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QNAP + Debian, vs. Raspberry Pi + External drives?

#1

D

doopy

Steve mentioned it might be possible to install Linux on a QNAP device, and it turns out it can in fact run Debian.

I don't know much about QNAP devices or NASes in general, but this got me wondering... compared to running a general-purpose distribution like Debian on a QNAP or similar device... wouldn't you almost be better off hooking up some external drives to a Raspberry Pi?

Raspberry Pi
  • Significantly cheaper than a NAS device. RP4 2GB is about $40, call it $60 with accessories. Entry-level dual-bay diskless QNAP devices and similar NASes start at around $150-$200.
  • Internal and external drives cost about the same.
  • Four USB ports: 4x USB 2.0 (RPi 3 B+), or 2x USB 2.0, 2x USB 3.0 (RPi 4)
  • Very good Linux support. Likely to be supported for the foreseeable future.
  • Supports a variety of distros, including NAS distros like OpenMediaVault. Also supports some non-Linux OSes.
  • Better specs than any of the supported QNAP devices that can run Debian.
  • Hackable hardware. E.g. PoE support can be added.
  • Probably requires either external 3.5" drives, or a powered USB hub for 2.5" drives. (I doubt the Pi can power four 2.5" drives on its own.)
  • Not aesthetically pleasing - a potential rat's nest of wires.
QNAP or other low-end NAS device running general-purpose Linux distro
  • More expensive.
  • Inferior or comparable specs compared to RPi.
  • Poor support for third-party Linux distros. E.g. Debian 11 is not supported on QNAP.
  • Can use internal drives; no enclosure or external power supply necessary.
  • Internal drives use SATA instead of USB
    • OS may have better control over drive power management
    • Probably more reliable than USB
    • No faster than USB, in many cases.
      • USB 2.0 = 480Mbit/s, USB 3.0 = 5Gbit/s, SATA3 = 6Gbit/s; actual speeds vary
      • In reality, many modern inexpensive high-capacity spinning disks are so slow they cannot even max out a USB 2.0 interface.
  • I assume some models can use external drives via USB, eSATA, or some other interface
  • Looks pretty. One unit, one ethernet cable, and one power cable (if only using internal drives).


#2

danlock

danlock

Supports a variety of distros, including NAS distros like OpenMediaVault. Also supports some non-Linux OSes.

Indeed. The RPis are becoming well-ARMed, much to the chagrin of certain folks who dislike the idea of ARMament. ;)


#3

A

AlanD

I have built several NAS's for customers using old PC's and NAS4Free which is based on BSD.

I picked up old Pentium machines for about GBP10 each, and put high capacity drives in on the SATA connections. These machines also had IDE controllers ( they were that old), so I put a smallish ( 40GB )IDE drive that I had lying around and used that to install the software etc. I increased the RAM to 4GB, and they happily served about 30 users for 8-10 years. I had one failure - a PSU went, but was replaced within a few hours with no data loss.


#4

miquelfire

miquelfire

While I use a Drobo as my main NAS for backups, I free the reuse old PCs is a great option. Hell, you can build a PC for the purposes of NAS use (I have a case which I can easily fit 20 hard drives in it if I buy the right parts for it, though the way I'm using it, the 16GB limit by the processor is an issue.)


#5

P

PHolder

The entire point of a SOHO NAS is simplicity. If you have the genes to tinker, you can surely build something that pleases you. Any PC with more than one drive in it (i.e. a boot drive and a data drive) is, in some sense, a NAS. What you get when you pay for a NAS is a purpose built enclosure, frequently with hot-swappable drives, with proper cooling, and sometimes with redundant fans and/or power supplies, frequently with mutliple NICs for bonding (higher data throughput) and an OS that is built for purpose and tested for that purpose and supported for that purpose. The thinking is you paid extra to not have to worry about troubleshooting incompatibilities between hardware, software and drives. Also, many NAS suppliers include extra features like sync/backup and Synology (the NAS brand I would recommend) supplies a bunch of features for self-hosting various things like pictures and your own "cloud."


#6

D

doopy

I have built several NAS's for customers using old PC's and NAS4Free which is based on BSD.

I picked up old Pentium machines for about GBP10 each, and put high capacity drives in on the SATA connections. These machines also had IDE controllers ( they were that old), so I put a smallish ( 40GB )IDE drive that I had lying around and used that to install the software etc. I increased the RAM to 4GB, and they happily served about 30 users for 8-10 years. I had one failure - a PSU went, but was replaced within a few hours with no data loss.
While I use a Drobo as my main NAS for backups, I free the reuse old PCs is a great option. Hell, you can build a PC for the purposes of NAS use (I have a case which I can easily fit 20 hard drives in it if I buy the right parts for it, though the way I'm using it, the 16GB limit by the processor is an issue.)

I've used old desktops as NASes before too. It's a great way to reuse old hardware. You can build one for the same price as a small NAS too, but with more bays and better specs. You can even get used tower servers with hot-swap bays for cheaper than buying a big NAS new, and it'll probably have way better specs.

They're great options if you need a lot of storage and computing power, but not really direct alternative to a Raspberry Pi setup or a small NAS. A desktop, tower server, or even a big NAS, will take up a lot more physical space, consume a lot more power, and make a lot more noise. So it's sort of apples to oranges, even if it's equally cost effective.


#7

P

PHolder

Of course a NAS should always be on a [reliable] UPS, if you care about your data.... but... RaspberryPi's have been known to corrupt their SD card and thus become unbootable, if not properly shut down. I had a friend that was using RPi's for a web server and other special purpose servers (email) in his SOHO setup, and he kept having unreliable power cause them to go out of service.

Also on the topic of RPi, this case is really nice, if pricey:
(If this is your first introduction to the channel, and you're into SBC's, and you can tolerate his interesting vocal quirks, you should definitely add a follow. New content goes up on Sundays.)


#8

D

doopy

The entire point of a SOHO NAS is simplicity. If you have the genes to tinker, you can surely build something that pleases you. Any PC with more than one drive in it (i.e. a boot drive and a data drive) is, in some sense, a NAS. What you get when you pay for a NAS is a purpose built enclosure, frequently with hot-swappable drives, with proper cooling, and sometimes with redundant fans and/or power supplies, frequently with mutliple NICs for bonding (higher data throughput) and an OS that is built for purpose and tested for that purpose and supported for that purpose. The thinking is you paid extra to not have to worry about troubleshooting incompatibilities between hardware, software and drives. Also, many NAS suppliers include extra features like sync/backup and Synology (the NAS brand I would recommend) supplies a bunch of features for self-hosting various things like pictures and your own "cloud."
Right, that's why I was wondering why anyone would put a general-purpose OS like Debian on a NAS device, since you'd lose most of the convenience.

Now that I'm thinking about it though, I just realized Steve's advice was probably aimed at people who already have a QNAP device and are looking for a way to secure it rather than replace it. I guess it doesn't make a lot of sense to go out and buy a ready-to-go NAS device if you plan to put Debian on it right away, since there are better options if you're willing to DIY. I just read it out of context initially I guess.


#9

P

PHolder

Oh, I should also add this here, I guess: RPi's are not your only choice. Pine64 makes a little SBC, in the same size as the RPi, called the RockPro64. You can buy from them also a metal case to mount two drives in, with the purpose of building a NAS. https://pine64.com/product/rockpro64-metal-desktop-nas-casing/ They do seem to be suffering availability issues these days, as it seems are most electronics/computer suppliers.


#10

P

PHolder

that's why I was wondering why anyone would put a general-purpose OS like Debian on a NAS device, since you'd lose most of the convenience
Well I thought @Steve made that clear. QNAP is garbage at security, so you should NOT put one of their devices, with their "supported" OS, accessible from the Internet. The installation of Debian was a mitigation.


#11

D

doopy

RaspberryPi's have been known to corrupt their SD card and thus become unbootable, if not properly shut down.
Interesting. Is there something specific to RPi, or specific to SD cards, or do you just mean in general as any writable filesystem can become corrupt in the event of a power failure? Ext4 and Btrfs are both pretty resilient against crashes; I've used both on a Pi and power cycled them before and I don't recall one ever becoming unbootable (but no filesystem is perfect, and I knew when I did it that it very well could have corrupted them).


#12

D

doopy

Well I thought @Steve made that clear. QNAP is garbage at security, so you should NOT put one of their devices, with their "supported" OS, accessible from the Internet. The installation of Debian was a mitigation.
Yeah, I just didn't figure that out until now, haha. Probably because I'm a tinkerer myself, I install Linux on everything I can get my hands on, and I rarely buy something and just use it as-is. So when he said that, I guess I took it as just a normal thing people do with their NAS devices.