It was only in June that we managed to get our hands on QNAP’s HS-210 Silent NAS for review. We loved this twin-bay, crossover NAS/media streamer for its compact size, silent running and abundance of features. The perfect form-factor for an AV cabinet, the HS-210 was let down by the lack of an HDMI-out connection and sluggish file transfer performance.
Fast forward a matter of weeks and its successor, the new HS-251 Silent NAS has landed for review and this time, with an upgraded spec, it means business!
Over the last few years, media enthusiasts have had the opportunity to try a wide range of platforms for network media streaming. From home-theater PCs, dedicated media receivers, connected TVs and blu-rays through to tiny devices such as Google’s Chromecast and the Roku Streaming Stick there’s a dizzying array of choice available to consumers. There are a number of fabulous solutions out there, but none have quite succeeded in balancing storage and streaming playback capabilities in a single device.
Never slow to spot a market opportunity, NAS vendors have partnered with Intel to add direct HDMI connectivity to some of their newer devices, creating a “crossover” NAS/media streaming device. The first devices to emerge with HDMI-out shipped in traditional desktop form factors – not ideal for a media room AV cabinet due to their chunky size and (potentially) noisy fans. QNAP’s HS-210 and indeed the new HS-251, ships in a more compact chassis that’s more akin to a low-profile media streamer, or blu-ray player – easy to slot into the lounge. As a bonus, the device is passively cooled – you won’t find any fans on the Silent NAS, meaning that your movie viewing won’t be spoiled with the sound of rushing wind.
What’s in the Box?
On first looks, there’s very little to differentiate the HS-251 from its predecessor. Open up the box and you’ll find:
- QNAP HS-251 Silent NAS server
- 2 x Ethernet cable
- Power cord
- Drive screws (for 2.5″ and 3.5″ drives)
- Quick Installation guide
The chassis itself is unchanged from the HS-210 and that’s good news, as it’s a cracker. Low profile (302 (H) x 220 (W) x 41.3 (D) mm), brushed aluminium cladding, with a magnetic front panel that exposes the twin drive bays when removed. The panel is magnetic, and snaps back into place firmly when you’ve installed your drives. As a sign of quality, the drive trays themselves are metal, rather than the flimsy, plastic trays you find in other devices. 2.5″ and 3.5″ drives are supported, with QNAP shipping compatible screws for both sizes of drives. A couple of minutes to screw your hard drives on to your trays and you’re ready to configure the device – as I pointed out with the HS-210, I’d prefer to see a tool-less caddy on a consumer-oriented device, but even with screws, you’re up and running quickly.
QNAP recommends using WD Red or Seagate NAS drives with the HS-251, and with the former recently announcing drive capacities of up to 6 TB, the two bays fitted to the Silent NAS are no longer the limitation they once were. Whether you choose a JBOD configuration of up to 12 TB, or a mirrored RAID 1 configuration of up to 6 TB with data protected this compact crossover offers a vast amount of storage for all but the largest of media libraries.
With regard to indicators, there’s little happening on the device itself – a single LED on the front of the device denotes the unit is working. Forget any thoughts of individual hard drive indicators or an LED display.
Spin the HS-251 around however, and we start to see some big differences from the HS-210. Eagle-eyed readers would have spotted the provision of two Ethernet cables, hinting at the twin gigabit Ethernet ports fitted to the new Silent NAS. With two Ethernet ports, you’ll be able to take advantage of advanced features like network load balancing and failover support, providing greater reliability. Alongside the all important HDMI-out you’ll also find two USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports for connecting USB hard drives, printers and uninterruptible power supplies. Like the HS-210, there’s no front USB port which would make life easier for media transfers, so despite the step forward there remains room for improvement.
Under the hood, the changes are even more dramatic. With this new model, QNAP has bumped up the hardware greatly. Replacing the Marvell 1.6GHz processor in the HS-210 is an altogether beefier dual-core Intel Celeron CPU rated at 2.41 GHz, with a burst rate up to 2.58 GHz. 1 or 2 GB RAM options are available on the new model, again a leap from the 512 MB fitted to the older model. Make no mistake, that’s a significant bump which, if you choose to operate the HS-251 as a traditional NAS, is more than capable of transcoding media to network devices on the fly.