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In my last few storage and hard drive reviews for photographers, the units have all been similar in that they’ve been singularly NAS or Network Attached Storage units. Ones which connect to your home network via your wireless router (your wifi box) or a network switch.
With photo and video editing, while we’re almost there with speed and agility on the NAS side of things, the ability to directly connect your external storage to your computer, and essentially work at “full speed” is very appealing. But so is the ability to use your NAS to deliver to clients and to be your own personal “DropBox” of sorts, so which one is best for you?
The team at QNAP reached out and offered me a unit to review, one of their very nice TVS-682T Triple Mode Storage NAS / DAS and iScsi boxes. I’ll be focussing on the NAS and DAS side of things in this article. The TVS-682T can also simultaneously run general Ethernet services in addition to the Thunderbolt™ 2 network, completely independently and with no bandwidth interference. You can flexibly allocate proper bandwidth for different concurrent tasks.
Here’s a quick recap, perchance you’ve forgotten since my last article!
Network attached storage is when your storage is attached via the network, rather than directly to your computer.
Directly attached storage is exactly what it says on the tin, directly (think via USB or Thunderbolt, etc.) connected to your computer by a cable.
In basic terms, typically a NAS won’t operate as a DAS, and you are limited to one or the other. That usually means you’re limited to either flexibility in terms of being able to connect to your storage from anywhere on the internet, or you’re limited to having a storage box connected only to your computer, but it’s nice and fast.
The TVS-682T has both (plus more, but we’ll stick with NAS and DAS) the ability to connect to your network and be a NAS, as well as the ability to connect to your computer directly with Thunderbolt 2.
For those of you that are into the tech specs, here’s what the TVS-682T offers:
Before we get into how I’m using the QNAP, I wanted to point out that to increase the pace at which you work, the QNAP has something called SSD Cache Acceleration (sounds fancy, huh!?) I’m certain that you’ve likely heard of SSD (Solid State Drive) now, yes?
If not, briefly, it’s a drive that your computer can use to store data (your photographs, etc.) but it doesn’t have any spinning parts. It’s essentially made from solid state memory, rather than a spinning platter drive and as you can imagine, this results in much faster access to your data, no head looking for the right sector on a disk results in very low latency.
What SSD Cache Acceleration does for you is (in very basic terms) puts the stuff you’re working on into the SSD Cache and serves it up in no time. This, combined with being connected to your computer via Thunderbolt means that you have a storage setup that is blazing fast!
As well as using the QNAP TVS-682T as a photo/video editing and delivery platform, you can use it as a great system to backup your computer. You can even use it as a computer if you so choose! (It runs a Linux operating system) and it’s also a very nice Plex Media Server (comes with a remote control) so you can play HD content, movies, and music, via the HDMI outputs.
Anyway, on with the story!
The Samsung SSD 860 EVO hard drive is a speedy little beast! Adding the SSD cache makes for a very fast, useable setup, even with the largest image files or 4K video.
Moving inside, we opted for the Western Digital WD60EFRX 6TB drives for storage, a solid performing NAS focussed drive. WD Red drives with NASware 3.0 technology are purpose-built to balance performance and reliability in NAS and RAID environments. NAS specific drives are different to your regular desktop HDD’s in that they’re pretty much built to be on 24/7, they run quietly and they keep their cool. That’s our build run-down.
The QNAP operates like your regular NAS in that it’s accessible on your local network. You can sling files back and forth over wifi on most devices using one of many apps available. You can also share links to files with co-workers, so if you have the QNAP setup in your studio, it means you can very easily collaborate on a shoot or multi-media project. Most importantly for me, it gives me the ability to access it from anywhere with an internet connection using my QNAPcloud.
It all sounds very technical. For the average user that’s the one thing I’d say I prefer about my Synology setup, is that I find it more straightforward or guided when coming at it from a beginner’s point of view. Like the Synology, the unit will auto-configure your router and ask if you want it to be more public or more private, etc.
But for us as photographers and filmmakers, the main drawing-card is that the unit is both NAS and DAS. So there are no hold-ups in workflow, and the ability to privately deliver digital content to clients right after you’ve ingested the files. You can use the PhotoStation (hmm, think I’ve heard that name before!) app to share photo and video via a password protected album, or publically.
What we’re looking at here is the ingest and edit speed of photos and videos. I have two comparison devices to use in this little test, my 8TB G-Tech (Thunderbolt 2) and my behemoth, Promise R8 (also Thunderbolt 2) both directly connected to my 2017 iMac via adapters.
Note: Sadly, mid-way through this review, my 2015 iMac died… Apple replaced it with a 2017 iMac which only has USB-C. So while I’m thankful, I had to head out and buy a stack of adapters to use any of my drives and indeed to finish this review!
I shoot with a Sony a7R Mk2 which happily produces 85MB files. So even a quick photo session with a family, 15 images, is about 1.2GB of data, which is nothing in the big scheme of things. But if you’re ingesting that every time into a slow disk, you’ll most likely start to go a little bit crazy and potentially toss your computer into the nearest dumpster!
Multiply that 1.2GB by hundreds of GB of data that could be shot on a set, or some tasty 4K video footage and you really need the speed of DAS! The QNAP certainly did not disappoint, keeping up with both the G-Tech and the Promise storage units.
But where I really noticed a sweet difference is when I was in Lightroom, editing files directly on the QNAP. The QNAP operating system puts the files you’re working with into “hot storage” and gives you quick access to them, so I guess my CR2 files were in the SSD Cache and as a result, the edits had no lag time like you’ll sometimes get if you work over a network!
You can see the SSD Cache flexing its muscles here (the little jumps) as I flick through images in my Lightroom catalog.
I could take my finished edits and drop them straight into my PhotoStation folder and have them on the web right away. I could also export full resolution image to a folder that I then share a link to with my client! They can view the album and then download the full resolution files with very little fuss, and it’s all securely controlled on my own NAS.
What was the result of this hard drive review and using the QNAP TVS-682T for photography, for the last month? In my opinion, it is highly recommended if you’re looking for a solution to do both DAS and NAS!
Any negatives? Yes, I find the interface to be a little more technical and potentially confusing for people that are starting out in the world of robust NAS storage options.
But the positives far outweigh the negatives (there’s also helpdesk support, remote assistance, and a great forum if you’re really stuck).
Between the TVS-682T loaded with WD Red drives, and the Samsung EVO 860, this is one heck of a storage solution.
Disclaimer: The author was provided gear by the supplier for the purpose of this review.