Intel Storage Platforms for the NAS Market

The higher end segment of the SOHO / SMB NAS market uses Intel's Core-series and Xeon CPUs to deliver the required performance while supporting a large number of drive bays (typically more than 8, in a rackmount form-factor). Those are not the subject of discussion in this article. Over the last four years or so, Intel's play in the other tiers has been mainly with its Atom CPU lineup. A little bit of history gives us some perspective.


In 2010, Intel launched the first Atom-based storage platform (codenamed 'Bandon'), combining a D410 or D510 processor with the 82801R I/O controller (belonging to the ICH9 family). It was capable of supporting up to 6 drive bays, and we even reviewed LaCie's offering (5big Storage Server) using this platform. The Atom D410 / D510 were both based on the Bonnell microarchitecture (coming under the Pineview codename). Later in the year, Intel also pushed out updated Atom CPUs (D425 / D525) with slightly higher base frequencies for use with the storage platform. The QNAP TS-659 Pro II was one of the Atom D525-sporting NAS units that we reviewed.

Pineview (45 nm) was followed by Cedarview (32 nm) in late 2011. It was still based on the Bonnell microarchitecture, but offered higher clock speeds and better performance per watt. Almost a year later, the official storage platform (codenamed 'Milstead') announcement with the Atom D2550 (followed by the D2700) and the 82801JB I/O controller (belonging to the ICH10 family) was made. The focus was on the improved graphics capabilities and HDMI output, which enabled interesting new use-cases related to media playback and surveillance video. LaCie's 5big NAS Pro and the Synology DS1812+ were some of the NAS units that we reviewed in this family.

Between the rollout of products based on the Bandon and Milstead platforms, the NAS market for home consumers and power users started experiencing rapid growth. This market demanded a different set of features compared to SMB requirements. NAS vendors had to provide extensive multimedia support (not in terms of playback on a display, but the ability to manage and stream content). Being a cost-sensitive market, vendors were loath to use a two-chip solution (main CPU + I/O controller hub). Towards serving this market, Intel decided to re-purpose their Berryville CE processor (a 32nm SoC with two Bonnell-based Atom cores as the host CPU) which originally targeted the STBs. For storage solutions, these CE 53xx chips were relaunched in their Evansport avatar and pitched as a media server platform. The CE 53xx SoCs also happened to have a H.264 encoder in addition to a multi-format decoder (giving it the capability to act as a transcoder). We have been pretty bullish on Evansport, having reviewed devices from all of Intel's announced partners (Asustor, Synology and Thecus).

Silvermont into the Picture

In moving from 32nm to 22nm, Intel completely revamped the microarchitecture for their Atom cores. Bonnell was replaced by Silvermont, bringing out of order execution and other improvements into the picture. With so many code names associated with Silvermont-based products, we thought it would be best to present a bulleted list indicating the markets which Intel hopes to address with each of them.

  • Bay Trail
    • Bay Trail-T: Atom Z36xx and Z37xx series for tablets
    • Bay Trail-M: Pentium and Celeron branding (N-series) for notebooks and AIOs
    • Bay Trail-D: Penitum and Celeron branding (J-series) for desktops
    • Bay Trail-I: Atom E38xx for the embedded market
  • Merrifield
    • Atom Z34xx: Low-end to mid-range smartphones
  • Moorefield
    • Atom Z35xx: Premium smartphones
  • Avoton
    • Atom C2xx0: Microservers and cloud storage
  • Rangeley
    • Atom C2xx8: Network and communication infrastructure

From our analysis of the various products, we believe the highlighted ones make sense for the NAS market. While the suitability of the Avoton and Rangeley for the NAS market is without question (they have a large number of SATA ports and PCIe lanes integrated into the SoC), the Bay Trail-D parts are quite interesting.

The various possible components in a Bay Trail SoC are given in the diagram below.

Depending on the target market (as specified in the bulleted list above), some of the components in the above block diagram are cut out. For example, Bay Trail-T does away with the SATA and PCIe lanes. Bay Trail-D is more interesting to us in this article, as the QNAP TS-x51's Celeron J1800 belongs to that family.

Introduction QNAP Goes Bay Trail
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  • ganeshts - Sunday, June 22, 2014 - link

    The 'killer app' tag line was written from a HTPC / media-centric perspective. For a long time, users wanted QS to be taken advantage of by Plex. As a media transcoder, QS's potential was pretty much not taken advantage of by non-proprietary applications (OS X - Has Apple even exposed QS functionality to developers? Last I remember seeing, HandBrake on OS X doesn't support QS -- may have changed recently ; Remote Desktop acceleration using QS is not exactly media, but, yes, playback to AppleTV is a valid application wrapped in something proprietary).

    Another major point I wanted to convey in the piece was that Intel's VA-API efforts (making QS accessible through open APIs on Linux) has finally paid off in the consumer market.

    Finally, I couldn't probably tag it as 'Killer App for Media Applications' -- that would just make it too long :)
  • shank15217 - Sunday, June 22, 2014 - link

    Virtualization station is damn useful, imagine a open vpn server or even a samba domain server. If qnap develops this feature a bit more it would essentially make it one of the best soho nas out there.
  • Beany2013 - Wednesday, July 2, 2014 - link

    I'd be concerned about resource usage - VMs are different to apps, in that they host the entire OS, crud and all.

    I'd rather drop the relevant SAMBA domain packages into the NAS, than put it in a full debian VM, chewing resources that it doesn't need; the NAS already emulates the filesystem, why blow (limited) resources making the guest OS also have to do this?

    That said, I can see the benefits for some purposes, but it's pretty niche IMHO, until this class of device comes with a minimum of 4gb of RAM, which is by far the biggest limiter here. I'd never want an unattended full install of Windows 7 in a VM, for example, have you seen how big the WinSXS folder can get and how much disk access it can chew up when it's doing housekeeping tasks? Pretty much every time my scabby old (SSD equipped) Macbook starts dragging, it's because the Windows VM I use for troubleshooting has decided it's time to start pissing about with windows update - and not having a Windows (or any, frankly) unattended VM updated is just asking for trouble....

    I like having the option, but I don't think I'd use it!
  • RoboKaren - Sunday, June 22, 2014 - link

    FreeNAS running on FreeBSD. About the only thing it doesn't have is virtualization (it does have jails). And I trust ZFS (RAIDZ2) more than RAID5/6.
  • ganeshts - Sunday, June 22, 2014 - link

    Mobile apps for on-the-go access? The market segment where that is important is what is being targeted by these types of appliances.
  • tuxRoller - Monday, June 23, 2014 - link

    Not sure why you went with wowza when you could have just grabbed vlc and have it handle the quick syncing:)
  • ganeshts - Monday, June 23, 2014 - link

    Is that available on Linux? I see Windows support was added last year....
  • tuxRoller - Monday, June 23, 2014 - link

    Vaapi has had transcoder support for more than a year, now. The problem has been apps who don't use proper frameworks but their own solutions.
    For instance, you can use the latest transmageddon (which uses gstreamer 1.4.x) to access quick sync functions. If you feel up to it you can even roll your own pipelines for custom accelerated transcoding by using the commandline tools gstreamer provides.
    In the future, go to some of the open source forums and ask for recommendations (don't take what commenters say as gospel). Not trying to lecture you:)
    You'd be amazed at what's available (for instance, I'd disagree with your final page summation that you can't still "throw" Linux onto a nas and get comparable features to what you've shown here).
    For info, irc is usually the best, but even the Ubuntu forums have vast numbers of knowledgeable folks.
    AT might think about asking someone immersed in oss to chime in from time to time.
  • ganeshts - Monday, June 23, 2014 - link

    I am yet to see a Linux-based DIY build which is backed up by a good suite of mobile apps (similar to what Synology and QNAP are providing). All that I see in the various forums are ways to access the mobile interface of the NAS's web UI.

    Is there some way to automatically back up the photos that I am taking on my smartphone to, say, a FreeNAS-based (or some other similar) OS ? Any mobile app which can access content on my DIY NAS and get it to my smartphone or tablet with the appropriate hardware-accelerated transcoding at the NAS end ? For the latter, Plex could potentially be useful, but they are not bringing hardware acceleration into the picture at all.
  • lmcd - Monday, June 23, 2014 - link

    All I know: that's pretty obnoxious that first-stepping Bay Trail didn't get this. All those "Full Windows" tablets could be doing a whole lot better now if Intel shipped the product in its finished state.

    If AMD or Nvidia did this, there'd be a lot more coverage.

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