For years, in my experience, Synology has been the leader in NAS servers, but Asus has been catching up. And while the gap is still sizable, Asus now proves to be a formidable contender. Case in point: the recently released AS4002T server.
This is a robust NAS server that rivals the DS218+. In my testing, the new server indeed had a more responsive interface and was better equipped in terms of network connections. Overall, though, it lacks the level of depth and sophistication; the DS218+ has to offer.
But at around $260 (disk-less) — some $40 cheaper than the DS218+ — the AS4002T is a great buy for those needing a fast, reliable server that has a lot potential, albeit, also with a bit of room for improvement.
Asus AS4002T NAS Server
Asus AS4002T: Tool-less, compact design
The AS4002T is a dual-bay server, meaning it can house two standard 3.5-inch (desktop) internal hard drive. The server can work with any standard SATA hard drive on the market but I tested it with the recommenced WD Red NAS hard drives.
It was effortless to install the two drive into the server thanks to the tool-free design. There was no screw to fiddle with; I just needed to mount each drive onto a drive tray, secure it via two latches, and slide it inside the server via the front-facing drive bay.
This kind of design makes it very easy to replace a hard drive when need be. By the way, there’s no lock on the drive tray, meaning one can easily pull the drive out. To prevent this, the server comes with a magnetic faceplate that snaps on and covers the drive bay completely.
The server runs on a Marvell 1.6GHz CPU and 2GB of RAM, which is soldered onto its motherboard. You, therefore, can’t add more RAM to it, which is disappointing. The two Gigabit LAN ports can work individually or be combined into a single super-fast connection when used with a supported router, such as the RT-AC88U or switch. It also has one 10GiB port to use with next-gen switches and two USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports to host more storage devices.
One thing about this 10GiB port: Instead of using an SFP+ port, it shares the same port design as a regular Gigabit LAN port and can work like one, too. The AS4002T is the first consumer NAS made by ASUSTOR that features 10Gbps of bandwidth over Ethernet and, therefore, gives consumers a certain level of flexibility.
The server supports all possible RAID setups available for a dual-bay server. These include RAID-1 (slow but can safeguard data against one drive failure), RAID-0 (fast but with a considerable risk of data loss), and no RAID, meaning the two drives work as two individual volumes. For data security, you should use RAID-1 with the server, which is the setup I used for the testing.
Keep in mind that standard RAID setups don’t allow for mix-matching drives of different capacities. This means you should pick out two drives of the storage size that fits your need for a long time since there’s no way to scale up the server’s storage space without rebuilding the RAID from scratch.
For comparison, the DS218+, as well as all other servers from Synology, supports a proprietary RAID called Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR) that allows for scaling up the server’s capacity on the fly without powering down the server even once.
Straight forward setup process
Setting up the AS4002T is similar to that of the DS218+. Here are the steps:
- Connect the server to your network using a network cable. Turn it on.
- On a computer download and run Control Center which will detect the server and show its status as “Uninitialized.”
- Click on the “Uninitialized” button to launch a wizard that walks you through the process of installing its operating system, called ASUSTOR Data Master (ADM), currently at version 3.1. You can choose to download the OS directly from Asus’s server (Live Update) or a local source if you have downloaded it beforehand.
- After the installation, you’ll be asked to create accounts and log in to the server’s web interface.
Alternatively, you can also perform the same process via similar steps using Asus’s AiMaster mobile app (Android and iOS), in case you don’t have a computer.
Overall, it took me about 20 minutes to get the server up and running, including boxing. Your mileage might vary, however, depending on the speed of your internet.
A word of warning: While I find the server easy to set up, it’s not a plug-and-play device. You need a certain level of computer and networking know-how to figure it out. And if you do have that, you can figure it out quickly.
Responsive, iOS-like interface
ADM is a Linux-based operating system and therefore has a web interface similar to that of a real operating system. It’s very similar to that of an iPad.
Indeed, on a computer the interface has pages. Each page has three rows of icons; each includes five icons. Each icon represents an app. You can move these icons around, and you move between pages to view more apps. When managed on a mobile device, using the AiMaster app, the interface of ADM resembles, even more, the home screen of an iDevice.
Overall, I like the responsiveness of the interface. You can run multiple apps at the same time and even then, most app launches almost instantly.
On the downside, however, I also find the interface a bit fragmented. For example, with Synology, you can see most of the system settings in a single app called “Control Panel.” In the case of the AS4002T, you’ll find them in a few separate apps such as Access Control (User accounts, Active Directory iteration, etc.), Services (Windows/Mac support and other protocol) and Settings.
In the end, you’re better off using the search function to look for what you need.
Lots of apps
The amount of apps determines what a NAS server can do and the AS4002T can do a lot.
The most important apps of the AS40021T is “App Central.” It’s an app store where you can add/remove more apps. A lot of them. Just by Asus alone, there are more than one hundred apps in all categories, from home entertainment to business to security. Anything you’d imagine that you need from a NAS server you can find there. If not, you can also install an app from third parties or manually install apps you develop by yourself.
This App Central is basically like the Package Center of Synology, or AppStore of Apple is a gateway to an infinite potential of the NAS server.
And judging from the number of available apps, one would say that Asus has caught up with Synology until they check out the apps themselves. Personally, having used Synology apps for years, I feel Asus apps are still behind in quality.
Lack of depth and sophistication
Overall, the AS4002T’s apps do what they are to do and do that well for the most part. However, after a few weeks using trying as many apps and as intensively as I could I find a consistent lack of depth in them.
One example is the LooksGood app, which, unlike the name might suggest, is a media streaming app that allows you to play video hosted on the server anywhere via the Internet. The app worked very well in my testing in terms of looking for videos, gathering information about each, categorizing them. However, when it comes to playing back, it didn’t work consistently well. Some videos don’t play; others might play without sound.
The Backup & Restore app, which is one of the essential apps, also needs some improvement. You can do all kinds of backups, locally to a connected USB external drive, or via a network to another server, or an online storage service like Google Drive. And it works fine. However, there’s no option to keep different versions of the backup, a deal breaker if you want to keep your data safe from accidental deletion or ransomware.
Another example is the Surveillance Center, which turns the NAS server into a security recorder for IP cameras. In my trial, the app could easily find IP cams in the network but couldn’t correctly detect their makes and models, and instead listed them as generic ONVIF cams. I needed to enter the correct information manually before I could add the cameras.
And most of the apps are like that. They are great but lack just a bit more attention to details to be excellent.
In all, I was able to make almost everything work the way I’d like them to, but it took quite some time to figure things out. That can be fun or frustrating depending if you’re a geek or not.
Asus AS4002T’s detail photos
The AS4002T performed well in my testing with a sustained speed of around 120 Megabytes per second for both reading and writing. And that’s about as fast as a Gigabit connection can get.
Note that I tested the server using just one of its Gigabit network ports with a RAID-1 setup. This means you can expect even faster performance if you use its port aggregation features or the 10GiB port, and using RAID-0. However, at my configuration, the server is already plenty fast, and most of us don’t need more than that.
The server also proved to be reliable. In the few weeks of testing, I put it through some harsh tests, including pulling out one of its WD Red hard drives during extended operations. I was able to recover the RAID using another hard drive without any problem at all.
Overall, once you have set up everything, you can expect the AS4002T to work as intended consistently.
Let me make one thing clear: I didn’t touch all that the AS4002T has to offer. The server has lots and lots of apps and features that would take a long time for one to try them all out in all different scenarios if that’s possible at all.
After a couple of weeks, however, I can say this: This is a good, if not great, NAS server. It’s fast, reliable, and excelled in all essential network storage functions. My only and biggest complaint is the lack of attention to details in its apps which can create a bit of frustration for those who want something more well-thought-out and polished. If you’re one of those, well, get the DS218+ or any other Synology instead.
The devil is in the details, and for that, Asus still has a way to catch up with Synology.