IT Pro Verdict
Heaps of native storage features
Speedy RAID provisioning
Dedupe requires 16GB RAM
Qnap's TS-h973AX might not have the snappiest name in the desktop NAS market, but it makes a big impression in other ways, offering enterprise-class data security and protection on an SMB budget.
Much of that is thanks to Qnap's ZFS-based QuTS hero operating system, and its impressive range of native storage features. ZFS copy-on-write provides fast, near-unlimited snapshots, while end-to-end checksums offer transparent self-healing of data corruption and inline data deduplication and compression help you make the most efficient use of your storage.
QuTS goes above and beyond when it comes to RAID provision, too. Alongside the usual range of parity and mirroring options, it lets you create triple-parity arrays to protect against three drive failures, or use triple mirroring to store identical copies of your data on three drives. Data can also be protected from tampering by applying WORM (write once, read many) policies.
The appliance is powered by a 2.2GHz AMD Ryzen V1500B CPU, and we opted for the model with 32GB of DDR4 memory. You can save a bit of cash by choosing the cheaper 8GB version, but be aware that Qnap's deduplication service requires a minimum of 16GB to function.
The TS-h973AX is well endowed for a desktop unit, with five main LFF SATA hot-swap drive bays and four SFF bays below, the top two of which support SATA or U.2 NVMe SSDs. Around the back there's an embedded 10GBase-T port, plus two 2.5GbE sockets to play with.
While the QuTS hero software is laden with advanced features, the learning curve is gentle as it looks and feels very similar to the standard QTS firmware. That said, we spotted one difference right away: our three 14TB Seagate IronWolf NAS HDDs were assembled into a 24TB RAID5 storage pool in five minutes, while the job could have taken a day under QTS.
There are a lot more differences under the surface. For example, when creating NAS shares, the wizard offers a generous range of options for thick or thin provisioning, compression, deduplication, encryption and WORM. The latter comes in two flavours: if you pick the Enterprise WORM policy then you can delete folders within the share, but not modify or remove individual items. The tougher Compliance policy doesn't let you change or delete anything, short of completely removing the storage pool.
IP SANs can be set up in the standard iSCSI & Fibre Channel app, and you can again choose thick or thin provisioning for LUNs, along with deduplication, compression and other options. The Storage & Snapshots app can be used to create both NAS and iSCSI snapshots, either manually or according to your chosen schedule.
There are plenty of other apps to explore; we counted more than 130 either preinstalled or available to download, including Hybrid Backup Sync 3, Qsync Central and HybridMount, as well as Hyper Data Protector, which protects VMware and Hyper-V VMs.
The cherry on top is performance. With the appliance connected to our Dell T640 Xeon Scalable Windows Server 2019 host over 10GbE, we mapped a drive and saw sequential read and write speeds of 9.3Gbits/sec and 7.2Gbits/sec respectively, as measured by Iometer. Real-world performance is similarly impressive: copies of a 25GB test file between the NAS and server were completed at read and write rates of 8.7Gbits/sec and 4.4Gbits/sec respectively, while our data backup set was transferred at a very creditable 2.5Gbits/sec.
The TS-h973AX crams an awful lot of storage into its modestly sized casing, and delivers an impressive set of features and great all-round performance. Despite all that, it's very affordable for SMBs – making this our top-choice desktop NAS.
Qnap TS-h973AX specifications
|2.2GHz AMD Ryzen V1500B
|32GB DDR4 ECC (max 64GB)
|5 x LFF, 4 x SFF (2 x U.2 NVMe) hot-swap drive bays
|Supports RAID0, 1, 5, 6, 10, 50, 60, triple parity, triple mirror
|2 x 2.5GbE, 10GBase-T (Multi-Gig)
|4 x USB-A 3.2
|QuTS hero 4.5.0
|225 x 224 x 183mm
|3yr hardware warranty
Dave is an IT consultant and freelance journalist specialising in hands-on reviews of computer networking products covering all market sectors from small businesses to enterprises. Founder of Binary Testing Ltd – the UK’s premier independent network testing laboratory - Dave has over 45 years of experience in the IT industry.
Dave has produced many thousands of in-depth business networking product reviews from his lab which have been reproduced globally. Writing for ITPro and its sister title, PC Pro, he covers all areas of business IT infrastructure, including servers, storage, network security, data protection, cloud, infrastructure and services.