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QNAP TS-h973AX Review

TS-h973AX by QNAPQNAP’s QuTS hero range of NAS appliances continues its expansion plans and the latest to join the family is the TS-h973AX. This 9-bay box stands out from its stablemates as this is QNAP’s first desktop QuTS model to employ AMD’s quad-core 2.2GHz Ryzen V1500B CPU and offer integral support for two U.2 form-factor NVMe SSDs.

The TS-h973AX runs QNAP’s 128-bit ZFS-based operating system which delivers a range of valuable enterprise-class data integrity and protection features. End-to-end checksums offer transparent self-healing of data corruption, ZFS copy-on-write provides fast, near unlimited snapshots for NAS shares plus iSCSI LUNs and you have triple mirroring which stores identical copies of your data on three drives and triple parity RAID (RAID-TP) to protect against three drive failures.

TS-h973AX in-line deduplication and compression services

We found the appliance’s in-line deduplication and compression services can make big storage savings

There’s much more as QuTS hero can make big storage saving with compression and in-line deduplication. NAS share data can also be protected from unauthorized deletion or modification by applying one of two WORM (write once read many) policies.

TS-h973AX Hardware features

The TS-h973AX is a surprisingly compact appliance presenting five LFF hot-swap drive bays and four SFF bays underneath. All SFF bays support standard SATA SSDs while the top two can accept U.2 PCIe-3 NVMe SSDs – QNAP’s QDA-UMP M.2 NVMe SSD adapter is also supported.

QNAP offers 8GB and 32GB versions of the appliance and we have the latter on review. The 8GB model is around $140 cheaper but if you want to use the deduplication feature, you will need a minimum of 16GB with QNAP recommending 32GB to get the best from it.

QNAP TS-h973AX rear view

click to enlarge

Networking looks good as you have a pair of 2.5GbE multi-Gig ports at the rear plus an embedded 10GBase-T copper port which also supports 5GbE, 2.5GbE. 1GbE and 100Mbits/sec speeds. Along with a high-speed Type-C USB 3.2 Gen 2 port, the appliance offers two Type-A USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports for attaching up to two of QNAP’s USB disk expansion enclosures.

The appliance is cooled by a large 14cms diameter rear fan which we found ran very quietly. However, the plastic chassis does act as an echo-chamber and prolonged hard disk write activity produces a noticeable rumbling sound.

Installation and storage features

QNAP recommends using SSDs for the system drive pool so we loaded two 1.92TB Micron 5200 Max SATA SSDs in the SFF bays and used three 14TB Seagate IronWolf Pro HDDs for general data storage duties. Deployment procedures are exactly the same as for QNAP’s QTS-powered appliances with the QFinder Pro desktop app discovering the appliance on the lab network and providing a quick start wizard which loaded the OS on our mirrored SSDs.

TS-h973AX can be used as a virtualization host

Along with a wide range of backup apps, the TS-h973AX can be used as a virtualization host

From the Storage & Snapshots app, we created a 24TB RAID5 pool from our IronWolf Pro drives which was ready to use in five minutes – QTS would have taken at least a day to build it. You have plenty of options when creating NAS shares as you can enable thick or thin provisioning, encryption, deduplication, compression and WORM.

Once WORM is enabled during NAS folder creation, it cannot be modified or disabled. The Enterprise policy allows a protected folder to be deleted but stops anything in it from being individually modified or removed while the stronger Compliance policy blocks folder deletion and only allows it to be removed by deleting the entire storage pool.

NAS and iSCSI snapshots are created from the Storage & Snapshots app and can be run manually or scheduled for as often as every five minutes. Recovery is swift as you choose a snapshot from the list presented, roll it back or browse NAS share snapshots and select specific folders and files.

Apps for QuTS hero operating system

QNAP provides an impressive variety of apps for its QuTS hero operating system

There’s no shortage of apps for the TS-h973AX as we counted 139 available in its download support page. All backup and file syncing apps are present and include Hybrid Backup Sync (HBS) 3, Qsync Central and HybridMount plus Hyper Data Protector which protects VMware and Hyper-V virtualized environments.

TS-h973AX 2.5GbE and 10GbE performance

For 2.5GbE performance testing, we hooked the appliance up to our Netgear ProSafe MS510TX multi-Gigabit switch and mapped a share to a Dell PowerEdge T640 Xeon Scalable tower server running Windows Server 2019. Iometer reported good sequential read and write rates of 2.3Gbits/sec and 2.2Gbits/sec while our 25GB file copies averaged 2.3Gbits/sec and 2.2Gbits/sec.

Stepping up to 10GbE speeds returned NAS sequential read and write rates of 9.3Gbits/sec and 7.6Gbits/sec while our 25GB file copy averaged read and write rates of 7.4Gbits/sec and 4.4Gbits/sec. We saw the same slight drop in write speeds for IP SANs with a 1TB iSCSI target returning read rates of 9.3Gbits/sec and a lower 8.4Gbits/sec write rate.

Using NVMe SSDs for caching will only see improvements to read operations. QNAP removed write caching from QuTS hero as its ZFS file system’s ARC (adaptive read cache) and ZIL (ZFS intent log) features are already very efficient.

Using mirrored 960GB Kioxia NVMe SSDs as a standard high-speed storage pool worked well though, with it delivering better results than the HDD pool for IP SAN throughput over 10GbE. An iSCSI target on our HDD pool produced Iometer read and write I/O rates of 143,900 and 136,200 IOPS whereas a target on the SSD pool returned higher rates of 164,200 and 163,200 IOPS.

To test the appliance’s deduplication efficacy, we created a share with this enabled and copied 121GB of data to it from multiple Windows 10 clients. On completion, we checked the Storage & Snapshots app report page which showed this has been reduced by over 20% to 96.2GB.

TS-h973AX-32G
QNAP TS-h973AX-32G-US 9-bay hybrid storage NAS
$1,039.00
QNAP TS-h973AX Review

Conclusion

The TS-h973AX looks to offer good value for SMBs as it delivers an impressive hardware package for the price, teams this up with a great set of data protection features and adds support for dual U.2 NVMe SSDs. Performance over 2.5GbE and 10GbE is good, its integral deduplication can make big storage savings and it supports a huge range of apps.

8.2 Total Score
Good Value for SMBs

The TS-h973AX offers good value for SMBs as it delivers an impressive hardware package for the price, teams this up with a great set of data protection features and adds support for dual U.2 NVMe SSDs. Performance over 2.5GbE and 10GbE is good, its integral deduplication can make big storage savings and it supports a huge range of apps.

Performance
7.5
Features
9
Build Quality
8
Usability
8
Value
8.5
PROS
  • Good value
  • U.2 NVMe SSD support
  • 2.5GbE and 10GbE ports
  • Enterprise-class data protection features
  • Integral deduplication
  • Plenty of app choices
CONS
  • SSD caching only boosts read performance
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