Thecus N3200PRO NAS Server Review
Reviewed by: Nemo
Reviewed on: June 14, 2009
: Thecus Technology Corp.
When looking at storage solutions, eventually users outgrow the capacity available on their local hard drives, or their needs become more sophisticated as in the case of home theater or multimedia setups. As today's homes become more networked having local storage silos no longer makes since. The logical solution to these issue is some sort of networked storage where files are available across the network. That's where a network attached storage (NAS) server comes in.
A NAS server offers many benefits starting with the obvious one which is additional storage space. However, using a NAS server just to add more capacity is cheating yourself out of the many other benefits that can be found in most NAS devices today. Most multi-drive NAS units offer some form of redundancy through the use of RAID arrays as well as being able to stream multimedia files across the network and even act as a web server. Home office users can even take advantage of features such as defining users and groups and setting permissions on shared folders.
We've reviewed several NAS devices here at Overclockers Club that range from dual drive units up to 5-bay hot swappable units intended for small to medium sized businesses. The problem with the smaller two-bay units is they can only offer support for RAID 1 at a cost of half the available drive space. On the other end of the spectrum, the larger 4- and 5-bay units offer more features including RAID 5/6 support but the added features and speed come at a cost premium that put them beyond the typical home user's budget. Thecus has addressed this problem with the Thecus N3200PRO NAS server which is a 3-bay unit that fits neatly in between the lower-end two drive units and the more capable 4- and 5-bay units at the higher end.
Thecus Technology was founded in 2004 as a manufacturer of digital storage products. In addition the N3200PRO, Thecus offers a full range of storage products ranging from single drive enclosures all the way up to enterprise-class rackmount servers. With its product line totally devoted to storage, Thecus has focused on ease of use and making its products accessible to both novices and experts. Given that level of commitment, let's check out the N3200PRO and set what it's got to offer.
The N3200PRO arrived in a sturdy cardboard shipping box which did a good job of protecting it during transit. The front and and back of the box holding the N3200PRO contain identical images of the unit featuring the tag line 'RAID 5 Comes Home' touting the unit's ability to support RAID 5 for home users since it supports up to three hard drives. One one side of the box is a graphic depicting a typical setup in a home network environment. The opposing side of the box lists some of the features of the unit.
Popping the box open we can see the unit is surrounded by closed-cell foam inserts that keep the unit securely in the center of the box with enough dead space around it to protect the unit from any shipping mishaps. Pulling everything out of the box gives you an even better idea of how well protected the unit is. Also included in the box are an external power supply and an accessories pack containing the installation CD, a Cat5e network cable and a quick install guide.
The unit also came enclosed in a plastic bag to further protect it from scratches during packing and shipping. Looking at the front of the unit you can see the top half of the unit is taken up by the front plate with ventilation grills that cover the hard drive bays. Below that is the LCM display module. Along the bottom of the unit are a front USB port and the LED status indicators. A power supply button is on the lower right bracketed by rocker switches used to change and select items on the LCM panel. Moving to the rear of the unit the first thing you notice is the large cooling fan which occupies most of the back panel. Below the fan in the lower left hand corner we see the two Gigabit Ethernet ports. Progressing left to right, we have the system reset button, a USB connection with an eSATA connection below it and the power connector. Finally, on the right side of the panel is something called the expansion port which is reserved for future expansion modules that may be released by Thecus. When we flip the unit over we can get a good look at the bottom of the case which features four rectangular rubber feet to keep the unit from slipping and to protect anything beneath it if you choose to stack the N3200PRO on top of another component.
Let's move on to the next step and see what it takes to install a set of hard drives into the unit.
The N3200PRO comes from the factory without any hard drives. This means it's up to the user to purchase and install the drives. To an experienced system builder this may seem like a trivial step, but it could be intimidating for someone who has never done it before. Let's see just how easy Thecus has made this process.
The drive bays are behind the panel that occupies the top half of the N3200PRO. Removing the panel is simply a matter of lifting it straight up and then popping it off the front of the unit. With the panel removed you can see the exposed drive bays. Along each side are three pairs of drive mounting rails secured to the front of the server with thumb screws. The rails can be removed by loosening the thumb screws and pulling them out of the bays. As you can see in the second screen shot, there are a series of three tabs that protrude slightly from the inside of each rail. The tabs are spaced so that they mate up up the mounting holes along the edge of your hard drive. Installing the rails is simply a matter of pressing the tabs into the screw holes on each side of the drive. Once complete it should look like the fourth picture below.
Now that the rails are mounted on the hard drives we'll see just how easy Thecus has made it to install them in the server. In the photograph of the interior of the server above, you can see a blue printed circuit board at the rear of the drive bay. This is the SATA backplane which contains the power and data connections needed for each drive. By using a backplane, Thecus has eliminated the need to attach separate data and power cables to each drive. To install the drives, all you need to do is gently slide each drive with the attached mounting rails into the server making sure that each drive is snug up against the backplane and tighten the thumb screws. Once all the drives are secured in this manner, you can reattach the front face plate by aligning the tabs with the slots on the front of the server and sliding in downward until it clicks in place.
The next step is to connect the Ethernet cable to the WAN port with the other end going to a router or switch. The last thing needed is to connect the power connector from the power supply to the rear of the unit, attach the power cable to the power supply and plug it into a wall outlet and turn the unit on.
We've completed the installation phase and now it's time to begin configuring the unit for use.
With the drives installed and the unit connected to the network and powered on, we're now ready to begin configuring the N3200PRO for use. As with all the other NAS devices we've reviewed previously, Thecus includes an installation CD for use in detecting the unit on the network and beginning the configuration process. To begin, just slip the installation CD included with the accessories into your computer's optical drive. As long as autorun is enabled you should see a main menu with several different models of Thecus devices listed and click on the N3200PRO button. This will bring up the different options particular to the N3200PRO. In order to run the setup utility simply click on the Setup Wizard button. You must install the setup utility on your machine and this begins the installation process. Unlike some of the other units tested, you can't run the setup program directly from the CD. After verifying you want to install the software, the installation routine kicks off the install and then notifies you when everything is complete.
Once the installation is finished you can launch the Setup Wizard by pressing the Start button. The wizard first starts the Device Discovery procedure where it attempts to identify all Thecus NAS devices on the network. Since the N3200PRO has not been set up, it defaults to an IP address of 192.168.1.100. We can use the Setup Wizard to configure the proper LAN address information by clicking on Login System and providing the default user name and password. As with many devices, the default is admin/admin which you should change at the first opportunity to something stronger and less obvious. Clicking the Next button takes us to Network Configuration where you can supply the LAN address information. The host name defaults to 'N3200PRO' which is a good default unless you have multiple identical units on your network. I'm going to assign a fixed IP address so I left the Fixed IP radio button checked. If you want your router or other DHCP server to automatically assign the IP information you should select the DHCP radio button. After filling in the the IP address, default gateway and DNS server information clicking the Next button takes you to the Change Password screen. It's always a good idea to change the default password and use a strong password of at least ten characters. The final step in the wizard offers you the option of configuring another device or launching your browser to go into the management UI. You can also choose to end the setup without taking any further action.
The next step is to log in to the Web UI and set up a volume on the server. Clicking on the Start Browser button on the Setup Wizard page brings up the login page where you can login using the user name 'admin' and the new password you specified on the Change Password screen (you did change the password like I suggested didn't you?). The first time you log in, you get a disclaimer page. Fortunately there is a checkbox you can use to disable the page from displaying in the future. Once you select the OK button, you're taken to a status page with a prompt to set up a RAID array first. To do this you can click on the red 'Please create RAID array first' link at the bottom of the dialog.
In order to create the volume you first have to determine what kind of array you want to set up. With the N3200PRO can be set up using JBOD, or Just a Bunch of Disks, (multiple drives are configured as a single large volume) , RAID 0 (also known as striping where two or more identical drives are set up as one larger drive), RAID 1 (also known as mirroring where one drive maintains a copy of the other drive) or RAID 5 (uses striping similar to RAID 0 but also provides redundancy for data protection). The pros and cons of each type of setup are outside the scope of our review but a concise explanation can be found in The Official OCC RAID Guide, Version 2.0.
In addition to choosing the volume type, you need to choose the number of drives to include in the array. A JBOD volume can use one or more drives while RAID 0 volumes can use two or more drives. A RAID 1 array must consist of two drives. Finally, a RAID 5 array must contain three or more drives. Obviously, you're limited by the number of drives available, which in our case is three. In the example here I will using a three-drive RAID 5 array. There is one final option to set and that is stripe size. This only applies to RAID 0 and RAID 5 arrays. These two types of arrays use striping where blocks of data are written to multiple disks simultaneously. Without going into a lengthy discussion here in the review, there is no single ideal stripe size. However a couple of generalizations can be made. If most of your files are small files you will generally see better performance with smaller stripe sizes; larger files such as video and photo files will benefit from a larger stripe size. The best bet is to experiment with different sizes to see which one gives you the best results for your given usage pattern. The N3200PRO offers a good range of choices ranging from 4KB up to 4096KB. For our testing I'm going to leave it at the default 64KB setting.
Once all the settings are correct, hitting the Create button will begin the creation process. The N3200PRO will respond within a few seconds telling you that the array has been created, but don't be fooled into thinking everything is ready to go. Clicking the OK button brings you back to the RAID Information screen where the rest of the array setup begins. This is a rather lengthy process which can take several hours depending on the size of the drives used.
The server now has a volume created, so it's time to check out some of the other features of the unit.
The configuration and management of the server is accomplished through a Web-based user interface. The UI is accessed by typing the unit's IP address in your browser's address bar which is http://192.168.1.32 in our example. At the top of the page you will see the menu bar with the different subcategories containing the screens used to set and control different aspects of the N3200PRO. Placing your mouse cursor over one of the menu items will display a dropdown list of the various options.
Status – this section displays the status of different aspects of the system as well configuration screens for the web cameras and wake-on-LAN settings.
Storage – the Storage section allows you to view information and settings on the various storage components of the N3200PRO including external eSATA and USB drives as well as the internal drives on the unit.
Network – in this section you can configure the different WAN/LAN connections as well as enable and configure the different network services on the N3200PRO. Accounts – you can configure users and groups as well as assign rights to different network shares in this section.
System – you can configure the different system settings in this section including setting the time, checking system logs, updating the firmware, and rebooting/shutting down the system.
Language – this section allows you to choose the preferred language.
There are five subsections under the status menu option.
The System page reports on the status of the system itself as well as its various services. You can check on the CPU utilization rate, fan speed and time since last reboot. In the Service Status pane you can view the status of the Apple Filing Protocol (AFP), Network Files System (NFS), SMB/CIFS, FTP, iTunes, Media Server and UPnP services. As you can see in the screen shot, most of these services come disabled by default. We'll visit each one of these later in the review when we get to the Network section.
The N3200PRO can act as a printer server. There is nothing to configure here, all that's needed is to plug a USB printer into the USB port on the rear of the device and the N3200PRO will automatically recognize the printer. You can purge the print queue or restart the printer service from this page as well. In order to add the printer to a local client machine you will need to point to the network address “http://N3200PRO_IP_ADDRESS:631/printers/usb-printer” where 'N3200PRO_IP_ADDRESS' is the IP address of the server on your network. This is where having a fixed IP address would come in handy.
The N3200PRO can be configured to awaken from sleep mode via either the LAN or WAN connections. To enable this feature check the appropriate radio button on this page and the click on the Apply button.
The N3200PRO includes a Web Camera server and you can set it up to capture images from a web cam attached to the USB port. You can capture images in resolutions of 160x120, 320x240, or 640x480 and at various preset intervals. You can define a daily schedule for when images are captured as well. All images are stored in the Video/Webcam folder on the server.
The About page shows basic product information including manufacturer, model number, firmware version and up time.
Let's move on to the storage configuration options.
The Storage section contains all the pages needed to monitor the storage on the N320PRO, whether the internal drives or externally connected devices such as eSATA or USB drives. It is in this section where you create the RAID volumes, create folders and monitor the status of the volumes. There are a total of eight subsections covering all the aspects of storage management.
The SATA section provides information on the individual drives installed in the server. Each drive is listed along with formatted capacity, model number and current firmware version. The status of each drive is listed as well and will show a status of OK, Warning or Failed. Clicking on the status link next to each drive takes you to a detail page listing Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology (S.M.A.R.T.) output including tray position and drive temperature. There is one configurable setting on this page for the Disk Power Management where you can set the disks to power down after a period of inactivity. The default is 30 minutes (the minimum) and ranges up to 120 minutes in 30-minute increments. It would have been nice to be able to set a lesser amount of time than 30 minutes as we have seen on other NAS devices we've reviewed.
The eSATA page for getting information on any eSATA drive connected to the N3200PRO's rear eSATA port such as formatted capacity, used percentage, model number, firmware version and status. You can format the attached drive from this page and disconnect it from the unit using the Eject button.
Just as with the eSATA Information page, there is a corresponding page for any USB drive connected to the front or rear USB ports showing similar information regarding capacity, model, firmware and status.
The RAID Information screen displays the status and condition of the current volume. It displays the current RAID level, its capacity and status, stripe size and used space. You also use this page to access the RAID Configuration section to drop existing arrays and create new ones. Clicking on the Config button brings up the configuration screen, which we've seen before during the initial setup. Any existing volume must be first removed before you can create a new one, assuming all three drives are in use as in this example. Of course, removing a volume will destroy all the data so make sure you've backed up the data before trying this.
The Folder section is fairly self explanatory in that it where you create and delete folders and set access permissions. To get started the Add button will take you to the Add Folder dialog where you can specify the folder name and description. You can also set whether the folder can be seen when browsing the network and whether the folder is publicly accessible. Once the folder has been created the system will notify you along with a friendly reminder to set up the access control list (ACL) for the folder. If you set up the folder for public access, then there is no need to set up the ACL as everyone has access so the ACL button will be grayed out.
With the folder created you have access to several options for managing the folder. The NFS Share button allows you to set up which Linux/Unix machines on the network have access to the folder. The ACL button lets you determine which users have access to the folder. You will need to have users and groups created first which we will look at later on in the review.
The Edit button allows you to change the folder name and description as well as the setting to make the folder browseable and whether the folder is to be a public share. The Del button will remove the folder and all of its contents so it should be used with caution.
The Service Folder section displays all of the folders used by the different services on the unit. These folders are automatically set up when the the volume is created. You can perform the same functions as with user-created folder such as managing NFS shares and the access control list as well as editing the folder characteristics. Most of the service folders default to public access which is why the ACL button is grayed out – there is no need to set permissions on a folder which is available to everyone. You can click on the link in the Folder Name column or press the Edit button to edit the folder characteristics just as described above for regular folders. If you change the folder to be non-public the ACL button becomes active and you can then set permissions as shown above. You can't rename or delete these folders as they are needed by the system services. This feature is not covered in the user manual.
ISO Mount is a feature that is not mentioned anywhere in the user manual. I searched the Thecus support site and found a document called ISO Mount User Guide. The site lists several NAS products to which it applies but doesn't list the N3200PRO. However, the interface shown in the guide is virtually identical to the N3200PRO so I'll use it as a reference to try to explain this undocumented feature.
As the name implies, ISO Mount is a way to mount an ISO image and make the files available over the network. Up to 200 different ISO files can be mounted using this feature. The first step is to select the folder containing the ISO image from the drop down list and hit the Select button. Once you have chosen a folder the screen will show you the folders within that ISO and then all the files from a selected folder. You can specify a mount name and then click the Add button to mount the ISO. You will be prompted to confirm you want to mount the image and after you click OK, you'll see another dialog telling you it was mounted successfully. Once you return to the main page you'll see the mount path and the ISO path.
If you map a drive from your local client to the NAS box using the mount path as your target you can see the mount name showing up as a folder. You can then access the files within the ISO image like any other files on the system. This is a real handy feature as it eliminates the need to burn the ISO image to a CD/DVD and makes the files available to any user on the network. File access should be faster using a hard drive versus an optical drive as well. It's a shame that the feature isn't covered in the user manual. The ISO Mount User Guide is enough to get a technical user started in the right direction, but the fractured English and lack of detail might leave a typical home user bewildered and confused.
Nsync is not a reference to a has-been boy band, but instead Thecus' proprietary remote replication application. The feature is new to the 1.00.03 version of the firmware we're using and thus hasn't seemed to have made it into the user manual yet. Other units we've reviewed here at OCC use rsync to synchronize files between one NAS and another identical unit. Thecus' implementation of this technology works between another N3200PRO or it can use an FTP server as its target for storing data. For additional information on how to use Nsync you can search the Thecus web site for an Nsync quick guide for one of its other NAS products.
Clicking the Add button brings up a dialog where you can create a task and specify the target as another Thecus NAS or an FTP server. You also have to specify additional target information such as the IP address, folder name and login credentials. You can then create a schedule to run the task on either a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Another point to remember that if you are using another Thecus NAS device as the target you must enable the Nsync Target service in the Network section.
That finishes all the options in the Storage section and so it's on to the Network setting.
The Network section is where you can set the IP address setting for the WAN/LAN ports. You can also enable and configure several network services such as DDNS, iTunes, FTP, Apple Network, NFS and more. This section also contains the Download Manger used for scheduling FTP, HTTP and BitTorrent downloads.
The N3200PRO comes with two Gigabit Ethernet ports – a WAN port to connect the NAS device to the main network and establish connection to the Internet and a LAN port to allow a different subnet to connect to the server. During the initial setup we configured the WAN port with the necessary IP address information to connect it to the network. You can use this page to change the host name that identifies the N3200PRO on the network and set the domain name if your network is on a domain. As we saw during the setup, you can choose to assign a static IP address and all the details or opt for a dynamic address and let your network's DHCP automatically assign an address. The last option is IP Sharing Mode which acts as a bridge between the WAN and LAN ports so that Pcs connected to the LAN can access the WAN. Thecus recommends disabling IP Sharing if you are only using the WAN port for higher throughput.
I skipped the Jumbo Frame Support option above so let's take a moment to examine jumbo frames and how Thecus has enabled it on the N3200PRO. Ethernet traffic travels over the network in a series of packets called frames. A standard frame consists of 1518 bytes – a 14-byte MAC address header, 1500 bytes of data (also known as the payload) and a 4-byte checksum. This configuration is part of the Ethernet v2 standard and is used by most all networks such as the Internet and Fast Ethernet (100Mbs). Gigabit networks allow for higher maximum transmission unit (MTU) sizes up to about 9000 bytes. Technically any frame size greater than 1500 bytes is known as a Jumbo Frame and will vary in sizes supported depending on the vendor. In order to support jumbo frames and ensure proper interconnectivity, all units on the network must be set to the same MTU. The N3200PRO support jumbo frame MTU sizes of 4000, 8000, 12000 and 16000 bytes. It is unlikely you will see many, if any, other devices supporting MTU sizes greater than 9000 bytes at this time so it is a bit odd that the N3200 doesn't offer support a the 9000 byte MTU as other NAS devices we've reviewed do. The motherboard in our test rig only supports MTU sizes of 1500, 4000 and 9000 bytes, so all testing of jumbo frames will be done using a jumbo frame size of 4000 bytes instead of the maximum size of 9000 bytes offered by other NAS units.
The second Gigabit Ethernet port on the N3200PRO can be configured in a similar manner with support for jumbo frames and by assigning it a fixed IP address. You can also enable the unit to act as a dynamic host configuration protocol (DHCP) server and have it assign IP addresses to PCs on the LAN if there is no DHCP server such as a router present.
The N3200PRO can also serve as a wireless access point when equipped with a compatible wireless USB dongle. According to the user guide this includes the 3Com 3CRUSB10075, Zyxel G220USB and PCI GW-US54mini. If one of these devices is connected to the N3200PRO you will see a Wireless LAN Configuration screen where you can configure the wireless access point. The unit only supports WEP encryption using 64- or 128-bit keys. The wireless LAN can also be configured to act as a DHCP server as with the LAN.
Most home users will be using a dynamic IP address assigned by their Internet service provider (ISP). The ISP can change the IP address at any time and this can make accessing the N3200PRO from the Internet a bit difficult without knowing what the current IP address is. A dynamic domain name service (DDNS) can help solve this problem by assigning a fixed domain name and tracking the IP address that goes with that name so even if the IP address changes you can always access it using the domain name assigned by the DDNS provider. The N3200 supports three different providers: DynDNS.org, www.zonedit.com and www.no-ip.com. You will need to sign up for service with one of these providers and then enter the account credentials into the DDNS page and click Apply. If you're unsure how to sign up, the user's manual contains instructions on how to create an account with DynDNS.org.
This section allows you to enable several Web services on the N3200. The first is WebDisk/Secure WebDisk, a Web-based file management tool. You can choose to enable/disable this service and specify the port used. This option is enabled by default. You can also turn SMB/CIFS service on or off. It is enabled by default and if you are trying to connect to the n3200PRO from a Windows machine you will definitely want to leave this service enabled. Finally you can enable the universal plug and play (UPnP) protocol that will help other devices on the network discover the N3200PRO. This feature is disabled by default. Make sure you click the Apply button to save any changes.
If you are using the N3200PRO with a MAC OS system you can enable the Apple File Service, specify the Mac character set and specify an AppleTalk network zone. The default setting is for this service to be disabled.
Not too much to do here except to enable or disable the Network File System (NFS) protocol. Enabling this service will allow you to specify mount points for folders in order to access them from Linux/UNIX-based systems.
The N3200PRO can be set up to function as an FTP server. When combined with the DDNS service, you can access and transfer files on the NAS from anywhere you have an Internet connection. Setup is straightforward and you can use a the standard default port 21 or another one of your choice. You can choose to allow anonymous access where no user account is required. To have the server automatically rename duplicate files you can check the Auto Rename checkbox. You can also set upload and download bandwidth restrictions in set increments. The choices are Unlimited, 1, 2, 4, 8, and 16 MB/s. The FTP service is disabled by default.
You can also set up the N3200PRO to act as an iTunes server by simply clicking on a check box. The iTunes server name defaults to the host name 'N3200PRO' we defined earlier and you can change that to a name of your choosing. You can also require users to enter a password before they can access the /Music folder on the server. Option options include rescan interval (1, 10, 30, 60 minutes or 1 day intervals) and different MP3 tag encoding protocols. As with the other services, the iTunes service is disabled by default.
The N3200PRO includes a built-in media server that provides media streaming service to any networked home media adapters that support the UPnP AV protocol or are Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) standard compliant. This allows you to share music, movies and photos throughout your house. Once you have enabled this service you can choose which folders to share by clicking the checkbox next to the folder name.
Like other NAS units we've reviewed, the N3200PRO has a Download Manager feature that enables you to download files via HTTP, FTP and BitTorrent. You can add the task for immediate execution or set it up to run on a schedule. The BitTorrent manager is pretty basic but easy to use. After browsing for the torrent metadata file you select a destination folder. The system creates a /bt subfolder to store the download. Other options are limited to the number of peers and the maximum download and upload bandwidth. Bandwidth limits are in fixed increments from 8-1024 KB/s as well as unlimited. Once the task has been created, you can kick off the download manually by pressing the blue arrow. Once the download begins, the BitTorrent manager will automatically seed the file and there are no options to turn off seeding or continue seeding once the download is complete.
Earlier we discussed using Nsync to synchronize files and folders between two Thecus NAS units. If you want to use the N3200PRO as a target, i.e. store files from another device, simply leave the Nsynce Target Server setting enabled which is the default.
That concludes our look at the Network settings so now we can move on the the user accounts and groups section.
The Accounts section is used to create users and groups. You also use this section to assign users to groups and perform any maintenance functions such as password and group membership changes. You can also set up the N3200PRO to use ADS/NT authentication if you have a domain server on your network.
The N32000PRO offers support for Windows Active Directory and Windows NT authentication if you are using one of these servers to handle domain security on your network. You can specify the Windows Internet Name Service server if you have one as well as the name of the domain you are on. You will also need to enable the ADS/NT authentication support and choose which of the two you are using. Once the service is enable you can enter the specifics such as the server name and login credentials. This is a pretty unusual feature considering the unit is targeted to home users, but it means the N3200PRO can find a home in the enterprise as well.
To add a new user to the NAS you click on the Add button and specify the user name and password. If you would like to have a default folder created on the root of the volume you can click the radio button to have the system set it up for you. The final step is to select which groups the user should be a member of. The user is automatically made a member of the default group named 'users'. Since we haven't created any groups yet there are no other choices at this point. You can always add users to groups during the group creation process. You must hit the Apply button to save the new user account. Once the user account has been created it will show up on the list of users. You can then modify the account and delete from the system using this page.
Groups are used to hold a set of users and allows you to assign permissions once to a group and have it be effective for all users that are a member of that group. This makes setting up the account control list much easier and facilitates maintenance. This may not seem like a huge deal for a small number of users, but it is a necessity for larger number as well as making tracking who has access to what a whole lot easier.
The system has a default users group that all users are automatically a member of. Adding a new group is much like adding a new user – you click the Add button and define the group. On the N3200PRO that definition consists solely of the group name. You can choose which users to add by highlighting the user name and clicking the arrow to add the user to the Members List. You can remove users from the list by highlighting the name and clicking the arrow that points at the Users List pane. Make sure to hit the Apply button to save your changes. As with the users page you can also modify and delete groups here.
Earlier in the review we looked at the Storage section where we created folders. As you recall, we briefly mentioned setting access permissions but at the time we hadn't yet created any users. So let's take a few minutes to revisit the folder permissions. With the folder name highlighted, pressing the ACL button brings up a second screen where you can chose a group or user and then choose the type of access to grant – Deny (no access), Read Only or Writable (full access). To keep things simple the different types of groups and users are even color-coded.
With that done, we need to move on and check out the System section.
The System section contains various options for the overall management and configuration of the N3200PRO. Included in this section are e-mail notifications, system logs, setting the time and more.
There are two types of notification you can receive when there is a problem with the server. The first you can enable is an audible notification where the unit will beep when a problem arises. There isn't an option to cancel the alarm later from the front panel. The second form of notification is via e-mail. You will need to enter the SMTP server address and the proper authentication type as well as any required login information. You can opt to send a test e-mail to make sure everything is set up properly. For an e-mail account requiring regular login, an authentication type of 'login' worked for me. I also tested it using Gmail as the SMTP server as used the 'gmail' authentication type. Both options worked well and test e-mails came through with no problem. Just make sure to hit the Apply button to save your changes.
The N3200PRO maintains a set of system logs that track various events broken down into three categories - Information, Warnings and Errors. You can clear the logs using the Truncate All Log File button. One thing I noticed is that the log files seems to only be persistent until the next system reboot. You can also sort by ascending/descending order and save the logs using the Download feature.
The Time subsection allows you to set the time parameters on the N3200PRO including the actual time and time zone. You set the time zone by picking a city in the proper time zone instead of selecting the actual time zone. This section allows you to set the date and time manually and you can choose to specify a Network Time Protocol (NTP) server either by entering a URL manually or choosing one of the ones from the preconfigured drop down list.
The Configuration Management page is used to save the configuration settings to a backup file. Choosing the Download option will create a file with a default name of conf.bin. You can then upload this file later to restore the settings.
The N3200PRO includes a Module Management feature that allows you to install additional software modules to update and enhance the functionality of the server. The Thecus support site has a section where you can download modules and presumably you can use this section to install third-party modules as well. After downloading and unzipping the module, you can browse to the file and choose to install it. Once installed, the Enable button will make the new software available. You can also Uninstall the module as well as find out more information by clicking on the link in the Name or Description columns.
This option resets everything back to the original factory default settings. While it will not erase the data on the drive, you should make sure your data is safely backed up before using this option.
The Thecus N3200PRO came with firmware version 1.00.02 installed and I chose to upgrade it to the latest version before reviewing the features and running the performance tests. The latest version on the Thecus support site was 1.00.03 with an additional security patch to bring it up to 1.00.03a.
Once you've downloaded the latest firmware version, you'll need to unzip it to a location of your choice. Once that's been done, you can click the Browse button on the Firmware Upgrade page to locate the .bin file containing the upgrade and click the Apply button. One caveat to point out is that any time you are upgrading firmware whether it be on a NAS or flashing the BIOS on your motherboard, please make sure you don't do anything that could affect the upgrade process and that includes losing power. Connecting the unit to a UPS is always a good idea. The N3200PRO will give you a confirmation message and then begin the upgrade which should only take a few minutes. Once the process is complete you will need to reboot the server. Upgrading the server with the 1.00.03a security patch is identical to applying the firmware upgrade.
You should always change the password for the administrator account from the default that ships with the unit. If you did not do this during the initial setup or if you need to change it later you can do it from this page by simply keying in the new password and then retyping it to confirm.
You can set up the N3200PRO to turn on and off based on a schedule you specify. Checking the Enable Timer checkbox enables the schedule section where you can set a power on/off action for each day of the week and each day can have two events. The times are based on a 24 hour clock so 11:00 PM is 23:00. The minute portion of the schedule is limited to 5-minute increments.
Reboot & Shutdown
The section name says it all here. This option allows you to reboot or shutdown the server. Pressing either button will bring up a confirmation dialog to make sure you want to perform the action.
There is no page associated with this option. Selecting Logout from the drop down menu allows you to log out of the management interface and you will get a chance to confirm the action.
The Language option off the menu bar allows you to specify the language used by the system. Besides English the unit supports Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Japanese, Korean as well as French, German, Italian, Spanish and Russian.
That's the end of the configuration options. Next we'll take a look at the Web UI for the users and some of the services we enabled during the setup process.
User Web Interface
We've spent the last several pages using the web administration interface, but everything we've seen so far is only available to the admin account. User accounts you set up will not have access to these pages, but instead access an interface designed to give users access to files through the Web Disk interface and separate interfaces for the music and pictures folders.
The WebDisk service is enabled via the Network Service section we examined earlier. WebDisk is web-based file manager that gives users access to all public folders as well any private folders to which they have access rights. When you click on a folder name you can view all the subfolders and files in the share. Across the top of the page you will see icons that enable you to create a new folder, upload files to the server, search for a particular file and delete files. The Create New Folder, Upload Files and Delete options are only available if the user has write access to the particular share.
WebDisk is a very basic file manager and has a few limitations. You can not use it to rename files or move files from one folder to another and the upload feature is limited to a single file at a time. If you have more than a handful of files to load you are better off using FTP or your client computer's file manager to copy multiple files. If you choose to delete a file using the Delete function there is no warning message asking you to confirm the delete, so make sure you want to delete a file as there's no recycle bin functionality on the N3200PRO.
The Music option lists all the files in the Music share, much like using the WebDisk feature. There are no additional features provided over using WebDisk other than limiting the files listed to what's contained in the Music folder. If you have the iTunes service enabled on the N3200PRO, you can access all the music from iTunes equipped computer as the N3200PRO will be listed under the Shared heading on the left hand menu in iTunes.
The N3200PRO allows you to store your photos in albums and access and share them from the network. Working with the Photo Gallery on the N3200PRO is a bit awkward until you figure out how things work. The Photo Gallery is based on the concept of albums. Outside of Photo Gallery albums will appear as folders. By default, each user will have his/her own folder, or album, on the root of the /Picture share. There is no capability within Photo Gallery to create a new album at the root of the /Picture share, although you can add one using Web Disk.
This is where things get awkward. If you load pictures directly into one of the user albums you can not view them in Photo Gallery. You can confirm the files are there and open them in WebDisk or from your PC's file manager however. In order to make this work, you must first open the user album off the root of the /Picture share and create a new album and place your pictures in the the second-level album. You can also choose to upload a folder containing pictures from you PC into the high-level album and the N3200PRO will treat the folder as a new album.
To keep things simple, it's best to store your photos in the folder associated with your user name. You can access the album by double clicking on it. You will see five icons at the top right: Back, Set as Gallery Cover (which has no functionality here), Add Album, Modify Album and Delete Album. We want to add an album by clicking on the Add Album icon which looks like a plus sign. The Create Album page lets you enter a subject (album name) and description. Pressing the Create Album button adds the album as a subfolder under your user name. Just beneath the album icon you'll notice a radio button which you can click to select the album if you want to use the modify or delete album buttons. The modify icon lets you change the name and description as well as add an album password to prevent others from viewing the pictures without permission.
Double clicking on the album icon you just created allows you to view the contents of the album as well as upload new pictures and add annotations. You'll see the same set of icons as with the user album described above, some of which have different meanings now, plus a sixth icon for viewing the photos in a slide show format.
Let's start with the add (+) button which is now used for uploading photos to to album. Clicking the Upload Photos icon brings up a new page where you can select up to ten photos at a time to add to the album. Once you have selected the desired files you can press the Upload Photos button at the bottom of the page to add the photos to the album. You can also add a subject line and a 100-character description to each photo using this page. There is no provision to do a bulk upload from within the Photo Gallery interface so you're stuck doing the uploads in batches of ten after having selected each photograph individually. While this works fine for a handful of files, moving large amounts of files this way would be a very tedious and frustrating task. I wasn't able to load files to the album using Windows Explorer either due to permission issues. Interestingly though, I could load files to the user folder using Windows, just not to any albums contained within that folder. Fortunately, moving a block of files using FTP worked flawlessly and is your best bet for transferring a large number of files.
Photos are displayed as a series of thumbnail images (100 x 100 pixels) and the files seem to be ordered by latest creation date first and you can't sort them in any other order. Clicking on a thumbnail brings up a larger thumbnail (up to 300 x 300 pixels). Clicking the photo again will display a full size image. You can also display the exchangeable image file format metadata information by clicking on the EXIF tag next to the photo. There's also an icon in the upper right you can use to view the photographs as a slide show or you can scroll through the images using the scroll buttons below the picture.
The Cover button allows you to select a photo to display as a thumbnail icon for your album in place of the generic outline of a person which is used by default. To do this you tick the checkbox below the picture you want to use and hit the Cover icon. You can also set the cover picture for the user share by clicking on the radio button below an album and hitting the Cover button.
Modify Photo is a way to add/change the subject and description of a photograph. The subject will appear below the photograph in the Photo Gallery and the description allows you to add a short annotation about the picture. 'Modify Photo' is probably an unfortunate choice of words as in doesn't change the photo in any way – which is a good thing. The original file isn't affected as the N3200PRO stores the subject and description in separate files in the album and only uses them for display purposes.
There are also icons available to delete photos, launch a slide show and return to the previous level in the folder/album directory.
I had not originally planned to spend this much time and effort in the review on the Photo Gallery but as I was examining the features I became frustrated and once I figured out how everything worked I found it wasn't as bad as I first assumed. There are several limitations as I've mentioned but I'd like to cover a couple more that I think Thecus needs to correct.
Password protecting an album will keep others from viewing your photos in Photo Gallery and I also found you can't sneak around that by using either Windows Explorer or the WebDisk file manager. However, the N3200PRO does have a large hole in its security on password protected albums. As I mentioned earlier, photos are displayed in the gallery as either 100x100 or 300x300 thumbnails. The N3200PRO creates folders in each album where it stores the thumbnails – the thumbnails are actual files. Those thumbnail images in a protected album can be viewed by anyone either using WebDisk or your PC's file manager as the password protection doesn't extend to those folders.
Another issue I have is that folder security is only at the root level and can't be set on subfolders so a user can delete files in another user's album. Of course, this is a issue with any share on the NAS because the access rights apply to the root share of all folders and can not be set differently for folders contained within a share.
Logout allows the user to log off the N3200PRO and there is no prompt message to confirm the action. User's can manage their own passwords and change them using the Change Password option which is a useful feature as it does not require access to the admin account, although the administrator on the server can also change the password as we saw earlier in the review.
That brings us to the last of the setup and use of the N3200PRO so we can finally move on the the list of features and specifications as we get ready to look at the performance testing results.
|External Interface||RJ-45x2 : 10/100/1000 BASE-TX Auto MDI/MDI-X|
|Jumbo Frame Support||4000, 8000, 12000, 16000 bytes MTU|
|Additional Ports|| USB 2.0 host port x2(Front x1, Back x1)
eSATA port (Back x1)
|HDD Size||3 x 3.5" SATA Drives (not included)|
|Drive Capacity||Up to 2.0TB drive|
|CPU||AMD Geode LX800 500MHz|
|Memory||256MB DDR 400MHz|
|SATA Controller||Silicon Image 3114|
|NIC||Intel Pro 1000|
||Linux kernel version 2.6.23|
|HDD Configuration||RAID 0, 1, 5, JBOD|
|Power Supply||External adapter|
|Cooling||92mm fan - thermally controlled|
|Dimensions||165 x 170 x 215 mm (H x W x D)|
|OS Requirement|| Windows NT/2000/XP/2003/Vista
Mac OS 9 / X
| WEEE, CE Class B, FCC Class B,
BSMI Class B, C-TICK, ROHS
|Warranty||2 Years Parts and Labor|
- Upgraded 3 Bay NAS with Vastly Elevated Performance
Committed to delivering the utmost performance and security, Thecus proudly introduces the revamped three-bay NAS, the N3200PRO. Powered by an AMD Geode™ CPU, the N3200PRO delivers the raw horsepower required to transfer files quickly and efficiently. With powerful RAID options (including RAID 5), a built-in LCM display, and vastly improved data throughput, the N3200PRO redefines the three-bay NAS once again with increased usability, functionality, and performance.
- Easy Disk Management
Thecus is known for making things simple, and the N3200PRO is no exception. With its uniquely-designed disk management system, installing and removing disks is a snap, which means that users can spend more time enjoying their digital media and less time setting things up.
- LCM Display
The handy LCM panel makes managing the N3200PRO easy, even in dimly-lit environments like a living room during a movie screening.
- Home NAS with RAID 5 Protection
Our most advanced home NAS yet. The N3200PRO is the first of its kind that offers RAID 5, offering a perfect combination of data security and performance. Enjoy the speed of a striped array with the security of complete data redundancy. What could be better?
- Home Application Oriented Features
The N3200PRO is perfect for the home. Its Media Server allows easy connections to DLNA-compatible devices. The iTunes® Server offers music streaming throughout the entire home, while the Photo Web Server enables users to share their precious photos anywhere on the network. With the N3200PRO, the digital lifestyle can be fully realized.
- Wireless Ready
Optional wireless connectivity via compatible USB dongle allows users to access their media files all without the need for cumbersome wires.
- Stylish Design
Featuring clean lines and sophisticated styling, the N3200PRO is equally suited for the study or the living room. It’s distinct design makes it an appliance that users will want to show off.
All information courtesy of Thecus @ http://www.thecus.com/products_over.php?cid=12&pid=89&set_language=english
To test the N3200PRO I will use SiSoft Sandra 2009 using the File System benchmarks. I will also use the Intel NAS Performance Toolkit (ver. 1.7) to gauge performance under several realistic usage scenarios. The tests will be conducted on all supported hard drive configurations with and without jumbo frames enabled. The N3200PRO will be connected directly to the Marvell PCI-E Gigabit Ethernet controller using a Category 6 Ethernet cable to eliminate any variations due to network components or traffic.
- Processor: Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550 2.83 GHz
- Motherboard: Asus P5Q Deluxe
- LAN Controller: Marvell Yukon 88E8056 PCI-E Gigabit Ethernet Controller
- Ethernet Cable: 6' Category 6
- Memory: Patriot Extreme Performance 2GB PC2-9600 DDR2-1200MHz
- Video Card: PowerColor HD3450
- Power Supply: Antec TruePower 550
- NAS Device: Thecus N3200PRO
- Hard Drive: Seagate Barracuda ES.2 SATA 3.0-Gb/s 500-GB (ST3500320NS) x 3
- Optical Drive: Lite-On LTR523275
- OS: Windows XP SP3
- SiSoft Sandra 2009
- Intel NAS Performance Toolkit 1.7
SiSoft Sandra is a diagnostic utility and synthetic benchmarking program. Sandra allows you to view your hardware at a higher level to be more helpful.
Higher is Better
Lower is Better
The N3200PRO blew away the smaller 2-bay D-Link and CAND3001T0 models and even managed to edge out the 4-drive Synology DS-408. However, it couldn't touch the 5-drive TS-509 unit from QNAP.
Higher is Better
Lower is Better
The playing field gets leveled in the RAID 1 tests as all units are using two drives. Again the DNS-323 and CAND3001T0 are no match for the Thecus unit. Going up against the bigger DS408 and TS-509 the N3200PRO's performance was still pretty impressive, coming in only 5.6% slower than the TS-509.
Higher is Better
Lower is Better
Here the competition is only against the Synology DS-408 and QNAP TS-509. After all this is where the big boys play and it takes at least three drives to enter the RAID 5 game so no 2-bay units need apply. Surprisingly, the N3200 held it's own against the DS408 but, as expected, fell short of the more powerful QNAP TS-509. Still, a drive index measure of 37.2MB/s is very impressive.
Higher is Better
Lower is Better
The Synology DS408 dropped out from this test as the version of the firmware we tested did not support JBOD configurations. It comes down to a head-to-head race against the TS-509 where the Thecus N3200PRO gave a good accounting of itself although the QNAP unit was a mere 2% faster.
We matched the Thecus N3200PRO against two other home-oriented units from D-Link and Cavalry and the Thecus unit walked away a winner by a huge margin in all categories. The only advantage the 2-drive units have is in the single-disk category, one that the N3200PRO does not support. In all fairness though, it must be noted the D-Link DNS-323 is about half the price of the N3200PRO. We also included the business-class servers from Synology and QNAP so we could get a feel for how well the N3200PRO faired in the RAID 5 category. While it didn't beat it's competition, it came very close to the DS408. Once you take into account those units cost anywhere from two to three times that of the N3200PRO, the results are even more noteworthy.
The Intel NAS Performance Toolkit is a set of tools used to test and analyze file systems and enable direct comparison of the performance levels of different network attached storage devices. It utilizes a set of tests based on real world applications such as HD video playback and record, office productivity, photo album manipulation and file and directory copying. The toolkit uses a set of traces based on these applications and mimics the file system traffic generated and records the system response. In our evaluation, the toolkit was run in batch mode which runs the series of tests five times in succession and the median throughput value is used to report the results. The hard drives were reconfigured and the N3200PRO was rebooted before each test was run. The RAID 1 array contained two drives, the maximum you can have, with the other configurations tested using three drives.
HD Video Playback (higher is better)
The HD Video Playback series of tests involve streaming a 720p HD video file using Windows Media Player and 256kb reads. The tests play either 1, 2 or 4 files simultaneously using different percentages of sequential reads (99.5% for the single file, 18.1% for the 2x HD Video Playback and 9.6% for the 4x HD Video Playback).
2x HD Video Playback (higher is better)
4x HD Video Playback (higher is better)
The N3200PRO provided very good throughput rates ranging from 31.8-39.6MB/s across all the HD video playback tests with the best rates coming from the RAID 0 configuration which easily beat out the DNS-323 and CAND3001T0 in all categories. The greater number of spindles used in the TS-509 and DS408 put the Thecus unit at a disadvantage in the RAID 0 and RAID 5 tests where it consistently trailed those units. However, the N3200PRO was not ready to concede all categories as it turned in the best rates in all tests when configured in RAID 1 and JBOD volumes.
HD Video Record (higher is better)
This test writes a single 720p HD video file to the NAS device employing 99.9% sequential 256kb writes.
Here the N3200PRO again performs admirably with throughput rates ranging around the 31MB/s mark except in the RAID 5 test where it dropped to around 22MB/s where the added CPU load required for the parity calculations took its toll. This time around it beat out the smaller units but yielded all the other tests to the more powerful units from Synology and QNAP.
HD Playback and Record (higher is better)
The HD Video Playback and Record test combines the two previous tests and reads and writes a HD 720p video file simultaneously.
The N3200PRO's strengths are highlighted here with rates ranging from 31-41MB/s with the video record again pulling down the RAID 5 scores. The RAID 0 score of 41MB/s was the highest throughput rate achieved by the N3200PRO in any test although it wasn't enough to beat the DS408 or the TS-509. That's not to say the N3200PRO was weak in this test as its RAID1 and JBOD scores were the best of the lot.
Content Creation (higher is better)
This test simulates content creation on the NAS device such as might occur when rendering a video. There are 99 files used and is composed of 95% write operations with up to 64kb block sizes and consists of 39.1% sequential operations.
It's not unusual to see rates drop on this test with its large amount of write operations and the N3200PRO's results reflected the strain especially in the RAID 5 configuration where we see throughput of only 6.5MB/s, one of its worst scores in the whole battery of tests. While it had no trouble besting the smaller units, it lagged behind the more powerful business-class servers by a wide margin.
Office Productivity (higher is better)
The Office Productivity test is roughly evenly distributed between read and write operations using 607 small files consisting of 1kb and 4kb reads and mostly 1kb writes.
This is the longest and one of the most arduous tests in the Intel NAS Toolkit suite and it seems units we've reviewed either do really well or fall flat (as seen by the DNS-323 and the DS408). Fortunately for the N3200PRO it performed very well on this test crushing the smaller guys and even demolishing the DS408 with throughput in the 24-28MB/s range. It wasn't able to beat the TS-509 but held its own in the RAID 5 test and came close to matching it in the RAID 1 and JBOD configurations.
File Copy to NAS (higher is better)
The File Copy test copies a single large file to the NAS unit using 100% sequential 64kb write operations.
Writing a large file to the NAS cost the N3200PRO in the RAID 5 configuration where it managed a throughput of only 20MB/s compared to 27-28MB/s in the other configurations which was not enough to beat out the bigger units.
File Copy From NAS
This test reads the single large (1.4GB) file from the File Copy test from the NAS using 64kb read operations.
The N3200PRO showed strong and consistent rates of around 38-39MB/s when copying the large file back from the NAS. It was in the game in the RAID 0 setup and took the RAID 1 and JBOD test by a comfortable margin. Even in the RAID 5 test it provided a good showing, taking all but the TS-509.
Dir Copy to NAS (higher is better)
This test copies a directory structure with 126 files to the NAS device using predominately 64kb writes but also includes a wide distribution under 16kb.
This test really stressed the N3200PRO where it turned in it's lowest scores of any tests with throughput of only 6-8MB/s. It still beat out the DNS-323 and the CAND3001T0 but just couldn't run with the big dogs on this one.
Dir Copy From NAS (higher is better)
This test copies the same directory structure of 126 files from the NAS device using 64kb reads.
The N3200PRO did better when reading and copying the directory back but it still lagged behind the more powerful units when it came to handling a large number of files.
Photo Album (higher is better)
The Photo Album test simulates the viewing of 169 photo files of various sizes stored on the NAS and consists of 100% read operations.
The photo album test didn't show any favorites but the N3200PRO took two of the four categories and came in second in the other two, losing out to the TS-509 by a small margin in each case. I'd say the N3200PRO acquitted itself quite well in the last test of the series.
At this point in the review we've managed to cover a lot of ground including a look at how to set up the unit and how to configure the system to take advantage of some of the features it offers. Having just finished looking at how well the server performs using theoretical benchmarks as well some real-world testing, it's time to look at some of the practical operational aspects of the N3200PRO.
The unit is cooled by a rear-mounted thermally-controlled 92mm exhaust fan which is audible but not so noisy as to be overly annoying as it wasn't loud enough to drown out the noise from the three disk drives during heavy read/write operations. The fan guard consists of a series of horizontal bars that leave plenty of room for the air to escape. The fan spins around 1300RPM when the system is idle, just fast enough for you to feel a small amount of air movement. The fresh air intake comes via three grills on the front of the unit that are positioned directly in front of the three hard drives. That places the airflow path directly across each drive with a direct shot to the fan in the rear. Each drive has approximately 1/4 inch spacing between them to allow for air movement.
The case became warm to the touch during testing but just slightly above ambient room temperature. To test how well the system cools itself, I used the NAS performance Toolkit to run a full series of tests in a RAID 5 configuration and monitored the S.M.A.R.T. drive temperature readings as well as the system temperature reported on the LCD panel on the front of the unit. To monitor the interior case temperatures I inserted a digital temperature probe into the case with the probe positioned directly to the rear of the drives in the center of the case. Temperature readings were taken prior to the run with the hard drives spinning and then throughout the test.
|Ambient Room||23 C||23 C|
|System||38 C||40 C|
|Case Interior||32 C||33 C|
|S.M.A.R.T. Drive 1||36 C||38 C|
|S.M.A.R.T. Drive 2||35 C||38 C|
|S.M.A.R.T. Drive 3||36 C||39 C|
The temperature deltas for the drives were only 2-3º C and the case temperature rose only 1º C. The fan speed notched up a barely noticeable 5RPM to 1326RPM which kept the system temperature in check where it rose from 38 to 40º C during the full load test.
Many enthusiasts may insist on building their own NAS out of spare parts which is a worthy endeavor, but one thing most builders will have a hard time matching is the ability of NAS servers like the N3200PRO to achieve its function while only using a small amount of power. With the N3200PRO, like most other units we've tested, you can set the drives to go into hibernation using the options under the Storage/SATA section in the management UI. Using the drop down list the unit can be set to hibernate the drives after anywhere from 30 minutes to 120 minutes of inactivity.
I tested the various power usage levels of the N3200PRO at idle with the disks spinning but no activity, during a full test with read and write activity with the drives configured in RAID 5 and finally in power management mode with all drives set to power down after 30 minutes. All measurements were taken with a P3 International P4400 Kill A Watt power meter.
|Power Mgt. Mode||26|
|RAID 5 Test||33-35|
During the heavy load generated by the Intel NAS Performance toolkit with all three drives being utilized the average power consumption observed was only 33-35 watts; at idle that dropped to only 29 watts. Getting the unit to hibernate the disks is challenging as there is always activity on the network and the server itself that causes drive activity and keeps them active. I finally managed to see a slight power drop to 26 watts, but only after turning off all services on the server and removing it from the network. For all that effort you save 3 watts of power usage and you end up with a server that's of no use since it can't be accessed from the network. Thecus would better serve its customers if it would have the entire server hibernate to enable some realistic power savings without having to turn the unit off.
RAID 1/5 Data Protection
To me, having a massive amount of storage for all your files is no good if you don't have a way to make sure the data is safe. One way to help prevent data loss due to a hard failure is through the use of a hard drive array that offers some form of redundancy such as a RAID 1 or RAID 5 configuration. Let's make one thing very clear from the start, a RAID array is not a substitute for a proper data backup procedure performed on a regular basis. However, it can help prevent data loss while keeping your data accessible even if a drive fails. To me this is one of the biggest benefits of a NAS server next to the extra storage space it can offer.
To see how well the N3200PRO handled the loss of a drive, I simulated a failure in both RAID 1 and RAID 5 setups and tested each array for data safety and the ability to rebuild the array once the 'faulty' drive was replaced. The N3200PRO supports hot swapping which means drives can be removed and exchanged without powering the unit down, leaving your data accessible the whole time. For both test, I simulated the 'failure' by removing a drive from the unit was it was still powered on.
For the RAID 1 test, I first built a two-drive RAID 1 array using disks 1 and 2 and designated disk 3 as a hot spare. Having a hot spare means it can be used by the system to automatically begin the process of rebuilding the array without the user having manually replace the drive. While the unit was running I removed HDD1 from the enclosure. With the hard drive removed, the unit responded with a warning tone and the HDD1 activity light turned a solid red indicating a problem. The LCD display on the front panel immediately displayed a “Disk Status Disk 1 removed” message and the unit also sent out a notification e-mail telling me the drive had been removed. When I checked the RAID screen in the management UI it showed the unit was already in the process of recovering the array using disk 3. Once the process was complete the RAID 1 array now consisted of drives 2 and 3. Once I returned drive 1 to the enclosure, the HHD1 activity light went back to normal and the system showed it as available to be designated as the new spare drive. I checked the data on the volume both during the rebuild process and after it was complete and found all the files were intact.
The RAID 5 test was similar, however as RAID 5 arrays require a minimum of three drives, there was no hot spare to automatically begin the rebuild process. I removed disk 3 and received the same set of warning messages via the front panel and through e-mail and the management UI showed the volume as degraded. Once I returned the disk to the enclosure, it showed up as a spare drive and the system then began the long process of automatically rebuilding the array.
I want to briefly touch on the capabilities of the N3200PRO to act as an FTP server. Once I had created a test user account and assigned the appropriate access rights I forwarded port 21, the standard FTP port, to the N3200PRO using its static IP address. I tested the functionality using the FireFTP add-in for Firefox and was able to connect with no problems. Response from the N3200PRO was extremely fast and the directory structure the test account had access to populated very quickly. I was able to transfer a large number of files (4,000+) and the N3200PRO displayed no problems and maintained a solid connection throughout, something I have had problems with on other servers. The N3200PRO performed flawlessly and I was surprised how easy it was to use. The only hiccup I encountered was when I mistakenly tried to send over an .iso image file that was larger than 2GB, which is the limit the N3200PRO will accept. Other than that I found FTP to be easier to use than Windows Explorer when moving files to and from the N3200PRO.
During the review process I checked out all the other features offered by the N3200PRO and covered most of the results during the configuration portion of the review. I didn't test the Web Camera or the UPnP multimedia features, but everything else worked as advertised aside from any problems I've noted previously.
I would like to address a couple of items I think Thecus needs to correct concerning the volume creation under the RAID section. First of all is the lack of support of standard, or single disks, when creating volumes. Every other NAS unit we've reviewed to date has this feature and Thecus should take note and add this functionality in a future version of the firmware.
Another issue I found in the RAID setup was the fact that the system would let you chose three drives for a RAID 1 setup and even create the volume using all three drives. RAID 1 volumes can only consist of two drives – a primary drive and a mirror drive. Creating a RAID 1 with three disks gives you the same space of a two-drive RAID 1 array which is what you expect, even though the Thecus shows all three drives as part of the array. I suspect the system automatically designated the third drive as a spare. To test my theory, I repeated the 'failed' drive test detailed on the previous page and when I removed one of the hard drives from the enclosure, the system showed the array as degraded and began to rebuild it. After the rebuild was complete and I reinstalled the drive in the server it automatically marked it as a spare. So you can build a three-drive array and the system automatically allocates the third drive as a spare even though the Spare checkbox was not ticked. This could be confusing to a novice/home user and just one of the touches Thecus should fix this to prevent confusion on the user's part.
Normally when a NAS appliance supports jumbo frames we run each test with and without jumbo frames enabled. In the past we've always used 9000 byte MTU frames which is the standard maximum size and the maximum size supported by our test rig. You'll notice we did not publish jumbo frame test results for the N3200PRO. The unit doesn't support 9000 byte MTU size, but it does support 4k, 8k, 12k and 16k byte MTU sizes. The closest match between the N3200PRO and our test setup was 4000 on the N3200PRO and 4088 on the test rig.
I ran each series of tests with and without jumbo frames enabled. The results were not sufficiently different to warrant publishing, especially since we couldn't directly compare them to the 9000 byte MTU sizes used by the other review units. In fact, for the N3200PRO the majority of the results were 1-6% worse with the remaining few cases being the same or about 1% better, which is not statistically significant.
The Intel Gigabit Ethernet controller can support jumbo frames up to 16k as implemented on the N3200PRO, what I don't understand is why Thecus chose to implement the ranges they did as most home equipment won't support greater than 9000 byte MTU sizes. Perhaps I'm belaboring a minor point as home users are likely to enable jumbo frames as all other devices on the network must be running a a Gigabit connection and bet set to the identical MTU size.
These types of problems are not fatal flaws in the N3200PRO however and are more a reflection on the lack of maturity in the firmware. The N3200PRO has a lot of good features and strong performance for its class and hopefully Thecus will continue to improve the firmware and implement fixes for these types of issues in the future.
RAID 5 Comes Home. That's what it says on the box and it sums up a lot of what's great about the N3200PRO – a three-bay network attached storage server for the home user that features RAID 5. The unit occupies a nice niche between lower powered 2-bay units than can only offer RAID 1 protection and more powerful units than have four or more bays more suited for business users that offer RAID 5 protection yet cost two to three times as much. If Goldilocks was sampling NAS servers at the Three Bears' house she would look at Baby Bear's two-drive unit and say “This NAS is too small!” and move on to Papa Bear's business-class unit and say “This NAS is too big!” and Mama Bear's N3200PRO would cause her to exclaim “This NAS is just right!”
That's not to say the N3200PRO is perfect. The documentation accompanying the unit is missing features found on the NAS and the remaining documentation may be too incomplete for the average home user. The management UI is also lacking an online help feature, something even the smaller DNS-323 has. The lack of standard size jumbo frames may disappoint some more advanced users as well. Others features I'd like to see Thecus include in future firmware releases are the ability to create subfolders and assign rights to them. Currently you're limited to created folders and assigning rights at the root level. Another omission is the lack of a quota system found on other units we've reviewed.
The N3200PRO still has a lot going for it. Its feature set is fairly complete and on par with other home NAS products and the performance is impressive for its class. While it couldn't match the more powerful units from Synology and QNAP with their more powerful processors and greater memory sizes, the N3200PRO certainly turned it some good performance numbers and even managed to match and best the business class units in a few tests. Its RAID 5 capability sets it apart from the other home NAS servers and the tool less drive mounting feature and hot swap capability are noteworthy. I also really like features such as the ISO Mount and the ability to designate a hot spare drive for RAID 1 volumes. Despite its suggested retail price of $379.99, the N3200PRO can be found online for $330 - $350 which is half the cost of the Synology DS408 and a third that of the QNAP TS-509, of course all these unit come without hard drives so you would need to factor that in as well.
The N3200PRO would make an excellent addition to any home network and its strong performance, outstanding RAID 1/RAID 5 data protection and ability to store up to 3TB of data should place this on any home user's short list of NAS units to buy. The N3200PRO is a great NAS, one that I would certainly not hesitate to recommend to others. Since this is a NAS server targeted at home users, there are enough issues such as the incomplete and sparse documentation and missing features that cause the unit to fall just short of superb. Fortunately, these are issues that Thecus can correct and I would expect future releases to improve this unit's rating.
- Excellent overall performance
- ISO Mount feature
- Tool less hard drive installation
- Drive hot swapping
- RAID 1 hot spare
- S.M.A.R.T. reporting capability
- eSATA support
- RAID 5 support in a home NAS server
- Performance vs. price point
- Documentation lacking details, some features not documented
- No quota system
- Can't assign permissions to subfolders
- No support for single drive volumes