manufactured today. Make sure your selection has a gigabit LAN port. Many laptops sold today do not. USB 3.0 was common by the time these laptops were new.
I’m using a HP2170P laptop with an i5-3427U processor (passmark of about 3400), 8GB RAM and a 180GB SSD, as a network / PLEX / Playon / media server that runs 24/7. The processor consumes 17 TDW. A USB drive is attached for extra capacity. The used laptop cost $149 from eBay. When new, it cost over $1,000. I added an AC wireless card, although it has wired access to the network. It will someday become a file server the day my QNAP TS-120 goes off to its reward. Microsoft Remote Desktop provides convenient access over the network. Occasionally, it serves as a laptop with an external 60 inch 4K monitor since an HDMI cable (with a display port adapter) runs from the laptop to the TV. A USB mouse / keyboard and an easy chair across the room add to the comfort. Not bad for relative pocket change. Windows 10 pro is full service for this purpose and anything I decide to do later.
I also paid $250 for a used Dell E6230 laptop, A-Stock, from Dell’s off-lease outlet about a year ago. One would cost less today. It has an Intel i5-3380M processor (passmark of about 4400). Original list was well over $1,000. Upgrades added a bit more cost. It would also make a capable network server, although the fan is a little noisy and the processor consumes 35 TDW. The small size makes it a great travel laptop.
Wikipedia provides a nice list of processors that have low power requirements. Cross referencing an older processor with eBay can point to excellent laptops that cost very little. Some are installed in very small desktop models that are useful for a lot of purposes. The latter are generally more costly.
Options like these were not available in 2013.
Update: December, 2018: All of the Above vs. a Good Off Lease PC of Any Type
Powerful off lease personal computers are available in abundance for very little money. Someone who needs a multi disk array with RAID would find this notion interesting, but not applicable. High end users of file processing will always be a market for high end NAS devices.
Many people who only need home media, file, and remote desktop servers would disagree. Home users, like me, see opportunity and cost savings by purchasing a generations old off lease PC for use as a home server.
My current home server is a Dell 3020M with 8GB, I5-4590T, passmark about 5600, with a 1TB SSD and another 1 TB USB 3.0 drive hanging off it for additional storage. It consumes very little power. I bought it recently as off lease A Stock, from Dell for $200 without the SSD, which I installed later. Windows 10 installed on it without event; the previous owner must have had Win 10 Pro installed before returning it to Dell. It’s a 24/7 workhorse. I added a stand for $8.95 from eBay so it does not lay flat, lowering the CPU temperature by about 10C due to better ventilation.
It sits in my basement next to my pfSense router, cat6 wiring surface mount boxes, and main home switch. A $10 thrift shop VGA monitor provided visuals while a VGA switch box allows me to switch between the router and the server as needed. Remote Desktop is my usual access tool but sometimes you need to use a monitor. It provides file and media serving, although common DLNA and Playon are all I need for media. PLEX is being depreciated because of the their discontinuation of plugins. Their ROKU app no longer supports PLEX plugins. I will remove PLEX entirely when the minor app platforms stop supporting them. Playon provides an adequate plugin substitute. Superior home networking for a pittance.
The HP 2170P laptop mentioned above had some memory scavenged from it for anther purpose and it now sits in a closet as a spare (original cost $149). My QNAP TS-120 is stored next to it … too good to dispose of, no current use otherwise. The Dell E6230 is being used to write this.