Today we are reviewing a feature rich NAS from Asustor. The AS3102T is a home user oriented model and features a HDMI output, making it a compelling option (or is it?) for a home theater system and networked home.
The Asustor AS3102T is a 2-bay NAS designed to be a central device in a interconnected multi-device digital home. Even now NAS devices tend to be relegated to the domain of businesses and power users, but the need for interconnected storage is becoming well and truly mainstream. With the ever increasing power and numbers of mobile and networked devices, consumption and volume of digital media and the need for data portability and security, a NAS is becoming a very smart addition to a digital household. External storage has always been a hot seller with its plug and play ease of use, but a basic HDD doesn’t cover the bases of many home users anymore and so a NAS device like the Asustor AS3102T is a cost effective and powerful solution for the heart of a home media network, be it 4K media playback, media sharing, surveillance, backing up or cloud storage.
The AS3102T uses Intel’s Celeron N3050 processor which features AES-NI hardware encryption. This is a key feature, allowing high speeds transfers of encrypted-files, Many older NAS lack the support for this level of encryption. The other major feature is the included HDMI 1.4b port. Digital media is everywhere so to have capable 4K (30fps) streaming capability is a big plus.
As we see below, the key feature at the heart of the AS3102T is the 6w Braswell N3050 CPU. This brings the aforementioned AES-NI encryption capability as well as hardware support for HEVC (but not 10 bit) We have 2Gb of DDR3L memory, a Gigabit Ethernet port, a single HDMI 1.4b port and three USB 3.0 ports.
A Closer Look
The box is quite compact and easy to carry. Many of the key features are shown here and on the back including some smartphone setup instructions. The NAS and its accessories come securely packed inside foam shells so unless the courier is using it as a football, its hard to see how it could be damaged.
The accessories include a top quality Delta Electronics adapter, so there is definitely no corner cutting there. The unit is capable of providing up to 60w which is a lot more than this NAS and drives will use. Delta make some of the best power supplies on the market. We’ve also got screws for attaching the hard drives, a Cat 5e Ethernet cable, software disc and installation guide.
While using the provided disc is certainly an option, we’d always advise visiting the manufacturer website to obtain the latest software.
The front of the NAS is finished in a sort of diamond shaped covering which adds a little bit of style to what is typically a simple black box. There are a set of activity LEDs, a USB 3.0 port, but strangely, no power button, which is on the back of the unit.
The rear contains the power button, a recessed reset button, the LAN port, two USB 3,0 ports, the HDMI 1.4b port and the DC input.
Opening up the unit is a matter of removing two screws and then sliding the two halves of the outer shell. Below the HDD cage we can see the motherboard, with the N3050 CPU beneath a rather large heatsink which keeps it perfectly cool given the low TDP of just 6w. The memory is soldered to the PCB and cannot be expanded. The motherboard has a single PCIe slot which holds the SATA expansion card. On the left is the main cooling fan which during operation, makes basically no noise, but it does get audible when selecting higher fan speed via the ADM interface.
System setup & Installation
Installation is a simple process. You can follow the instructions and use the software provided on the CD, otherwise you can download the required software from the Asustor website, as we chose to do. The first step is to install the Asustor Control Center software. This app starts off by finding the NAS on your network. Then, select the initialize button, this will take you to a web based installation procedure to follow with easy steps. Click next and wait while the ADM software is installed on the NAS. You can also map the drive from here, so it will show up as a storage device on your PC.
The NAS will ship with a version of the Asustor Data Master software (ADM) but we’d advise visiting the website and downloading the latest version. In this case, the latest version is 2.7.1.
Next up is to select your RAID level (JBOD (Just a Bunch of Disks), RAID 0 or or RAID 1) since this is only a 2 bay NAS, the higher RAID levels are of course blanked out.
That’s it! There’s an optional registration option to arrange an Asustor ID, which is used with the array of applications and services that can be used by the ADM software.
After the installation is finished, it’s time to visit the Asustor Data Master operating system. You’ll see a welcome message and be offered a tour of the web interface. If you are not familiar with the ADM software, this is recommended.
The ADM can be accessed via a web browser or the HDMI port, as long as the NAS has a mouse connected or an app such as AiMaster which can be installed on mobile devices.
The Asustor Data Master Operating System, (ADM) is a Linux-based operating system that Asustor uses across their range of NAS devices. it quite closely resembles Synology’s excellent DSM software. Though our experience with ADM is not as extensive as it is with QNAP and Synology’s OS’, the ADM does feel mature and bugfree with the functionality we tested. As this is a consumer oriented NAS device, we didn’t delve into the more advanced business and enterprise level features that are possible with ADM. Suffice to say, there are a ton of possible applications!
Clicking on the admin tab at the top right of the interface brings a small settings menu where things like the passwords, volume usage and the background wallpaper can be changed. You can also shut down the NAS from here which may be especially handy given the difficult to reach location of the physical button on the back of the unit.
The major settings are located by selecting the cog icon on the desktop that you can see in the picture of the home screen above.
There are an absolute mountain of settings and controls to be found here.
The first tabs are the Network and VPN tabs. Key settings include manual controls over DNS, IP, Proxy settings and options for a WiFi Dongle should you be using one. VPNs are becoming more and more prevalent in the age of data mining and geo-blocking, so a VPN isn’t a bad thing at all to have.
Next is the Regional Options tab which has things like time and date settings and the interface language.
The Hardware tab is where you can control things like the disk hibernation or sleep settings, fan controls and a cool LED brightness adjustment. I personally use a Synology DS215J NAS and its LEDs are bright enough to light a room, so adjustment over the LED brightness on the Asustor is a small, but nice little option, particularly if you are planning to use it as a media playback device or with a HTPC in a darkened movie watching room.
The Notification tab allows system log entries to be sent via email or SMS. For example, if a drive is failing or the fan freezes, the unit can be shut down remotely.
The ADM Defender is a firewall application designed to protect the NAS from attacks.
The Certificate Manager tab is probably not all that needed for our readers, but if the NAS is used in a business environment, this could be handy to control access.
The ADM update tab is pretty self explanatory. Here the NAS will tell you which version you are running and if there are any updates, and notification methods if there are any available.
The Network Recycle Bin tab is useful if you are worried about accidental data loss. This can be set to a per folder basis.
The Energy Saver tab is where you can also control the drive sleep and hibernation settings, and wake on LAN.
The EZ connect tab is a cloud ID for controlling remote access to your NAS. It’s an excellent feature. Let’s say you are overseas and want to upload a batch of pics to the NAS back home? no problem.
The Manually Connect tab is where you’ll find DDNS settings or connecting a mobile device.
The Factory Default tab is self explanatory. Apply this setting if you want to restore the NAS to its default state, but note you will lose all your data if you choose to do this.
The final tab is the Registration tab where you can use your Asustor ID to utilize advanced features and cloud options.
Now that we’ve gone over some of the ADM settings and controls, lets have a look at some of the things AMD has at your fingertips, starting with the Storage Manager:
Obviously being a storage device fundamentally, you’ll want to be familiar with the Storage Manager tab. Here you can check the volume(s) and control iSCSI and LUN settings if you wish for a client device to see the NAS as a local disk(s).
Asustor AS3102-T Multimedia Applications
One of the key uses for a quality NAS is as a media server to stream to a wide variety of household devices. Plex Media Server is an ever popular tool for this very purpose. but we’re sad to say that we couldn’t get decent results. A 1080p h.264 stream over Wi-Fi resulted in choppy playback and 100% CPU load, with buffering pauses every few seconds making the stream unwatchable.
Kodi, another popular media center app, fared better. Playback of a high quality 1080p x.264 stream with DTS audio played without issue over the HDMI port, with about 30% CPU usage on average. The problems started with the playback of a HEVC 10 bit stream which was choppy with 100% CPU use. This is a weakness of the built in Braswell CPU rather than anything specific to the software. Apollo lake CPU’s we’ve tested handle this kind of stream without issue, even at 4K.
Playback to a mobile via Asustor’s own AiVideo app went well. The limitation of the HEVC stuttering playback remained, but we were easily able to stream 1080p x.264 content to a tablet with no stuttering or lagging issues over WiFi with low CPU usage.
In summary, the Braswell N3050 dual core CPU is the Achilles heel of the AS3102T. Braswell lacks fixed function HEVC 10bit support and the two general purpose cores just aren’t powerful enough to compensate. In fact it can’t even handle 1080p HEVC 10bit properly. If you’ll be sticking to 1080p x.264, or using 8bit HEVC encoded content, then you’ll be fine. But 10bit and HDR is the way of the future. We recommend an alternative NAS solution such as Asustor’s own AS3202-T which has a more powerful quad core J3160CPU which should be able to handle 4K better.
A NAS, by definition, contains files that are shared with other devices on the network, so the way the network clients interact with the NAS is a key part of the user experience. Lets take a look at some of the client side applications.
We’ve gone over a couple of the common apps, such as Plex and Kodi. Using an android phone, we were able to install and access data on the NAS quite easily. Now, if you go to the Google Play store and search for Asustor, you are greeted with an array of ‘Ai’ apps.
Starting with the AiRemote. This is an app that lets you use your phone to control the NAS when it is connected to a display via HDMI. you can use the phone to move the cursor, control apps and type on a keyboard as well. It removes the need to have a keyboard and mouse. A perfect example would be to use Kodi with the NAS hooked up directly to a TV or HDMI receiver without the need for any PC in between. Nice!
AiData is a tool for accessing the files on the NAS and connecting them with the cloud. Dropbox and google drive are two of the several options available for sharing.
AiPhoto is the photo gallery app. With this you can manually or automatically send photos from your device straight to the NAS. It doesn’t appear to support geotagging though which would be a nice feature.
AiSecure is a surveillance mobile app. This will be a vital app if you want to check in on your cameras while you’re out and about.
AiMaster is the master control app for Asustor NAS’. You can do things like monitor status, backups and manage services and applications of the ADM OS.
AiMusic is pretty self explanatory. This is the app that allows you to stream music from your NAS to your mobile device.
AiVideo is the same thing, but for video. With this you can stream to a Chromecast dongle.
AiDownload is the go to app if you wish to download without a PC. It supports HTTP, FTP and bittorrent. It can control various parameters such as up/down ratios, connection speeds and it supports RSS too.
There’s one more not seen in the screenshot above. This is AiCast which is particularly useful for the HDMI equipped Asustor units. It is essentially a control app for Kodi. Though since Kodi has a dedicated android app, it’s up to you which one you prefer to use.
Test Setup & Results
We equipped the AS3102T with a pair of Seagate ST2000VN000 NAS drives in a RAID 1 configuration. RAID0 wouldn’t make much sense given the speed would be bottlenecked by the Gigabit Ethernet connection. Remember that the choice of drive has a major impact on the performance of a NAS, so as always, your mileage may vary. In 2017, we also need to consider the limits of Gigabit networking as current hard drives are easily capable of transfers much faster than Gigabit.
First up, we test a simple transfer to and from the NAS. We see this is hitting the limits of Gigabit networking once overheads are taken into account.
Similar results to the real world test are seen in ATTO’s disk benchmark which shows the drives are fast enough to be bottlenecked even by smaller kb sized files.
Next up is Anvil’s very good SSD test suite, which can also be used for regular hard drives of course.
The Asustor AS3102T has a fantastic range of functionality and wide ranging selection of applications. Users unfamiliar with the virtues of Network Attached Storage will be blown away by some of the things a device like the AS3102T is capable of. It’s a low powered, cool running and quiet device and will serve an average users needs very well.
Drive installation is a breeze, though they are not hot swappable for those who are concerned about this feature. We don’t think this is a massive issue here as most target users will be fussed with this once the device is powered up. Also we’d like to see the power button on the front of the unit. Having it on the rear is a bit of a head scratcher.
The Asustor’s ADM operating system is a terrific piece of software. It is intuitively laid out with most settings easy to find or easy to search for. Initialization and mapping the drive is very easy and we’re also impressed by the incredible variety of applications available . It’s like a separate networked PC really. The Asustor AS3102T is going for $369 SGD, making it a very good value proposition.
Low power consumption
AES hardware encryption support
3x USB 3.0
3 Year warranty
Braswell CPU is a step behind newer Apollo Lake solutions
Strange power button placement
No HEVC 10 bit hardware support
Asustor 3202T is a better 4K choice