Atom-Powered NAS: Thecus N4200 And QNAP TS-459 Pro

Intel's most modern dual-core Pineview-based Atom processor isn't just aimed at energy-efficient netbooks. It can also be found in NAS servers from a variety of manufacturers. We tested two mid-range appliances in order to measure the CPU's capabilities.

With the Atom processor's introduction, Intel triggered what could almost be called a small revolution. The processor played—and is playing—a significant role in the rapidly-growing popularity of netbooks and nettops. Now Intel's third-generation Atom processor, also designed for use in energy-efficient and affordable systems, is working its charm in the network-attached storage (NAS) segment.

Previous NAS devices used the second-gen "Diamondville"-based Atom 330. Such devices have already demonstrated some pretty convincing data transfer rates. Thus, our expectations are set high when it comes to NAS devices that use the new, third-generation Pineview-based Atom processors.

For cost reasons, these entry-level storage devices typically aren't equipped with hardware-acclerated RAID controllers. Instead, they let the CPU execute XOR calculations for various RAID modes, making data transfer rates for these NAS units partially dependent on CPU performance.

Pineview, What's New?

Clock speeds of the older Diamondville-based CPUs look very similar to those of new Pineview models. The dual-core Atom 330 (Diamondville) has a clock frequency of 1,600 MHz, while the dual-core Atom D510 (Pineview) runs slightly quicker, clocked at 1,660 MHz. The L2 cache is still 1MB (2 x 512KB), and the solution is manufactured using a 45 nm process. The biggest changes implemented in Pineview are the graphics and memory interfaces. For more on the architecture underlying Intel's Pine Trail platform, check out our launch coverage.

In short, Intel incorporated a graphics processor and memory controller onto the Atom processor die, and although this increases the processor's TDP by a few watts, the entire platform's power consumption drops due to the consolidation of chipset components. Because of this integration, a new chipset (little more than a southbridge, really) called NM10 Intel Express had to be developed.

The Intel 945GC chipset, used for the older Atom 230 and 330 processors, had a TDP of 22W. The NM10 Express dramatically lowers this to only about 2 watts. The combined TDP of an Atom 330 and 945GC chipset is around 30W, whereas a Pineview-based Atom D510/NM10 nets a TDP of around 15W. It should be noted, however, that the NM10 chipset only has two SATA ports, which makes it poorly-suited to NAS applications. We expect NAS vendors to look for other solutions to get more storage scalability.

In order to see what kind of power consumption and data transfer rates one can expect from a Pineview-based NAS, we took a closer look at the Thecus N4200 and QNAP TS-459 Pro. Both launched in the first quarter of 2010.

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  • mi1ez
    Two very capable products. When the prices of NAS of this quality drops in price, I'm very tempted to get one...
  • hollett
    I'll stick to my setup (2 1/2 years old) of a cheap case, with efficent 350w PSU, 945g motherboard with a Celeron 420 UNDER clocked to 1.2 (to save power) and 1gb of ddr2.

    This runs a old windows 2K licence with my mail server, DLNA media server and 1x1TB (Boot and non raid stuff) and a pair of recently upgraded 1.5TB in raid 1 for my important data.

    To save power I have disconneded FDD, DVD and even the Power/HDD LED's as the "NAS" is hiden in my garage,and i don't ned to see the unit.

    The unit, excluding disks, only cost me around £130 (approx $200) when I bought it.
  • kyzar
    I'd love a NAS, but they aren't quite flexible enough for me yet. I run:

    X2 4400 CPU
    1 x 250gb O/S drive
    3 x 1TB data drives in RAID5 (software)
    Debian Linux


    Apache / MySQL / PHP5 for my web dev work
    Mediatomb for uPnP movie playback (and on-the-fly transcoding) on PS3
    Samba for network shares to the PCs
    Counter Strike server
    VMWare server
    Print server
    Vuze Bitorrent client with remote web access
    Mail server with AV, spam filter and webmail access for the 15+ domains I own / host on it
    + million and one other little things I forget now

    All free software, pennies for the hardware. Has been utterly reliable for over two years. When it breaks I'll refresh the hardware so I can run more bots on CS:S...
  • Anonymous
    so many Nas reviewed yet why none from tranquil PC, they seem to have very competitive NAS servers available, with also the same hardware.
    Any chance of a comparison please