Thecus has widened their product range a great deal over the last couple of years with new products forming at both the high and low end of the scale. This has opened the door for multiple products to fill in spaces once occupied by a single product. The end result is a vast range of options made available to consumers, small businesses and even enterprise clients.
With the economy the way it is today, businesses don't want to spend to get more than they need. When most of us think about rack mount servers, we tend to get a picture of large rooms full of racks with exotic cooling and more blinking LED lights than you'd find on the Death Star. The reality is, though, that most small and medium sized businesses need only one or two servers and those servers are tasked with multiple roles.
At the time of writing Thecus lists ten rack mount NAS servers on their webpage. Today we're looking at the N8200XXX. The N8200XXX sites in the lower end of the midrange, but you would hardly know it after using one. The outside design was taken directly from the N8800PRO we reviewed last year, so even though the XXX model sits in a lower position on the scale, Thecus didn't cut corners in the quality department.
The main difference in the N8X00 product line that includes (bottom to top) the N8200XXX, N8800+ and N8800PRO, is the processing power and RAM configuration. The 8200XXX that we are looking at today uses an Intel Atom D525 and 1GB of system RAM. At the high end of the N8800 scale is the PRO model that uses an Intel Core 2 Duo with 4GB of DDR2. Both of these systems will provide you with gigabit speed file transfers, but the PRO model will run more background operations and support a higher number of simultaneous users.
Before you can determine which model best suites your needs, you first need to figure out what your new NAS will be running. For unencrypted file serving the D525 powered N8200XXX can be a great bargain and you still have enough processing power to run a webserver, database and other tasks.
Let's take a look and see what the N8200XXX has under the hood.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
With today's NAS servers being so advanced, we divide the hardware specifications and software features into two pages. You'll see why on the next page.
The Thecus N8200XXX is all enterprise on both sides. On one side you have a redundant power supply that keeps the system working even in the event of a failure at the PSU level, and on the other side you have eight HDDs running in RAID. We look at several NAS servers each year and have determined that redundant power supplies are a feature reserved for rack mount equipment.
Inside the box you have an Intel Atom D525 processor that was designed by Intel specifically for the NAS server market. Over the last year we've tested around five boxes with the D525 and found that it delivers higher transfer performance than systems running the older Celeron processors that once occupied this area of the market. The N8200XX pairs the D525 with 1GB of DDR3 that is in a SODIMM package. Users looking to upgrade their N8200XXX can easily add more system memory to the NAS.
Just like the higher spec 2U N8800 Series, the N8200XXX supports eight internal HDDs that can be configured in RAID 0/1/10/5/6 and JBOD. An additional eSATA port is located on the back of the NAS as well and can be used to hold data or for plugging in a portable drive.
All of this data needs to get to your network. Two gigabit Ethernet ports are located on the back of the N8200XXX and they can be teamed for increased throughput or to make a redundant connection to your switch.
After looking around online, we found the lowest price for the N8200XXX at PROVANTAGE; 1,618 USD. Users looking for a true plug in play system built and configured to your specifications should look to AVADirect since they have the N8200XXX listed in their NAS configurator. At just over 1,600 Dollars the price seems a bit high to us, since the N8800PRO is available for right around the same amount.
We can split hairs all day over the hardware, but the real standout feature is the software Thecus has put together for their enterprise NAS servers. Here you will find everything under the sun including the kitchen sink and if you don't like how it's configured from the factory, you can quickly and more importantly easily make changes. Our sample arrived fresh from the factory and was all business. The modules normally found installed on the consumer and SMB models were not installed, leaving the full processing power of the D525 ready to serve up the tasks we chose.
Thecus already has a large list of modules ready to be installed easily to bring up additional functionality, but the third-party developers have used their knowledge to make some very impressive add-ons as well. The factory modules can easily be found in the Download Center on Thecus' website and third-party modules are generally found in the Thecus Forums.
Thecus' firmware is now up to version 5 and the interface is very slick with its new AJAX overlay. Just about any change can be made within five clicks of the mouse, including previously difficult and time consuming tasks like building user groups. The new firmware and interface has streamlined difficult tasks, making it so office managers are able to make changes without the need of a dedicated IT department.
Our sample shipped to us double boxed from the factory and your N8200XXX shipped from an e-tailer should arrive in the same manner.
Thecus has always packaged their products very well regardless if it's a high end enterprise product or a small consumer NAS.
Open cell foam is used extensively throughout the package and the accessories are kept in a separate area away from the NAS itself. Here we see that even the NAS slide rails are kept in a smaller box and secured down the middle of the package.
Moving one layer deeper reveals the N8200XXX NAS which is surrounded by white foam. The NAS also ships in a plastic bag to keep moisture out and has a layer of sticky plastic on the top portion of the cover.
The N8200XXX ships with software and a quick start paper guide. A full manual is included in PDF format on one of the discs as well.
Two power cords, a Category 5e Ethernet cable and screws for mounting your drives are included with the NAS. A set of keys to lock the drives in is also included, so you have a bit of a security system that keeps your drives from walking away.
The Thecus N8200XXX
The N8200XXX is a 2U sized rack mount NAS server. The front door doesn't lock, but it does keep people from accidentally turning the system off while it's in operation. On each side are two handles that makes sliding the NAS in and out of a rack space much easier.
With the door open we get to see the eight drive sleds that lock for security.
There are two groups of buttons on the N8200XXX. The first set is for power and reset. They are accompanied by LEDs that show power on status and disk activity. Two USB 2.0 ports are also on the front of the NAS, but when the door is closed they are covered up.
The second set of buttons allows you to configure your N8200XXX without a PC. You can also scroll through status updates with this button set and the information is displayed on the built in LCD display.
The build quality is very good. Here we see the rack ears that double as handles. These are attached with four screws instead of just two.
The side of the case is designed to let heat escape before it builds up inside the system.
The back of the case has some ventilation as well.
Thecus uses a custom motherboard inside the N8200XXX. On the back right side is where you'll find the dual gigabit LAN ports, quad USB 2.0 ports and an eSATA port for connecting an additional drive. A serial port is also included for connecting older battery backup units that don't use USB. Even though the N8200XXX has two slots for PCIe adapter cards, only the top one is usable.
There are two power supplies in the N8200XXX, each being 400 watts. The system is able to detect a PSU failure and run on just one if that happens. These are hot swappable units so your system never has to go down.
Thecus' custom motherboard is quite trick, a lot of design hours went into making it for sure. You can take the cover off to add a PCIe 4 lane NIC if needed for your configuration. On the top is the SODIMM (right in the middle, half covered in wires), but other than those two, not much should or could be messed with inside the NAS. The fans can also be easily swapped out if needed.
The final shot is of the riser card used to install an additional NIC. It should be noted that while many of Thecus' new enterprise NAS products can get 10GbE upgrades, the N8200XXX can't due to its 4 lane PCIe limit.
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.
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 head to head comparison we pulled out a QNAP TS-859U-RP. This QNAP 2U rack mount unit uses an earlier Intel Atom processor, but shares the same 1GB memory size and gigabit Ethernet configuration.
The Thecus N8200XXX starts off a little slow with just a single drive, but after you start filling up the spaces there is just no looking back. We feel that most businesses will utilize RAID 6 and you can find the results for that level at the bottom of each chart. The N8200XXX nearly doubles the TS-859U-RP in both the single and dual video playback tests.
The same outstanding performance carries over to the RAID 5 and RAID 0 tests as well.
Benchmarks - HD Record
HD Video Record - 720p HD stream, 256kB writes
HD Video Play & Record - 1 playback, 1 record simultaneously
2x HD Video Play & 2x Record - 2 playback, 2 record simultaneously
Obviously playing high bit-rate data back is not a problem for the N8200XXX, but in this test we see how well it can record and playback at the same time. Again, RAID 5 and RAID 6 are the important tests for the target market and again the Thecus unit runs away with the benchmark performance in these tests. For the most part the N8200XXX is able to utilize all of the available bandwidth on my network.
Benchmarks - Content
Photo Album - All reads - wide distribution of sizes
Office Productivity - Reads and writes, 1kB & 4kB reads; Mostly 1kB writes
Content Creation - 95% writes; 1k, 4k & little reads; Writes up to 64kB
Of course, large video files that are read sequentially are pretty easy for a quality NAS server to handle. It's the content tests that always catch poor products off guard with their small random reads and writes to and from the system.
In the Content Creation Test the two servers perform at nearly the exact same levels. Once we get to the Photo Album Test the Thecus unit doubles the performance in both RAID 5 and RAID 6.
The largest difference between these two units we'll see all day, though, is in the Office Productivity Test where the Thecus really excels and the competition stumbles. This is an important test for many office environments where documents are constantly being saved to the NAS and the small writes really take their toll on performance.
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 File Copy and Directory Copy tests can be associated with your software backup system. Most businesses backup their client systems every night, or at least once a week. You are doing the same as well, right?
In the Directory tests we see a moderate performance improvement with the Thecus system over the QNAP system, but in the File Copy test we see a very large gain with the N8200XXX.
In the coming weeks TweakTown is taking NAS servers and NAS server reviews to a new level. We are moving into the 10GbE age on the high end and at the same time bringing in more consumer devices that feed your DLNA TVs, media players and phones. Our new motto is to hell with the cloud - make your own today. You'll hear more about this later - we have the N8200XXX to talk about today.
The Thecus N8200XXX uses an Intel Atom D525 processor and pairs it with 1GB of DDR3 RAM. We've shown today that the combination does a really good job at transferring files; that part was made very clear today. What isn't clear is how much extra the power efficient processor and small capacity RAM has to give when you start stacking operations on top of each other in the software. We'll come back to this topic.
Thecus' software is state of the art as far as NAS servers go. We've seen the back end of just about everything on the market and Version 5 is really good. The only other back end on the market that compares comes from QNAP and they are very close. Thecus' software quickly and easily turns your file server into a webserver, database server, mail server and a whole host of other things that can be installed and configured to work together.
That brings us back to the processing power of the N8200XX and its price. While investigating the current crop of enterprise rack mount servers from QNAP, we observed the N8200XXX is currently selling for right around 1,600 USD. This is in line with other 2U, 8-drive NAS servers on the market, even the higher spec N8800Pro that we reviewed last year.
The Thecus N8800PRO also sells for around 1,600 USD and ships with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 4GB of DDR2 RAM. We have no doubt that the N8200XXX can run more background tasks than most small businesses need, but for the same money you can get the N8800Pro that can handle more when your business grows.