QNAP TS-453 Pro Review


IMG_0607Before we begin, this is by no means a technical review of the QNAP TS-453 Pro and more a usability review based on my experiences with the device. If you are looking for technical reviews that undertake benchmarking and a thorough review of the virtualisation capabilities of the unit, I would recommend visiting Tom’s Hardware and Hexus which both get into juicy tech detail of this unit.  Instead, this is a short review based on my experience as a regular user of using the unit using the NAS for my


Earlier Backup Process

Prior to purchasing a NAS, my backup workflow ‘worked’ but I had low confidence in it all after some failures in the past. The process included two off-site backups and two on-sites, consisting of the following:

  • Primary processing and storage unit (desktop PC) (2TB)
  • Secondary backups occurring every 24 hours to an on-site Ubuntu machine (1TB)
  • Third backup held at work in a secure location backed up monthly using encryption (2TB)
  • Fourth backup held interstate in a secure location backed up sporadically using encryption (2TB)

This workflow worked for a few years until my photography storage requirements started to creep on the 1TB level, exceeding the space capacity of my secondary backup location, the Ubuntu mini-itx machine I had stored in a cupboard.

I won’t bore you with the details but I had two options: Replace the hard drive in the Ubuntu machine (cheap and easy) or alternatively, looking at purchasing a NAS.  Ultimately, I made the decision to purchase a NAS not just for its ability to act as photography storage solution but for other purposes like media streaming and downloading (more on this later).

 Deciding on a NAS

I’d loosely followed Synology, Drobo and QNAP over the years but hadn’t realised how far some had come in terms of combining strong processing power and memory with relatively low power usage. For me, purchases of a significant nature like a NAS come with much procrastination to ensure it will last a long time. This ultimately led me down the path of looking at the QNAP TS-453 Pro, Synology DS415+ and the Synology DS415Play.

Initially I was all set to purchase the Synology range after hearing great reviews from colleagues and online regarding the ‘application store’. I must admit, it’s very impressive and casted some doubt over the QNAP range.  While the device’s primary use was to act as storage for my photography, I also wanted to utilise it for Plex, a media streaming application that comes available for both the QNAP and Synology devices.  After reading Plex’s compatibility matrix with NAS devices, it quickly became apparent that the Synology devices would struggle on high definition content due to the Atom based processors. This quickly put the QNAP back into contention with it’s 2.0GHz Celeron processor and HDMI port against the Synology DS415+.


QNAP TS-453 Pro

My newest member to the family – QNAP TS-453 Pro

How the devices stacked up

Looking quickly at the specifications of the devices, the DS415 Play is clearly a step behind the QNAP and DS415+ when it comes to processing power and memory. In addition to the difference in processing power and memory, the DS415 Play’s hardware media transcoding ability is constrained to the native Synology multimedia application (see DS415 Play product page). This means the CPU transcoding will not be utilised if you are planning to use Plex or another 3rd party app for your media streaming then you’re best to look elsewhere.  With this in mind, my list was down to the DS415+ and the QNAP.

Based on the small difference in price, better processor of the Celeron over the Atom and HDMI slot, I decided to go against the grain of my colleagues who all own Synology’s and purchase the following:

My bank balance weeped and at the time I was tempted to purchase additional ram (bumping it up to 8GB). Instead I wanted to try the device first and actually see if my requirements justify the additional ram. I’m glad I waited as I rarely see the device go over 45%~ memory usage. I’d imagine using the machine for virtualisation would start to see it peak up higher but for my needs (and probably yours) the standard 2GB that comes with the base device is sufficient.

PictureNameProcessorMemoryHDMI PortDrive BaysPower ConsumptionHD Media TranscodingRatingPrice
Synology DS415+Synology DS415+Intel Atom Quad Core 2.4 GHz2 GB DDR3No432.64 W (Access)
14.78 W (HDD Hibernation)
Yes* with a limitation of high bitrate media above 720p4.4/5$599.00
Synology DS415 PlaySynology DS415 PlayIntel Atom Dual Core 1.6 GHz1 GB DDR3No427.33 W (Access)
16.84 W (HDD Hibernation)
Yes if using Synology's media streaming app4.3/5$499.00
QNAP TS-453 ProQNAP TS-453 ProIntel Celeron Quad Core 2.0 GHz2 GB DDR3Yes433.13 W (Access)
20.71 W (HDD Hibernation)
Yes*4.5/5$565.99

First Impressions of a QNAP NAS

qnap-interface

The management interface for the QNAP accessible via your web browser is painless and easy to use

One thing pulling me towards the Synology was its highly reviewed and polished interface which I wasn’t sure I’d get with a QNAP device. How wrong I was with setting up and configuring the QNAP a breeze. Installation of the hard drives, initialisation of the devices and installation of applications from the QNAP app store was super user friendly with plenty of instructions available. The time from unboxing the unit to having it staged with the hard drives initialised and some applications loaded took roughly 45 minutes. Not long at all. Most of that time was spent waiting for the RAID array to configure and new firmware updates to install.

With the device setup, ongoing management of the device occurs by connecting to the device via your web browser where from this screen you can install new applications, manage existing applications, change settings, run backups and much more. The screenshots to the right gives you an idea of how the interface looks from when you first login to the device. For the moment my QNAP interface is quite bare with only the essential applications I use installed on the device. The home screen interface allows you to quickly start applications, provides an overview of the current performance of the NAS (I’m yet to see it go over 50%). The machine is placed in a cabinet (with suitable ventilation) near my TV and it’s quiet as a mouse even when the TV is powered down.

The QNAP Control Panel interface is well designed and more importantly, works. If you don’t want to manage your device through a web browser, QNAP also provides a very limited desktop software which allows you to perform basic administrative tasks on your NAS. However your best bet will be to use the web interface which as stated is intuitive, functional and quick in its operation.

All in all, I’ve been really impressed by the QNAP in regards to its build quality, software operating system and supporting applications. Possibly with previous QNAP’s attempt to gain market share from Synology there was a clear difference but based on my experience, that difference is small with QNAP delivering a polished and easy to use device that caters for everyone.

Why you Should Consider a NAS?

Backups are easy with the option to easily replicate to the cloud

When it comes to backups, there are plenty of options available to you in how your data is backed up,the frequency of backups and what is done with the data when it is backed up.

For my photography backups, I use the QNAP Netbak software which comes free with the unit and allows you to run scheduled backups (waking up the device if powered down) or manual backups when required. In addition to this, I also use the NAS to backup my Macbook using Time Machine for non photography related data. This is easy to setup and works well.

Long term I will look to replicate my data to the cloud for additional peace of mind. Whether this be backed up to Amazon Glacier, Dropbox, Google Drive, Crash Plan or the next big thing, QNAP supports all major cloud providers which is reassuring. Personally speaking, I’m a big fan of backing up to the cloud (assuming you aren’t treating it as your main source of back ups of course) but attempting to transfer 900~gb over an ADSL connection would take forever. Perhaps once NBN (Australia’s much delayed fibre to the home) becomes available is when this will become part of my work flow. If the NBN ever comes…

The QNAP App Store

The QNAP App Store

Growing app store

Before purchasing a NAS, the one thing really pulling me towards purchasing a Synology NAS was its app store. I’d heard how great it was from colleagues and online reviews which slightly deterred me from looking at other companies like the QNAP. One weekend I decided to have a look at QNAP’s offerings and was pleasantly surprised how far they had come since the last time I had given them a look a year or two before. Clearly QNAP were trying to close the gap in the consumer/soho market and this was clearly evident with their polished application store. My only issue with the application store is that there are so many applications there that I will never touch.

  • Install and host a WordPress blog? No problem
  • Host your own private cloud? No problem
  • Run a virtual machine of a different operating system? No problem
  • Capture security camera footage and allow for you to view it where ever you are in the world? No problem

The list is endless and will keep anyone who likes to tinker busy for a while.

Media Streaming and Transcoding

Plex provides a beautiful user experience as it neatly sorts your library with relevant photos, text and subtitles for your media

Plex provides a beautiful user experience as it neatly sorts your library with relevant photos, text and subtitles for your media

One of the key drivers for me wanting a NAS was to use the media streaming and transcoding to feed my TV and portable units around the home. The QNAP comes well equipped with this capability with the popular media playback software Plex available. For anyone that ‘consumes’ media, Plex is a great application for organising your media by organising it and downloading all the relevant metadata and media for your tv shows or movies. This then gives you a great looking interface like the screenshot to the right.

For those not sold on Plex, the QNAP has various other offerings available including its inbuilt Kodi media application (formerly known as XBMC) which is also provides similar functionality.

Transcoding capabilities of the TS-453 Pro

Transcoding capabilities of the TS-453 Pro

Another plus about the QNAP is its transcoding capabilities where some other devices struggle. Maybe you’re laying in bed with your tablet and want to watch an episode or movie that you’ve downloaded? The QNAP will transcode the video in real time without lag to your device. It surprisingly works really well and I’ve had no issues.

Downloading

Installing Sickbeard on your NAS makes it a automated download beast!

Installing Sickbeard on your NAS makes it a automated download beast!

With all this talk of media streaming, it has to come from somewhere right? I won’t go too far into the detail here other than to suggest if you do decide to purchase a NAS in the near future, I’d recommend researching Sickbeard and Couch Potato. Both applications allow you to streamline and automate your TV and movie downloading. There’s a lot of detail out there on how to set this up so you shouldn’t have any issues trying to find more information 😉

Things to Consider when Purchasing a NAS

Backup

Just to be clear and slightly pedantic – While great for storage, purchasing a NAS and utilising RAID should not become your one and only location for your photography backups. In reality, hard drives fail, natural disasters like flooding (my unit was only flooded last year..!) or who knows, your house could be robbed.

Instead, purchasing a NAS should become part of a more broader backup plan to ensure you have multiple points of backups in the case of any failure/loss. In my case, the NAS replaced the ubuntu machine referred to earlier while I have retained my backup drives (I’m currently looking at adding another to the pool).

Redundancy

Depending on what RAID system you select, this will inevitably result in losing some disk space due to redundancy (PCMag have a great write up on RAID and how it works on their blog). In my case where I was intending on using RAID5 with 4 x 3 TB drives (12 TB), the end result after setting up RAID5 was 9TB available which creates a fault tolerance for one drive. For example, if one of my drives fail, I can replace it without any data loss. If two fail at the same time well, you will probably hearing me shrieking from Melbourne 😉

Limitations in Usability

If you have romantic visions already of hosting your RAW images on your NAS and editing them from your desktop then perhaps re-visit that idea. This can be possible via gigabit ethernet however attempting to do so over wifi is out of the picture. Generally this process is slow and I’d encourage you to use the NAS as an archive/mirror of images you directly edit on your computer.

Conclusion

My use of the QNAP TS-453 Pro has been nothing short of excellent with not a hiccup expeirenced in the 6 months of owning it. The device runs quietly and is constantly being updated with new firmware releases and the availability of new applications. It might sound corny but I sleep better at night knowing the QNAP is included in my backup workflow.

The one real gotcha with a NAS and I’m happy to call this out – they’re not cheap. But when you consider how much you have no doubt paid on your camera equipment and the value of photos you have taken (can you even put a dollar value on personal memories?) the financial blow of purchasing a NAS becomes easier to digest when the various features and benefits it can bring. I purchased one and as you can tell – love it. Do the same and you won’t regret it.

If you have any questions, be sure to leave a comment and I’d be happy to answer.

Thanks,

– Alex


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23 Responses to QNAP TS-453 Pro Review

  1. Roy May 21, 2015 at 5:40 pm #

    Nice review,

    I struggle with the exact same thing. I am lokking at the TS-453 PRO, 415+ en th TS-451. I think I will make the same pick as you did. I wil go for the 543 Pro !

    • Alex Wise May 22, 2015 at 9:31 am #

      Hi Roy,

      I’d go the TS-453 Pro if your wallet can stretch. Initially I was a little put off by QNAP’s smaller community (Reddit Synology has 2.8k members and the QNAP community has 130). Rest assured though, the QNAP forum is where everyone is and there’s a wealth of information on there.

      Thanks for stopping by,

      – Alex

  2. Per-A. Rusten June 18, 2015 at 2:58 am #

    Thanks (from Norway) for a thorough ‘test’ from a consumer perspective. I’ve been doing the exact same process for myself for a (long) time now. And I also ended up with the exact same 3 NAS alternatives! So now I’m gonna go for the 453 pro!

    • Alex Wise June 18, 2015 at 7:45 am #

      Thanks for stopping by 🙂 Enjoy!

  3. mrtsb June 20, 2015 at 9:45 pm #

    Alex, I use a synology 713+ and thinking of teh 453Pro – Three questions 1.Can you back up to MS Onedrive? 2. Using the Audio app can you output using Airplay to multiple locations? 3 . Have you ever used Notes, I am interested to know if the desktop or the mobile app can record sound directly into the app?
    Thanks , BTW great review , just what real end users want to read

    • Alex Wise July 2, 2015 at 7:26 am #

      Thanks for the warm words mate.

      Question one – last time I checked QNAP integration with MS One Drive was still on the apps wanted list but this could have changed since.
      Question 2 – Not sure whether the native audio app would let you do this but other third party apps would be up for the job.
      Question 3 – Yet to experiment with Notes sorry.

      Thanks,

      – Alex

  4. Dru July 4, 2015 at 1:05 pm #

    Does the QNAP limit you when you need to replace drives? Ie can you take advantage of mixed drives like with Drobo’s “beyond raid” or synology’s hybrid raid?

    • Alex Wise July 10, 2015 at 12:34 pm #

      Hey Dru,

      Funny you mention Synology’s hybrid raid as this was something that had me undecided between the two. Unfortunately, QNAP does not provide the equivalent of SHR and leans more towards traditional RAID. From doing some reading pre-purchase it seemed that it could be something on the way from QNAP to compete with Synology but there’s nothing out there as of yet.

  5. awraynor September 3, 2015 at 7:46 am #

    I was looking at the same 3 NAS devices. My friends at homeservershow.com recently did a podcast about the TS-451 and with your help I have settled on the 453-Pro. Plex is very important to me too.

    • Alex Wise September 15, 2015 at 9:23 pm #

      Hi mate, glad to be of assistance! Hope you enjoy your purchase. I love mine and haven’t looked back.

  6. daviddalley September 28, 2015 at 12:03 pm #

    By chance do you use Lightroom/photoshop for your photos? If so what is your workflow of file usage between your max, naps and etc. by the way great article. Qnap owes you a commission now that you helped close the deal with me go going with the pro.

    • Alex Wise October 3, 2015 at 9:10 am #

      Hey David,

      Ha! Thanks for the kind words.

      I definitely use Lightroom and Photoshop for my photos. One thing I’m yet to pull the trigger on is hosting my active Lightroom catalogue on my NAS. There are some limitations with Lightroom where it won’t allow you to use a network hosted catalogue but there are ways of getting around this. There’s some good discussion about this on Reddit. It seems that it’s do-able through smart previews but there are some speed limitations vs directly accessing via your SSD. For the moment, I’ll continue to host the active catalogue on my desktop with scheduled backups occurring periodically to the NAS. Over time though, I’d like to change this and have the catalogue primarily stored on the NAS (rather than a desktop) so both my desktop and notebook can access the catalogue and make changes.

      Enjoy your purchase 🙂

  7. Ronnie October 17, 2015 at 8:07 am #

    Can I ask what hard disks you use. I have the Hitachi Deskstar 6 TB and it is quite noisy to be near the study. Let know.

    • Alex Wise October 21, 2015 at 7:05 am #

      Hi Ronnie,

      I’m using 4 x 3TB Western Digital RED drives. I find when the NAS is completing a job it can spin up and be a bit noisey. Not to the point where it’s frustratingly loud but noticeable if you’re trying to sleep in the same room as the unit (hence my other half asking for it to be moved to the study 😉

  8. Marco October 19, 2015 at 3:00 pm #

    This article is extremely timely as I will be purchasing one this week and until today was heavily leaning towards DS415+. One question, you mention that you’re a big-time Plex user. What devices do you have around the home where you use Plex? My struggle is that my family relies on a wired ethernet connection to 3 different Apple TV’s to stream movies we have in our iTunes library.

    I would like to get away from relying on Apple iTunes and store my entire movie collection on the NAS and then send that via ethernet to each of my media streaming devices. I’m willing to replace the Apple TV units with Roku’s if that would provide me the ability to do so. Any suggestions in this regard?

    • Alex Wise October 21, 2015 at 7:10 am #

      Hi Marco,

      I’m currently using a Samsung SmartTV which has a plex app installed. It works well. Failing that though, I was actually going to consider the use of Rasplex which uses Raspberry Pi. An old colleague used it and noted that it handled itself well with higher quality streaming.

      Cheers,

      – Alex

  9. Matthers November 5, 2015 at 10:51 pm #

    Thank you. This was exactly what i was looking for After speaking to a friend and the reseller he got it from (who i knew) on Monday I jumped the gun and bought a 415play as i my existing Highpoint RAID card was failing every day and support for them is a joke. The multimedia transcoding on the 415play swayed me towards it than the 415+ but really I wanted the best of both of them which they don’t offer. I also need to keep 2 VMs up and running and as the 415’s can’t run it’s own VMs i’d need to keep them both on and use iSCSI. In frustration I quickly found the solution – the QNAP 453 pro. I managed to take the other one back as i was still within 7 days and got one today which was just $60 AUD and WELL worth it. As i was going to be running 2 VMs on it I thought I’d upgrade the 2GB to 8GB. It’s way cheaper to buy the 2x4GB ($80 AUD) and fit them yourself than pay for the 8GB model. The features and interface to the QNAP are way superior to the Synology’s and it has far far better hardware. It even transcodes to 5 different devices as opposed to the 415play which just does one, and also has its own surveillance hub like the 415. There really is no question which one anyone should go for IMHO, regardless of their uses. 4 NICs though! This is built to last.
    Cheers
    Matthers

    • Alex Wise November 7, 2015 at 10:00 am #

      Hi Matthers,

      Thanks for stopping by and interesting to hear someone’s thoughts who have owned both products. Long term I’m also keen to up the memory on mine. If you don’t mind me asking, what VM’s are you running on yours and for what purpose?

      Cheers,

      – Alex

    • Matthers November 7, 2015 at 10:51 pm #

      Hey Alex. I’ll be looking at decommissioning my WHS2011 VM and moving completely to using shares straight from the NAS. Sadly with WHS2011 there’s no way to redirect the location of all your media to external locations so they all need to live with the server itself so it’ll be nice to not have a virtual layer to get to this anymore. This currently runs the MyMovies server component along with all the stuff which comes with WHS2011. Looks like with some work I should be able to get most of this working on the QNAP. I will be running my other VM though. This runs the Plex server (though won’t be anymore) and also runs Metabrowser which scrapes for TV show data and auto renames all the files. It also does downloads and other stuff.
      With the QNAP having an HDMI output running Kodi means you can be portable with your entire media collection. A great portable solution! Maybe 8GB will be overkill for what’s looking like 1 VM… Looking forward to setting it up though. It’s nearly finished backing up all the data now so should be able to move over the disks soon and prepare for some down time.

  10. AJ March 15, 2016 at 1:37 pm #

    Hi Alex, thanks for great review. I am in market for NAS to be used in my home. I have heap and heaps of photos and backup is manual at this stage. I would like to bring them onto one device, connect it to TV with HDMI and NAS seems to be a great idea. I read a lot about their auto back up, please tell me if there are apps out there made by QNAP which regularly backs up photos from smart devices (like iphone, ipads etc) to NAS?

    • Alex Wise April 3, 2016 at 11:39 am #

      Hi Aj,

      Apologies in the delay in responding. You’re definitely onto the right track with the QNAP if you’re looking to connect it to your TV via HDMI. In regards to backing up photos form smart devices, QNAP support multiple cloud providers so I personally use Google Drive and have my Google Drive sync to the NAS. To avoid costs, you could use QNAP’s cloud app which I haven’t used but from reading about it – it sounds like it would fit the bill for you.

      Hope that helps and enjoy your purchase 🙂

  11. Karthik April 22, 2016 at 7:48 pm #

    Hi, we must have done our fact finding in parallel as I bought the QNAP 453 Pro around the same time.

    I use it as a storage for my photos (which has an onsite and offsite backup as well and I am now looking at a cloud backup), movies and music collections. It has been 6 months and I am curious to see what else I can do with this device.

    One idea I am keen to explore is hosting my photo galleries instead of on smugmug right now. Have you tried hosting your photos and if yes, how?

    • Alex Wise April 23, 2016 at 9:45 am #

      Hi Karthik,

      I haven’t got around to doing any hosting of my own photos more so because my upload speed isn’t great (bring on the NBN!). But if I did have the capacity, would be keen to explore.

      I’m mostly still using mine for automated downloading, backups and replicating my Google Drive. Like you, I’m keen to understand how I can push it further with other apps.