Thecus N5200 PRO NAS

Jul 28th, 2008 | By Anthony

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Thecus N5200 PRO NAS


Date
: 07/28/08 – 03:09:24 PM

Author
:

Category
: Storage


Page 1 : Introduction

Storage space can be described in many ways. We can rationalize the thousands upon thousands of bytes in more manageable and understandable forms such as the number of songs, pictures, or videos a disk drive can hold. However, no matter how we numerically struggle to fathom the sheer amount of digital data that we can fit on a single hard disk, what we can logically pile away trumps sensibility. From megabytes, to gigabytes, and now, on the fringes of the terabytes, storage technology continually conquers new milestones with no end in sight.

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Thecus is a new name for us here at Overclockers Online, but not exactly new to the performance hardware scene. Thecus, founded in 2004, aims to bridge the gap between the digital home and networking with high quality, high performance products and innovation. Focused on hardware and software integration, Thecus aims to provide easy to use media storage solutions to allow even greater network connectivity in the home and office environment.

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In our hands today is Thecus' N5200 Pro, the latest and greatest offering from Thecus. Unlike most network attached storage drives (NAS) Thecus' N5200 Pro is not limited by its own data processing capabilities. At its core beats an Intel Celeron M processor and 512MB of internal memory. This unit also supports five internal hard drives in various RAID configurations from RAID 0 to RAID 6 along with RAID 1+0 and JBOD.


Page 2 : Features and Specifications

Here is what Thecus has to say about the N5200 series:

The Thecus N5200 is an easy-to-use storage server that allows a dedicated approach to storing and distributing data on a network. Data reliability is ensured with RAID features that provide data security and recovery- over one Terabyte of storage is available using RAID 5 and RAID 6. Gigabit Ethernet ports enhance network efficiency, allowing the N5200 to take over file management functions, increasing application and data sharing and providing faster response. The N5200 offers data mobility with a disk roaming feature that lets you hot swap working hard drives for use in another N5200, securing the continuity of data in the event of hardware failure. The N5200 data consolidation and sharing between Windows (SMB/ CIFS), UNIX/ Linux, and Apple OS X environments.
Quite an earful, but there is more! We have barely even scraped the surface. Lets have a run down of key features.

Product Highlights

File Server:
First and foremost, the N5200 allows you to store and share files over an IP network. With a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device, you can centralize your files and share them easily over your network. With the easy-to-use web-based interface, users on your network can access these files in a snap.

FTP Server:

With the built-in FTP Server, friends, clients, and customers can upload and download files to your N5200 over the Internet with their favorite FTP programs. You can create user accounts so that only authorized users have access.

Backup Server:

Don't leave precious data to chance. With advanced backup capabilities, you can easily upload mission critical files to the N5200, and even automate your backup tasks for a true peace-of-mind.

Print Server:

With the N5200's Print Server, you can easily share an IPP printer with other PCs connected to your network.

There leaves little to differentiate the Thecus N5200 Pro NAS unit from an actual PC, save for the integrated web interface, and dedicated NAS oriented operating system. Next, let's take a look at specifications.

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In short, the Thecus N5200 Pro does all the things one would expect in a high end network attached storage, and then some. That is however, an understatement.

If you are still with us, I promise, things will get interesting soon!


Page 3 : Package

Coming straight from London, Ontario, the Thecus N5200 Pro arrived in in a fairly large box, but then again, the N5200 Pro isn't small either.

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Not exactly the type of box art one would expect when it comes to networking equipment, however it does serve its purpose.

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The package does a great job summarizing key features and breaking down individual models in order to help customers decide on a network attached storage that best suits their needs.

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Opening up the package, Thecus has included a network cable, USB cable, keys, screws and an operating manual.

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Oh, and of course, the N5200 Pro as well!

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The front is fairly well designed: five hard drive cages, a LED indication panel, USB port, LCD panel, power and reset. Not to mention: black gloss, what is there not to love?

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Turning the unit around, the rear exposes a single exhaust fan, power supply and various I/O ports. Our model comes with two Gigabit Ethernet connectors. However, Thecus also offers the N5200 Pro with a four port Gigabit Ethernet switch.


Page 4 : Interior

Next let's crack open the unit and have a peek at its inner workings!

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Removing the three thumb screws, the back panel peels away from the rest of the body allowing removal of the black U-shaped cover.

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A bit like exploratory surgery!

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With the outer shell removed, we can get a good look at the innards!

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Behind the N5200 series is standard x86 hardware. This particular model, the N5200 Pro runs off a modified mini-ITX motherboard.

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Towards the rear, as seen from the outside, we have three USB plugs, one serial plug, one e-SATA plug and two Gigabit Ethernet adaptors.

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Beneath the blue heatsink is the Intel Celeron M processor running at 1.5 GHz which should unleash the true potential of Gigabit Ethernet networking without the limitations of data processing.

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Of course, with such a processor, it is only fitting to have enough memory. The Pro Series comes equipped with 512MB of RAM.

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All of this is tied together with a custom built operating system running on a solid state flash module allowing quick and speedy access.

Some of you may have noticed a distinct lack of wiring; this is due to a bit of elegance on Thecus' part.

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Everything from hard drives to power connects to the back of the motherboard keeping the insides clean and organized.

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And, speaking of power, I was very pleased to find a Seventeam power supply at the heart of the N5200 Pro. Nothing quite says quality like a proven and reliable power supply.

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We won't spend too much time looking at the power supply, as this is not a power supply review, but taking a quick glance at the specs, 170W on the 12V rail should be plenty for hard drives and external peripherals attached the unit.


Page 5 : Installation

Installation is two parts, first the hardware side and the software side. We will begin with installation of hardware. Something to note, make sure to check compatibility before you purchase the hard drives, else it could be a costly mistake.

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For the record, the pictured five 500GB Green Power drives from Western Digital do not function properly with the Thecus N5200.

Thankfully, Thecus was kind enough to lend us a few Seagate Barracuda 250GB drives.

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The hard drives simply screw into the hard drive racks, much like in a standard PC case.

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With the hard drives mounted, the hard drive racks simply latch back into the body of the unit.

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Now, with everything plugged in, we are ready take the N5200 Pro for a spin!

Upon inserting the included disk into the computer, an auto run dialogue box appears allowing the user to pick from a number of options. For the sake of the review, we will head straight into the setup wizard.

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'Next', 'next', 'next', and we get to the installation!

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The only thing that is really installed is a simple PC based application to setup preliminary parameters for the N5200 such as IP and password.

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Of course, this can also be setup through the web interface.


Page 6 : Web Interface

While the included software only configures basic access parameters, the web interface is the software we are after.

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After logging in, the browser is redirected to the main page.

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As we discussed in the features section, this is a unit packed to the top with features. As one can expect, the web interface is comprehensive. The majority of it will beyond the scope of this article. We will instead discuss some of the more common features, and head straight into testing!

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Thecus N5200 menu

The status screen provides a quick rundown of the unit including key the status of key services and the unit's overall health.

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For disk information, follow along the menu to storage, then disks.

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The following menu: RAID configuration, is used to configure the hard drives.

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One of the key strengths of the Thecus N5200 Pro is the ability to setup multiple simultaneous RAID configurations.

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With the file system setup, folders can then be configured.

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Security settings can be setup through the ACL button.

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The Thecus N5200 can be setup on both LAN and WAN interfaces.

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WAN

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LAN

Having a look at the administrative side of things, one very nice feature Thecus has implemented is a notification system. E-mail notification comes in handy especially when the unit is shared amongst a number of people.

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The unit keeps a log of activity as well!

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Page 7 : Testing Setup

For testing, we will be using IOzone which runs a set of read and write benchmarks within a set parameter, then outputs a file with the results. The Thecus N5200 Pro will be outfitted with five 250GB Seagate ST3250410AS drives and attached to a D-Link WRT DIR-665 Gigabit Ethernet router with Jumbo Frames turned off.

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Here is a little blurb about IOzone:

IOzone is a file system benchmark tool. The benchmark generates and measures a variety of file operations. IOzone has been ported to many machines and runs under many operating systems. IOzone is useful for performing a broad file system analysis of a vendor's computer platform. While computers are typically purchased with an application in mind it is also likely that over time the application mix will change. Many vendors have enhanced their operating systems to perform well for some frequently used applications. Although this accelerates the I/O for those few applications it is also likely that the system may not perform well for other applications that were not targeted by the operating system. An example of this type of enhancement is: Database. Many operating systems vendors have tested and tuned the file system so it works well with databases. While the database users are happy, the other users may not be so happy as the entire system may be giving all of the system resources to the database users at the expense of all other users. As time rolls on the system administrator may decide that a few more office automation tasks could be shifted to this machine. The load may now shift from a random reader application (database) to a sequential reader. The users may discover that the machine is very slow when running this new application and become dissatisfied with the decision to purchase this platform. By using IOzone to get a broad file system performance coverage the buyer is much more likely to see any hot or cold spots and pick a platform and operating system that is more well balanced.
IOzone is a command line operated testing utility; we will be using the following command.

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'-i 0 -i 1'
Write/ Re-Write, Read/ Re-Read tests

Read: Performance measured by reading an existing file
Re-Read: Reading a file which has already been read, tests the utilization of cache

Write: Performance of writing a file to the disk
Re-Write: Re- Writes a file that already exists on the disk

'-q 64k'
Maximum record size of 64Kb, 4Kb, 8Kb, 16Kb, 32Kb, 64Kb

'-n 32M -g 1G'
Minimum file size of 32MB and maximum file size of 1GB

'[file name].xls'
Location where to write test results

'[test location]'
Target of tests


Page 8 : Testing

Testing in JBOD Configuration

Just a Bunch of Disks, quite a name isn't it? With the ability to run RAID 0 and RAID 5, JBOD will at most, be used sparingly. JBOD, at the logical level combines physical disk drives into one larger drive. This comes in handy when dealing with an assortment of drives. Where RAID configuration combines drives at the limit of the smallest disk, JBOD does not.

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Alternate bar graph view

Read test

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Alternate bar graph view

Re-Read test

With a JBOD setup, we can expect on average, a throughput rate of arond 30 MB/s to 40 MB/s.

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Alternate bar graph view

Write test

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Alternate bar graph view

Re-Write test

Write speeds are a bit more consistent. Here we don't see cache coming into play as much as with reading, but still, the N5200 Pro manages to achieve approximately 30 MB/s write speeds.

Testing in RAID 0 Configuration

Next is a favorite among overclockers, gamers and performance users: RAID 0. RAID 0 splits data across usually two and occasionally more disks. Because of this, RAID 0, like JBOD is left without data redundancy. With each additional disk attached to a RAID 0 setup, failure rate is increased. Any individual disk failing in a RAID 0 setup causes the entire array to fail.

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Alternate bar graph view

Read test

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Alternate bar graph view

Re-Read test

Oddly, there is minimal performance gain over JBOD with RAID 0, in fact, they are neck to neck.

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Alternate bar graph view

Write test

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Re-Write test

Same with read tests, again, we see similar performance between RAID 0 and JBOD.

Testing in RAID 5 Configuration

Unlike JBOD and RAID 0, RAID 5 combines both speed and redundancy. Total storage is the combined total number of all disks, minus one, as redundancy where parity is distributed over all disks in the array. RAID 5 is perhaps the cheapest way to boost hard disk performance while keeping data relatively safe.

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Alternate bar graph view

Read test

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Alternate bar graph view

Re- read test

With RAID 5, we can see a significant performance jump over the last two configurations with write speeds averaging the upper bounds of 30 MB/s.

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Alternate bar graph view

Write test

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Alternate bar graph view

Re- write test

Again, the same transfer rates are reciprocated with write tests.


Page 9 : Testing: 64Kb Record Size Comparison

Typically, with modern day software, a record size of 64Kb is used with larger files, especially files with a record size larger than 64Kb. With the sheer amount of data conveyed throughout the last few tests, it was hard to accurate gauge the N5200 Pro's true performance, and even harder to do so across different RAID configurations. In the next section, we will be taking a closer look at how the device performs when transferring files with a 64Kb record size.

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Read test

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Re-Read test

Reiterating what we discovered earlier, JBOD and RAID 0 performance is nearly identical, however, with RAID 5, a performance leaps ahead.

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Write test

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Re-Write test

With the write tests, consistently, throughout the various raid configurations we tested, performance occasionally takes a hit, and throughput dips considerably. Writing files involves utilization of overhead to maintain a record of data location of storage media and with larger files, a considerable amount of processing is placed on the unit, taxing performance. But, all the same, the N5200 achieved some jaw-dropping speeds.


Page 10 : Conclusion

The Thecus N5200 Pro is no doubt, an awesome unit. It is flexible, fairly easy to use, and it's fast, oh let me tell you, it is fast. But, it also is not without a few kinks. When it comes to hardware, Thecus knows a thing or two and have assembled a cutting edge NAS powered by common everyday off-the-shelf hardware tied together with a custom mini-ITX motherboard, a combination resulting in unmatched performance. But, what about the kinks? This is Overclockers Online, and we
are
about speed, aren't we?

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Well, yes. We are, but Thecus seems to have forgotten about the user, the human behind the screen. At best, documentation is sparse, the web UI and LCD controls are finicky and counter-intuitive. For the bare minimums (read: getting the unit to work) is a breeze. Within 10 minutes, I had the hard drives in, the unit booted, web UI loaded and all ready to setup RAID, however, to tinker with the unit, or setup anything specific, prepare for a bit of head scratching. With the hardware side of things perfected, Thecus needs only to 'flesh the frame out'. Hopefully, the user interface will be revamped in future firmware revisions.

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Still however, the N5200 as I said, is an awesome unit, but capable of much, much more.

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Advantages

  • Very, very fast

  • Flexible
  • Can fit five drives
  • Perfect for the digitalized home

Disadvantages

  • Price

  • Software needs work

Overclockers Online would like to thank Thecus for making this review possible.

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