I’m Never Buying Another QNAP System
Update: Rather than fixing and returning my unit, QNAP opted to send a new unit to me. However, by that time I was fed up with the process. I ended up selling the replacement unit and have moved on to a custom-built Open Media Vault based Linux NAS. I wrote a guide on building that NAS here.
A few months ago, I posted about my experience installing Subsonic on a brand new QNAP system. I’m no expert on QNAP or Unix, and so it took some trial and error on my part. I wanted to document my work, though, and it seems like the article helped a few people get Subsonic installed.
I originally bought the QNAP 451 four-bay system, over similar Synology and Drobo system (in addition to the option of building a tower PC using FreeNAS) based on this Wirecutter review of the two-bay 251 system.
However, after several months of “using” the device (I’ve spent more time troubleshooting it or unable to use it because I don’t trust it with my data), and dealing with the company’s tech support, I feel compelled to warn others about my experience.
Two issues I had with the device were based on QNAP’s claims about it versus the reality on the ground, particularly regarding installing apps on a QNAP system and its upgradability.
While there is an App Store users can find software to install on their systems, those packages are created by other QNAP users. Therefore, packages for the most useful apps (at least the ones not made by QNAP) are usually some (or many) versions behind the latest versions. This included Madsonic, which I planned to use for music streaming and Transmission, a torrent client.
I ended up installing both manually, but I know many people would have given up by then. Transmission I got installed by first installing the Entware package distribution system and installing from there. Subsonic — the music streamer software Masonic is based on) — I installed manually (you can read the article to follow that multilingual odyssey).
Of special note is the QNAP user community. It’s awful, even for being an online community. Since QNAP makes major changes to the device’s OS frequently, much of the information online is out of date, and it’s very confusing to figure out what the latest information is. The QNAP community forum is remarkably hostile (my entire time trying to figure out Subsonic, I didn’t have the courage to post on the forum) and that’s largely based on one power user who replies to nearly every post on the forum. The subreddit for QNAP devices isn’t, at least, offensively bad, but it is pretty dead.
Moreover, the 451 technically allows the user to upgrade the system’s RAM. I was happy to be able to upgrade to 8GB of RAM. However, what QNAP doesn’t tell you is that it’s a nightmare to access the secondary RAM slot based on how the device is put together. The second RAM slot is underneath part of the metal frame, and even with my smaller hands it was nearly impossible to get RAM into the slot and seated correctly. It’s a really frustrating experience, and I’m surprised I didn’t get injured or break the device. This is besides the point that the device is mostly made of plastic and taking it completely apart to install upgraded RAM, I was often worried the device would break.
Getting it configured — even in the limited way I was using it — took forever, and more than once I regretted getting this over, say, a local RAID system attached to a new Mac Mini. At this point, I would have recommend most users get an actual computer running Linux, Mac OS, or Windows, and use that as a server instead. Doing so is worth the few hundred dollars of extra cost. But I learned from the experience and was content to run the system as it was.
Then, after a few months, the device started rebooting on its own. I had configured it to email me when the powered down (and when there were errors) and I suddenly started getting tons of emails from week to week. Not only did it shut down by itself, it would complain about file system errors when it booted back up. The QNAP was plugged into an APC battery system that should give it an hour to shut down if there is a brown out or a black out. Plus, I have other devices in the room, including a Windows PC and Playstation 4 that are on sleep mode and it’s clear if they’ve shut down due to power issues.
By this point, the QNAP system had my entire life on it — my CDs, my photos, project files, everything. So data integrity is a big deal, and I began backing things up and communicating with QNAP’s tech support. I’ve had worse tech support experiences, but not many.
I emailed back and forth with a support rep, who wanted to schedule a time to login to my network using a QNAP branded version of Team Viewer (which I already am suspect about). I schedule a day off, and some time to talk with the rep.During the rep’s check, the device’s file system kept popping up errors. Their first solution was to try and fix the errors using Unix commands and to remove any USB hard drives attached to the device (I had one attached because I worried about data integrity, I was backing up everything I could).
I ran the system for a week after the error cleanup (and without any USB devices besides the APC battery). The system rebooted again, and I scheduled another call (and another day off — seriously, my employer is great for letting me be flexible), which found new file system errors. The QNAP rep recommended that I replace all of the HDs. I knew that I had used consumer drives (though high quality ones), so I didn’t balk at their recommendation, and spent $700 on four new NAS drives. In the meantime, I finished backing up my files to whatever other drives I had around, but wasn’t able to save everything.
Things should be all well and good right? Of course not — even with the new drives and a reinitialization of the system, I still kept getting file system errors and reboots. At our next scheduled call the support rep then asked me to RMA the device. I filled out the RMA form and asked the rep what I should do with the drive trays and upgraded RAM. Despite looking at the system information for my device several times already, the rep I’d been speaking with over several weeks asked me to try replacing the RAM because he hadn’t noticed it been upgraded beyond the default 1GB stick. I did so, and again reinitialized the system. More reboots and errors. Great. I explained this to the rep, who asked me to install QNAP’s Help Desk software on the machine so that their Taiwanese engineers could log in and troubleshoot. This took another week, but once they did it QNAP, after several weeks of back and forth, got back to the point of letting me RMA the device.
Some great companies, like Apple, just take a faulty device and replace it with a new one or a working refurb. QNAP is not like those companies. they told me they’d replace the mainboard and send it back. Not ideal for a device that should work for years without me having to do anything, but fine.
However, after all of this, the thing that gets me is that they want me to pay to ship this heavy device back to them in CA to get the board replaced.
At this point, it’s been months seen I’ve been able to use the device. I’ve juggled what data I’ve been able to save between old back ups and new ones from the QNAP device over whatever other hard drives I have on hand. Projects like clearing up my photos using Lightroom, or listening to my music via Subsonic are at a standstill, because I don’t have a NAS system any more. Since buying this device in late November, at this point, I’ve spent more time troubleshooting it than actually using it.
As I write this post, I’m at a crossroads. I can pay to have my faulty device shipped to QNAP. Ideally, the machine I’ll get back will at least work, though I will have to spend the time reinitializing the system, reconfiguring Subsonic and Transmission on it, as well as copying and reorganizing the data/backups I’ve had to make. And that’s assuming it works, which hasn’t been the case with this device or the “support” I’ve received so far.
I could staunch the wound, stop sending good money after bad, and figure out a new storage solution — whether that’s building a tower and installing FreeNAS, Linux, or Windows on it (and using the high quality NAS drives I bought), or buying a cheap (or not-so-cheap Mac Mini) premade system and hooking up some sort of RAID device to it using Thunderbolt or USB3. I’d even be willing to forgo RAID, and just have a four-bay drive device, which treats all the drives separately.
This is one situation where I’d gladly pay Apple’s premium for an “it-just-works” device with a robust warranty and support system, but I doubt the company has much interest in the unsexy world of home/prosumer data storage.
Configuring and servicing the QNAP 451 has been a huge nightmare, and even after it was configured, I’ve barely been able to use it or trust my data to it. I highly recommend others avoid QNAP. At this point, though I’m still searching for solutions, I think I would be happier with a $400 Windows desktop or laptop machine, locally hooked to some kind of local RAID system for my storage needs.