While not having a front-facing USB port is disconcerting, the rest of the F2-212 is neat and well-considered. The ability to use SSD caching and enhance with 2.5GbE LAN makes this design a more flexible and affordable option than the Synology DS213j.
TerraMaster has stuck with an aesthetic of an aluminium tube with sliver-painted plastic end-caps that has needed a revamp for some years.
With the F2-212, reviewed here, and its F4-212 larger brother, a new minimalist styling has been revealed that makes these products look much closer to those of Synology in appearance.
However, TerraMaster always likes to take the path less worn, and the F2-212 diverges from the previous TerraMaster F2-210 in some important ways that could make this the entry-level NAS to own.
Depending on the model chosen, F2-212 or F4-212, this is the same NAS system, but the F2-212 has dual drive bays, whereas the F2-214 offers places for four 2.5- or 3.5in HDD or SSDs. In addition, Terrmaster also makes a third related machine, the U4-212, which is a rack-mounted chassis with four drive bays.
These entry-level machines lack the Intel Celeron processors, NVMe slots and upgradable memory, which are features that TerraMaster’s higher-end NAS products offer.
But even without some of these things, the F2-212 has a few features that will surprise many and should concern the likes of Synology and QNAP.
Design & Build
No memory upgrades
Drive trays don’t lock
As mentioned, the F2-212 has embraced a new black minimalist look that is decidedly more business-like than the previous silver TerraMaster motif.
While simplicity is good, in this case, the designers might have taken the feature reduction slightly too far. As a result, the front of the NAS sports only two drive bays, a label and three tiny LED indicators. There are no front-facing USB ports, and even the power button is relocated to the rear.
On the back is the power switch, two USB ports and a gigabit LAN port, along with a security slot and the power supply inlet. The external construction is entirely plastic, but the texture and embedded logos make for a classy appearance, even when TerraMaster stuck a giant yellow support sticker on one side.
Inside is a pressed steel cage on which the plastic drive trays ride, and the motherboard is vertically mounted. A sneaky look inside reveals that the memory is not slot-mounted, but it is part of the mainboard and, therefore not upgradable.
Instead of the typical laptop PSU, the F2-212 has a region-specific power socket brick, and the UK pin layout PSU is made to output 12v at 4A (48W).
One of the slightly odd and potentially problematic features is the drive trays that aren’t like any from previous TerraMaster designs I’ve seen.
It has a sprung release mechanism that doesn’t lock, so inquisitive fingers could easily dislodge a drive while it was running, resulting in catastrophe.
The engineering TerraMaster used reveals that the F2-212 was designed from the perspective of being inexpensive to construct but inherently reliable. But these priorities haven’t significantly undermined its NAS functionality for those who want a simple-to-deploy device for media serving or personal cloud services.
Specs & Features
Realtek 1619B SoC
Only two USB ports
One is USB 3.0
Where the more powerful NAS machines are now using Intel Celeron or AMD Ryzen platforms, entry-level designs like the F2-212 still use ARM SoC systems on which this entire class of machine was conceived.
That said, the SoC in this NAS is a recent design, the Realtek 1619B, a chip originally made for use in TV boxes. It uses Cortex-A55 microarchitecture and includes size cores that can each run at up to 1.3GHz.
The maximum memory capacity on that SoC is 4GB, but in this implementation, it is supplied with just 1GB of RAM with no means to increase that amount. Alongside the hex-core CPU, this SoC also has a Mali-G51 MP3 GPU with transcoding abilities that can convert video in real-time.
A feature of this silicon that isn’t used here by TerraMaster is that it has integrated Wi-Fi support and Bluetooth, but it does use USB 3.0 and Gigabit Ethernet functionality.
USB is concentrated into two ports, one being USB 3.0 (aka USB 3.2 Gen 1) and the other USB 2.0.
If this design has a weakness, it’s that only one port has the faster USB 3.0 spec and that there are only two USB ports in total. USB 2.0 ports are fine for connecting printers but for those wanting to use external drives or a 2.5GbE LAN port adapter, only having a single port for this use could be limiting.
It might be possible to use a USB hub to help mitigate this scenario, but I wouldn’t buy it based on that assumption. TerraMaster does make a 2.5GbE LAN adapter that will work with this machine, so that might be the way to go.
As each drive bay can take up to 22TB capacity drives, you can put up to 44TB in this one tiny enclosure. Or, you can choose to enhance the performance by mixing a conventional hard drive with a SATA SSD.
Single Gigabit LAN
1GB of memory
USB 2.5GbE LAN adapter option
With the F2-212 out of the box, the best performance you can realistically expect is around 115MB/s over the Gigabit Ethernet, which is the theoretical limit for this interface.
As a single conventional hard drive should be able to reach that speed almost irrespective of its specification, using an SSD to cache that drive wouldn’t provide any benefit.
However, with a 2.5GbE LAN port that can be added as an upgrade, the speed of that interface is faster than a single conventional drive. In that scenario, one approach is to cache a single HDD drive using a SATA SSD, or another to use two HDDs in a stripe for performance in a RAID 0 configuration.
The F2-212 can use any of these two options or a third method of SATA SSDs as storage to deliver more than enough performance to saturate the LAN, even at 2.5GbE.
With only 1GB of RAM and no means to upgrade it, the number of apps you can run isn’t massive, but it would be enough to run Plex and personal cloud services.
Those wanting to run lots of apps will need to look at a NAS that isn’t ARM-powered, using an Intel or AMD CPU to handle more processing and great RAM.
Compared with older designs, the Realtek 1619B is much better, and as a quad-core processor, it doesn’t tend to get overrun like some of the prior dual-core NAS processors. This chip supports display output, but there are no HDMI ports on the F2-212.
As already revealed, it is possible to put a USB 2.5GbE LAN adapter on this machine, although, at the time of writing our review, I haven’t seen this item to test how that addon performs.
The snag with using this option is that achieving the 230MB/s levels of that interface would require either two hard drives mounted in RAID 0 (striped) mode or one drive with an SSD caching reading and writing.
With a machine with only two bays and a single USB 3.0 port, choices need to be made that can be avoided on a NAS with more bays or USB ports.
That said, compared to many NAS makers that don’t allow for 2.5GbE adapters or to use SSDs as storage or cache on their entry-level hardware, it provides the F2-212 with more options than most alternatives.
Price & Availabilty
The price of the TerraMaster F2-212 is just £169 in the UK on Amazon, and the USB 2.5GbE LAN adapter is another £30 for those who want that extra performance.
US customers can find it for $169.99 on Amazon and Newegg.com, which seems reasonable for an entry-level NAS with this specification.
One issue for TerraMaster is that the almost identically specified Synology DS223j is only around $25 more in most regions, and it supports the Synology DSM 7.2 OS and its associated software platform.
However, the Synology NAS doesn’t support USB 2.5GbE LAN adapters, and some triple-A DSM app titles are missing from those made available for the DS223j.
Therefore, if you are buying the DS223j because of the Synology apps, you need to check that the software you want to use is supported on that machine, and you also need to consider that where the F2-212 has several expansion pathways that are missing from the DS223j.
The DS223j does have two USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports, allowing for more USB storage expansion if you intend to use it for file sharing.
Check our chart of the best NAS drives for more options.
Should you buy the TerraMaster F2-212?
It’s hard to talk about the F2-212 without mentioning the Synology DS223j since, on paper, these have very similar specifications.
With the superiority of the Synology software packages and a preferable USB layout, the extra cost of the DS223j is tempting.
However, while the hardware is similar, TerraMaster designers are much less paranoid about damaging the sales of the higher-specification NAS from this brand. Therefore, the F2-212 includes the ability to upgrade to 2.5 GbE and use SATA SSDs for storage and caching, which are features missing from the Synology NAS.
Where Gigabit Ethernet limits the DS223j, the F2-212 can transfer files at twice that speed, saving lots of time for those dumping large video files to and from their NAS.
Also, on the F2-212, using an SSD internally is worthwhile to cache a single large HDD, whereas, with the Synology DS223j, there is little point since the HDD can saturate the LAN port.
You can use 22TB drives in this NAS, which allows for up to 44TB internally if you don’t use RAID 1 mirror mode. An outlay of $550 ($350 for a single Seagate Iron Wolf 22TB) can buy a system with enough space for a humungous amount of movies, music and images.
That’s a huge reason for buying this NAS over other entry-level machines, as it offers features Synology doesn’t include in its home-orientated products, only in business models.
Overall, with a total price of around $200 for the F2-212, including the 2.5 GbE adapter and the ability to use any capacity SATA drives, this is the perfect first NAS for many customers.
Although, for those with more than two drives handy, its F4-212 brother might be the better choice.
CPU: Realtek 1619B
GPU: ARM Mali-G51 MP3
RAM: 1GB DDR4 (not upgradable)
Drive Bays: 2x 3.5/2.5 SATA
M.2 Drive Slots: N/A
Maximum Drives with Expansion: 7 using D5-300C expansion