Thecus has their own history of Tick Tock behavior with their NAS servers. In April 2009 we reviewed the Thecus N7700 and found it to be an exciting product that was a step above the more consumer focused N5200 Pro while also being worthy of our highest award, the TweakTown Editors Choice. Since that time we reviewed the QNAP TS-809 Pro TurboNAS and found it to be able to transfer data faster with its faster processor (Core 2 Duo compared to the N7700's Celeron M) and more memory.
Thecus' answer to the flagship QNAP unit is now here, the N8800 Pro and N7700 Pro. The new Pro model of the 7700 features a Core 2 Duo processor and 4GB of memory. All of that pales in comparison to what came next. For the first time ever a product in this price category has an option to use a 10GbE data connection.
Most home and small office users have already updated their network to gigabit Ethernet, but the next technology leap on the roadmap is 10GbE. As the name implies, the 10GbE standard is around 10 times faster than the current gigabit standard and as you can imagine, this kind of bandwidth comes with a high cost. We will cover the cost and availability on the next page.
Recently we found some really interesting information about the performance of different file systems and how they relate to Thecus hardware. Today we are going to look at the N7700 Pro in the default configuration and compare it to a couple of other NAS servers in the same price class.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
When it comes to the hardware specs there aren't too many products on that market that are even in the same class as the Thecus N7700 Pro. The standouts are easy to see; Intel Core2 Duo processor, 4GB DDR2, seven drives that can run in 14GB arrays and the feature that is totally unique at this price point, 10GbE with the addition of an Intel 10GbE PCIe 8x card.
All this power does have a cost, but it isn't as bad as you would expect. Newegg has the N7700 Pro on their website but does not show a price at this time as they are waiting to replenish stock. They do list the N7700 model as being in stock and they show a price of 949.99 USD at this time. After looking around the web we were able to find the N7700 Pro for 1,055.00 USD at eAegis. This price does not include the newly introduced Intel 10GbE Ethernet card and at this time they are very difficult to find. I was told by a Thecus rep that these cards will start to hit the market in mass in a couple of weeks.
When it comes to 10GbE home and small office users should not even start to consider this type of upgrade. After looking around for surplus parts the lowest cost PCI X card I was able to find was 199, PCIe 250 and 10GbE switch 2995 USD. The best usage for this kind of connectivity would come from environments of 30 or more users that are connected to a gigabit switch that has an additional 10GbE gbic connected to the N7700 Pro. Of course, over time we will start to see enterprise hardware being replaced and more surplus 10GbE parts will hit the used market. NAS purchases are really a long term deal; you don't change them every other year like some components like a processor or full machine. Having the ability to enable 10GbE in a couple of years is a really nice option.
Just days ago we published an article that covered the ins and outs of Thecus' software. If you are interested in learning more details be sure to read the article here.
Per Thecus' usual we found that the N7700 Pro has a very informative package that leaves little to speculation. On the front we see several of the hardware and software features listed.
The side shows the N7700 Pro at the heart of a fairly advanced network that has up to 20 IP cameras, iSCSI connected to a server, the N7700 Pro as a web and FTP server, and the list goes on and on. This setup is really just the start of what the Thecus N7700 Pro can do.
The back of the box is identical to the front.
The other side of the package has a few descriptions of some of the advanced features.
With a shipping weight of around 40 pounds it is important to have proper packing. Thecus has always done a very good job keeping their products secure in the double box configuration.
The Thecus N7700 Pro
On the surface there isn't much difference between the N7700 and the Pro model. Here we see that Thecus did include a sticker at the top right so you can tell one from the other. Both models share the same features; a door that covers the drives, an LCD screen for easy setup and status updates and dual USB 2.0 ports.
With the door open we see the seven locking drive bays as well as the all important ventilation slots that keep your drives cool.
Behind the reflective finish is the blue LCD display that automatically scrolls through status updates. You can use the buttons below the display to setup or change your configuration settings.
The side of the N7700 Pro has the brushed aluminum wrapping partly around, then a painted cover takes care of the rest.
A look at the back shows us the dual low speed fans that keep the drives and other components cool. The power supply is at the bottom of the NAS. At the top we see the PCIe slot where the add-on Intel 10GbE network adapter plugs in.
At the top here we see the dual gigabit Ethernet ports that can be configured separately or together for load balancing or fail over. Also on the back of the N7700 Pro Thecus included two USB 2.0 ports for use with additional storage products or printers which turn the N7700 Pro into a print server.
With the back cover removed we see the PCIe 8x slot that can be used with the Intel 10GbE network adapter.
Last but not least we see the Thecus accessory pack that has everything you need to get started and more.
Test System Setup
Motherboard: ASUS P6T7 WS SuperComputer (Supplied by ASUS)
Processors: Intel 975 EE (Supplied by AVADirect)
Memory: Corsair Dominator 1600 MHz Triple Channel Kit
Graphics Card: Leadtek Quadro FX1700 (Supplied by Leadtek)
Enclosure: Lian Li V2000
Cooling: Noctua NH-U12P SE2 (Supplied by Noctua)
SAS Controller: LSI MegaRAID SAS 9260-8i (Supplied by LSI)
Operating System: Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate X64
Test HDDs: Seagate ES.2, 1TB (Supplied by Seagate)
The Intel NAS Performance Toolkit (NASPT) is a file system exerciser and analysis tool designed to enable direct measurement of home network attached storage (NAS) performance. Designed to emulate the behavior of an actual application, NASPT uses a set of real world workload traces gathered from typical digital home applications. Traces of high definition video playback and recording, office productivity applications, video rendering/content creation and more provide a broad range of different application behaviors.
With version 1.71 we are able to test with Windows 7 64-bit, but to keep the results accurate you must limit your system RAM to 2GB or less. With only a single 2GB stick of memory installed you can test with Windows 7 64-bit. Also, a new test was added, Office Productivity, but several tests were removed like 3 Source HD Video Playback and Backup / Restore.
Recently we ran some additional tests on the Thecus N7700 Pro for our NAS File System Testing and ended up turning it into a straight shoot-out between the Thecus' implementation of EXT3 (the default file system), ZFS and XFS. We have always tested NAS servers with their default file system but learned just how much this hampered performance on the N7700 Pro. While testing we learned that it was possible to nearly double the transfer speeds while using the XFS file system. If you have not already read the article please head over and take a look at the results here.
For comparison we have included the performance numbers from the NAS we tested right after the N7700 Pro, the Proware EN-T800A-CM. The Proware unit is an 8 drive NAS server that is designed for business and industrial installations.
When reading the benchmark results layout this shows the number of drives used in an array followed by the array type. Example: 8D R5 stands for 8 Drives in a RAID 5 configuration.
Benchmarks - HD Playback
HD Video Play - 720p HD stream from Windows Media Player* 256kB reads
2HD Video Play - 2x playback
4HD Video Play - 4x playback
The Thecus N7700 Pro started out slow in the JBOD configuration and we will see this throughout the remainder of the review. Once you start adding drives and getting the N7700 Pro into its "zone" we see the Thecus walking away from the high end Proware unit. The RAID 5 and 6 numbers look really good with the EXT3 file system and are right in line with what we expected to see from Thecus' flagship model.
Benchmarks - HD Record
HD Video Record - 720p HD stream, 256kB writes
HD Video Play & Record - 1 playback, 1 record simultaneously
When it comes to recording we can see that the N7700 Pro would be able to handle several streams of HD at once.
The playback and record tests are the easiest. Now let's take a look at the hard stuff.
Benchmarks - Content
Photo Album - All reads - wide distribution of sizes
Content Creation - 95% writes; 1k, 4k & little reads; Writes up to 64kB
The Photo Album and Content Creation tests are very difficult for NAS servers since they involve many small files. If you have ever wondered why we pay so much attention to the 4K write speeds in our HDD tests the creation of content, like audio files use many of these small writes.
Here we see Thecus' 4GB of RAM really coming into play and doing quite a number on the Proware unit in several tests.
Most interestingly, when we played around with the file systems we didn't see much difference between EXT3 and XFS.
Benchmarks - Copy
Directory Copy From NAS - 64kB reads
Directory Copy To NAS - Predominantly 64kB writes, wide scattering under 16kB
File Copy From NAS - 4GB file copy, 64kB reads
File Copy To NAS - 64kB writes
When it comes to copying files here we see the faster processor and large amount of memory just overpowering the Proware when comparing equal RAID setups. The Proware unit has an extra drive, but the N7700 Pro has a very fast Core2 Duo processor.
There are two things that first come to mind when looking for a NAS server. Will it be able to handle the workload and how much does it cost? It really doesn't matter if you are the system administrator for a large company that is looking to drop network attached storage in a department of fifty people or just a family of four trying to keep their pictures, music, home movies and other digital data safe. These are the two things that must be answered.
I use these two groups because their needs are very different, but the type of NAS they are looking for is nearly identical. A family of four usually will have mom, an avid picture taker who looks for every chance she can get to whip out her 8 mega pixel point and shoot and has years of images archived on the families NAS server. Dad has a collection of music going back to the stuff he was forced to listen to in the car at the impressionable age of 8. The two teenagers feel the need to lock mom, dad and each other out of their personal areas that have everything from homework assignments to software that just so happened to be on that disk they found on the ground somewhere; also known as, I don't know where it came from. In this digital age families are collecting a lot of digital content and they need a large volume of space. Does this sound like your home?
In the business world you might be a member in charge of keeping the ship sailing. These days everyone works with a computer and some even have a desktop and notebook that they travel or on occasion work from home with. Here data security has a higher role than the typical teenager keeping his text message collection under lock and key. The more members you add to the group the faster you need high speed storage that is capable of handling several requests at once. This is when faster, more advanced dual core processors and large amounts of memory come into play. As the network admin looking after fifty people's desktops, a small collection of notebooks with a NAS server or two running in sync you have a difficult job on your hands and every ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, especially when Mary, while on her fourth donut break for the day found the time to get around the firewall and pick up the latest social networking virus going around.
With a cost of around 1050 USD without drives the Thecus N7700 Pro includes everything you need to tackle both of these situations and many more. Thecus has been working hard for the last several years to turn all their products into total solutions that fill many holes. As we move deeper into the digital age the lines are blurring between what was once enterprise and consumer oriented products. This is an area that Thecus has done a very good job keeping up with in each product evolution. When it comes to the software features we needed to write a separate article just to cover everything Thecus' NAS servers and appliances can do. That should say quite a bit since the Software Deep Dive article was just as long as the review of the N7700 Pro.
The Thecus N7700 Pro is one of the highest performing NAS servers we have tested to date. The performance increase over the standard N7700 is apparent in real world usage. I have been using the N7700 since May of 2009 and just bouncing files back and forth between the two see file transfers cut in 1/3 the time.
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