As our storage needs go up, so does the choice of NAS drives. As well as more and more models from the usual makers, we find new brands like Asustor joining a gold rush to sell NAS enclosures to the data needy. NAS storage
Familiar-sounding brand Asustor is unsurprisingly a venture for Taiwan computer maker Asustek – more popularly known as just Asus. Founded in 2011, the sub-brand's stated purpose is to be at the forefront of private cloud storage innovation.
Asustor is clearly looking to get a slice of the market opened up by its countrymen at first Synology and then QNAP. It's focusing on the home and SOHO users, with some overlap to larger businesses looking for up to nine-bay rackmount storage. The majority of its current 12-product strong range is concentrated on two- and four-bay models, including the AS-604T model reviewed here.
The Asustor AS-604T is a four-bay free-standing NAS box, closely resembling a clone of QNAP's four-bay designs, such as the QNAP TS-421 we recently reviewed.
There are two other four-bay options from Asustor, the others lower-powered but otherwise looking identical, the AS-204T with 1.2 GHz Intel Atom and AS-304T with an 1.6 GHz Atom chip. The AS-604T meanwhile takes a 2.13 GHz Atom. There's 1 GB memory as standard, expandable to 3 GB.
Ports are more plentiful on this top four-bay edition, running to two USB 3.0, four USB 2.0 and two eSATA. Network connections can be made on one or both of its gigabit NICs. There's also an HDMI port.
From the front you can readily access four 3.5in disks mounted vertically in their own sliding caddy, each with levers to extract them. As with all modern NAS drives, you can optionally use 2.5in disks or SSDs inside, with pre-cut mounting holes for the smaller drives.
Running across the top of the fascia is a backlit fluorescent display with two lines of text, just like QNAP's. The brand name in silver is applied in the top left corner, and continuing the copicat theme is a front-mounted USB port sited at the bottom left corner. There are no keyed locks on the drawers but the tight precision of the release mechanism suggests you're unlikely to inadvertently pop out a disk by mistake.
Build quality of the AS-604T is first-class, up there with QNAP in its sturdy metal jacket and neatly finished plastic trim parts. In fact the drawer mechanism can be seen to be an improvement, with positive sping-loaded levers that secure the mounted disks in place, on notably smooth sliding runners.
The unit was relatively peaceful in operation with a single large 120 mm fan at the rear running suitably quietly. The disks will have the loudest impact, and modern NAS-compatible disks like the Seagate NAS and WD Red will help keep noise levels manageable.
A NAS drive depends on its operating system to keep your data managed and safe. In turn, it must be freely accessible by non-expert users who need to set the unit up and adjust to their needs.
While the exterior of the AS-604T hardware is clearly copied from QNAP, for the software Asustor looked at QNAP's QTS 4.0 interface for inspiration – and arguably improved it.
ADM 2.1 has a similar rich graphical look, with drop shadows below open windows, all centred on a desktop populated with large iPhone-style app icons. It's a great interface that doesn't suffer quite the over-bling of QNAP's latest QTS 4.0 software, and closer to a real modern Linux distribution than Synology's current DSM 4.3, which is based on an OS X-like System Preferences interface.
Asustor ADM 2.1 is a rich graphical interface with which to manage all aspects of the NAS' operation
In terms of functionality, we could find nothing obvious missing here that you won't find from QNAP and Synology NAS drives. There's the usual compatibility with SMB, AFP, NFS networking standards, as well as FTP; power managment settings (which usefully tell you fan speed too); Time Machine compatibility as well as rsync for external backups to and from the NAS; and of course fine-grained management of the disks themselves through the usual RAID 0, 1, 5, 6 and 10 setup; and then monitoring of disk temperatures and health. Disks can be hot swapped when required.
App Central is the portal to find and download new apps to add more functionality. And the options are very extensive, from bittorrent clients to WordPress blog servers, media servers and photo gallery organisers.
We tested the Asustor AS-604T with both Microsoft SMB and Apple AFP network protocols, and found markedly different results. Windows users will be limited to SMB although Mac users can elect which networking type to use, depending on their usage priorities.
The AS-604T was set up with four 3 TB WD Red disks in RAID 5, giving a total available volume of 8.11 TB.
Portwise, the Asustor AS-604T offers two USB 3.0 (one front, one back); four USB 2.0; two gigabit ethernet, two eSATA and HDMI
Best-case sequential data transfers were found in OS X using AFP, where the Asustor could read at up to 111 MB/s, getting close to the limit of gigabit networking.
Write speeds were much lower, at just 30 MB/s for most data above 5 MB in size. That write performance is about the speed we'd expect from a more efficient but lower performance ARM processor in a consumer NAS – business NAS units with 2.13 GHz Intel Atom chips, such as the Synology DS1813+, will also approach the gigabit network limit, even for more challenging data write, not just reads.
At the small file level, sequential reads and writes were much slower again, as is typical in RAID network drives – around 9 MB/s for both reads and writes. But random 4 kB read/writes suffered at a desultory level of 0.05 MB/s, or just 50 kB/s.
Turning to SMB connections, we have a different story when comparing biggest sequential transfers and smallest random read/write performance. Best-case sequential reads were only around half as fast as over AFP, at 60 MB/s. But now write speeds were nudged up slightly, averaging 53 MB/s for data sized from 2 to 10 MB.
And random small files also travelled much easier, at 9.7 MBs for 4 kB reads and 5.9 MB/s for random writes.
Given the choice, we'd use an AFP connection if transporting large video or music files around the network; but the SMB option for accessing smaller documents and metadata files far more quickly.
While retesting the Asustor AS-604T for a group test in Macworld, we used the OS X benchmark test Blackmagic Disk Speed Test. And this showed markedly improved figures for sustained throughput than previous tests.
This test was run from an Apple Mac mini (Late 2012) running OS X 10.9 Mavericks. Sustained sequential read speed was around 106 MB/s, and write speed could now be sustained at 98 MB/s.
The Asustor AS-604T consumed 34 W of mains power with four WD Red disks spinning. When the disks powered down to standby mode, power draw fell to 22 W.