Software and Functionality
Thecus provides a Windows based setup utility that will detect the N5200 Pro on your network and allow you to change some of the basic features. Once this has been done, you log in to the N5200 Pro and configure it via its web interface. This is quite basic looking as with many of these kinds of devices, and we can only wish for these companies to spruce up the dreary UI of their hardware, it's not a specific pointer to Thecus.
Even before we had a chance to start testing the N5200 Pro, Thecus had sent us an updated firmware, although at the time of writing it doesn't appear as if the 2.00.02a version that we used for testing is available from the Thecus website, as the latest version there is the 2.00.01. We're not quite sure what the differences between the two are, but hopefully some of the limitations and known problems listed on Thecus' website have been fixed.
One of the highlights of the N5200 Pro compared to the N5200 is support for multiple RAID volumes, so you could run a two disk RAID 0 for unsecured storage and a three disk RAID 5 for secured storage. There are of course many different scenarios available here and as the N5200 Pro supports RAID 0, 1, 5, 6, 10 and JBOD, the choice is pretty much yours. There's also options to have a hot spare in case one drive goes down and you can migrate RAIDs, although this can be quite time consuming but ideal if you're moving up from say a two disk RAID 1 to a three or four disk RAID 5 or 6.
We'd recommend using one of the mirrored RAID options on any NAS, as if you don't and one drive goes down you'll lose all the data, which is also true for a RAID on your PC or server. Setting up a RAID on the N5200 Pro is quite straight forward; select the mode you want, select the drives that should go into the RAID and press apply. You can name the RAID which is handy if you're using multiple RAIDs.
Another feature that differentiates the two is that the N5200 Pro can act as an iSCSI target. If you're not familiar with iSCSI we'll give you a short introduction here. iSCSI has been developed to enable easy access and high-speed data transfers for network attached storage devices, not necessarily only for NAS boxes, as you can get pure iSCSI devices. iSCSI builds on the SCSI standard and combines SCSI commands and TCP/IP. By using SCSI commands you gain the benefits of block-level access and high data error protection. It's also affordable to implement as you only need standard Ethernet cabling rather than some specialized solutions such as Fibre Channel or Infiniband.
With regards to the N5200 Pro, we're looking at quite an entry level iSCSI device, but by using iSCSI it will look as if you're accessing a local hard drive rather than a network drive, although the performance won't be as good. Generally iSCSI performs better than just mapping a network drive to your PC. Using iSCSI requires that you have an iSCSI initiator installed on your PC and Windows Vista comes with one built in or you can download a free version from Microsoft for Windows XP and 2000. There are also several free versions available for Linux users.
Creating an iSCSI target on the N5200 Pro is a little bit tricky and it means you can't allocate all the space on your RAID to a single array as the iSCSI target wants its own space on the RAID. Creating a RAID in the N5200 Pro can take a while depending on the size of your hard drives, the bigger the drives, the longer it will take, so you can't be in a rush when you're setting up a RAID. Expect it to take at least three to four hours for smaller drives, half a day or more for 500GB+ drives.
This is quite normal for setting up a RAID array though and we're not pointing fingers at Thecus by any means, it's just something we wanted you to be aware of in case you invest in a NAS and wonder if something's gone wrong with it because it's taking so long to set it up. You can create a USB partition in a similar manner to the iSCSI partition, but it's a simpler setup and you don't have to configure anything, just allocate the space needed.
Once the iSCSI partition is set up, you have to run the iSCSI initiator on your PC, detect the iSCSI target and connect to the drive. Once this has been done, your computer will detect the new hard drive as a local drive and this means you have to partition and format it in the same way. You also assign it a drive letter and it will appear in the list with your other hard drives. This is quite different from mapping a network drive and a far superior way in terms of usability and data integrity.
You can also set up CHAP authentication to prevent unauthorised users to access an iSCSI partition, but likewise a network share allows you to password protect it. An iSCSI device can also be accessed remotely, which is ideal for someone that uses a notebook at home but still needs access to files in the office, although the performance will of course be limited by the speed of the internet connection.
The N5200 Pro can also be sync'ed with another NAS and it doesn't even have to be another Thecus product as it can be done via http://FTP. This allows for easy data redundancy or for synchronizing data between two locations. Speaking of FTP, the N5200 Pro also incorporates an FTP server, but this has limited functionality as you can only change the port you connect through and enable or disable anonymous access to it. It's a little bit too basic for our taste and it was also quite slow to log on to.
Thecus also supplies their own backup software and it's compatible with Windows XP, 2000 and Mac OS X. We didn't try it out as the PC we were using had Vista installed on it and it doesn't seem like there's a version for Vista available as yet.
The N5200 Pro supports a wide range of network file protocols such as CIFS, SMB, AFP, NFS and of course FTP, HTTP and HTTPS. We're not going to go into detail on how to set all of these up, as it comes down to the specific network you're connecting it to, but the support is there. Most options only consist of enable or disable, which again isn't always that helpful.
The N5200 Pro can also act as a media server and it has Mediabolic's Media Server installed which allows you to stream content over a network connection. Again, very basic as it only gives you a choice of folders to share and that's about it, and the instructions on how to use it are less than informative. UPnP is also supported and although this can be a security issue, it makes it a lot easier to connect to some of the features of the N5200 Pro.
There's very little we can think of that's missing and it's almost too much functionality here, at least for something that is targeting the business user. As a high-end home solution the N5200 Pro is a tad on the expensive side for everyone bar those looking for something out of the ordinary. But let's take a look at some performance figures before we bring you our conclusion.