Running Debian on an old QNAP NAS

QNAP TS-212P dual-bay NAS

With a shiny new replacement already on my desk, I was just about to throw out my old QNAP TS-212P NAS when I read that you can install and run Debian on it. As an Ubuntu/Mint user I’m fairly familiar with Debian Linux, so I thought I’d give this a go.

Martin Michlmayr, a former lead developer of the Debian team offers detailed instructions on his blog on how to install Debian on certain older QNAP NAS devices.

It’s important to note that this installs the OS directly onto the NAS, replacing(!) QNAP’s QTS software. You can install Linux Virtual Machines on some newer QNAP’s, but this is something entirely different. This will run Debian on bare metal.

With the help of an adapter and some duck tape, old laptop HDDs will fit just fine…

So, I added two old 2.5″ HDDs I had lying around and followed the instructions on Martin’s site. Here’s what I found.

  • The installation instructions are well-written and surprisingly easy to follow.
  • Debian boots up much faster than QTS.
  • I was planning to run a quick sysbench benchmark, but sysbench does not appear to be available for the “armel” platform.
  • The annoying whining sound I attributed to a Seagate HDD was actually the QNAP’s system fan. The disk runs quietly in my new NAS, the 212P is still noisy without it.

Once the installation is done, you end up with a minimal Linux install, on a machine with a rather uncommon set of specifications. In terms of processing oompf it’s like a Raspberry Pi Zero, but with some obvious differences.

QNAP TS-212P DebianRaspberry Pi Zero W
Single core 1.6 GHz ARM CPUSingle core 1.0 GHz ARM CPU
512 MB RAM512 MB RAM
No GPUGPU with Mini-HDMI output
Gigabit LANWifi + Bluetooth
3x USB 3.0 ports1x Micro-USB 2.0 port
2x SATA-600 ports1x Micro-SD slot
Comes with large case, power supply and active coolingBare single-board computer, absolutely tiny by comparison

If you want, you can probably set up RAID and actually use the “Debian QNAP” as a NAS. But it seemed more fun to use it for something entirely different. As an experiment, I’m running transmission-cli on the 212P, with one of the HDDs available as a “downloads” Samba share on the network. I’ll have to think about other uses, since this was mostly a “because you can” type experiment.

For instance, I wonder whether an external USB GPU would work…

Roy Tanck
I'm a freelance WordPress developer, designer, consultant, meetup organizer and speaker. In my spare time I love to go out and take pictures of things.