Thecus N3200XXX NAS Server ReviewNemo - October 6, 2011
Category: Storage / Hard Drives
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When the subject of storage arises, the direction always seems to be 'more'. I certainly can't seem to recall ever having heard someone say they had too much storage and were looking to reduce the amount of free space. We have all probably experienced the situation where we thought we had an absurd amount of storage that would never be filled, only to find ourselves scrambling to delete files because storage space was getting low. Let's face it, we're all facing a need for increased amounts of storage, especially as our collections of multimedia files grow. Whether it's music, videos, or photographs, you're going to need the ability to safely store and back up an increasing amount of data.
A recent study sponsored by storage giant EMC, titled Extracting Value from Chaos, found that the amount of data generated worldwide is doubling every two years. Some users might shrug their shoulders and wonder what the big deal is, especially with the availability of 3TB drives from the leading hard drive manufacturers. Besides the problems of addressing volumes greater than 2.1TB, which we won't go into here, throwing larger volumes at the problem ignores some of the greater benefits of turning to a solution such as network attached storage (NAS) servers.
Besides being able to quickly add significant amounts of storage, NAS devices also provide protection against hard drive failures through RAID volumes, allow users to share files across the network, and provide the ability to grow storage capacity through online capacity expansion technology. These are just a few of the benefits offered by NAS servers and we'll be examining the Thecus N3200XXX NAS server designed for the SOHO/home market. The N3200XXX is an upgraded and improved version of the Thecus N3200PRO NAS Server we reviewed a while back.
Thecus has been around since 2004 and specializes in digital media storage. The company offers a complete line of storage devices, ranging from a simple two-bay direct-attached storage enclosure on up to 16-bay rackmount enterprise-grade servers. Given Thecus' focus on storage from both the hardware and software sides, let's take a look at the N3200XXX and see what it has to offer.
As with the previous Thecus units we've reviewed, the N3200XXX arrived in a heavy-duty corrugated cardboard shipping box with the unit tucked inside. The shipping box protected the unit during shipping, but there was some damage to the the box containing the NAS that had to have happened prior to shipping. The front of the product carton features a picture of the N3200XXX, but more prominent is the 'XXX' moniker, which we'll get into in more detail later – suffice it to say it has nothing to do with what you're thinking about! Moving around to the side of the box, we see graphics depicting suggested ways to utilize the NAS server in a typical home environment. The back of the box mirrors the front with the addition of several features depicted across the bottom. That just leaves the other side where we see where the 'XXX' comes from with text touting the Extreme Speed, Extreme Protection, Extreme Data Backup, and Extreme Power Management of the unit. Yes, I know, that's four 'extremes' and there are only three Xs in 'XXX'. We also see the damage I mentioned earlier — the box has been penetrated, so I'm hoping the unit is undamaged once we take it out.
Once we open the box, we can see the N3200XX is cushioned by a pair of closed-cell foam inserts. The inserts suspend the unit within the confines of the box and provide an area of dead space between the unit and the walls of the box. In this case, you can thank the packaging engineers for a job well done, as the unit escaped unscathed from the damage to the outside of the carton. A plastic bag covers the unit as well, providing an additional layer of protection. Also inside the carton is a bag containing a quick installation guide, a Cat 5e network cable, and an installation CD, along with additional software including an OEM version of Acronis True Image backup software. Also in the box are an external power adapter and power cord.
With the unit free of all the packaging, you can get a better look at the plastic wrap used as a further layer of protection against scratches. A closer examination showed the unit was in pristine condition, none the worse for wear despite the damage to the box. Looking at the unit directly from the front, you see a scalloped cover with slits exposing the cooling grill for the hard drive bays. The area below the cooling slits is dominated by the LCD panel with the control buttons off to the right with a power indicator light in the middle (the power button itself is protected by the front door to prevent accidentally powering down the unit). Along the bottom you can make out the LAN/WAN and HDD activity LEDs. From the side you can see the slightly concave profile that keeps the enclosure from looking so flat. The rear panel of the unit is mostly given over to the thermally controlled 92mm cooling fan. Along the bottom, from left to right, are the dual Ethernet ports, a single USB 2.0 port above an eSATA connector, and the power connector. There's also an expansion slot reserved for future cards Thecus might release. The bottom of the unit sports a set of four rubber pads designed to keep the unit from slipping, as well as allowing you to stack the unit if needed.
This is a good time to draw some comparisons of the physical characteristics between the N3200XXX and the N3200PRO. The units are physically identical in all aspects except for the front and that's where the differences really show up. If you click on the link for the N3200PRO above, in the pictures at the bottom of the first page, you'll see the upper half of the front is taken up by three grilled openings. This section of the N3200PRO is really a removable cover that you lift off in order to be able to access the hard drive bays. The N3200XXX makes a major improvement in this area as the front cover is all one piece and is now a hinged door with a push-to-open catch on the right side. The door swings open to provide better access to the power switch, as well as the front USB port. The controls on the N3200XXX are a little more refined and sleeker as well. You'll also notice the grill openings are smaller on the N3200XXX, so let's hope that doesn't negatively impact its cooling performance.