Final Words & Conclusion
This is the first NAS unit we have received from Terra Master and, in fact, the first unit we have received from them full stop. Unless you are into the networking hardware and home server scene, Terra Master isn't necessarily a name you will have heard of. Certainly, I have no shame in saying, I hadn't. The official price immediately puts it into the firing line, as we come to expect not only exceptional functionality but the ease of use and support for as many protocols/standards and features as possible. However, the 'in practice' price seen on Amazon US seems to take the heat off to a fairly significant degree, to the extent where I can entirely justify the dual-core and 2GB configuration, especially if the latter is upgradable (which it is, both easily and relatively cheaply, given the use of DDR3). I think it is safe to say that, for the most part, the F4-220 did very well. Was it perfect? No, of course not, but then please name me a product that has ever been perfect? The F4-220 sits somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of NAS hardware. The software feature set and extensive support for various protocols friendly to Windows, Mac, and Linux is great, and I thoroughly enjoyed testing which ones I could reasonably use. Hardware wise, it might be a little anemic, sure, but this NAS is also not meant for a super high end user, and the included specifications are more than enough to cope with the demands of your average home server enthusiast or professional. I really couldn't trip it up. I have already touched on the fact this NAS is pretty energy efficient, though it does lose out to the Asustor unit I linked in the previous segment of this review. That said, we are talking minimal differences here, and even over the course of 1-2 years, the differential in cost will be tiny. Again, to reiterate as well, the differences in power draw really could have been down to anything, and differences in the sub 5W range really can be a margin of error.
So what did I like about this unit?
I could make this quick and just list why I thought the 220 was a great product, but I'll at least do Terra Master the solid of explaining why. First up, the build quality and finish are classy. End of. The unit would look great practically anywhere but really suits the clean and modern aesthetic that modern PC hardware is going for. Simple colours, clean lines, etc. It also does this whilst remaining very understated and - dare I say it - very non... um, 'networky'? Network hardware tends to be a little austere, but this looks excellent. Very smart indeed.
Where allowed to stretch its legs, the Gigabit interface is more than enough for the product at hand. Speeds are very consistent and never once dipped notably during my testing, always staying within my margin of comfort, between 110-115 MB/s. There is, naturally, the outstanding issue of why the upload speeds were fairly prone to fluctuating so much. My theory is actually related to the drive itself, as we saw how the Crystal Disk tests consistently showed write performance to be weaker than read. As the upload of files is the writing of data to the drive (and a fairly large file at that), then it would make sense that this weakness is exposed. The solution, luckily, is simple. Use an SSD. HDD's are just, for lack of a better word, slow. There is no getting around that inherent flaw and fast transfers/writes of data to either local disks or network drives will expose that flaw. Anyway.
As someone who has never really dabbled in networking hardware, I have to say how impressed I was at how easy to use and intuitive the UI was. Every QOL feature that I would expect to be there, well... was. Navigating around the file system, and generally finding my way around to all the important functionality was as easy as you like. I'm not prone to hyperbole but this is, evidently, an example of a GUI done right. I liked how all open windows were kept track of via a top situation 'tab' bar, as well, which provided that familiar 'Windows' feel, which would be very important to those coming from practically any OS that isn't Mac.
Whilst at times I thought the instructions could be a little clearer, the TOS also includes a handy little 'help' tool that teaches you the basics of each function and how to get it up and running. Whilst nice, this could have stood to be a little on the more extensive side, as I felt it was a bit lite. With that said, the setup of the unit was, in a word, flawless. The included URL in the box takes you - as previously stated - to a 13 page setup guide that links you to manuals, downloads, and anything else needed to get your NAS from cold/dark to 'ready to go'. From start to finish, I estimate about 10-15m. Excellent here, Terra Master. Kudos.
Penultimately, I would say that your remote access options are really exceptional. All sorts of remote access protocols are supported, and for those of us that want to avoid the CLI based machinations of SSH, there is the remote access link that remains valid for 70 days. This works really well and I never had a problem accessing my NAS remotely for anything.
Finally, there is the sheer versatility of the 220. It comes jam packed with potential use cases, but - crucially - I felt like it didn't compromise on any of them in order to provide more 'bling.' Each feature worked well, and was reliable. I did, sure, run into a couple of GUI crashes, but I should note that these were when I was really trying to stress the unit by asking for a large data push from a remote location, with a sub-optimal network speed... and over wifi. Not ideal. For me, as a basic file server and storage device, it worked perfectly. Given that I am not really in an ideal position to use and utilize every bit of software and functionality this NAS provides, I would look into separate sources for whether it caters to your specific need.
The less good (or, at least, less ideal?)
I have already mentioned that the 220 seems to be a little less energy efficient than its rivals (though please do take into account local supply, extension cables, and margin of error). That really is a non-issue, as far as I am concerned. Call it margin of error, call it local supply, etc. Whatever you want to call it, it doesn't really change the fact that a possible 1-2W difference in draw shouldn't be enough to put you off buying it. The unit we reviewed certainly, however, does have a more limited IO than what I would like for £500. Just 2 USB ports (one of which is the now molasses slow USB 2.0) means your methods of connecting up external drives as local backups are realistically limited to one port, with the 2.0 port being... well, just 'there.' The single RJ45 is fine, to be honest. A second would only provide redundancy or the capability for Aggregate Link, which is a fairly niche bit of networking functionality that not only requires several things to be 'right',' but also doesn't really work well or at all on regular distributions of Windows. Support for it is mainly confined to the server space and Linux. Hilbert talked about it in the review of the Asustor unit I linked in the previous segment if you are interested. Remember, just for the record, that in practice the F4-220 isn't £500. It's more like £300 (or 289 USD or 319 EUR).
This next point takes into account the official price, as well as the price seen on Amazon US/UK/DE. At the official price tag, I would simply call out and say that a dual core CPU without HT and 2GB RAM isn't good enough. However, the fact that the memory is expandable (via a single 2GB 1333Mhz SODIMM) to 4GB for an extra 39.99 (a little steep, I think) also adds credence to this unit's futureproofing. Naturally, you cannot be putting in a new CPU, but for the home/small office user this unit is aimed at, I cannot see the CPU being saturated enough to cause issues. At the much more attractive price of 289-319, then, the F4-220 is competitive. At 500, it is not. I would appreciate more applications being added in future, as well. It doesn't look great when the first application I tried (Snapshot, for those curious) didn't appear to work properly or do much at all. There is no included help, either, so I would imagine relying on Terra Master support for any problems you have with the native apps is down to them. In fairness, they were very responsive to me when I was enquiring regarding benchmark software, so take that as a positive.
Overall Usage & Performance
If the 220 has anything going for it, it's flexibility at a good price point. If we take the 'actual' price as canon for a second, I really think the value on offer here is pretty exceptional. I have already talked at length about the various software and hardware features on the plate here, but to remind you, this unit supports a wide variety of protocols, RAID arrays/configs, and software... and 48TB... all for (potentially) sub $300? It's hard not to be impressed. Where able, the gigabit jack is more than capable of providing solid read/write performance where the internals aren't a factor. For the record, yes, I did check, and Terra Master list the 2TB WD Black as 'Compatible, but not ideal.' By that, I took it to mean the suitability of using a non-NAS drive in a network storage bay for long periods of time. I will echo what Hilbert said in his review of the Asustor unit some time ago; I would hope, for sure, that 5 GB/s and 10 GB/s interfacing becomes the standard soon enough, as - where relevant - we are seeing the limitations of a full duplex 1 GB/s interface. That time is fast approaching, I feel, where 1 GB/s will no longer be enough.
Performance wise, there was nothing to either complain about or blame on the NAS. I was forced to use a non-optimal drive for the purposes of reviewing the unit, and it was clear that it was the limiting factor to almost the sole degree. We only encountered problems where random read/write tests with small queue/thread sizes were introduced. There, performance fell off a cliff, but that was to be expected. In terms of performance inside the GUI, it was entirely fine. When running locally (i.e. with the PC running the client on the same connection), performance inside TOS was flawless. Smooth, very easy to navigate, and responsive. Hold ups or freezes were a non-issue.
I think I have already waxed lyrical about the flexibility of this product (though that is also a praise that could be leveled at pretty much any modern NAS of repute). That said, the level of functionality on offer is exceptional. I think most people who buy a NAS like this will be in one of two camps. The first? The home/small office user who just wants somewhere safe to store their files. There, permissions can be set on a per-directory basis following the Linux structure. The second is perhaps a combination of the first, as well as someone perhaps wanting to host a local media server, which - whilst overkill - this can certainly do. Furthermore, it can provide web/mail server functionality as well. I will say that when compared to a more premium unit, the software library on offer is a little anemic. Yes, you have your MariaDB, Git, Wordpress, mail server apps, etc, but compare that to the Asustor unit (and remember, this isn't a hardware comparison, which would be unfair. This is a software comparison), and it gets entirely outmatched. The aforementioned unit offers all of the above, as well as torrent clients, data sync with OneDrive/GoogleDrive, and even Python integration. To be fair to the 220, it does offer some applications that I wouldn't have expected. CRM? Check, which could be very useful for a small office user. Java? Yep, and whilst you may be missing Python, Java is still a widely used language the world over.
Again, I've touched on this before (several times). It's entirely respectable, and having the unit idle at just 6-7 watts when active is pretty nice. As Hilbert has said, add about 5W per hard drive, and more if the drives are being used or stressed. Power consumption dies to nothing when the unit goes to sleep, effectively registering 0 watts (or close enough to it).
Final Words & Verdict
Let's get the weak points out of the way first. Even for the available price, as opposed to the official one, I'd have liked Terra Master to go for a quad-core Celeron. Per unit, it would not have cost that much more, and I feel it would provide a nice amount of extra longevity to the product. If not the quad-core, then perhaps 4GB RAM? Being fair to the manufacturer here, however, I can understand the lack of enthusiasm to include more memory, as it's still expensive, even DDR3. I have also already slightly bemoaned the more limited IO and a slightly weaker suite of software. And yet... and yet... 280-319 for a potential 48TB of easy to set up, use, and administrate storage? Where do I sign? Being serious for a second, I applaud this level of functionality in a home server, even if the software catalog could stand to be expanded a little. It does do, however, everything I would expect of a NAS of this caliber, and it also does it natively. The native functionality is what I like, and I am less bothered about the fancy extras. Unless you couldn't gather this by now, I am very much a 'no frills' man. Just take a look at my PC and you'll see what I mean. RGB is nowhere to be seen!
Is the unit in front of us a little 'overkill' for the average consumer? Yes, I would say so. Even the two bay unit might be wasted money if all you are looking for is some level of cloud/network storage. Do you want to do that? Pay extra per month for iCloud or OneDrive. It's really simple. Heck, any of the big cloud storage services are good. No, the F4-220 and other NAS devices like it are for the slightly more enterprising user. The person who needs big storage, with solid backup options, accessible anywhere. Given that you can access this device on practically any device running any OS in current existence, and the use cases are very clear to see. You really never need to worry about your giant photo/video or project libraries again. Databases? Again, never fear. I will also reiterate a point made by Hilbert in his review of the Asustor unit earlier last year. Given the number of devices nowadays that can not only connect to a network, but also provide streaming services (TVs, phones, laptops, PCs, tablets, and so on), it only makes sense to have something like this lying around. Realistically, therefore, it might be a very sound purchase. Small gripes aside, I have no issue recommending the F4-220 at its now available price. I wouldn't pay 500 of anything for this product, not when for not much more you can have something much like the Asustor unit mentioned many a time earlier. That's not to deride Terra Master, but I suspect their product page is either out of date or inaccurate? If you are after a home server that offers excellent functionality and are willing to either live with the issues I have described (and there are only a few) or wait for some QOL updates to the TOS, then it's a no-brainer. For 289 USD or 319 EUR, it's an excellent deal.