QNAP TBS-453DX NASBook Review

Is the QNAP TBS-453DX NAS Wierd or Wonderful?

Of all the devices that QNAP previewed last year, there was one that I distinctly remember being very confused by. Alongside a plethora of powerful 10Gbe and Thunderbolt 3 solutions, nestled in between them all was a rather understated SSD optimised NAS. This follow up to an older range that was largely overlooked 2 years ago (NASBook series) was now to be given a newer and more powerful reboot in keeping with the modern generation. The QNAP TBS-453DX is by far one of the quirkiest NAS devices I have seen them release and ever since I first heard about it on their own official live stream, I have had mixed feelings and reserved my full judgement on whether this device was genius or genuinely pointless till I had my hands on it. Now I finally have my hands on the TBS-453DX NAS device and want to break down what makes it good, what makes it bad, but most importantly of all, find out who exactly this device is made for. Let’s take a look.

QNAP TBS-453DX NAS – Design

The first impressive little thing I noticed was the tiny retail box.
The first thing that becomes immediately apparent about the TBS-453DX is that it is incredibly compact and in fact, the retail box with all its accessories is smaller than most NAS devices. One of the earliest impressions this device leaves on you is that it is designed to make as small an impact on your operational environment as possible, as well as being remarkably portable. However, I have mixed feelings about this factor that I shall talk about later on. Nevertheless, the retail box supplies lots of information about what this device can do in terms of software and what it arrives with in terms of hardware.
As with most modern NAS drives, the QNAP TBS-453DX arrives with almost all the accessories you will need to set this device up straight away. You will, of course, need to purchase solid-state drive media separately and ensure that it is M2 SATA based SSD, aside from that, this device arrives with everything you will need from simple 1Gbe network cables, through to well designed and good quality internal thermal control add-ons. Inside the retail box, we find:
Before we continue further about the TBS-453DX NAS drive from QNAP, I do think it is worth highlighting the heat sinks and the numerous thermal panels for the internal M2 SATA SSD that arrived with this device.
They are both high-quality and certainly will add to lower internal temperatures and heighten operational speeds. All too often we have seen NAS brands saving money in this area (making them optional accessories, or providing much more cost-effective sticky panels) and I am pleased to see QNAP ensure that you get the most from your solid state drives in this device.
Straight away, once we removed all of the accessories, the TBS-453DX is clearly a very, very compact NAS drive and is certainly designed to be incredibly discrete. Overlooking the dedicated solid-state drive part of this device, this would be a fantastic NAS for those that want a petite and discreet storage solution for media in the home (Plex, DLNA, etc). Of course, you already have that in the form of the HS-453DX and the new TBS-453DX is a device that is designed around the idea of a portable, petite, fast and quiet private cloud solution too – but with a bigger emphasis on high file speeds. For that kind of use, SSD is vital.
Much like the previous NASbook, this device is designed for collaboration and portability. Although both devices are remarkably similar in size, this device is indeed a pinch smaller despite its increased internal hardware. Side-by-side with a regular office mug shows just how small the TBS-453DX NAS really is and only weighing around 800 grams (or 1.7 pounds). Not just an incredibly portable NAS device, it is remarkably quiet at just 15.8db (A) I and includes a teeny tiny 65 watt PSU. In fact, the PSU is one of the few areas that left me genuinely disappointed by the TBS-453DX NAS, as I think this is one NAS drive that could certainly benefit from an internal battery. Even if said battery would last an hour or two, such as the one found in the Afobot featured last year, it would only further add to this device’s portability and would make fast easy deployment that bit better. Sadly, this device requires mains power at all times and therefore despite its remarkably portable design, it still needs a plug point in order to be used.

QNAP TBS-453DX NAS – Hardware

Much like the HS-453DX we discussed last month, the TBS-453DX uses gold and white chassis design, however, unlike the large metal panel featured on the silent NAS, this device is almost entirely plastic in its chassis, in order to lower weight and noise levels whilst in operation. The front copper panel features numerous common NAS features, but more so compared with older QNAP NAS released before it.
The front left of the device features Dual USB 3.0 ports and a one-touch copy button. These ports can be used for external storage, as well as supporting numerous USB peripherals on your QNAP NAS that can be used locally by the QTS software or alternatively via a VM or Linux container installed on the device.
In the centre of the front panel, we find four individual LED lights that denote activity access and any problems on your SSD Media installed inside the device. These light can be made brighter or dimmer as needed via the QTS control panel on your NAS.
A rather quirky and unique feature of the TBS-453DX NAS drive from QNAP is that the volume buttons on the front of the chassis. Although multimedia optimised NAS is not new from QNAP, this device features one key audio feature that has never been present on any other QNAP NAS – Stereo Speakers.
Yes, you read that correctly, this new NAS drive features twin speakers that produce stereo audio that can be controlled via an optional remote control, mobile application or physically with the volume buttons. In testing, we were able to play music directly from the QNAP user interface or QNAP music station mobile application, and output the audio from the speakers. Unlikely the smaller, tiny speakers we have seen on previous QNAP NAS (where typically you find a single rear speaker for notifications for storage alerts in verbal form), the stereo speakers on the TBS-453DX NAS produce arguably better and louder audio.
Although this is hardly a key buying feature, it is still a cool little extra that I can imagine using in a collaborative working environment and especially for one where you wish to use your own files easily without the need of any additional hardware.

QNAP TBS-453DX NAS – Ports

The back of the QNAP TBS-453DX Drive is crammed with ports, however, they are a little disappointing after the frankly incredible connections available on the TBS-453A (4 LAN, 1 WAN, SD Card Reader to name just a few). That isn’t to say that the TBS-453DX is not a well equipped NAS server, it is just that it lacks the four LAN ports that are available on the previous TBS-453A NASbook and replaces them with four rather underwhelming USB 2.0 ports.
I am still not wholly sure why these four ports are here, especially given that there are two USB 3.0 ports on the front and an additional port on the side of the chassis. Even if you chose to use USB to LAN adaptors that are remarkably affordable and can open up multiple network connections, you will be restricted to USB 2.0 speeds on these ports (maximum 480 megabits, rather than 1000 megabits of LAN) and therefore will give it a miss. You could, of course, install a Wi-Fi dongle in one of the available USB 3 port and enable Wi-Fi connectivity to the TBS-453DX, but that still leaves me underwhelmed by these rather dated USB 2 ports.
However, I am pleased to say that this NAS features HDMI 2.0a, much like the HS-453DX and therefore supports 4K at 60hz locally. This can be accessed with many of the applications available with the free HD station software, included with your QNAP NAS and I strongly recommend that you check them out.

You can even run popular streaming apps, such as Plex media server locally over HDMI and thereby completely remove any network or internet-based bottleneck. Alternatively, you can run a Linux, Windows or even Android VM on this NAS with 4K HDMI output, keyboard and mouse connected to those USB ports 2.0 and use the speakers built into the NAS. All the while, using the QNAP QTS NAS software at the same time for all of your connected user’s backups and file needs.
In terms of network connectivity, I am also pleased to confirm that this device arrives with both 1Gb and 10Gb connectivity. Despite my previously mentioned disappointment at the fact of the new TBS-453DX has abandoned 4xLAN and 1xWAN design of the previous NASbook, I can imagine many users are pleased to note the inclusion of 10-gigabit ethernet on this device. The appearance of 1Gbe over RJ45 is fairly standard and to be expected. However, it is with the adding of 10GBase-T on this device that many users will buy it, as files are getting bigger all the time and 2018 was an enormous year for the move to 10-gigabit ethernet for home and business. This is a trend we predict will continue well into 2019 and therefore worth your attention. Add to that, the fact that QNAP has released the QNA-T310G1T thunderbolt 3 to ethernet adaptor and what you have is a fantastically equipped NAS for photo and video editors, that can easily be included on site with your camera and equipment for fast deployment. Just remember that you will always need mains power, as thunderbolt power cannot be carried over to the device via 10Gbe.
Alongside the stereo speakers mentioned earlier, there is also ports for microphones and an audio out socket. These can be used in a number of ways (though not at the same time as the previously mentioned stereo speakers). Some examples are:
  • Connect Speakers and chose to playback media (audio or video) to the ports from any of the QNAP apps
  • Connect a microphone and use in HD Station (HDMI app platform) for the beta Skype App, Karaoke and in conjunction with a USB camera in the YouTube App
  • Connect microphone and/or speakers for use in a virtual machine, Linux station VM or container app being displayed over HDMI
  • Use in conjunction with the 4K HDMI and connect to your existing sound system

QNAP TBS-453DX NAS – Internal Hardware

Given that the TBS-453DX is such a petite NAS, it will be interesting to see how QNAP have kept things cool, ventilated and (most importantly) efficient inside.

In order to access the internal hardware, as well as install media for our upcoming speed tests, you can find the 4 removal screws under the 4 rubberized feet. These are very easily removed.

When you have unscrewed all four, the base panel lifts off easily and immediately reveals the 4 storage bays, along with the other internal hardware. I am pleased to also confirm that these are panels fitted to the base panel to limit contact/dust access to the hardware too.

A look at the internal controller board/mobo shows that almost a 3rd of the space is dedicated to the SSD bays (in a unique 3+1 layout). The rest seems to be in a partitioned style and all key areas of NAS hardware in the TBS-453DX seem to be in each corner.

The  SSD bays are in a deep recess in the chassis. This is so you can add the drives and then apply the thermal panels and metal heatsinks around them, whilst still maintaining the sleek chassis height. As discussed, the device supports RAID 0, 1, 5, 6, 10, etc. However it is also worth reminding users that you can also run this device on a single SSD and add more later if needed, or alternatively you can add 4 drives and create 2 separate RAID volumes/pools so you can (for example) use one for fast media via the 10Gbe port and another for archiving internally and 1Gbe distribution. That is just one example and there are many more configurations open to you, very impressive.

The CPU and Aquantia network controller are located under the fan and metal layer. They have a large cavity above them to help the ventilation carry through and greatly assist active cooling across these vital chips! The NAS uses an Intel Celeron J4105 Quad Core CPU (only the 3rd NAS to use this powerful chip) that clocks in at 1.5Ghz per core that can be burst to 2.5Ghz when needed. To date, this is the most powerful, efficient and highest rated Celeron CPU that is available in NAS in the world and to find it in this insanely compact NAS is definitely something to make you stop and think! The 10Gbe network port is also handled by the popular Aquantia AQC107 chip – so that means it has its only traffic controller, just for this one port!

To support these chips and features, the TBS-453DX arrives with either 4 or 8GB of DDR4 2133Mhz memory. We are still checking whether it supports higher than the manufacturer recommended 8GB, but we have confirmed the HS-453DX can support 16GB of DDR4 and fully expect the TBS-453DX (with same CPU, controller chips and SODIMM DDR4 slots) to support it too!

As this is a compact NAS device than most QNAP drives, this device needs a different kind of active cooling. Ditching big rear cooling fans and fan assisted PSUs, this device has a compact air in/out fan as you would find on a high-performance laptop. During later tests, we used this device for both Plex and for multimedia playback to a high extent and on both occasions, the fan did was whisper quiet. In fact, I and @eddiethewebguy were trying to find out what was quieter – the HS-453DX with 2 HDD or the TBS-453DX device with 2 SSD. our decibel meter does not go lower than 20db(A), so that was not sensitive enough, but in the end, we thought this device with SSD was the quieter of the two, even with an internal fan.

QNAP TBS-453DX NAS – Software

Like any good piece of modern technology, the QNAP TBS-453DX is more than about hardware and when you buy the device, it arrives with the QTS operating system included. For those unfamiliar with the QNAP operating system, it arrives with hundreds of free applications, can be accessed from a web browser or desktop client, arrives with many, many apps for mobile on IOS and Android and is definitely in the top two operating systems you can get for network-attached storage devices. Often compared with their biggest rival Synology NAS and DSM, QNAP QTS GUI is designed in a way that will definitely appeal more to Android and Windows users. QTS 4.3 0.5 (with 4.4.0 arriving very soon) gives you everything you will need from a network attached storage device in 2018 and arrives with constant updates for added features and security.

QTS performs very well indeed on the QNAP TBS-453DX and with the exception of applications such as the virtualisation VM manager software and certain high performance rendering 4K tasks, the TBS-453DX will give you all of the support of QTS that you will need. It can certainly support 4K playback and/or transcoding, as well as virtual machines, but I would recommend something a little bigger for these tasks. The TBS-453DX will function great as your first or second NAS for home or business and will easily support 10 to 20 users at once very well and up to 50 intermittently as needed. With comprehensive user account control and creation, as well as multi-layered security and protection from viruses, malware, ransomware intrusion detection and more, the first party apps available on QTS on the TBS-453DX are pretty impressive.

  • Download Station for HTTP, BT, FTP and NZB downloads
  • Photo Station, Video Station and Music Station support, as well as large-scale thumbnail generation
  • The QNAP App center, with hundreds of apps
  • All the mobile applications for iOS and Android, such as Qfile, Qvideo, Qmanager and more
  • A host of applications for backing up, syncronising, backup and more
  • Snapshot support
  • Surveillance with the use of IP Cameras and the QNAP Surveillance Station Application
  • Container Station for easy compact deployment of apps

However, don’t overlook the fact that the TBS-453DX also supports a lot of third-party applications both on the QTS app store and on your local PC or Mac system. Plus you can use the NAS as a standard ISCSI device or multiple LUN targets for your existing third-party applications to take advantage of and use the network storage in a way that appears as if it is local storage.

  • Plex Media Server
  • 3RD Party Cloud Apps (Drive, Dropbox)
  • DLNA Support over Kodi
  • Apple Time Machine Support
  • iTunes Server
  • CMS and CRM systems
  • Twonky Media Server
  • and more

QNAP TBS-453DX NAS – Verdict

I originally asked if the QNAP TBS-453DX should be considered another great box in the history of QNAP NAS in their push towards NAS innovation and change? Or is it a NAS that has flown too close to the sun? I think the answer is somewhere in the middle. The TBS-453DX from QNAP certainly provides excellent hardware at an affordable price and moreover gives it to you in good order. However, the lack of PCI-e or multiple LAN ports will be a bitter pill for some to swallow who are considering the TBS-453DX as a second or third NAS and that very clear bottleneck of internal to external transmission speed is hard to ignore when NVMe SSD is becoming more affordable. However one has to respect the sheer level of hardware innovation that the TBS-453DX provides – RAID 5, affordable storage, SSD caching, intel CPU and HDMI support at a price point generally considered low end – all of these make this an excellent NAS for those that were not considering 10Gbe or link aggregation in 2019. This combined with new features such as stereo sound and noise levels that challenge even other ‘silent NAS’ labelled devices.

Pros of the QNAP TBS-453DX Cons of the QNAP TBS-453DX
  • Intel J4105 Celeron CPU
  • Genuinely the Best looking NAS for years
  • HDMI 2.0a Output
  • 4K Transcoding
  • Audio In/Out
  • Stereo Speakers!
  • 10Gbe Port
  • Very Low Noise
  • HDD+SSD Combination Storage
  • Only 2 Years Warranty
  • No USB 3.1 Gen 2
  • No remote control is a shame
  • SSD only may put some people off

 

It is worth remembering that for most users, having to choose between good hardware, good redundant storage options and a low price point is very tough. Each factor is considered a ‘must buy’ point for many and that is why the TBS-453DX exists. Because it prevents you having to make a tough choice between the three, leveraging you budget towards one, and instead gives you all three at a £/$/€ you can afford. Bottom line –  I like the taste NAS and I’m prepared to get over the lack of external speed and just see it for what it is, a high performing low-cost network attached storage solution for home and small business users. Plus if you are looking for multimedia-enabled NAS at this price point, you will struggle to find better. Just be prepared to spend a little more on media drives than you might be used to.

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QNAP TBS-453DX NASBook Review
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