Page 2 - A Closer Look - Hardware (External)
The ASUSTOR AS7004T external design carries a strong family resemblance with the ASUSTOR AS-202TE I have reviewed just over a year ago, except the AS7004T has four drive bays, and comes with an LCD screen on top. From the angle of our photo above, it is not too different than the QNAP TS-470, which has an industrial/datacenter overtone to it. Interestingly, the ASUSTOR features no infrared sensor for a remote control; this task has been relegated to a smartphone application instead. As I have said in some of my past network attached storage reviews, if companies like ASUSTOR (And QNAP is no exception) wants to be taken seriously as they move their NAS into your living room as a media center system, I think its industrial/datacenter appearance will need a makeover. Do not get me wrong; it looks great next to a row of servers, but I find it too businessy underneath a TV. I am sure there is a way to find a balance between both parameters.
The quad-bay ASUSTOR AS7004T measures in at 17.0cm wide, 23.0cm deep, and 18.6cm tall according to specifications, which is very close to the QNAP TS-470. Like the majority of prosumer or business class network attached storage systems, the AS7004T features an internal power supply rather than a power brick, which we will cover in detail in just a moment. ASUSTOR, like QNAP, has their NAS design more focused on an industrial/datacenter appearance as aforementioned, and fundamentally, they are very similar. The AS7004T features four prominent and easily accessible vertically mounted disk trays, which can be unlatched when the button is pushed. Once unlatched, you can slide out the drive tray. The drive bays are "lockable" by a small turn of a screw by a flat head screwdriver, which is useful to prevent unintentional disk removal. The ventilated disk trays provide excellent airflow over the hard drives driven by the rear mounted cooling fan inside the system. ASUSTOR's embossed logo is finished in brushed silver-colored metal, and placed near the top left corner; whereas a black, textured hard plastic surface occupies the rest of the front face.
Under the ASUSTOR logo is a power button with an LED strip in the middle that sits flush with the device. Although the power button sits flush with the device, and requires it to be held down 1.5 seconds successively before the system is shut down, the LCD will not prompt you before the shutdown sequence is initiated -- a curious omission in my opinion. Anyway, it glows blue when the NAS is turned on, and flashes when it is waking up from sleep. The LED will turn orange when it is sleeping, and will flash every ten seconds in night mode. Another LED strip resides below the power button. This time, it is a system indicator LED. When booting, the LED will flash green; it will glow steady when your NAS is ready. Moving below, there is room for two network LEDs; one for each adapter. The network LED is blue. Lastly, another button that sits flushed with the device is placed at the bottom left corner. This is to be used with the USB 3.0 port placed neatly inside for quick backup processes. Having the USB port in the middle of the button looks pretty cool, but you will sacrifice some usability. Lastly, an array of LEDs can be seen at the top of each hard drive tray to indicate disk status. It will glow steady green when disks are idling, and flash when data is being accessed. A red LED will activate if there are any hard drive errors.
The ASUSTOR AS7004T's LCD display is navigated by four rather large buttons adjacent to it. They are not labeled by text, but just by looking at the symbols, one can easily tell they are Up/Down, Enter, and Select. I found the layout so intuitive, if I were to take the derivative of the learning curve, the result would be zero. When on, its LCD screen features a white backlight; and displays large, clear text in white to contrast with its black background. I actually like this a lot more than QNAP's blue background, as this design is classier and more contemporary. The LCD display allows the user to monitor quick information as well as easily perform some configuration and maintenance tasks. The easy to access drive bays in conjunction with convenience added by the simple LCD screen really added to the overall usage experience of these excellent network appliances on my network. By retaining its excellent design, there is absolutely no learning curve for users who are familiar with using ASUSTOR NAS systems -- or any NAS device, for that matter -- it is all plug and play.
While the ASUSTOR AS7004T is constructed on a steel frame, its shell that covers three sides of the system is composed of SECC in gunmetal gray. It looks pretty good in my opinion, but it is nothing we have not seen before -- QNAP implements almost the exact same design in their products. For most business users, the NAS will be placed in a room where no one will bother spending time admiring your equipment. But for others, this may end up being in their living room, so appearance is important, although I still do not think the AS7004T will blend in too well with your home theater receiver and Blu-ray player. Do not get me wrong. It is not necessarily unfitting, but you can definitely do better.
What we have at the back of the system are enough ports to more or less resemble a real computer, rather than a simple network storage device as NAS devices are back in the days. The reason is because the AS7004T can serve as a media center computer -- the HDMI port at the bottom right corner should tell you quite a bit. Not only this though. It supports 4K ultra high definition video playback, thanks to the relatively beefy Core i3-4330 CPU. Furthermore, although you can get digital audio is via HDMI passthrough, ASUSTOR even included an S/PDIF optical out. I have been pushing for this for years, and finally, we got it! The rest of the connection array is quite standard; where you are provided with ports for two eSATA devices, plus two USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports for storage or up to three USB printers. Two integrated Gigabit LAN ports reside next to the USB ports. You can configure them for maximum performance, network redundancy, load balancing, and even multiple independent networks.
A large single 120mm exhaust fan pulls heat out of your NAS server, with its exhaust vents cut into the steel panel. A proper fan grille would be better for airflow in my opinion. A small opening at the top provides ventilation for its internal power supply's 40mm fan. A vertically oriented power input male connector is logically placed at the top left corner. Since the power supply unit automatically selects input voltage, there is no need for the old fashioned voltage selector switch. The shell is attached by three screws. You will not void your warranty if you simply need to open the unit to clean out some dust off its fan, or plug in some extra RAM. What the warranty seal covers is a screw that attaches the metal backplate to the chassis frame. You will void the warranty only if you want to take the motherboard out, but there are no user serviceable parts on it. Therefore, I think the warranty seal is placed in a reasonable location. We will dig into the AS7004T's interior in more detail on the next page.
There is nothing particularly exciting at the bottom of the ASUSTOR AS7004T's chassis; what you will see here are four large legs affixed on top of its steel frame panel. As always, they are installed to reduce vibration noise, increase grip, and prevent surface scratching. The left side of the network attached storage system features a neat array of small openings on its metal shell. It is placed right next to where the motherboard is inside, to make sure hot air does not get congested within.
Removing its vertically mounted 3.5" SATA disk trays reveals the connector backpanel. The SATA 6Gb/s backplane ports are powered by a controller native to the Intel C226 platform controller hub. Since this is a SATA system, all hard drives are hot swappable. Removing the hard drive tray is very simple -- just pull on a lever at the top, and it is out. Removing the hard drive tray is very simple -- just push a button on the tray, pull on the lever, and it is out. The disk trays are not labeled. Functionally, the installation order does not matter in a RAID system, but I think being able to discern which disk is which by a physical label can be very useful. Obviously, you can grab a permanent marker and mark them by hand, but labeling them "Disk 1" to "Disk 4" from the factory is probably not too hard. Each tray can accommodate a 2.5" or 3.5" drive, along with a maximum amount of ventilation openings at the bottom for improved heat dissipation. The latest trays are inner lined with a black plastic layer to prevent short circuiting. The ASUSTOR AS7004T supports single disk, RAID 0 (Disk Striping), RAID 1 (Disk Mirroring), RAID 5, RAID 5 plus spare, RAID 6, RAID 10, and JBOD (Linear Disk Volume). If you want to encrypt your data, you have the option to enable its AES 256-bit volume-based encryption.
1. Introduction, Packaging, Specifications
2. A Closer Look - Hardware (External)
3. A Closer Look - Hardware (Internal)
4. Configuration and User Interface, Part I
5. Configuration and User Interface, Part II
6. Configuration and User Interface, Part III
7. Performance and Power Consumption