|QNAP TS-419P II NAS Network Storage Server|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Network|
|Written by Bruce Normann|
|Tuesday, 01 November 2011|
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Insider Details: QNAP TS-419P II Turbo NAS
The first inner workings of a TS-419P II that you're likely to see is the opening of the drive bay, which is rather substantial, but not quite as large as some of the monster drive arrays that are available, with 8 and 12 bays. The metal guide rails can be seen along the bottom here, and the PCIe extender card that carries the four SATA power and data connectors is right where it should be. It's firmly held in place by several screws fastening it directly to the metal frame and the PCIe connector on the left, where it terminates on the motherboard. The 90mm fan has pretty much an unobstructed path to the drive bay, so any heat being generated by the drives can easily be pulled out the back of the enclosure. Like the other large units in the model range, there is a separate SATA controller IC mounted to the PCIe extender board and it serves as the sole SATA 3Gb/s interface; there is no companion chip on the motherboard. We'll see it in more detail as we continue the tear down.
Once the brushed steel top and side cover is removed, you can see the main server board installed along the left side of the chassis, parallel to the drive bays. The back side of the board faces the exterior, and only a few components are mounted on the back of the PC Board. All of the rear panel connectors are mounted directly to the board, for a reliable and secure connection. There is a full size clear, flexible plastic shield attached to the board to prevent the metallic side cover from shorting out any circuits in the event of some extreme rough handling. You actually void the warranty by disassembling the unit to this level, oh well... You can just make out two of the four DRAM chips, soldered to the back of the motherboard. We'll get a better view of them when we take things apart a little further and get a decent look at the front side of the PCB. The power circuits for the four drives require a more substantial wiring harness, which you can also see at the top, looping from the main controller board to the daughter board with the four SATA connectors on it.
Once you decide to go for a full deconstruction, the TS-419P II comes apart into several sections like this. The rear panel with the 90mm fan mounted to it slides off the back, the SATA backplane comes off with a couple of screws and unplugs from the 1x PCIe connector on the motherboard. Then the motherboard lifts from four standoffs and swings out with the front panel connectors still attached. The one thing that stands out in this view is the small size of the CPU heatsink. The one in the Atom-powered TS-659 Pro II was literally ten times the size. The other thing to notice is the large IC on the near, right-hand corner of the PCIe extender card. That's the Marvell 88SX7042 SATA controller IC that also serves up the RAID Management function for all four of the drive bays. It's not a brand new chip, I've seen it in products from circa 2008. It's interesting that of the last three QNAP units I've pulled apart, each had a unique PCIe-to-SATA interface solution.
Taking a closer look at the motherboard, it doesn't look like much, but that's because most of the subsystem-level ICs are very small. I'll call them out in detail in the very next section. For now, the thing to understand is that it's a very single-minded design, with very low power consumption. The ARM processor in the Marvell 88F6282 controller is very power efficient, as evidenced by the miniature passive heatsink mounted on top of it. Even though a few of the many software features of QNAP's v3.4 software won't run on the ARM CPU, the functionality that can be provided by this minimalist hardware still amazes me. For years, I envisioned servers as all-mighty, conquering machines with megawatts of computing power (I know, the analogy stinks...). The reality is that most modern server hardware is pedestrian compared to the enthusiast-level boxes many of our readers have. The reason most new servers have six and eight CPU cores in them is for virtualization, not to provide multi-core processing for single applications.
The most important IC on the board is the system controller, also known as an "Embedded Processor", "System-on-a Chip" (SOC) or CPU. Back in the day, the CPU was just the CPU, but we all know that Large Scale Integration waits for no man. Today's "CPU" includes a whole bunch of other support and interface modules that simplify and streamline the system for the twin goals of increasing performance and reducing costs. QNAP uses the Marvell 88F6282 processor, which houses an ARM®v5TE Single Core CPU running at 2.0 GHz, with a 256KB L2 Cache. The memory controller is integrated, and it handles DDR3-1066 or DDR2-800 memory modules; the QNAP TS-419P II uses DDR3 memory, which is soldered directly to the motherboard. Some of the capabilities go unused on the TS-419P II, like the audio port, but most functions are utilized in the design. Although I see a Security Engine in the Marvell block diagram, the QNAP materials show that none of the non-Intel NAS models support AES 256-bit volume-based encryption. As slow as the Atom-based models are with encryption enabled, I can't see it being anything but a complete performance killer with the ARM processor.
512 MB of DDR3 memory is standard on the TS-219P+ Turbo NAS; it's soldered directly to the board, and is not upgradeable. The chips in my sample were supplied by Hynix and are rated for DDR3-1333 with timings of 9-9-9 for CL-tRCD-tRP. The memory controller built into the Marvell system controller can only access them at DDR3-1066, and the memory chips support that speed as well as a variety of other speeds and timings. Marvell supplies all three of the three most important ICs on the board; the second of the three is the Marvell 88E1318 is a Gigabit Ethernet PHY controller. PHY is a new acronym for many of us; it refers to a physical transceiver that operates at the physical layer of the OSI network model. Realtek is probably the most popular controller in the PC motherboard world, but Marvell currently produces nine different models of single port Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) controllers in their Alaska product line, so there must be a big enough market for a variety of products. The last of the top three chips on the board is the SATA II controller for the four removable drives. It's the 88SX7042, also from Marvell, and it manages the entire end-to-end interface between the 1-lane PCI Express connection on the motherboard and the four Serial ATA ports. The 88SX7042 supports AHCI, Native Command Queuing, ATAPI Devices, Hot Plugging and eSATA connections. It also handles all the low-level RAID functions, so it's a busy chip.
The GL850G chip is by Genesys Logic and it provides USB 2.0 connectivity for the TS-419P II at the hardware level. The NCP3121 chip by ON Semiconductor manages power for the board, and features high efficiency, wide input voltage, and high output current through internal MOSFET switches. There are other, minor voltage regulators on the board, for smaller subsystems like the memory and the fan, but this is the main one. The PIC16F690 may seem like a familiar name to some of our more technical readers. I think it's fair to say that more hobbyist creations have been powered by PIC controllers than any other brand. This latest version of a long line of microcontrollers is a 20-Pin Flash-based, 8-Bit CMOS Microcontroller with "nanoWatt Technology". Once again, small and efficient rules the day for this system.
To measure isolated NAS power consumption, Benchmark Reviews uses the Kill-A-Watt EZ (model P4460) power meter made by P3 International. Obviously, power consumption is going to depend heavily on the number and type of drives that are installed. In idle standby mode the QNAP TS-419P II consumed 12 watts of electricity, this is on-par with the 13W specified for sleep mode. With one 750GB hard drives installed, and formatting the drive during initial system setup, the TS-419P II Turbo NAS drew 17W. With all four drives installed and during heavy file transfer operations, it drew 31W. When the unit was turned off, it consumed 2W in Vampire mode. It's tougher for the power meter to measure the lowest currents, so don't take the 2W vampire number to the bank, just be aware that even when it's turned off, the small brick-like SMPS plugged into the wall still pulls a small amount of power.
Experts estimate that standby energy drain accounts for anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of an average home's annual power usage. Convert that percentage into dollars, and you've got around $4 billion in wasted spending across America every year, the Department of Energy estimates. The wasted cash is bad enough, but the toll on Mother Nature is worse. Vampire energy accounts for 1 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. I wandered through my small house after dark one night a few months ago and counted 47 LEDs and LCD displays burning away. How many are burning 24/7 in yours; you might be surprised?
We've seen the ins and outs of the hardware and the new software; now let's take a detailed look through the extensive list of features that you get with most every QNAP Turbo NAS. I know the next couple of sections are overly long, but it's critical to understand just how much these units can do. You don't want to be fooled into thinking it's just a box full of drives. It's capable of so much more than that.