The HS-251 has much more in common with QNAP's high-end consumer boxes than the cheaper HS-210. First there's the array of ports: dual-Ethernet jacks supporting ganging and failover, two USB 2.0 ports for peripherals, two USB 3.0 ports for storage (or an 802.11ac Wi-Fi adapter), and an HDMI port.
There's a second port with the HDMI form factor, but there's a cap on it that says it's reserved. Here's hoping it eventually will allow HDMI input, so you can record from external video equipment. At the moment, the HS-251 lacks that capability. Note that you can attach a USB W-Fi adapter to render the HS-251 wireless, and you can plug in a USB TV tuner for live TV.
A very fast box
The HS-251 is quite fast thanks to its Intel Celeron J1800 processor and 1GB of onboard memory, which is great for transcoding video (most consumer NAS boxes use weaker ARM or Intel Atom CPUs). QNAP also offers a 2G model that comes with — you guessed it — 2GB of system memory. To avoid a mechanical hard drive being a bottleneck I tested the box with a single 240GB SanDisk Extreme II SSD installed.
CrystalDiskMark rated the HS-251 as reading files at about 90MBps and writing them at about 107MBps. In my own tests with a 20GB set of files and folders I got around 60MBps both ways. With a single large 20GB file: 99MBps reading and 109MBps reading. Not bad at all. A superfast OCZ Revo PCIe SSD driven by an Intel Core i7-3770 was on the other end of the gigabit connection.
Beyond multimedia, or actually behind it in NAS's more traditional role as a business server, the HS-251 can act as a Web and mail server, provide content management services, act as a backup repository and file server, and it provides clients that keep the entire box backed up online to cloud-storage services such as Amazon S3, Elephant Drive, Google Drive, and others.
It can also serve up your own personal cloud, either directly from the box using its integrated (and spectacular) Web interface or via QNAP's myQNAPcloud Web portal service. It syncs with online storage services such as Azure, Google Drive and Dropbox to keep itself backed up. Then there's SSDP (Simple Device Discovery Protocol) and OpenRemote for hardcore connected-home aficionados.
You even get a surveillance app that supports licenses for two IP cameras, and you can access everything from any web browser or Android/iOS apps. And as I mentioned up top, this box will also output directly to your HDTV or monitor via HDMI. If you need all that, this is one handy product.
Then there's a bit of what many might consider extraneous "computer" stuff such as IP addresses on the main screen, and the interface, while not ugly, isn't the slickest I've seen. Also, the apps are from different sources, and their interfaces vary quite a bit. Some require you to log on, i.e. enter your user name and password. None of this is difficult if you understand computers, but it's nowhere near as easy to use as a Smart TV. And I've seen users struggle with Smart TVs.
Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.