QNAP TS-453A Review (Page 4 of 8)

Page 4 - Configuration and User Interface, Part I

Setting up is as simple as it can get. LCD screen equipped units like the TS-453A permits the user to quickly initialize their NAS -- all without additional software. If you know the LAN IP address of your system, it can be configured for the very first time via the web based wizard as well. The web interface is also optimized for phone displays. Once it is completed, your system is pretty much ready to go. QNAP also promises that all files and settings can be migrated from one system to the next seamlessly; all you need to do is plug the disks in the same order as your previous NAS, and everything else will be done and ready. From my experience, it is as easy as it sounds.

The LCD screen does a great job and showing system information and status; once it is on, it will show the server name and firmware version, as shown above. Subsequent displays show the LAN interface number and corresponding IP address. The last screen shows the model name (TS-453A). Holding the "Enter" button for two seconds reveals a menu for various configuration and maintenance tasks, as well as displays some vital information such as system temperature. The screen will turn off automatically if it is not being used.

Those who have owned previous QNAP devices flashed to the latest system software would immediately feel at home with the TS-453A. Using QTS version 4.2.1, this is the same as what is running on other QNAP boxes I have running here at APH Networks. The latest QNAP web configuration GUI takes the power of AJAX up another level; it combines with an extremely clean, smooth, and modern user interface in a virtual desktop environment in your web browser. With a powerful NAS device that offers as many features such as the QNAP TS-453A -- not to mention with tons of new stuff added in every update -- it is very important that a user friendly graphical user interface is implemented. And thanks to the excellent QTS 4.2.1 web interface, it not only excels in functionality, but also in speed and feel. QNAP's previous interface is already among the best I have seen for a network attached storage device, but the latest takes it up an entire new level. Generally speaking, it has all the features you want in a NAS box, yet it does not take some sort of post-secondary degree in science or engineering just to get it up and running.

After your system has been initialized, fire up your web browser of choice, and type in your server's name, or your TS-453A's LAN IP address once again. You will be immediately greeted by its main screen. The main screen is pretty graphics heavy for a little more eye candy. To start, hit the "Login" button on the left menu bar, and a dialog box will appear. Enter your username and password, and you will have two additional options: Remember Me and Secure Login. Everything else is placed on your desktop after logging in.

The sleek, clean browser based desktop interface is powered by AJAX menus for snappy performance and convenience. At the top is a toolbar that is kind of like a fusion of a traditional Windows taskbar and Facebook's notification menu. Hitting the button near the top left corner reveals a menu for quick access to your programs or settings; conceptually, it is kind of like a traditional Windows Start menu. On the left of that button is a Show Desktop button. Clicking it will show the desktop, just like the one at the bottom right corner of Windows' GUI. Additional items will appear on the taskbar once the user opens programs.

As you move towards the right, the Windows-like taskbar becomes more and more like a Facebook notification bar. The three icons immediately to the left of the user is Background Tasks, External Devices, and Notifications, respectively. Clicking on the magnifying glass all the way to the left will make a search bar appear. I find the Notifications menu particularly useful; especially when notifying the user of an error such as a disk failure. Clicking on the user will reveal a menu that shows information such as your last login time, a link to an options screen for stuff like changing your password, and options like logging out or restarting your NAS. To the right of the user is a miscellaneous menu for options like Language and Desktop Preferences, plus a link to the Dashboard. The Dashboard shows vital system information such as CPU load and HDD health, in which we will go over in just a moment.

The main part of the desktop is a matrix of large icons, which reminds me of Apple's iOS. You can drag the icons around, remove shortcuts, and add your own items here, just like a real desktop. Like iOS, you can have three pages of desktop icons. At the bottom, there are three links to QNAP's website for the user's convenience. Meanwhile, a clock resides at the bottom right corner, as you can see in our screenshot above. QNAP's QTS 4.2.1 desktop concept is very user friendly an intuitive in my opinion. My only gripe is some items that appear to be mere tabs, such as Storage Manager under Control Panel, will open up an entire new window, rather than change the screen as the interface suggests. A little more consistency here will definitely be appreciated.

The QTS Dashboard provides a quick view of system status and statistics. At the upper section, the left box gives a high overview of your network attached storage's system and health status. System temperature and fan speed is displayed on the box next to it. The right box shows statistics in a more concise manner with live AJAX graphs; Instantaneous CPU and RAM usage are displayed in a circular graph, while network adapter usage is plotted against time. A pie graph showing hard drive usage occupies the largest tile on the bottom. Different volumes can be selected by a drop down menu. More detailed information such as total disk usage and individual folder usage can be found to the left and right of the pie graph, respectively. On the left of it is a box that shows HDD health.

At the bottom half, online users are displayed here. A list with filter shows all the scheduled tasks. Finally, a feed containing latest QNAP news can be seen at the bottom right corner. Overall, I found the dashboard to be extremely useful; it provides vital system statistics all in one easy to access screen.

In the control panel, while I will not go over every menu, I will briefly go over most of them, since most of them are self-explanatory anyway. Expanding the first menu item is System Settings. General Settings allows the user to adjust server name and port, date and time syncing options, non-unicode file name encoding conversion, password strength rules, and login screen customization. The Network screen has Network and Virtual Switch, Service Binding, Proxy, and DDNS settings. The Network and Virtual Switch screen links to a separate subsection in a new window. Here you can do stuff like play with virtual switches for network traffic distribution, enable Jumbo Frames and Network Port Trunking (My favorite is set on Balance-rr mode with two Gigabit LAN adapters attached to my Gigabit switch). Service Binding allows the system administrator to selectively enable services based on the client connection interface. This is especially beneficial for security and network bandwidth optimization. Under the Security screen are three tabs: Security Level, Network Access Protection to prevent brute force password attacks for various services, and Certificate & Private Key from a trusted provider. The screenshot above has the Hardware screen shown; permitting the user to configure aspects like disk standby mode, adjust LED brightness, and change fan speed settings.

Under Power, options are provided to configure EUP mode, enable or disable Wake On LAN, power state after power failure, and on/off scheduling. The Notifications screen has three tabs: E-mail, SMS, and Push Service; used to set your QNAP TS-453A to alert the administrator via email and/or mobile text when an error and/or warning occurs. The Firmware Update tab allows the user to manually upload an image or check for an update, but if Live Update is enabled, your QNAP TS-453A will do so automatically; and will prompt you to install it upon logging in.

Hitting Storage Manager opens up an entirely new screen, as aforementioned. The screen shown above is the Overview screen. On the left, a menu allows you to switch between tabs to manage your hard drives, create storage pools, and manage RAID arrays. A Storage Pool is designed to amalgamate multiple hard drives into a large storage space, and provide enhanced RAID protection for the volume. Under the Disks tab displays the state of the drive (A big, green "Good" is all you need to see haha), along with information such as hard disk model, capacity, temperature, error recovery support, disk access history, and disk SMART information. In the Disk Health submenu five tabs for the user to easily work with their HDD SMART diagnostic data. The Hard Disk Information tab displays more detailed data, such as your drive's serial number and firmware version. The SMART Information tab provides a summary table on diagnostic results. The Test tab gives the user an option to run a Complete or Rapid test immediately; while the final tab, Settings, can activate or deactivate a temperature alarm, as well as automatic scheduling automatic SMART tests.

Under Storage Space, you will have options to play around with your RAID array -- such as expanding capacity, adding a hard drive, migrate, as well as configuring a spare drive. SSD caching is available to improve file performance on frequently accessed data. The iSCSI section has options for configuring iSCSI targets and LUN snapshots. Virtual disks can be configured on remote or external devices in their respective menus.

Page Index
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
8. Conclusion