NAS with unRaid – Bye-bye QNap

So for a long while now, I was turned on to QNap by a colleague so that I can finally move my movie and tvshow collection off of my USB 4-Bay drive enclosure and finally get it connected to a network. I was originally setting out to do a nice Pi-Nas configuration, but with USB 3.0 still not fully released, I decided to heed advice and get a pre-built NAS by QNap.

I settled with TS-453A which is a decent box and getting it on Ebay yielded me a 200$ savings compared to Amazon. To say that I fell in love with the box would be both an understatement as well as a small white lie. It does exceptionally well at what it’s made for: being a 4bay NAS. However I ran into some minor inconveniences along the way which I’ll touch upon a little here before talking about my recent move.

Great at being a NAS, shitty at everything else

So this little NAS is a simple Intel Celeron processor which is enough to handle Plex and Raid configurations. It ships with the ability to even be a hypervisor as well as a Docker host meaning expansion should be great. Their app store, and the ability to use a community store, is fabulous for further customizations, but there’s still a few things I hated about this whole setup.

Being a hypervisor and Docker host, I really wanted to get some VMs and containers running to release some load from my mining-rig-turned-VMHost. However, that Celeron processor is a big letdown when you want to start running any VMs. Having Ubuntu run as a simple reverse proxy instantly showed me that this little guy was struggling so I had to go with the container approach. That was a let-down because I wanted a simple Linux VM that I can run some Linux tests straight from there, but atlas that’s what the Mining-rig was for.

Containers worked fairly well for what they’re worth, but I personally disliked the UI for QNap in this management of the containers. Many times I just wanted to go through the Terminal but if you’ve never seen the QNap terminal, it’s horrendously bad. Bash is fortunately available for us that like it, but trying to figure out how QNap runs its processes (and how to restart them) is something I never want to do again. Hell even using their Apps like QApache was a test of patients to figure out where configurations were since their Management UI is atrociously bad, which is why I needed to go through a Container/VM in the first place.

Lastly, while this should be a positive note, I absolutely hated the upgrade notifications of QNap. Normally I love constant updates, but when you’re dealing with a 10-20minute spinup of drives, the a reboot function that fails more times than it succeeds requiring a hard-reset, and then the eventual filesystem checks which can’t run because QNap started all of its apps before notifying you checks were needed. F$#K MAN, JUST WORK!!!

Save me unRaid! Please!

I was turned towards unRaid by watching a Linus Tech Tips video about “2 Gamers 1 PC” and then the eventual sequal called “7 Gamers 1 PC” on youtube. For me, this was a great project that could answer a request made by my nephew who wanted to build a PC with him. My nephew being 8 and the younger brother to a 12-year old, I thought this would be an awesome project and lesson in sharing. You simply can’t buy an expensive gift for one nephew and then nothing for the other, and I’d never hear the end of it if I built a nice modern PC for one but hardly ever do anything other than play video games with the other. So, build a PC with the kid that really wants to learn about them and has an interest right now, but build it so that both can play with the PC at the same time afterwards. 2-Birds-1-Stone!

Videos however, doesn’t mean I actually know what the hell I’m doing, and the last thing you want when you’re trying to show a kid how cool computers can be is to run into show-stoppers mid-build. So obviously, I need to build one myself and test it! But where am I going to get the supplies, do I really want to buy everything now with no input from my nephew? That’d be heart-breaking, not to mention expensive. If only I had a computer that wasn’t doing what it was built for to play with. Here comes the Mining-Rig!!

Mining has taken a heavy downward turn in 2018 thanks to the bubble bust in January, but my machine was no lightweight either. 4x GTX 1070s + 2x GTX 1060s powered by a Ryzen 1800x, this guy was a gamers dream if everything was in SLI and had enough x16 PCI-E slots (thank you x4 PCI-E breakout boards and mining only needing x1 slots!).

Okay, so I have the computer already, time to get drives for an initial setup, get unRaid installed, and off I go! After about 2hours of tinkering and learning the unRaid setup I was happily on my way with moving over my 4 VMs that were being powered by the “MiningRig” and even got my Domain Controller installed. Next up was to get a dev-Copy of Windows 10 installed and test it out. GPU-Passthrough turns out to be super simple, once you actually follow the instructions, and pass things along. Also it works better when one of your cards isn’t dying (RIP used-GTX 1070 from EBay, it was a great 8months). Passing 7-threads to one of the Gaming VMs I created, to simulate what it’d be like with 2x Gaming VMs on a Ryzen 1800x housing 16-threads, turned some great results below. 

Main Gaming PC

The results were pretty impressive in my opinion! In Cinebench R15, I saw a 15FPS drop compared to my 1080ti, and my CPU with less than half the threads held up to a 40% drop in CPU score. I also ran Valley and Heaven benchmarks to similar differences in the overall FPS. For a GamingVM which will spend the majority of the time playing Fortnite, minecraft, and maybe Call of Duty, I think this will be an overwhelming success!

Gaming tests done, now what?

So yea, I tested out a project that Linus did, now I’m done…now what do I do? Well I could have just gone back to this being a Windows machine housing my VirtualBox VMs, but I just purchased some 2TB drives for unRaid…might as well use this thing some more! I decided now that I have this guy going and it’s working flawlessly, why do I even need my QNap?

Setting up my shares was a breeze, and after about 4hours of transferring content over, I can now start removing drives from the QNap and install them into my Rig. I took a case that I once used for my Hackintosh (RIP Intel 2600K, it’s been a great decade with you!) and then bought a Rosewill Hot-swap drive cage, I was set! Hook up 4 drives in there for Hot-Swapping, enable SATA-HotSwap on all SATA connectors in MSI’s BIOS so we can hot-swap the ones not in the cage, and now I have 8 drives running great together. Purchased a 4-port SATA card off amazon to add a few of my extra SSD cards for Cache and Unassigned drives, and I’m set!

So if you’re looking into a similar project, want to house all of your collections, have a great nas, and make use of all the power you can throw at your CPUs you have, take a look at unRaid. I’m currently in the trial period, but when that expires in October, I’ll definitely be upgrading to Pro!

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