Last year we reviewed the Thecus N4200 just days after its release. The N4200 is still to this day the only consumer NAS that offers dual status display screens, but more importantly, the only consumer NAS to include a battery backup system. When Thecus first marketed their N4200 a lot of emphasis was placed on the new dual display feature, but we felt that the battery backup feature was the real standout feature.
In an enterprise environment power is regulated to a degree unseen in our homes. Businesses regularly spend a portion of their budget on keeping clean, consistent power flowing to their servers. In our home power fluctuates and in many places across the country you can expect at least one power outage a year. Here in the Midwest where I'm at you can expect several brief outages in winter as ice builds on power lines and trees, and again in the spring when severe storms disrupt the flow. One of the easiest ways to take out a hard drive is to remove power abruptly without a proper shut down sequence.
The Thecus N4200 PRO is based on the award winning N4200 design, but has a faster internal processor, now an Atom D525, and gets industry leading DDR3 memory. Thecus' new firmware, now up to revision 5, is also included and has been updated significantly since we started reviewing Thecus products.
Let's take a detailed look at the Thecus N4200 PRO.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
When it comes down to it the heart of any NAS server is the hardware in which the software and firmware runs on. The Thecus N4200 PRO uses the Intel Atom D525, 1.8GHz processor. The original N4200 used a Core Duo processor, but the Atom brings just as much processing power with the added benefit of less power consumption. To keep the processor fed the N4200 PRO uses a massive 1GB DDR3 module; the N4200 used a DDR2 module. DDR3 allows the N4200 PRO to use less power as well.
When it comes to connectivity the Thecus N4200 PRO goes far beyond the four drive bays used to hold HDDs for the RAID array. Thecus has also included two eSATA ports for external drives and six USB 2.0 ports - four on the back and two on the front. The USB ports can be used to connect flash drives for backup purposes or peripherals like printers that can be shared across the network.
My favorite feature is the battery backup system that is built into the Thecus N4200 PRO. Thecus also makes a model called the N4200 ECO that costs less, but removes the battery backup system.
When it comes to cost the N4200 PRO isn't the lowest cost 4-drive NAS, but it is the most feature packed. Newegg currently lists the N4200 PRO at 799.99 USD. The package includes the battery backup system including the battery.
Thecus has recently introduced their latest firmware release, version 5. You can read more about this firmware release on this page.
Thecus still uses a retail friendly package with the N4200 PRO. A lot of useful information is given on the retail package. On the front here we see several buzzwords from the features. Things like iSCSI, VMware and Mini-UPS are shown.
On the side of the package we see some typical usage methods with a display of devices that can be connected to the NAS.
The back of the package is nearly identical to the front.
On the other side of the package we found explanations about some of the N4200 PRO's features.
The Thecus N4200 PRO is packaged very well, as you can see here. All of the accessories are kept away from the main NAS and the NAS is virtually covered in dense foam.
The Thecus N4200 PRO
The N4200 PRO has an average height when compared to other 4-bay NAS servers we've looked at in the past. The battery backup system doesn't grow the enclosure, something that you might think would happen.
On the front of the NAS you will find five buttons for operating the NAS. At the bottom left is a power button. The other four buttons are just under the main display. These buttons allow the user to change almost all of the settings of the NAS and also change the display to an information mode where you can see IP settings.
All of the drives are held behind the front door.
With the front door open we get to see the four HDD trays. Each tray is lockable so the drives can be secured. One note about the trays - Thecus now supports 2.5" HDDs as well as the standard 3.5" drives.
The side of the N4200 PRO is steel with a powder coated exterior finish.
The front of the Thecus N4200 PRO is impressive, but the back is where most of the external connections are made. Starting at the bottom and working our way up, we see two gigabit Ethernet connections that can be teamed for higher bandwidth, used independently for connection to two networks, or can be used for fail over.
Just above the Ethernet ports are the USB 2.0 and eSATA ports. If you use the eSATA ports you can connect up to six HDDs to the N4200 PRO. The four USB 2.0 ports can be used for printers, external UPS systems or any number of other USB 2.0 devices.
Moving into the power area of the N4200 PRO, we see the female connector where the external power supply connects to the NAS and the slot where the actual battery gets installed. I really like the external power supply for the N4200 PRO since most malfunctions in PCs are in the power supply. If you take that thinking over to NAS servers, it means that if your N4200 PRO has an issue with power you can purchase another power supply and install it without taking apart your NAS.
At the very top of the NAS Thecus has included a PCIe port for installing a 10 gigabit Ethernet module.
The other side of the NAS is identical to the first side with a steel panel that wraps around the entire NAS for durability and a black powder coated, scratch free finish. Also, there are no vents on the sides so all of the airflow generated by the NAS passes over the internal HDDs.
Here we see the 15.2V 1000mAh battery used to provide power to the NAS when power us disrupted. Users will have enough time to finish what they are doing during a power outage and shut the N4200 PRO down safely.
The N4200 PRO has another unique feature not found on NAS servers in this price category. The dual display has an innovative OLED display on the top of the front that gives users a clarity never before seen on a NAS server. The display running along the right side of the NAS shows us information related to the drives and network connections.
When it comes to accessories Thecus goes the extra mile to make setup very easy, even for first time users. Several printed manuals are included and an Ethernet cable is also included.
Here we see the external power supply used with the main NAS unit and the package of screws used to mount the drives and the keys used to lock the drive trays into the N4200 PRO.
Test System Setup
We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: AVADirect, GIGABYTE, Cooler Master, LSI, Noctua , Seagate.Crucial and Corsair.
In late 2010 Crucial supplied a number of RealSSD C300 256GB drives to be used in testing all of our NAS and controller cards. The Crucial RealSSD 300 is the fastest solid state drive available on the market and cut our NAS formatting time down from three days (total) to just a few hours. We use the Crucial RealSSD C300 256GB SSDs for all of our NAS server tests when allowed.
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.
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
For a product comparison we choose to use the QNAP TS-459 Turbo NAS. The TS-459 costs around 100 USD more than the Thecus N4200 PRO, but offers the same number of drive bays and the same D525 Atom processor.
When it comes to playing back HD streams both NAS servers perform equally in many of the early tests. Once we get to the RAID 6 tests the Thecus does a better job of playing back streams faster when pushing 2x and 4x.
Benchmarks - HD Record
HD Video Record - 720p HD stream, 256kB writes
HD Video Play & Record - 1 playback, 1 record simultaneously
When recording (writing HD to the NAS) both NAS servers once again perform equally in many tests. It is pretty amazing to see the Thecus N4200 PRO approach 100MB/s write speed - you can write several video streams at the same time with 100MB/s available.
Benchmarks - Content
Photo Album - All reads - wide distribution of sizes
Office Productivity -
Content Creation - 95% writes; 1k, 4k & little reads; Writes up to 64kB
Reading and writing small blocks of data is easily the most difficult thing for a NAS server to do. Small files, like individual pictures, can take several times longer to read and write than say video files.
Once again we see the two NAS servers performing nearly the same.
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
The last set of tests is the file copy group. Here we also see both NAS servers performing at nearly identical levels. The Thecus N4200 PRO does cost 100 USD less and includes a battery backup system, though.
The 4-bay SOHO NAS market is highly contested with many manufacturers offering multiple products that fit this group. Price points range from the high 500 USD area and go all the way up to 900 USD. Thecus offers four NAS servers that fit in this area (excluding the rackmount models). The N4200 PRO we looked at today is the flagship of this group and offers the highest specifications with the most features. The dual screen display was hyped quite a bit by Thecus, but we still feel that the best feature on the N4200 Series (not included with the N4200 ECO) is the battery backup that keeps your data safe even when an outage occurs. Thecus is the only manufacturer including this feature in this category of NAS servers and it gives Thecus a really big selling point over the competition.
You might expect the N4200 PRO to cost more than NAS servers without a battery backup system and that is true in many cases, but the N4200 PRO is far from the most expensive NAS in the four bay group. The N4200 ECO with the same dual display, but without the battery backup feature costs 679.99 USD at Newegg at this time. If you already have a battery backup system then the ECO model would be a good choice. Most users don't have a battery backup system in their home or small office and for those the N4200 PRO is undoubtedly your best choice in the four bay NAS market. Expect to pay close to 800 USD on the N4200 PRO. That is quite a bit of change for any small office to budget, but it is lower than many NAS servers including the QNAP TS-459 that we used to compare performance to today.
When it comes to performance the N4200 PRO delivers what we've come to expect from a 4-bay NAS server, close to 100MB/s. Just like with any NAS, the small file reads and writes are slower than those associated with reading and writing large blocks of data, like video files. With many NAS servers using the same processor, memory and Ethernet controllers, speeds are starting to become very close to each other. That is why so much emphasis is now placed on accessory packages, pricing and features. The Thecus N4200 PRO is strong in all of these areas and class leading in features.