Thecus N3200Pro NAS

May 26th, 2009 | By Anthony

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Thecus N3200Pro NAS


Date
: 05/26/09 – 06:07:58 AM

Author
:

Category
: Storage


Page 1 : Introduction

Manufacturer
: Thecus

To date, we have looked at two Thecus network attached storage products, the N5400 Pro, the N4100 Pro and today we are going to make that a third with Thecus' new N3200 Pro. We began with the N5400 Pro last summer and found it to be simply an amazing product. It had it all: features, ease of use and well, it was of course fast. Unfortunately it did also come with a hefty price tag, and was perhaps unnecessary for the average household. Early 2009 we looked at Thecus' N4100 Pro, the N5400 Pro's four bay counterpart; it could accommodate one less hard drive, packed less processing power, less memory, and was generally a scaled down version of the N5400 Pro, we found it to also be an excellent product, and by no means did performance disappoint. Its lower price point made it more attractive for mainstream users but still however it carried a $400 dollar price tag. As you can imagine, our review today is of the N3200 Pro which as Thecus' nomenclature suggests, houses three hard drives and accordingly, is scaled down from the N4100 Pro. Storage space can be described in many ways- we can rationalize the thousands upon thousands of bytes in more manageable and forms such as the number of songs, pictures, or videos a drive can contain, but no matter how we numerically struggle to fathom the sheer amount of digital content we can fit on various devices what we can logically stow away trumps sensibility, though we would not want it any other way. 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, 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.

Technological advancements and innovation has done wonders for the modern computer. I do not intend to merely state this in platitude or to assure readers of my grasp of the obvious, but instead shift our focus beyond raw numbers. More astonishing than computing power, storage space or the number of pixels that can fit on a screen is perhaps the application of such advancements. A few short years ago, network attached storage drives for the home would have been unheard of, the terabyte would have required a massive array of drives, portable mass storage would have still been in its infancy, and let's not forget the convenience of carrying one's entire music collection in ones pocket; not too long ago, this too would have been laughable. With so many so many options available to the average consumer, why network storage drives? The answer is simple: access and availability. Network attached storage units, or NAS units function as individual computer systems attached to a home network. They have their own processor, own memory, own operating system, they are designed for handling storage and storage oriented functions- nothing else. This not only cuts down on the amount of processing a system accessing the NAS would need to do, but also serve as a reliable center of a small network or cheap expansion to an existing network.


Page 2 : Package

Like its two larger siblings, the N3200 Pro follows the same package design. Right off the bat, the N3200 Pro highlights its RAID 5 capabilities. RAID 5 is typically favored over other RAID variants as it offers a good balance between cost, performance, and redundancy.

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On the side, we have an outline of key features, from the list it looks like the N3200 Pro could be an excellent home media device.

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The alternate panel outlines how NAS units can fit into a home network, connecting individual systems and USB devices.

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Page 3 : Features and Specifications

Here is what Thecus has to say about the N3200 Pro:

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In short, the N3200 does a whole lot. It is built up from the N3200 and now comes with an AMD Geode processor, supports RAID 0, 1, 5 and JBOD and supports up to three hard drives.

Having a look at detailed specifications:

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Oh, but there is more!

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For those who are familiar with Thecus products, or have read our review of either Thecus' other products, it should come as no surprise- Thecus is quite fond of packing in the features.

Before we look at the hardware side of things, let us go over some key specifications.

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Perhaps the most important hurdle in convincing the typical household to adopt network attached storage units into the home is ease of use. Such devices can get quite complicated with the plethora of hardware, software, network and security settings. Our past complaints with Thecus products were with the unintuitive and difficult to use software. From the sounds of it, I am excited to see what Thecus has done here!

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Finally, having a look at hardware, we have as typical: two Ethernet connections, USB ports, single eSATA connector, thermal controlled fan, LCM module and LED indicators.


Page 4 : Package and Content

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

The N3200 Pro itself is quite different from both the N4100 Pro and N5200 Pro. The chassis itself is a bit more stylized and shaped.

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The front has been for the most part completely rearranged. No longer do we have removable hard drive cages secured by latches, but instead are hidden behind a removable cover. The LCM module is hidden behind a silver screen and towards the right we have the power button and navigational controls.

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On the back, we have a cooling fan situated behind the hard drive back panel acting as an exhaust and beneath that, we have an assortment of connectors. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like the expansion slot is of any use at this time.

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For the most part, the exterior of the unit is well made, and incredibly sturdy- but we will talk more about that when we look at the installation. First, let's have a peak inside!


Page 5 : Exterior

The N3200 Pro is held together by a few screws towards the back of the unit.

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Removing those, we can slide the motherboard and back panel assembly out of the case.

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One thing I have become quite fond of is the ease of disassembly with Thecus products. Taking apart a Thecus NAS unit is quite like taking apart a typical computer system.

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As expected the N3200 Pro is built off X86 architecture with a proprietary modified small form factor motherboard.

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The underside we have the memory and system software running off a flash module.

On the hardware side of things, like always Thecus has done a superb job. The system can be taken apart and put back together in minutes; however it is unlikely that users will need to do so. Even so, Thecus has taken the effort and put an incredible amount of detail into the assembly.


Page 6 : Interior

With the N3200 Pro, Thecus has moved away from the hard drive cage assembly, and instead has opted to use a system of rails, much like those commonly found in computer cases.

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This switch in design has made the installation process entirely tool-less and a lot easier too! The rails simply snap in place where screws would usually be fitted, then the hard drives slide into place.

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The drives are then secured into place with thumb screws.

I'll hand it to Thecus; I am a big fan of the N3200 Pro's hard drive installation assembly, but the cover for the hard drive bay- I do have a problem with. Earlier when we looked at the exterior, I mentioned that the construction was top notch- mostly. Without even so much a reassuring click or any means of securing, the cover simply sides in and slides out.

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To finish up the hardware side of things, simply plug in the power and connect the N3200 Pro to a router. Next, insert the included disk a computer to begin configuration.

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The software will automatically detect the NAS. Hit next for network configuration settings. From here, you can set various network settings, administrative passwords and setup RAID.

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Of course, we can also do this through the web interface.


Page 7 : Installation and Web Setup

To access the web interface, direct your web browser to the N3200 Pro's network address. While the initial software setup allowed for only configuration of basic parameters, the web interface allows for a lot more.

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After logging into the system, the browser will be directed to the main page. This page outlines basic information, most notably, up time.

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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The main screen gives a rundown of the unit's general information.

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To setup RAID, navigate over to Storage> RAID then select the drives, RAID level, stripe size and hit configure!

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We can also access each drive's health through 'SATA' in the storage menu.

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With RAID configured, folders can be setup along with administrative restrictions through the Folder menu.

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The Thecus N3200 Pro can be setup on both LAN and WAN interfaces.

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Finally, with the unit's operational settings configured, let's briefly touch on a few features.

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For Media Server capable devices, the N3200 Pro is capable as acting as a stand- alone media streaming server for UPnP AV or DLNA compliant devices. The N3200 Pro can also act as an iTunes server, print server, and web cam streaming server.

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Another nice feature is the download manager which is capable of automatically downloading either HTTP, FTP or Bit Torrent files.

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The N3200 Pro in short does everything except for washing your dishes.


Page 8 : IOZone Testing

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 N3200 Pro will be outfitted with three 500GB Seagate ST3500320AS drives and attached to a D-Link WRT DIR-665 Gigabit Ethernet router with Jumbo Frames disabled.

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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 as 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 9 : IOZone: JBOD Testing

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.

Starting with the Reader tests, IOZone places a file on the system measures the performance of reading that file.

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Next, the Re- Reader test measures the system's caching ability. It is typical that Re- Reader results are significantly higher than those reported in the Reader test as the test measures reading performance of a file that was previously read. Oddly however, this is not the case, caching only affects throughput with smaller record sizes and does not significantly shift performance.

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With read performance in JBOD, the unit averages about 18 MB/s.

The Writer test measures performance of writing a new file to the system.

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With just writing, throughput drops to an average of 6.7 MB/s, however with the Re- Writer test, cache significantly increases system performance.

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When writing a previously written file, the overhead required to process where data will be stored on a specific storage media is already determined, the system in a sense is required to do less thus accounting for the vast improvement in performance.


Page 10 : IOZone: RAID 0 Testing

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 however RAID 0 arrays manages some impressive speeds.

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With RAID 0, performance starts off at a very respectable average of 36 MB/s.

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Again, with the Re- Reader test, we saw no notable changes due to cache and again averaged out at 36 MB/s.

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For write speeds, throughput was more comparable to the other units we have seen, write performances averages out at around 13.5 MB/s.

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With cache coming into play, write throughput averaged at 36 MB/s.


Page 11 : IOZone: RAID 5 Testing

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 safe.

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Typically due to the calculation of parity, RAID 5 array setups reach lower throughout numbers than RAID 0 which is the case here.

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For read performance, the N3200 Pro averages out just below 17.5 MB/s.

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An average of write performance yields a throughput rate of approximately 6 MB/s.

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With cache taken into account, write performance leaps to 17 MB/s.


Page 12 : IOZone: 64kb Record Size Comparison

Typically, with modern day software, a record size of 64kb is used with larger files. With the sheer amount of data conveyed throughout the last few tests, it was hard to accurate gauge the N3200 Pro's true performance, and even harder to do so across different RAID configurations. In the next section, we will be comparing the data compiled through the tests we ran earlier to gauge performance over the various RAID configurations.

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Typically RAID 0 and JBOD throughput rates with transfers with minimal amount of random data are fairly comparable, however oddly JBOD performed significantly worse in this case. However, with a network attached storage unit, it is unlikely that users will be using a JBOD configuration.

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As expected, the rank is as follows: RAID 0, JBOD then RAID 5. In the re- writer tests, we can see the performance with RAID 0 and JBOD improving dramatically, and while RAID 5 performance did as well, only marginally. 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.

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Just to finish up our look at IOZone, we are going to have a look at average values of each test with a record size of 64kb, which is a better indicator of day to day performance. With JBOD and RAID 5 comparisons, read performance rates average at 20 MB/s while for JBOD approximately 35 MB/s. Oddly, the Re- Reader test resulted in values marginally lower than the Reader test. With write performance in RAID 0, one can expect to see throughput at around 24 MB/s to 31 MB/s depending on the nature of the data written. With JBOD and RAID 5 configurations write speeds should be around 12 MB/s and 10 MB/s respectively. With caching, 22MB/s and 17MB/s.


Page 13 : Intel NASPT Testing

Intel's Intel's Network Attached Storage Performance Toolkit, or NASPT if you would prefer will conclude our look at performance.

The Intel® NAS Performance Toolkit (NASPT) is a file system exerciser and analysis tool designed to enable direct comparison of network attached storage (NAS) performance. NASPT seeks to discern differences in user level performance when a given client PC uses different remote storage solutions. To that end, NASPT uses a set of real world workload traces gathered from typical digital home applications: HD video playback and record, office productivity applications, video rendering/content creation and more. NASPT reproduces the file system traffic observed in these traces onto whatever storage solution the user provides, records the system response, and reports a rich variety of performance information. While NASPT runs on a Windows XP* client, the target NAS device may run any operating system.
Intel's NASPT offers a number of strengths. First and foremost: consistency. With INASPT's built in traces, performance numbers resulting in various tests are easily emulated across various systems and gives insight into how a NAS system would perform under real world conditions. Unlike with localized storage, we are not interested in separating software environmental factors as by definition and function, NAS storage units are heavily dependent on system software, operating systems, network settings and so on. Of course, if we were to simply test the bare hard drive performance at the system level our resulting numbers would be significantly higher.

With the trace files, we can simulate specified hard drive activity down to the distribution of random and sequential reads/ writes, the spread of data over individual platters, or locality, and a number of access characteristics.

For our tests, we will be looking at four tests: HD Video, Office Productivity, Copy To NAS and Copy From NAS.

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So, let's have a look at our results, starting with the HD Video trace. This test consists of reading a single file approximately 4800 MB in size and for the most part consists of sequential reading, meaning that all the pieces of the file are located physically near one another on the platters of the hard drive resulting in little arm movement to retrieve data.

With office productivity, we are a wide array of file sizes and generally random access. While in comparison with sequential throughout, random access as shown by the Office Productivity test does look rather grim, however is quite typical of NAS units.

Finally, the Copy To NAS and Copy From NAS is simply the recorded throughput rate of either copy to or from the N3200 Pro, as suggested. This test includes a blend of random and sequentially written data and best represents day to day performance.


Page 14 : Conclusion

It has become fairly characteristic of our storage oriented reviews to at the end, be left with a mound of data and a fair bit of juggling between features, price and feasibility. Thankfully, given our past history of Thecus products along with NAS options offered by competitors we have a reference point in where to judge today's unit.

Compared to its more expensive counterparts, the N3200 Pro of course takes the backseat; it trails behind the N4100 Pro, and well, behind the N5400 Pro as well. Sheer performance however is not the focus of the N3200 Pro; rather the N3200 Pro positions itself as an affordable RAID 5 solution for the home. Where the unit shines isn't with performance, although with a RAID 5 configuration the unit is capable of about 20 MB/s read and 10 MB/s write, but with features. The N3200 Pro shares the same features as the more expensive N4100 Pro and N5200 Pro, and not to mention the built in iTunes, print and media server are a great addition.

In terms of price, the unit rings in at the mid $300 range; it's not cheap, but affordable. For a large household with an incline towards digital media the N3200 Pro NAS could definitely come in handy.

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Advantages

  • Flexible

  • Affordable RAID 5 solution
  • Perfect for the digitalized home

Disadvantages

  • Software could be improved

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

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