If you’re an audio or video professional, IT consultant, or have prosumer level storage and security needs, QNAP’s TS-239 Pro Turbo NAS might be on your wish list this holiday season. While the average consumer won’t appreciate the high-end features that can be unwrapped in this network-attached storage (NAS) device, tech enthusiasts will see a list of the things they seek in a NAS device. iSCSI? Check. Hot swappable bay drives? Yep. iTunes server? Of course. Volume management software that allows you to configure your device into RAID 0 and RAID 1 arrays? Yes. And there’s more.
NAS devices are what you make of them. The average consumer who needs a centralized storage device or a RAID solution will find the QNAP TS-239 to be a bit of overkill for their needs.
First, the good news: The TS-239 is a hot-swappable two bay drive with a 1.6GHz processor and 1GB of DDR2 memory. The TS-239 runs relatively quietly despite the fan, but you’ll definitely notice it chug through some of its more difficult tasks. It’s plenty secure too, offering AES 256-bit volume-based encryption and plenty of administrative privileges to ensure only the people you want to view data can get access to it. IT professionals or people in charge of large amounts of data in the workspace will appreciate it. It’s easy to create new users and set up privileges and passwords for the various accounts. For example, if you want John from accounting to have access to certain documents but not others, that’s as easy as creating a folder and clicking who is authorized.
Many QNAP devices have the one-touch copying button on the exterior of the drive and the TS-239 is no exception. The beauty of one-touch copying is that it will let you quickly copy the contents of a USB drive connected to the port on the front of the unit. I tinkered around with several USB drives that I connected to the front port and found that the copying can take several seconds or several minutes, depending on the size of the contents to be copied.
When setting up the drive, we detected the unit and its folders through Finder without difficulty and were able to drag and drop folders with ease. The File Manager system, like Synology’s Disk Station DS409slim ( ), can’t upload folders but only files, so you’ll want to use the Finder windows for loading files onto the unit. It’s not the most streamlined approach, of course, and the File Manager interface is ridiculously outdated, but it’ll still do the job.
When you first start the drive’s browser interface, you’ll see six icons that can be scrolled through. As previously discussed, the Web File Manager is pretty useless, but the Administration, Web Server, Customer Service, QNAP Wiki, and QNAP forum icons are useful portals. The QNAP Forum, Customer Service, and QNAP Wiki icons link to ways to access information about the product–helpful considering the complicated setup processes involved with some of the higher end abilities of the drive.
The administration icon links to the main hub for configuring the unit. On the left panel, you’ll see many folders capped by an overview icon and on the right you’ll see a window with the details for their specific feature.
The Disk Management folder enables the user to configure iSCSI targets, RAID alignment, and Volumes management for the drive. The volume management will reveal the capacity of your drives, their status, their SMART information (good, bad, etc.) and even allow you to scan to see if you have any bad blocks of data. The drive will warn you with a “this will take a long time” notification if you attempt this latter process. You can format your drives, create a single disk volume, RAID 1 mirroring disk volume, RAID 0 striping disk volume, or linear disk volume.
These features can only be initiated when you first manually insert a new drive or replace a drive as we kept receiving an error when we tried to format the volumes after they’ve already been inserted. The drive that we were shipped included two populated drives set at a RAID striped configuration and to alter it we had to pull one of the hot-swappable 3.5 inch drives out.
Remote access is initialized through the Network application and the DDNS tab. You’ll have to go dyndns.com to enable the Dynamic DNS Service and allow for port forwarding. It’s a multi-step process that isn’t as approachable as some of the home media servers we’ve reviewed, but then again, this drive is catered to a more high-end audience. Similarly, there is remote replicate and remote RAID expansion features available to give you even more power to manipulate and access your data when you’re away from your machine.
A recent firmware update allows for Mac users to use the TS-239 as a backup disk through Time Machine. The attention to Mac users is appreciated because the interface of the drive will remind some users of older Windows operating systems in its layout and aesthetics.
The iTunes server must be enabled first and then you’re free to drag and drop media into the Qmultimedia folder. MP3s will show up in your iTunes folder, and you can then create smart playlists that will show up under the “shared” subhead of your iTunes window. The smart playlist creation interface is a bit wonky and seems like a redundant feature for iTunes users but it’s rare to have a high-end NAS company take such an active interest in details of playing media so the effort (if not the execution) is applauded.
I discussed earlier about the TS-239 not being as approachable as home media servers we’ve reviewed and that’s because it’s not targeted for that audience. But then again, it makes Synology’s DS409Slim seem welcoming and approachable in comparison.
Those who want to use the device as a home media server to stream their media files on DLNA players may want to consider other options. There are far more approachable models out there is and the TS-239’s UPnP Media Server page is frustratingly cryptic. The Twonky Media page you are greeted with, while only intended to manipulate the settings of the media server, resembles a bad Web 1.0 page with its lime green color and unintuitive icons. While you can apparently stream to UPnP devices like the Xbox 360 and the PS3, the interface is so far behind competing drives that the media server abilities seem like an afterthought, something tacked on. QNAP claims that the media server will auto transcode FLAC and MP3 files, meaning you could presumably stream your music library and video files to your television via a DLNA player if you wanted.
Macworld’s buying advice
If you’re a business owner hoping for a do-it-all NAS or a consumer looking for a home media server, there are better drives out there to fit your need. The TS-239 Pro Turbo NAS is ideally suited for IT professionals who will be able to take advantage of the considerable high-end features of the unit: online RAID capacity expansion, built in iSCSI target service, and remote replication. This isn’t a drive you can just plug in out of the box and expect to immediately comprehend and master. Those who put in the time will enjoy QNAP’s dedication to the business and professional costumer, but the quirky setup processes of the drive will prevent a larger audience from enjoying the drive.
[Chris Holt is a Macworld assistant editor.]