Intel's Atom processor has been a game changing introduction to the NAS server market. This small, efficient chip is capable of delivering amazing performance at a price point far better than found with older Core2 Duo based products. The D525 Atom is now used on most mid ship NAS products and many of these are performing as well as, if not better than last year's flagship products.
This year Thecus introduced the new Triple X designation. XXX doesn't have anything to do with those movies being made in California, but stands for Xtreme Power, Xtreme Value and Xtreme Function. The N5200 namesake has been with us for several years, but when paired with the new XXX features takes on a whole new form. To start things off, the exterior of the N5200XXX was first used on last year's award winning N5500. This new chassis is much smaller than the old N5200, so it has a smaller footprint. The new Atom processor and updated memory system make up the bulk of the Xtreme Power and Xtreme Value, but let's talk about the new Xtreme Functions.
Rolled out with the XXX design was the new Version 5 software which is responsible for the new Xtreme Function portion of Triple X. V5 adds more functionality to the Thecus line, but at the same time streamlines the processes involved with working with the software layer. In many cases formally complex functions have been reduced to one touch automated tasks. In the PC world we have plug and play, but in Thecus' world it's select, sit back and relax.
Today we're going to take a look at the new Thecus N5200XXX NAS, one of Thecus' best selling products designed for serious users. Let's have a look at the specifications.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
Thecus' product revamp is a two sided sword. In this section we're going to look at the new hardware that makes up the physical side. The base of the system is the new Intel Atom D525 processor that was designed and optimized for use in NAS servers like the N5200XXX. Feeding the processor is 1GB DDR3 SO-DIMM memory that is user upgradable to 4GB. The combination is extremely powerful and allows you to have several clients connected to the NAS while still delivering high speed data transfers. You can also run modules on your NAS; these are similar to programs you may run on your desktop or notebook, but in this case they are running on your NAS and working without a PC.
The N5200XXX is a 5-bay unit capable of storing up to 15TB worth of data when using five, 3TB HDDs. An additional eSATA port is on the back of the N5200XXX, so it is possible to connect up to six drives total. The HDDs are cooled by a large fan on the back and it is also responsible for cooling the chipset and processor. Thermal sensors determine fan speed for optimized cooling.
The Thecus N5200XXX connects to your existing home or office network through gigabit Ethernet ports also located on the back of the unit. You get two ports that can be customized to run several different configurations.
After using Google's product search, I was able to find the new N5200XXX available online for 578 USD. This really goes to show the value Thecus talks about in their new Xteme theme. The N5500 which the N5200XXX is replacing cost around 850 USD when I reviewed it and the original N5200 before that cost even closer to 1000 USD. Thecus has made a strong push increasing performance while reducing the cost of ownership with this product refresh.
The N5200XXX is built well and uses high quality components, but the software upgrade is what makes this product so impressive. Since this is a NAS server, you get several RAID configurations, file systems and network options; all features I'd consider hardware related, but Thecus discusses them on their software specification list.
When it comes to true software related features, Thecus has raised the bar to new heights and allowed your NAS to become even more functional. Thecus has released a new introduction to Version 5 software - let's have a look:
The front of the package shows the VMWare and Citrix logo so you see those very quickly. There is also an Intel Atom logo, but most users will be more interested in seeing the product image which is right on the front as well.
On the side we see just one of the many ways you can connect your N5200XXX to your existing systems.
The back of the package is nearly identical to the front.
The Xtremes are covered on the other side of the package and you get some ideas about the overall capabilities of this powerful device.
The inner packaging is put together very well and keeps the NAS in the middle of the package with more than 2 inches of foam between the outside corners of the box and the NAS.
The accessory package included even more than we expected. You receive all of the keys to lock your drives in place, screws for installing HDDs into the drive trays and even software for backing up your files. Thecus also includes paper and digital manuals that cover installation and advanced features if you need guidance.
The Thecus N5200XXX
Here we get our first look at the new Thecus N5200XXX. This case design was first used on the N5500 product in 2009. End users responded to the new compact design so well that Thecus is now using it on the N5200XXX. Here we see the unit with the front door closed.
By pressing on the door you release the door locking mechanism and the door opens revealing the power button, front USB port and drive trays. The door also acts as a dust filter keeping your drives and processor cooling heatsink clean of debris.
On the inside of the NAS we see the backplane and further back the large fan that keeps your drives and system cool. The N5200XXX does not support SAS drives, but will work with solid state drives in either 2.5" or 3.5" form factors.
The NAS can be configured via the software from your PC or through the front display and command buttons. The display also shows your NAS' status while the unit is operating.
The N5200XXX lights up with a blue glow when the NAS is powered on. The front display also lights up blue and rotates system status information.
The system mainboard, processor and RAM are on this side of the NAS and here you can see that Thecus has provided ventilation for these components.
All but one of the connectors is located on the back of the N5200XXX. Here we see the dual Ethernet ports, eSATA, USB and power connectors.
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.
Today we are pairing the Thecus N5200XXX with eight 256GB Crucial C300 SSDs. The Crucial C300s allow us to find the highest levels of performance offered by the NAS.
The comparison product today is the INEO I-NA559N Pro, a 5-bay NAS based on the same Intel Atom D525 processor and 1GB RAM. Recently the INEO impressed us with its speed and managed to outperform a similar QNAP NAS.
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
The Thecus N5200XXX shot right past the INEO unit in the single drive test. Since both NAS servers use the same processor and RAM size, I wasn't expecting to see so much variation. Once we started the RAID testing the performance tightened up and the Thecus N5200XXX and INEO I-NA559N Pro traded benchmark wins back and forth.
The N5200XXX was able to deliver around 100MB/s video playback speed in nearly all tests. This means you will be able to play back several movies at the same time to different locations in your home or office. With DLNA now shipping on just about every video device on the market, having solid playback performance is necessary to keep the videos flowing smoothly.
Benchmarks - HD Record
HD Video Record - 720p HD stream, 256kB writes
HD Video Play & Record - 1 playback, 1 record simultaneously
Playing back movies is one thing, but writing data to the drives is another. Here we see the Thecus N5200XXX recording video files at an impressive rate as well. There is enough bandwidth to write multiple Blu-ray streams at the same time with the new Thecus NAS.
Benchmarks - Content
Photo Album - All reads - wide distribution of sizes
Office Productivity -
Content Creation - 95% writes; 1k, 4k & little reads; Writes up to 64kB
Easily the most difficult function for a NAS to perform is writing several small files in succession. This is why we test 4K block sizes on hard drives and solid state drives. When you are reading, writing or viewing hundreds of pictures in an Explorer window from a NAS, you are asking the NAS to process the small thumbnails. In the Photo Album test we observed the Thecus N5200XXX peaking at round 12MB/s. The INEO NAS had a much harder time keeping up with the pace.
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 most popular use of a home or office NAS is long term storage of files. Transferring those files to the NAS takes time, especially if you are moving large amounts of files. The Thecus N5200XXX easily outperformed the INEO unit and in some cases more than doubled the speed of writing files to the NAS.
Thecus has a history of evolving their products over time through software and firmware updates, but never before have I seen a NAS start out as refined as the new N5200XXX. Granted, most of the components of the N5200XXX come from other products under the Thecus umbrella. The casing was used in 2009 for the N5500 and the processor, RAM and motherboard are shared between numerous Thecus NAS products, but the combination of these hardware components and the new Version 5 software rounds out the deal.
Even better is the price. At less than 600 USD the Thecus N5200XXX costs less than the INEO I-NA559N Pro we compared it to today. Given that the Thecus has more refined software, more hardware features and more module add-ons right out of the box, I'd say the Thecus is a much better buy.
When it came to file transfer performance, the Thecus N5200XXX was a winner as well. In many tests the N5200XXX simply outperformed the competition and in some cases was able to do so with almost twice the transfer speed. Given that both systems use components that are similar, this really goes to enforce the advanced state the N5200XXX is in even though the model was just released a few months ago.
Of course, the real standout feature is the software and that's something I can't simply rate with a benchmark. At this time there are two companies that have excellent software packages, QNAP and Thecus and these two are fierce competitors in this market. With QNAP, if you want to install module features you need to download the module, unpack it, make sure you have the other modules for what you want to install on there and then make sure you have everything setup correctly. Some of the more advanced modules require two or more.
With the new Thecus Version 5 you just go into the NAS through your browser, select what you want installed on the NAS and hit GO. At that point the NAS does all the work including downloading the latest module revision, installing the module and doing all of the grunt work. After a few short minutes the entire package is ready for you to use.
The Thecus N5200XXX also supports iTunes and DLNA devices. I can't even count the number of DLNA devices that now reside in my home, but they can all connect to the N5200XXX and play back movies, music and photos quickly. Just a few nights ago I setup four systems and had each playing back a different video stream to see if I could make the N5200XXX faultier, but it kept right on playing. I guess next time I'll have to try a little harder.
There is one thing that I really don't like, though. That would be the front plastic door. It takes away from the overall look of the NAS and you can't lock it. You can lock each drive into the enclosure, but that wouldn't stop someone from shutting your NAS off by the power button. Then again, if someone wanted it turned off, they could just unplug the unit in the back.
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