NAS x86 processor enables virtualization

Article By : Brian Dipert

This engineer takes you through the process of replacing your NAS.

In my previous posts in this series, I’ve discussed how my prior high-end NAS failed, and how I revived it in order to get the data off it, and what I replaced its equally-obsolete smaller sibling with.

It’s time to wrap up the writeup sequence with details on the “big brother” successor. I could have gone with a “vanilla” NAS; the QNAP TS-431K, the four-drive version of the TS-231K I mentioned last time, is on sale at Newegg for $219 as I write these words, for example. But I decided to spring for an upgrade, with both current and potential future enhanced needs in mind. My choice was QNAP’s TS-453Be, on sale at the time (and again more recently) for $379, $50 off the normal price:

photo of the front of the QNAP TS-453Be NAS

photo of the QNAP TS-453Be NAS drives

photo of the back of the QNAP TS-453Be NAS

The TS-453Be has dimensions of 6.61”(H)×6.69”(W)×8.9”(D) and a weight of 5.22 pounds, not including the HDDs. Here’s a high-level feature list to whet your appetite:

  • 4×3.5″/2.5″ SATA III drive bays
  • 1.5 GHz Intel Celeron J3455 quad-core
  • 2 GB of DDR3L RAM
  • 2 × Gigabit Ethernet ports
  • 5 × USB 3.0 Type-A ports
  • 1 × PCIe 2.0 x2 slot
  • RAID 0, 1, 5, 6, 10, JBOD, and single
  • Up to 225 MB/s read & write speeds

Before continuing, what’s behind the price cut? As I suspected at the time I bought it, the TS-453Be appears to now be discontinued, judging from its absence from QNAP’s product line overview page along with “EOL” mentions on some product pages (although the TS-453Be is strangely still listed as fully supported on the product status page). Comparing the current version of the product line overview page with prior snapshots (thanks to the Internet Archive’s “Wayback Machine”) reveals that the TS-453Be had previously been slotted in the “SMB – Middle-range” section (along with its cousin, the TS-453D, which remains in the line). I’m not exactly sure why the TS-453Be seems to be getting phased out; if I had to guess, it would have something to do with the solitary “Type-A” USB 3.0 port on the front of the unit.

As I’ll further discuss later, a high performance NAS can do effective double-duty as a DAS (direct-attached storage) device to a close-proximity computer if its interface allotment is up to the task. USB 3.0 supports transfer rates up to 5 Gbps; as I’ve recently noted, however, the higher-end USB 3 flavors associated with the newer USB-C physical connector format run up to 20 Gbps, while coming-soon USB4 (not to mention here-now Thunderbolt 3 and 4) tout transfer rates up to 40 Gbps. Newer computers supplement, if not completely supplant, legacy “Type-A” USB 3.0 ports with USB-C and Thunderbolt 3/4 successors, leaving the TS-453Be looking increasingly “long in the tooth,” both in general and in comparison to another of its cousins (also still in the product line), the Thunderbolt 3-augmented TS-453BT3.

Returning to the TS-453Be feature list, let’s focus first on that x86 processor, in contrast to the Arm-based SoCs in more mainstream NAS devices. It enables, among other things, CPU instruction-set compatible virtualization of other operating systems, running in parallel with (and on top of) the Linux-based QNAP QTS O/S. Here, for example, are some real-life shots of the trial version of Windows 10 Enterprise in action on mine:

screenshot of the Windows 10 Enterprise download

screenshot of the Windows 10 Enterprise menu

screenshot of the Windows 10 Enterprise login

The processor, an Intel Celeron J3455, is based on the “Goldmont” Atom microarchitecture. The base clock frequency is 1.5 GHz, with bursts up to 2.3 GHz, and it’s a quad physical core design (perhaps obviously, given its Atom foundation, absent support for additional Hyper-threading virtual cores). It’s no “screamer,” but it’ll suffice for this purpose, particularly given that power consumption (translation: heat dissipation) and cost are also key parameters in this application. It’s even no “slouch” at running virtualized Windows 10.

Next up is that 2 GBytes of DDR3L SDRAM (as populated from the factory).

photo of a DDR3L SDRAM

screenshot of the memory pre-upgrade system status

Supported speed bins run fast as DDR3-1866 (i.e., PC3-14900), and the dual SoDIMM slots in the TS-453Be handle up to 8 GBytes of total system memory (some users report being able to run up to 16 GBytes total, but success is seemingly hit-and-miss, as is longevity, and since I don’t want to deal with stored data corruption I “passed” on this experiment). I’d originally planned on buying two brand new 4 GByte modules, but then I remembered the ones I’d pulled out of one of my “Hackintoshes” when I upgraded it to 16 GBytes; they were one speed bin slower (DDR3-1600, i.e., PC3-12800), but they were already paid for. They work like a charm (and are particularly useful for memory-hungry applications such as virtual machines):

photo of two 4 GByte SoDIMMs

photo of the SoDIMMs installed

screenshot of the memory upgrade system status

Last but not least, let’s focus our attention on that PCIe 2.0 x2 slot. Keep in mind that the base Ethernet technology supported by the TS-453Be is 1 GbE, in both standard and jumbo frame varieties (therefore in part explaining the two backside LAN connectors). While you could drop a SSD in one or multiple of the four available SATA drive bays (QNAP even includes a 2.5” to 3.5” drive adapter with the NAS), and while QNAP’s QTS O/S and supplemental applications support both caching and tiered storage using a mix of HDDs and SSDs, the resultant performance increase seen by any other device on the LAN would likely be minimal at best. And of course, you’d be diminishing the overall storage capacity of the NAS by using smaller SSDs instead of larger HDDs, not to mention increasing overall storage cost (along similar lines, I always drop refurbished Hitachi Global Storage Technologies enterprise HDDs in my NAS instead of more costly, brand-new and supposedly NAS-optimized HDDs from companies like Seagate and WD, particularly considering that I’m RAID-protected against single-drive failures).

What, though, if you were accessing the NAS over a faster 2.5 Gbps or 10 Gbps Ethernet link? Or if you were using the storage device not only as a NAS but (as previously mentioned) a DAS? In both cases, SSD-augmented storage makes much more sense from a performance standpoint, especially if you don’t need to dedicate a drive bay to it. Enter the PCIe 2.0 x2 slot. QNAP sells a series of add-in cards for various purposes:

  • M.2 SSDs (either SATA or NVMe), along with optional integrated 10 GbE capabilities, and
  • dual-band 802.11ac support, to supplement wired Ethernet connectivity (the QWA-AC2600, shown below)

photo of the QNAP QWA AC2600 wireless adapter

Despite the fact that my LAN is “only” 1 GbE and my TS-453Be isn’t (currently at least) being used as a DAS, I’ve gone ahead and picked up the QM2-2P-244A, which does not include 10 GbE support but does support up to two M.2 NVMe SSDs:

photo of the QNAP QW2-2P-244A expansion card with a fan

photo of the QNAP QW2-2P-244A expansion card

I do not, however, necessarily plan to use it with the TS-453Be, at least at first. What I do plan to plug it into, and why, is a subject that I’ll save for another post on another day, since I’m nearing 1,200 words on this one. For now, I welcome your thoughts on the TS-453Be in the comments!

This article was originally published on EDN.

Brian Dipert is Editor-in-Chief of the Embedded Vision Alliance, and a Senior Analyst at BDTI and Editor-in-Chief of InsideDSP, the company’s online newsletter.

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