Updated 7/9/2014: Corrections and updates
In the past month, we have reviewed two new ASUSTOR NAS product lines. To recap briefly, we concluded the ASUSTOR 2-series was somewhat underpowered by its Intel CE5310 Atom CPUs. However, for the ASUSTOR 3-series, we concluded that ASUSTOR "got it right" by moving up to the more powerful Intel CE5335. The bottom line was that both series, regardless of the processor class, represented good values.
In both of those reviews, we covered features and performance, but promised a more in-depth look at the updated operating system, ADM 2.1. This article will touch briefly on setup and will focus on the look, feel and features of the operating system that powers all of ASUSTOR's NASes.
Each ASUSTOR NAS is shipped with a CD that contains an installation program as well as documentation. Relying on a CD for installation isn't wise with the trend away from computers that have those drives. For the AS-204TE that I used for this review, the CD contained out-of-date documentation for the older ADM 2.0 firmware. An updated user guide that covers the additional features of ADM 2.1 can be downloaded from ASUSTOR here.
The CD-based Quick Installation Guide, referenced in a printed insert in the box, does a good job of walking you through the installation of your hard disks into the disk trays as well as cabling the NAS to your network and power.
The setup utility will discover any unconfigured ASUSTOR NAS on your network and walk you through the installation process. A simple one-click setup makes it easy to complete the initial installation. During the process, you'll be prompted to create an ASUSTOR account if you don't already have one. You'll need this account in order to download apps from the App Center.
After installation. the ASUSTOR Control Center lets you reconfigure a few top level settings such as device name, admin password, time/date settings and network settings. You can also map a drive using this utility as well as link directly to browser-based admin page. Note that by default, ASUSTOR NASes use port 8000. So to connect to your NAS, you'll need to use the following URL format: http://ip_address:8000. You can also access the NAS more securely using https://ip_address:8001, but you'll get an SSL certificate error and will need to add an exception in your browser.
The gallery below walks you through the basic setup.
ASUSTOR says its research found that 80% of NAS functions are the same among all brands, but only 20% of those functions are used by most users. So it has adopted an "app-based" design, where the core "20%" functions are loaded by default and the rest of the functions come in optional apps. By moving the less-commonly-used functions out of the core firmware, ASUSTOR's asserts that system resources are freed up and performance improved for the majority of users.
If you compare the screenshot of the landing page above with the one from Tim's review of the AS-604T which was loaded with ADM 2.0, to the opening image above with the new ADM 2.1, you'll note that the screens look virtually identical. However, some of the apps themselves have changed.
ASUSTOR provides a live online demo of the UI, so rather than exhaustively commenting on all of the features, I'll highlight several of the installed applications as well as some that I installed from "App Central" and tested. For another look at the UPnP Media Server, Plex Media Server, Download Center and Boxee, check Scott DeLeeuw's "Can An ASUSTOR NAS Replace Your HTPC?".
One of the apps to receive a refresh is the File Explorer app. The screenshots below show some of the new features. The new features of File Explorer include the ability to access files, folders and mapped drives on "My Computer" and File drag and drop between files and folders. finally thumbnails for photos. To test drag and drop, I grabbed a folder named "WallPaper" from My Computer's mapped drive "W" to the \public\media\photo directory on the NAS. The entire folder and sub folder, as expected, were copied from the mapped drive on another NAS to the ASUSTOR NAS.
The other new feature of File Explorer is thumbnails (small, medium and large) for image files. Thumbnails are generated the first time you open a directory and change from the detail view and select small, medium or large icons. The screenshot below shows medium sized thumbnails. Note in the directory tree that all drives on my computer, including mapped network drives appear in File Explorer.
ASUSTOR ADM 2.1 File Explorer
- For these advanced features to work, you must have Java installed.
- The File Explorer in ADM 2.1 has an expired certificate, so you'll have to lower your JAVA security threshold and accept the security warnings when the application runs. I contacted ASUSTOR tech support. They responded promptly and said that they were aware of the problem. The certificate issue will be fixed with the upcoming release of ADM 2.2, which was in beta while I was writing this review and was released just before posting.
- The first time you view a directory with images and set your view options to display thumbnails, it takes a fair amount of time to generate thumbnails. For example, a directory with 48 images took the ASUSTOR File Explorer 125 seconds to generate all the thumbnails. The second time you visit a directory, the thumbnails appear quickly.
- It takes File Explorer some amount of time to enumerate "My Computer". My computer, with four mapped drives, took about 58 seconds to appear after I acknowledged the Java security warning.
Settings is the menu where you configure many but not all of the features of the ASUSTOR NAS. Settings related to the installed disks and RAID levels are shown in the Storage Manger application. Information and configuration options for externally attached USB devices such as disks, printers, a Wi-Fi Adapter, UPS and Bluetooth can be found in the External Devices application. Services, including Samba, AFP, NFS, FTP Web DAV, Web Server, MySQL Server, Terminal (ssh) and Rsync are all enabled/disabled and configured through the services application.
The screenshot below shows the settings menu and layout. Each of the main menus opens up sub menus, most of which have additional configuration tabs. I choose this screenshot to show the remote access settings.
ASUSTOR ADM2.1 Settings Application
To set up remote access, first you choose a cloud ID in the Cloud Connect tab. All of the hard work is done in the background to set up name resolution to your public IP address. To connect to your ASUSTOR device once configured, you merely point your iOS or Android app to your cloud ID, or point your browser to cloudname.myssustor.com. The EZ-Router tab will automatically add port forwarding to your router if you have UPnP enabled on your router. For testing, I enabled UPnP and confirmed through my router's UPnP port mapping table that only ports 8000 and 8001 were opened for TCP traffic.
The good news is that Cloud Connect worked and was easy to configure. The bad news is that it relies on opening router ports. This means it won't work if you have cascaded NATs, such as an ISP-provided modem / router that can't be configured as a bridge. Our "gold standard" for remote access remains hosted portal-based methods that work without requiring router ports to be opened.