In my opinion, it is interesting to see the progression of NAS devices over the past few years, especially when it comes to the devices that are designed to be placed in the home. The media center applications that can be installed on the QNAP TS-251+ are powerful and well polished. I did not have any issues using the features while hooked up to my television. The included remote is a major bonus as it allows control over 90% of the applications that are installed with HybridDesk Station desktop environment. The HybridDesk station must be installed in order to use the NAS as a media center directly attached to your television. The HybridDesk station also includes other applications such as Chrome, Facebook, and LibreOffice. Attaching a USB keyboard and mouse to the NAS allows you to used it as a low power desktop PC that is good for browsing the web, checking email, etc.
Network media features work well too. Enabling UPNP allows devices to discover the device and play media files. In my case, I have the Arris Media Gateway provided by my cable company. In the menu option there is a sub-menu for media centers. The gateway can access all the media and music on the device. It is pretty convenient for the non-technical people that live in my house as they don’t have to switch TV inputs. Accessing the media center files on my gateway is very similar to accessing shows that have been recorded on the DVR. While playing videos from the NAS through the gateway the TS-251+ was transcoding videos on the fly. CPU utilization never went above 45% and most of the time utilization averaged about 20% during a 4 hour binge watching session and CPU temperature stayed well below 120° F. Playback quality was excellent with little or no artifacts while playing the Sintel (mkv)1080p test file.
The media center features are a nice option to have but don’t have to be used. The TS-251+ can be used as a simple storage device without additional software and features. The TS-251+ has built in user management for creating users and giving them access to files and folders. The NAS can also be joined to a Windows Active Directory domain and domain users and groups can be added to files and folders. The NAS can also be configured to act as a domain controller to handle authentication requests.
Performance wise, the TS-251+ is on par with the larger 5 bay NAS in simple file and folder copy operations. The heavier workload performance suffers due to the amount of disks available in the array. The gigabit network has reached a point where the hard drives can saturate a single gigabit link. During some of the copy operations, I saw network utilization reach 95%. Fret not, as this type of utilization is not constant. Most of the time network utilization was around 20-30%. During media center streaming, network utilization averaged 30% and I was able to still copy from a PC to the NAS with no hiccups in playback or diminished playback quality. With two network adapters available, more network capacity can be utilized but will require a managed switch to enable both network adapters to load balance. 8 port managed switches can be purchased for around $150. Enabling the dual network adapters does not double the bandwidth to a single host, it load balances hosts between the links.
The ability to use RAID in the home is a nice feature and it can help prevent data loss by having redundant drives. In the case of the TS-251+ that would be RAID 1 which mirrors data from one drive to the other. However, RAID is not a backup strategy nor should you rely on it to keep your data protected. If your data is important to you, you should set up some form of backup. Backup. backup, backup. Especially if you choose to use RAID 0 on the TS-251+. If you lose one drive with RAID 0, your data is gone. All is not lost however, as there are multiple backup options. You can choose to use the USB ports to backup to an external drive or you can download one of the applications that will back your data up to the cloud.
The QNAP TS-251+ is an impressive little NAS. The device has the ability to do a lot, and do it well. In my opinion, the media/desktop features are the most impressive features of this NAS. One person can be in the living room watching show on the NAS connected to the TV and using the included remote at the same time as other users can stream media from the NAS to their PCs and at the same time other users can use the file services. The TS-251+ is aimed at the higher end of the home use market. Our sample shipped with 8 gigabytes of RAM. The 8 gigbyte version will run you $499 with out drives. As of this writing, the TS-251+ can support 8 TB drives giving the maximum unformatted capacity (RAID 0) of 16 TB. While the TS-251+ is not the cheapest dual bay NAS on the market, in my opinion it is one of the more capable.