Thecus N4100PRO NAS Server Review

Nemo - 2009-02-14 09:50:57 in Storage / Hard Drives
Category: Storage / Hard Drives
Reviewed by: Nemo   
Reviewed on: July 19, 2010
Price: $399.99

Introduction:

Storage is no longer a matter of throwing another disk drive into the computer and calling it a day. There are many more issues to take into account besides a few more gigabytes of room. Today it's a matter of not only what you store, but how that data is going to be accessed and used. At work, data is king and the lifeblood of the enterprise. At home, our lives are becoming media-centric with a growing need for not only storage space, but ways to serve and share the media as well.

Network attached storage (NAS) servers are not just for businesses any more. The same benefits they offer in the work place, namely secure, sharable storage, can be used in the home/small office environment as well. Today's crop of NAS devices offer more than just storage though, as they can also be used as media servers to share photos and videos across the network and make files available via the Internet as well. Many units offer iTunes support and can even function as a web server, and any multi-bay unit will offer some form of redundancy through the use of RAID volumes.

Today we'll be looking at the Thecus N4100PRO, a 4-bay NAS server designed for the small business or enterprise work group. The N4100PRO is the big brother to the Thecus N3200PRO we reviewed previously here at OCC. Thecus offers a full line of storage products ranging from 8-bay enterprise class NAS servers to single- and dual-bay units for home use. The N4100PRO has been part of the lineup since Thecus introduced it over 15 months ago, however the version we'll be examining is based on the just-released AJAX-based user interface that offers a cleaner look and more features including iSCSI support.

Closer Look:

 

As we saw with the N3200PRO, Thecus sent us the N4100PRO in a heavy-duty corrugated shipping box with plenty of packing peanuts to keep everything secure and undamaged. The carton containing the actual unit comes with the usual marketing images with the front and rear of the box containing identical images of the NAS unit itself. On one end of the box is a description of the unit's features and capabilities. On the opposite end of the box is a schematic showing some of the possible connections for the unit. All in all, it is a rather minimalistic and uncluttered approach, although I have yet to figure out why the recumbent woman on the face of the box seems to be so happy - maybe she really did want a NAS server for her birthday after all.

 

 

 

The N4100 is securely cushioned inside the box by a pair of open-cell foam inserts that position the unit in the center of the box with enough dead space around it to protect it from any bumps and rough handling. The enclosure is further protected against scratches by a plastic bag. Accessories included with the N4100PRO include a power cord, a Cat5E network cable and a bag containing hard drive mounting screws and a set of key for the disk trays. Also included are a quick start guide, the installation CD and a second disc containing the backup software.

 

 

 

The server is enclosed in plastic which ads another layer of protection against scratches during shipping. The front of the case is mostly taken up by the ventilated front cover with the LCD panel and its controls located just below that. Down the left side you can see the status LEDs with a front USB port located at the bottom just above the power switch. The back panel of the N4100PRO features a 120mm cooling fan in the center of the case with a pair of USB ports located along the right side. Below that, also on the right side, are the two network connections with the WAN port located on top of the LAN port. Along the bottom of the panel you have the power connector and 40mm cooling fan for the built-in power supply. The bottom of the case has four rubber feet to keep the unit from scratching other devices in case you want to stack it and they also serve to keep the unit from sliding around.

 

 

 

Popping the cover off the unit offers a look at the motherboard with the AMD Geode LX 800 processor hidden beneath a passively cooled aluminum heatsink. Butting up next to the heatsink on the right is the 256 MB DDR400 SODIMM module. If you look down at the bottom edge of the motherboard you'll see the 128MB flash module containing the firmware for the N4100PRO. The motherboard assembly pulls out, exposing the SATA backplane. The front looks a bit different now with the LCD panel fully exposed; you can also see the status LEDs along the left side of the drive trays.

 

 

Now that we've seen what the N4100PRO looks like, let's see what it takes to install the drives and get the NAS unit online.

Installation:

The N4100PRO ships without hard drives so it is up to the user to provide drives and install them in the four hot-swappable drive trays. Although you will need a screwdriver to complete the installation, this is a fairly painless process and only takes a few minutes to complete.

You will find the four drive trays concealed behind the front door of the unit. Each tray has a lockable silver latch you you to release the tray, and once you've done that they slide easily out of the bay. As you can see in the shot below, the trays are fairly simple and are used to hold the bare drives securely and to ensure the connections line up properly against the backplane when inserted into the drive bay. The hard drive is placed in the tray so that the mounting holes on the bottom of the hard drive line up with the holes on the tray and you simply use the included mounting screws to attach the drive. Once complete, the assembled unit slides back into the drive bay on the N4100PRO and can be seated against the connection on the backplane with a gentle push. The final step is to close and secure the latch. The whole process can easily be finished up in under 10 minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the drives mounted in the NAS server the next step is to connect the network cable to the WAN port on the rear of the unit. Remember, there are two network connections, so be sure to use the topmost port. Once you have connected the other end of the Ethernet cable to your router or switch you can connect the power cable to the unit and plug it into the wall outlet. At this point you can turn the unit on by pressing the power switch on the front panel. After the system has booted you should see the power LED glowing a solid blue and the WAN status light should be steady or blinking green. Each hard drive tray has a blue LED light that should be on indicating the drive has power.

If everything checks out okay, we're ready to begin configuring the unit.

Configuration:

Now that the drives are installed the device is on the network and powered on it's time to configure the N4100PRO for use. The way we begin the process is to use the Setup Wizard contained on the installation CD provided with the unit. If you don't have autorun enabled, you can launch the wizard directly using the autorun.exe on the root of the CD drive. You will be presented with a welcome screen showing a selection selection menu covering several different models from Thecus and you'll need to click on the N4100PRO button. From there you'll be taken to a menu specific to the N4100PRO where you can access the soft copy of the user's manual, a quick installation guide, the setup wizard and the backup software.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The setup utility can not be run directly off the CD and must be installed on your local machine. Clicking on the Setup Wizard button begins the installation process, and once you've specified the drive location for the installation, the process is fairly quick and you will see the Setup Wizard start screen once the install is complete.

 

 

 

Pressing the Start button launches the Setup Wizard where it automatically begins the Device Discovery process which scans the network looking for Thecus NAS devices. Once it has detected the device, you can highlight it in the list and click Next to proceed. In order to begin the setup process you need to log in to the system using the default user name/password of 'admin/admin'. Pressing the Next button takes you to the Network Configuration screen. You can assign the network host name here, which defaults to N4100PRO; that's good enough for us since it's the only N4100PRO on the network. The setup defaults to a fixed IP address of 192.168.1.100 which is likely to conflict with anything already installed on that subnet, so we'll go ahead and assign it a new IP address and DNS server. The other option is to check the DHCP radio button and let the DHCP server on your network automatically assign a dynamic IP address. Clicking the Next button moves us to the Change Password dialog where you can assign a new administrative password to the system; it is always a good idea to change the default password and to use a strong password of at least 10 characters.

 

 

 

Once you press the Apply button you'll get a small confirmation dialog of what you changed and once you hit the OK button, you'll be able to choose to set up another device or proceed to the web-based management UI. You can also select the End button to exit the setup wizard without doing anything else.

 

We want to go into the management user interface and begin configuring the device so we just click on the Start Browser button. We can also launch the management UI manually by typing in the host name or IP address in the browser address bar. This will take you to the login page where you can use the credentials for the administrative account to log in. The user name is 'admin' and the default password is 'admin', unless you changed it to a different value in the Setup Wizard. Once you've successfully logged in you will see a disclaimer page from Thecus. Unless you want to see this age every time you log in, be sure to check the checkbox in the lower left corner acknowledging the disclaimer and then press the Apply button. Once past the disclaimer page you see the Product Information page showing the product information, the firmware version and the up time.

 

 

This review unit arrived some time ago and I didn't have time to get to it until now, which is a serendipitous delay because the unit shipped with firmware version 2.01.04 and the latest version, 3.00.05, offers an entirely new AJAX-based interface with several new features added. That means the first step in getting the NAS up and running is to download the latest firmware version from the Thecus web site. The setup software CD provides a quick and easy way to go to the Thecus web site, where you can then navigate to the N4100PRO product page and from there choose the Firmware option under the Download section. Save the download file, N4100PRO_FW_3.00.05.bin, which we'll use in a moment to upgrade the firmware. In the management UI on the NAS, select the System>Firmware Upgrade option to bring up the Firmware Upgrade page. You can use the Browse button to locate the .bin file you downloaded and then click the Apply button.

 

 

 

Before the upgrade process begins you'll have an opportunity to confirm that you want to upgrade the firmware. Once you click OK the process starts and will take just a couple of minutes to complete. As with any firmware upgrade you need to be careful to ensure nothing interrupts the process whether it be intentionally trying to end the process or an accident such as a power outage as this could leave your NAS unusable. Once the upgrade has successfully completed you will get a message dialog that the NAS must be rebooted for the changes to take effect.

 

 

 

Once the system reboots, you will be greeted with the new look and feel of the AJAX interface as we'll see in the next section.

Configuration:

Now that we're ready to check out the updated management UI, all we need to do is enter the IP address we assigned earlier in the browser address bar, which in our case is http://192.168.1.32. You can also use the Netbios name, //N4100PRO, to reference the NAS. Once you've logged in you can see the options listed in the left-hand frame. Each option can be expanded to show the various subsections with each group.

System Information – in this section you can view the product information, system status including status of the different applications and view log information.
System Management – you can manage and configure several of the system settings through this option including setting the time, configuring e-mail notifications, scheduling on/off times, updating the firmware and more.
System Network – the different network settings can be configured here including the LAN/WAN settings, the various file sharing protocols including CIFS, AFP and NFS, along with different network functions like FTP, Media Server and more.
Storage – the storage section provides all the administrative tools for configuring RAID volumes, allocating space, designating iSCSI targets, creating shares and ISO mounts. You can also manage any external drives connected to the N4100PRO in this section.
User and Group Authentication – all the user and group administration is performed in this section. You can create users, assign them to groups and set up the NAS to use Windows ADS.
Application Server – this section allows you to set up printers and enable the iTunes service on the NAS.
Module Management – you can download and add modules to the N4100PRO to add additional functionality such a a download manager, MySQL, web server module and more.
Backup – this section allows you to set up the Nsync backup capability on the NAS.

System Information:

Under the System Information section there are three subsections that provide information on different parts of the N4100PRO.

Info

The Info page provide basic product information on the N4100PRO including the firmware version and the length of time since the last reboot/restart.

Status

Under the Status page you can view System and Service status. The System pane shows the CPU load, fan status and up time (again). The fan status does not show the actual fan RPM, just whether it's running or not. On the Service pane you will see the status of the services on the box as to whether they are running or stopped.

Logs

The system maintains a log of events which are broken down into Info, Warn and Error categories. You can filter the display based on the categories, sort by time, change the number of lines per page and more. You can also clear the logs or save the log file as a download.

 

 

 

Now we can move on to the next section covering the System Management options.

Configuration:

System Management:

There are several housekeeping type functions covered under System Management such as setting the server time, configuring the email notification functionality, scheduling on/off times, log off and reboot the server, upgrade the firmware and several other system administration functions.

Time

Under this section you can manually set the date and time on the N4100PRO and choose the appropriate time zone from the drop down list. There are also radio buttons to enable the NAS to act as a network time protocol (NTP) server for other devices on your network and to enable synchronization with an external NTP server. You can choose one of the servers from the drop down list or manually enter one of your own choosing. If you make any changes here or in other other section be sure to hit the Apply button to enable the changes. The system with prompt you to confirm the setting changes and notify you when the changes are completed.

 

 

 

Notification

You can set up two types of notifications with the N4100PRO so that you can be alerted to events that occur on the device. The first type of notification is an audible beep that will alert you of any problems. Once the alarm goes off, there's no option to cancel the alarm from the unit itself, you can only cancel the alert from the Notification screen in the UI. You can also set up the unit to alert you of any issues via e-mail. For this you will need the address of a SMTP server and the proper authentication protocol. The N4100PRO comes pre-configured with different authentication types including 'login' which should work for most normal accounts requiring authentication and 'gmail' for those wanting to use Gmail as their SMTP server. Once you put in the server name and authentication type, you'll need to supply the account id and password information. You can specify up to four e-mail addresses to receive e-mail alerts. You can use the E-Mail Test button to send out test e-mails to make sure everything is set up properly. Hitting the Apply button will save the changes.

 

 

Firmware Upgrade

We've already been through the firmware upgrade process when we upgraded to the new 3.00.05 version. The process is essentially the same where you browse to the file containing the upgrade and press the Apply button. As before, the system will stop all running services while the upgrade is in process. Once the system has finished the upgrade the system will reboot in order for the changes to become effective.

 

 

Schedule On/Off

You can set up a schedule to power the N4100PRO on and off with two different times allowed per day. Once you click the Enable Schedule On/Off you can choose and action of On or Off and select the time based on a 24-hour clock with times limited to 5-minute increments. Again, you must click the Apply button for changes to take effect. Whenever the system shuts down due to a scheduled event, a notification is sent out if you have notifications enabled.

Wake Up on LAN

The N4100PRO supports wake-on LAN (WOL) service which you can enabled through the Enable radio button. Once enabled, you can activate the server by sending a special formatted broadcast frame known as a 'magic packet'. Once received, the NAS turns itself on and goes through the normal boot process. Testing the feature on the N4100PRO went without a hitch and I was able to turn the server on remotely using this feature.

UPS

The N4100PRO supports UPS monitoring via USB cable. If the unit's power cord is plugged into a supported uninterruptible power supply, you can monitor the status using one of the rear USB ports. Using the UPS page you can select the manufacturer and model of your UPS and set the unit up to monitor the power and notify you via e-mail if power is lost; of course you must have e-mail notifications set up as detailed earlier in this section. You can also set the unit to power down cleanly when the battery power falls below a preset level. That's certainly a nice feature to have to prevent data loss and possible RAID array corruption. It would have been nice to have the unit automatically detect the UPS make/model like it does on the QNAP TS-509.

 

 

Utility

The remainder of the options in the System Management section are grouped together under the Utility node which can be expanded to to reveal the other options.

Administrator Password

Here you can change the password on the Administrator account on the server. Just as we saw during the initial setup process, you can type in a new password then type it in again to make sure you have it correctly entered and press the Apply button to save the changes.

Config Mgmt

The Config Mgmt section allows you to save the current system configuration settings to a file on the host system as well as restore the NAS to a previous state by uploading a saved configuration file. You can save the configuration settings by hitting the Download button where you will be prompted to confirm the download and then be asked to supply a file name and location. By default it uses 'conf.bin' as the file name and will use your browser's default download folder.

 

 

 

Restoring a saved settings file is as easy as clicking on the Browse button to the right of the file name box and navigating to the location of the saved .bin file and selecting it. Once you hit the Upload button, the system loads the saved settings and asks you to reboot the server for the settings to take place.

Factory Default

If you ever need to revert back to the factory default settings this option allows you to do that at a push of a button. While the owner's manual says your data will not be lost, it is always prudent to make sure you back up your data prior to resetting the system.

Reboot & Shutdown

These two options are fairly self-explanatory. You click the Shutdown button to safely end all services and data operations and power down the server. The Reboot button performs a shutdown/restart process. Pressing either button will cause the system to present you with a confirmation dialog asking you to confirm the action. The system will also send out a notification to the email addresses secified alerting you to the reboot/shutdown event.

 

 

 

File System Check

The File System Check allows you to perform a check on the integrity of your disks’ file system. Once you hit the Apply button to begin the process, you will be prompted to allow the system to reboot. Click the Yes button to reboot and once the reboot is complete the system returns you to the file File System Check page with a listing of all the RAID volumes on the system. Place a check next to the volume you want to examine and click the Next button. In the fourth screen shot below, you will notice the volume status is shown as 'Degraded'. That is because I ran the file system check after having simulated a hard drive failure by remove Disk 5 from the array. Normally the status would show as 'Healthy'. You can also choose to not perform the file system check by hitting the Reboot button.

 

 

 

On the next page click the Start button to begin the scan. You will see the last 20 lines of information in the upper pane and the final results displayed in the Results pane at the bottom. Once complete, you need to hit the Reboot button to reboot the server.

 

 

 

We've examined all the System Management functions so let's move on to the System Network features and services.

Configuration:

System Network:

Under the System Network section there are several options for making network configuration setting as well as enabling various network services such as different file sharing protocols, FTP server, iTunes support and more.

WAN

The N4100PRO is equipped with two Gigabit Ethernet ports designated as WAN and LAN. Both are used to connect the server to an Ethernet network through a router or switch with the difference being the WAN port is used to connect to main network that has access to the Internet. The WAN port is the topmost of the two ports on the rear panel of the N4100PRO. During the initial setup we configured the basic settings including a static IP address and the Gateway and DNS addresses. You can switch to a dynamic IP address by clicking on the Dynamic tab on under the 'Set IP address by:' section and clicking the Apply button. The server must restart itself for the change to take place.

You can also assign a different host name to the N4100PRO if desired as well as identify the Windows Internet Name Service (WINS) servers on your network. The MAC address of the server is also displayed on this page.

The N4100PRO supports a wide range of jumbo frame sizes, which is a vast improvement over what we saw when reviewed the Thecus N3200PRO. With sizes ranging from 2000 bytes to 14000 bytes in 1KB increments, you're bound to find a MTU size to fit your needs.

The IP sharing mode, when enabled, allows PCs connected to the LAN port to access the WAN. The Link Aggregation feature allows you to use both the WAN and LAN ports together. If you choose Load Balance mode, the network traffic to the server will be balanced across both ports. In Failover mode, the second port automatically takes over if the first port fails. 802.3ad mode allows you to combine the two ports for higher throughput as long as the networking equipment to which the N4100PRO is connected also supports this protocol.

LAN

As mentioned above, the second Gigabit Ethernet port on the N4100PRO is a LAN connection and can be configured in a similar fashion to the WAN port in that you can assign a fixed IP address. You can also configure the N4100PRO to act as a DCHP server on the network the server is on if needed.

 

 

 

Samba / CIFS

The Samba / CIFS service enables files to be shared across the network with PCs running the Windows operating system. This service is enabled on the N4100PRO by default as is the File Access Cache option. You also have the option of enabling a recycle bin on the server that will contain all deleted folders and files.

AFP

The server offers support for the Apple Filing Protocol which allows it to offer file services for computers running under Mac OS and Mac OS X. You can also set the character set as well as an AppleTalk network zone. By default the AFP server is disabled.

NFS

The N4100PRO supports the Network File System (NFS) protocol which you can enable in order to allow communication with Linux/Unix-based systems. The service is disabled by default and can be enabled by simply clicking the radio button.

FTP

Another network service available on the NAS is an FTP server. The setup is fairly simple as you can use the default port (21) or specify another of your choosing. You can enable anonymous access where no user account is required and have the server automatically rename duplicate files by checking the Auto Rename checkbox. You can also set upload and download bandwidth restrictions either unlimited or in 1MB increments up to 32 MB/s using the slider bar on the page.

 

 

 

Media Server

The N4100PRO comes with a Media Server you can use to stream multimedia files to any stand alone media players on the network that support either the Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) protocol or adhere to the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) standard. The service is disabled by default so you will need to click the Enable radio button to start the service. You can then place a check next to the folders containing the media you wish to share. The system will scan the folder for media files and make them available for streaming.

HTTP / Web Disk

The server can be set up to allow multiple users to manage their files over the network or Internet using the WebDisk service. As with a lot of the other network services, WebDisk is disabled by default. You will need to enable either WebDisk or Secure WebDisk service if you want users to be able to access and manage files using their browser.

UPnP

The Universal Plug and Play service supports the Media Server and also helps users locate the N4100PRO on the network. If you enable the DHCP service on the LAN connection the UPnP service will be automatically enabled.

Nsync Target

Nysync is Thecus' version of rSync, which is a utility used for synchronizing files and directories between two computers. This is enabled by default which means you could use the N4100PRO to store files from another N4100PRO om the network.

Bonjour

Bonjour is Apple's implementation of Zeroconf which is used by Mac OS X to discover devices and services on the network. It is also used by iTunes to locate shared music on a network. This service is disabled by default, but you can enable it if you want iTunes on another computer on the network to automatically detect any shared music on the N4100PRO.

 

 

 

That exhausts the list of network services available on the N4100PRO and now it's time to move on to the Storage section where we create volumes and manage the shares on the NAS.

Configuration:

Storage:

The Storage section contains six different pages which are used to monitor the disks, create volumes, allocate shares and manage other aspects of the storage allocated on the NAS.

Disks

The Disks section lists information on the physical disks installed in the server. It details the formatted capacity, model number and firmware version. The status of each disk is also listed which can read OK, Warning or Failed. The last column labeled Bad Block Scan allows you to scan each drive for bad blocks.

Clicking on the OK or Warning link in the Status column for each drive produces a Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology (S.M.A.R.T.) report showing tray position, hours of operation and temperature. You can also initiate either a short or long SMART test.

There is also a Disk Power Management option where you can choose the idle period to use before shutting down the disks. The default is 30 minutes and ranges as high as 300 minutes in 30-minute increments. It would have been nice to have an option under 30 minutes as we have encountered on other NAS devices we've reviewed.

 

 

 

 

RAID

The RAID section displays the status of the volumes on the NAS including the RAID level, volume status, individual disks used in the volume, the volume status (Healthy, Degraded or Damaged), total volume capacity, used/allocated capacities and the iSCSI capacity. Below the table is a pie chart providing you with a visual representation of the allocated space on the volume. This is also the screen you will use to access additional functions such as creating a new volume, dropping an existing volume, expanding an existing volume and performing RAID level migration.

Setting up the N4100PRO for the first time requires you to create a new volume on the server. As you can see on the initial RAID page there is no volume information displayed and the only option available is the Create icon in the upper left-hand corner of the pane. Clicking on the Create icon brings up a secondary page used to create the volume. If you haven't already thought about it, you will need to decide which type of RAID, if any, to use when creating the volume. There are six different volume types supported by the N4100PRO including JBOD, or Just a Bunch of Disks, (multiple drives are configured as a single large volume and is not technically RAID), 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), RAID 5 (uses striping similar to RAID 0 but also provides redundancy for data protection), RAID 6 (similar to RAID 5 but provides protection against two drives in the set failing) and RAID 10 (a form of nested RAID that is basically a mirrored RAID 0 array). The benefits and limitations 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.

You will need to decide the RAID level first then determine the number of disks to use. In our example we are going to set up a RAID 5 volume using all four disks. This is done by placing a check mark next to each disk in the Used column. Once you have selected the appropriate number of disks the RAID level selection buttons become enabled and we need to check the RAID 5 radio button. You'll notice there is a Spare column that would allow you to hold one drive back from the array and designate it as a hot spare that would automatically used as a failover drive in the the event one of the other drives failed. You can also specify an ID for the RAID volume and the stripe size. Stripes can range in size from 4KB to 4096KB and we will use the default size of 64KB for all testing. The N4100PRO supports two different file systems, EXT3 and XFS, and we will be using the default EXT3 system for testing purposes.

Another useful feature on this page is the Data Percentage slider bar which allows you to devote only a certain percentage of the available space on the drives to data. As we will see in a moment in the Space Allocation section, you can also use a portion of the space for iSCSI volumes. If you don't allocate all the space and find out later you need more that you originally allocated, you can also use the volume expansion capabilities and allocate more space.

 

 

Once all the choices have been made you need to press the Create button which begins the RAID construction process. Once the process starts, the system needs to set up the volume, format the drives and build the RAID array. The process can take 8 hours or more and will vary based on the number of disks, drive size and space allocated. Once the volume is built the RAID Information page will display the volume information and also have a pie chart of the space allocation on the volume.

 

 

 

 

Space Allocation

The Space Allocation feature allows you to create an iSCSI target and allocate space for the iSCSI volume. Internet SCSI, or iSCSI, is a networking protocol which allows block level access over IP networks. The Space Allocation section allows you to create the iSCSI target on the N4100PRO and then allocate space. In order to make use of this space, the client computer will need to make use an initiator, either software or hardware, to access the storage on the NAS, which will appear to the client as a local drive.

Clicking the Add button on the iSCSI tab takes you to the Create iSCSI Target dialog where you can use the slider to allocate a percentage of available space to the iSCSI target volume and supply a target name. You can also enable security using the challenge-handshake authentication protocol (CHAP) if you desire. One last item is to make sure you check the Enable radio button before you press the OK button. The system will prompt you to confirm that you want to create the iSCSI target and then alert you when it's complete.

 

Other options that become available once you have created a target are Modify, Expand and Delete. The Modify option allows you to change the volume information, security settings and password. The Expand option allows you to allocate additional space to iSCSI target volume. As before, you use a slider to specify the percentage of available space to add. once you hit the Expand button, the system warns you about the dangers of data loss which you must confirm by typing in 'Yes' before it will proceed. The Delete button does what it says and completely removes the iSCSI volume and all its data.

 

 

Share Folder

The Share Folder section allows you to create folders on the N4100PRO. Several default folders were created during the setup process and you can use the Add button to create shares of your own. To create a folder you will need to supply a name (no blanks allowed) and an optional description. You can make the folder browsable which is the default, meaning users can browse the folder's contents. You can also specify whether the folder is public which allows users access to the folder without specific access permission. The default setting is No. The system also supports folder size limits or quotas. Leaving it set to 0GB effectively removes any limit and turns off the quota for that folder. Hitting the Apply button brings up a confirmation screen asking permission to create the folder and the system informs you when the folder has been successfully created. Once you have created a folder, you can highlight it in folder pane and Edit it including the quota setting. Clicking the Remove will allow you to delete the folder and its contents. If you enabled the NFS service as previously described in the System Network section, you can specify the host name and OS type in order to share the folder with a host using the Network File System protocol. You'll notice in the screenshot below that the Access Control List (ACL) option is disabled for this folder. That's because we made the folder Public when we created it. We'll revisit this later when we set up users later on in the review.

 

 

Stackable

You can extend the capacity N4100PRO even further by using the Stackable function. If you have other iSCSI target volumes on the network you can add a stack target volume by providing the IP address and the iSCSI qualified name (IQN). The IQN is determined when the iSCSI target volume was created. If you look back at the example screen shots for the volume we created above the IQN was 'iqn.2010-4.com.thecus:RAID.iscsi0.vg0.n4100pro'. You add up to five target devices for up to an additional 20TB of additional storage.The export share name will be the name that shows up in the folder list on the N4100PRO folder list. More details on using the stackable feature can be found in the user manual.

 

 

ISO Mount

The ISO Mount feature allows you to mount an ISO image and mack the files available on the network. The first step is to select the folder on the N4100PRO that contains the ISO image. Once the folder is selected, the system will display the available ISO files which you choose by highlighting a file and specify a mount name. After verifying you want to create the mount, the mount point will be visible across the network and you can map a drive and then view and access the files in the image.

 

 

Now that we've got our disks set up and configured let's move on to setting up the users and authentication on the NAS.

Configuration:

User and Group Authentication:

The N4100PRO offers the ability to manage users and access either locally or through a Windows Active Directory Server (ADS)/Windows NT server. In addition to managing users, you can also create groups and assign users to them for easier management.

ADS

If you have a Windows Active Directory Server or Windows NT server handling security and user authentication on your network, you can turn on the ADS/NT support and the N4100PRO will connect with the ADS/NT and use the domain users and groups for authentication. To set it up you'll need to specify the necessary information to allow the NAS to synch with the domain server. On the ADS page you can click on the enable ADS support radio button which in turn enables the fields needed to identify the domain server including server name, realm and login credentials.

 

 

 

 

 

Local User and Group

Users and groups go hand in hand in a kind of chicken or egg relationship. Groups are useful for managing users needing similar access so you can assign those rights once to a group and have it affect all users in the group. But, you can't assign users to groups unless you have created some users, and the users you created can't be assigned to groups until they are created. So let's examine them together and see how they intertwine.

On the Local User Configuration screen you need to click on the Add icon on the menu bar to bring up the Add dialog. Creating a user account is simple and requires only that you supply a user name and password. The system automatically supplies a user ID which is a unique numeric identifier, although you can override the system-supplied value. Each user is automatically added to the default 'users' group. You also have the option of adding the user to any existing groups, but since we haven't created any yet, we'll need to add users when the group is created. Clicking the Apply button adds the user to the system and you will see a confirmation pop-up message to let you know the operation was successful. Once you return to the user configuration screen, you will see the new user on the screen. At this point you can highlight the user on the screen and choose the Edit option to change the user password and group membership. You can not alter the user name or ID.

 

 

 

Now that we have created a user, you'll see it listed on the Local Group Configuration screen as a member of the default 'users' group. Groups are useful in being able to administer rights on the NAS and have those rights affect all members of the group rather than assigned a set of rights to each user individually. As with creating a user, clicking the Add button allows you to create a new group by supplying a group name and group ID, although you can use the default ID number generated by the system.

Tying users and groups together is simply a matter of choosing the users you want to add to the group by highlighting the users from the user pane on the right and dragging them to the Members List pane on on the left. You can do this when the group is created or by editing the group and adding the user(s) at a later time.

 

 

 

Batch Input

Adding users one at a time and then assigning them to groups can be a tedious process, especially when there are a large number of users to add at the same time. Fortunately, the N4100PRO provides the ability to do a bulk add by creating a file of user name, passwords and groups. You can then add all the users and assign them to groups by simply importing the file. One you have the text file created, you can browse to the location on the Batch Create screen and then hit the Import button. Once the users are loaded you then hit the Apply button and confirm you wish to add the users. Once the process is complete the users will be visible in the Local User window and you can verify the group memberships by editing the local group and ensuring the members have been added.

 

 

 

Shares and Access Control Lists Revisited

When we went through the share setup in the previous section, we briefly touched on the Access Control List and I promised we'd revisit the topic once we had users and groups created. Originally we set up a share folder called OCCTestFolder and made it Public which means everyone has access to it and noticed the ACL icon was grayed out. In tour second example shown here, the folder is no longer public and we need to assigned specific rights to users and groups by highlighting the share in the Folder window and clicking on the ACL icon. We can assign rights to either groups or individual users and give them no access (Deny), Read Only or full (Writable) access. You add each entity to the proper category by highlighting it and dragging it to the desired column. Assigning access at the group level means all users in the group have the same access. You could also assign different levels of access to users as shown. In either case you will need to hit the Apply button in order for the changes to take place.

 

 

 

Now that we've worked our way through the User and Group Authentication section, it's time to check out the different applications available on the N4100PRO.

Configuration:

Application Server:

The N4100PRO offers the ability to run as a printer server which allows you to share a single USB printer with all users on the network. The NAS can also act as an iTunes server allowing any iTunes-equipped client on the network to locate and access media files on the N4100PRO.

Printer

Clicking on the Printer item brings up the Printer Information screen. This screen displays the make, model and status of any attached printer. There is no configuration involved as simply plugging a printer into one of the rear USB ports will cause the unit to automatically detect the printer. Once a printer is attached, the Remove and Restart buttons become active and you can clear the print queue and Restart the printer service. In order to add the printer to a local client machine you will need to point to the network address “http://N4100PRO_IP_ADDRESS:631/printers/usb-printer” where 'N4100PRO_IP_ADDRESS' is the IP address of the server on your network.

 

 

 

 

iTunes

Flash back for a moment to the System Network section where we discussed the Bonjour service. With it enabled you can use the iTunes application to share music with iTunes-enabled clients on the network. Once you click on the Enable button you can set other options such as the Server Name used to identify the server to iTunes clients - this is the name that will appear in the iTunes shared folder. If you want, you can also set up a password the user will need to specify in order to access the server. The rescan interval represents how often the system will rescan the music folders for new additions. The default is every 30 minutes but you can choose 1-, 10-, 30- and 60-minutes and 1 day. The last option available is the MP3 tag encoding protocol which defaults to ISO, but you can choose from one of nine different protocols.

 

 

That wraps it up as far as applications are concerned so let's take a look at the expandability features available on the N4100PRO through the Module Management feature.

Configuration:

Module Management:

You can enhance the functionality of the Thecus N4100PRO through installing different modules that allow you expand the unit's capability. These modules can provide the ability for the server to act as a media server, download files directly from the Internet, replicate the RAID volume and more. These modules are available directly from the Thecus Download Center (http://www.thecus.com/download.php?set_language=english). Along with the software you can also download an accompanying user manual for most modules.

Module Installation

Once you have selected a module and downloaded it to your local PC you will need to unzip the file to a location that you can access from the management UI. The unzipped file will have a .mod file extension. For this example I chose the DLM2 module (Download Manager V2) and unzipped the DLM2_1.0.9.mod to a location on the local hard drive. I used the browse feature to locate the file and then clicked on the Install button. The system will take a few minutes to install the software and you'll see a dialog with a progress bar while you wait. Once installed, you'll need to enable the module by clicking on the arrow icon in the Action column next to the module name. Once you answer the prompt saying you want to enable the module, you see it listed in the System Module section on the left. This would be a good time to peruse the user manual you downloaded to figure how to use the new module. Thecus has also indicated you can write and install third party software as well which will show up in the User Module section. We'll not cover the modules in depth here beyond pointing out how to download and install them.

 

 

 

 

 

The last section in the configuration process covers backup which we'll cover next.

Configuration:

Backup:

Nsync

Nsync is Thecus' proprietary remote replication application which allows you to synchronize files between one Thecus NAS and another storage device. Thecus' implementation of this technology works between another N4100PRO or it can use an FTP server as its target for storing data.

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. The system supplies a default task name which you can alter to one of your own choosing. If you have an identical Thecus N4100PRO unit you can choose 'NAS' as the target server, otherwise you'll need to select the Legacy FTP Server radio button. You also have to specify additional target information such as the IP address, folder name to be backed up and login credentials on the target server. 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 System Network section.

 

 

 

 

 

I tried testing this on a Thecus N3200PRO using the NAS target server option and was not able to get it to synchronize as it wasn't an identical unit. However, choosing the Legacy FTP Server option and enabling the FTP service on the target N3200PRO unit I was able to create a backup with no problem. You can also kick off a backup task manually by pressing the arrow icon in the Action column. The system will indicate the status of the job in the Last Status column so you know whether it completed successfully. You can also highlight a task and use the Edit button to modify the task or delete the task using the Del icon. The restore icon will restore the contents from the last backup, just be careful as there is no confirmation dialog asking if you want to perform the restore, it just starts running.

That's the end of the configurable items on the N4100PRO. Next up is the Web UI for users to manage files on the NAS.

Web User Interface

The configuration process we've just gone through was all accomplished using the administrator account. If you're a user with an account set up on the N4100PRO you can access the folders/files to which you have rights via the Web Disk interface. The N4100PRO also provides a separate interface for managing photos and photo albums called Photo Server.

Web Disk

In order for Web Disk to be available, you must first have the HTTP/Web Disk service enabled under the System Network section. Web Disk is a web-enable file management system that allows you to access public folders on the N4100PRO as well as folders to which you have been granted access. Once in the Web interface, you can browse folders, create new folders, upload files from the local computer and delete, rename and move files and folders.

You access Web Disk using your browser and the IP or NETBIOS server name. Once the page displays you would choose the Web Disk tab and provide your login credentials. You can see the folders in a typical tree structure in the left-hand pane with its contents displayed on the right. You can right click on a folder to add a subfolder and provide the name in the subsequent dialog. Alternatively, you could highlight a folder or file in the right pane and use the New File/Directory icon at the top.

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can upload files from another location using the upload feature which limits you to seven files at a time. Conversely, there is a download feature that allows you to download files onto your computer's local drive. The Web Disk file manager also allows you highlight a file/folder and delete, rename and move/copy it. The move/copy is performed by highlighting a file and dragging it to its new location where you will be prompted to specify whether it is a move or copy function. This is a welcome addition to the Web Disk interface as the rename and move copy functions were missing when we looked at the Thecus N3200PRO. The system will also prompt you for confirmation before deleting a file, unlike on the N3200PRO.

 

 

 

Photo Server

The N4100PRO provides a way for users to upload photos to the server and share them with other users on the network. It is accessed similar to Web Disk using the Photo Server tab and logging in using your user id. Once you've logged in for the first time you will see you user name which represents a folder for you photos. You will need to create album(s) in this folder to hold you images. The server makes this easy using a set of instructions for using the web publishing wizard in Windows or by manually creating an album.

In Windows XP this is fairly easy and you simply highlight the photos to upload from the client PC and choose the "Publish this file to the Web" option in the Explorer pane on the left. The Web Publishing Wizard will appear and walk you through the process. Be sure to not use use blanks or other invalid characters when specifying the album name. Windows 7 offers similar capability though the Publish to Web Task. Once complete, you see the album on the NAS with the photos you uploaded. You can view thumbnails of the photos or view them individually or as a slide show. EXIF information, if available, can be toggled on and off for each photo. You can also choose to upload files manually if groups of 10 where you can annotate each photo with a subject and description. You can go back later and edit the photo information if needed.

 

 

 

 

 

That finishes the user interface portion so let's check out the specifications and features before diving into the performance results.

Specifications:

 

 Model Number  N4100PRO
 Hardware Version  N/A
 Firmware Version  3.00.05
 External Interface  RJ-45x2 : 10/100/1000 BASE-TX Auto MDI/MDI-X
 Jumbo Frame
 Support
 2000-14000 bytes MTU
 Additional Ports  USB 2.0 host port x3 (2 x Rear, 1 x Front)
 HDD Size  4 x 3.5" SATA Drives (not included)
 Drive Capacity  Up to 2.0TB drive
 CPU  AMD Geode LX800 500MHz
 Memory  256MB DDR 400MHz
 Flash  128 MB Disk-on-Module, PATA
 SATA Controller  Silicon Image SiI3114
 NIC  Intel LU82541PI
 OS
 Linux kernel version 2.6.23
 File System  EXT3, XFS
 HDD Configuration  RAID 0, 1, 5, 6, 10, JBOD, 5 + Hot spare
 Power Supply  Internal 200W
 Cooling  120mm fan - thermally controlled
 Dimensions  199 x 167 x 223 mm (H x W x D)
 Weight  5.0 kg gross weight without HDD
 OS Requirement  Microsoft Windows 2000/XP/2003/Vista
 Unix/Linux/BSD
 MAC OS X/9
 Regulatory
 Certification
 CE, FCC, BSMI, C-Tick, RoHS Compliant
 Warranty  2 Years Parts and Labor

 

Features:

System Information at a Glance
Equipped with a big, bright LCM module, the N4100PRO displays useful status messages such as IP address, date and time, and RAID status, making it easy for users to keep an eye on the condition of their N4100PRO. With the LCM module, N4100PRO users can even configure the unit in a dimly-lit living room for added convenience.

Flexible Secure Storage Options
The N4100PRO also improves on its predecessor by adding RAID 6 and RAID 10, providing users have even more options for data storage. What's more, the N4100PRO also supports RAID expansion, allowing users to add more storage to their RAID volumes as their needs arise. With the N4100PRO, users have the flexibility to store their data their way.

Superb Network Reliability
Being able to connect to your storage unit at all times is essential. That's why the N4100PRO comes with network bonding in fail over mode. With this feature, the N4100PRO can automatically switch to its second Gigabit Ethernet port should the first one fail for any reason. The result is a zero network downtime and increased reliability for N4100PRO users.

Enhanced Performance
Those familiar with Thecus products know of their extreme performance. For the N4100PRO, Thecus has raised the stakes by more than doubling the data transfer performance of its predecessor, delivering data transfer speeds of 35MB/sec! Equipped with the N4100PRO, media enthusiasts and SMBs don't have to wait around when accessing their data.

All information courtesy of Thecus @ http://www.thecus.com/products_over.php?cid=10&pid=77&set_language=english

Testing:

To test the N4100PRO 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 N4100PRO 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.

Comparison Units:

Benchmarks:

Testing:

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

File Systems

 

Higher is Better

 

Lower is Better

Higher is Better

 

Lower is Better

 

Higher is Better

 

Lower is Better

 

Higher is Better

 

Lower is Better

 

 

Lower is Better

Across the board in all configuration we see the N4100PRO generate drive index scores which are 40-50% less than the comparison units. The access times are also much, much higher than the other devices, leading one to speculate that is the cause of the poor index scores. If this holds true, then one can expect equally dismal results from the NAS Performance Toolkit tests.

Testing:

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 N4100PRO was rebooted before each test was run.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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)

 

 

 

 

 

This first series of tests concentrates on reading large files as one might find if you were streaming video. The N4100PRO performs fairly consistently across all configurations managing throughput of 22-28MB/s. Except for a couple on instances where it edged ahead of the TS-509 in RAID 1, the N4100PRO lagged behind the comparison units, sometimes by a substantial. It even managed to trail its smaller sibling, the N3200PRO, in all categories. Very curious.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Turning to a test that is all about writing to the NAS, there's not much to say that the numbers already haven't made obvious. With throughput rates of around 15-22MB/s, the N4100PR0 falls behind again, in many cases only achieving rates that are 50% of its competition.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

With simultaneous reads and writes being performed in this test, the N4100PRO fares a little better and again shows fairly consistent performance across all volume types. It performed behind the competition in most categories, managing to either beat or stick close to a couple of the other units in RAID 1.

Testing:

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The content creation test has a way of making some units get a little weak in the knees and it's not unusual to see performance rates drop. Here we see throughput rates drop to the 9-13MB/s range for the N4100PRO and it finally manages to maintain parity with the N3200PRO. It comes close to the DS408, but it's still no match for the TS-509 running four drives.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

If the content creation test makes units go weak in the knees, then the office productivity will make them roll over and pass out. Other units manage to take this killer of a test in stride and the N4100PRO is one of those, maintaining throughput of 20-25MB/s. The Synology DS408 floundered in this test, so that's one unit the N4100PRO had no trouble handling. It still lagged behind its sibling and the TS-509.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Copying a large file to the NAS resulted in throughput rates ranging from 13-18MB/s, slow enough to put it behind all the other devices in every category.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Going back the other way and copying the file from the NAS is a repeat of the same song and dance - consistent throughput rates in th 25-27MB/s range, but still not enough to overtake the other units.

 

Dir Copy to NAS (higher is better)

This test copies a directory structure with 126 files to the NAS device using predominantly 64kb writes but also includes a wide distribution under 16kb.

 

 

 

 

 

Once again, the N4100PRO is able to come close to the performance of the N3200PRO, but not that of the Synology or QNAP devices.

 

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 N4100PRO exhibits rates of 12-14MB/s which is consistent with the N3200PRO but once again it falls behind the other two, more powerful units.

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 is another test that stresses the test units' ability to handle a number of large files across the network. As you can see from the test results, the performance of the units dropped into the neighborhood of 8-9MB/s. In this regard, the N4100PRO manages to hang with the other units and even manages a win over the Synology unit in the RAID 6 configuration.

That finishes all the tests in the NAS Performance Toolkit suite. You'll notice that the RAID 10 format is missing from the graphs above. None of the comparison units support RAID 10 so the only other unit to compare it to would be the MicroNet MaxNAS, a 5-bay unit we reviewed previously. Unlike the MaxNAS, the N4100PRO managed to beat the RAID 5/6 configuration in most, but not all cases. However, the margins weren't compelling enough across the board to warrant the extra disk space lost in setting up a RAID 10 array.

In the end, where does that leave us with the N4100PRO? On the one hand it looks like the unit displays good solid mid-range performance. It obviously can't hang with the big dogs, but the QNAP and Synology units simply outclass it in terms of processor speed and amount of memory. They also carry a much higher price tag than the N4100PRO.

The part that left me feeling confused was its performance vis-a-vis the N3200. The N4100PRO and the N3200PRO have the same AMD Geode LX800 500MHz processor and both feature 256MB DDR 400MHz memory. Both units were evaluated using the same Seagate 500GB drives, so, all else being equal, you would expect the units to exhibit similar performance. But the N4100PRO boasts four drives to the N3200's three and the extra spindle should give it a performance edge in the RAID 0/5 setups. But, as we saw in the results section, this was not the case. I was confounded enough by these test results to cause me to re-examine the setup for any discrepancies and re-run several tests to verify the results and everything checked out, so I am confident the results are valid.

Testing:

After looking at the performance numbers it's time to examine some of the other performance characteristics of the MaxNAS such as cooling and power consumption.

Cooling

The N4100PRO is cooled using a rear-mounted 120mm cooling fan that pulls air through the front of the chassis and across the drives and main board. Without drives, Thecus rates the unit at 21.3 dB(A). While you can hear the fan, it's certainly not loud enough to be annoying, especially with other computers in the room.

Using the NAS Performance Toolkit, I ran a full series of tests with the NAS configured with a RAID 5 array and used the S.M.A.R.T. drive temperature readings for each individual drive. I also used a digital temperature probe which I inserted into the center of the case. Temperature readings were taken with the system in idle mode prior to the tests and then monitored throughout the tests.

 

 

 

  Idle Test
Ambient Room 23 C 23 C
Case Interior 29 C 30 C
S.M.A.R.T. Drive 1 40 C 42 C
S.M.A.R.T. Drive 2 42 C 45 C
S.M.A.R.T. Drive 3 44 C 46 C
S.M.A.R.T. Drive 4 42 C 45 C
Fan Speed (RPM) 1687 1694

Looking at the results in the table you can see the average drive temperature increased two degrees which is not bad given the amount of activity generated by the NASPT tests. What is concerning though is the absolute temperature level on the drives. The comparison units, the Synology Disk Station DS408, QNAP TS-509 Pro Turbo and Thecus N3200PRO, all showed SMART drive temperature readings ranging from 6-10 degrees cooler with the exact same drives installed.

Power Consumption:

Having a NAS appliance offers many advantages over a standalone PC used for storage, one of which is lower power consumption. In addition, the N4100PRO offers the ability to put the disks in a low-power mode after a period of 30-300 minutes.

I tested the power usage of the N4100PRO in an idle state with the disks spinning but no activity, during a full RAID 5 test with read and write activity and finally in power management mode with all drives set to power down after the minimum 30 minute period. All measurements were taken with a P3 International P4400 Kill A Watt power meter.

State Watts
Power Mgt. Mode Fail
Idle 50
RAID 5 Test 56-58

The N4100PRO managed to use less power than a 60W light bulb, even under heavy loads. In comparison, the Synology DS408 came in at 41/48 watts, even better than the N4100PRO. However, the unit never managed to register anything lower than 50 watts, even after 30 minutes when the drives should have gone in to hibernate mode. I even tried the test with the network cable disconnected to ensure there was no traffic keeping the drives awake.

Testing:

RAID Data Protection

Having multiple drives means more than just additional space for data. With four drives, the N4100PRO supports multiple RAID levels offering differing levels of redundancy. With two drives it supports RAID 1 mirroring and with three or more drives it offers RAID 5/6 redundancy. All four drives are required for RAID 10. The Thecus N4100 owners manual offers a good explanation of the different RAID levels. The N4100PRO also features RAID 5 + hot spare capability, which allows you to designate a drive as a spare drive that can automatically be added to the array in the event of a drive failure.

In order to test the ability of the N4100PRO to recover from a failed drive, I configured the unit with a RAID 5 volume using all four drives and also with a RAID 5 volume using three drives with the fourth drive designated as a hot spare. With its hot swap capability you can remove and replace drives without powering the unit down. During testing I simulated a drive 'failure' by simply removing the drive tray from the NAS. This results in an e-mail being generated alerting you of the failure, assuming you have enabled alerts in the system.

The first test began on the four-drive RAID 5 array where I removed drive 1 from the server. Checking the RAID Information page shows the RAID status as 'Degraded' and the Disks Used column only shows drives 2, 3 and 4. Since there is no hot spare, I manually replaced the drive in the server which caused the system to automatically begin the rebuild process. As you can see from the screen shot, this is a lengthy process with an estimated completion time of over seven hours. During the rebuild process, the data are still available but throughput is severely downgraded. Once the process is completed, the status returns to 'Healthy' and disks 1-4 again show up in the disks used column.

 

 

 

 

 

If, instead of adding all four drives to the array, you had used disks 1-3 for data and designated disk 4 as a hot spare, the Disks Used column would show '1,2,3,4' with the '4' in blue denoting it is a hot spare. In this test scenario, when I remove disk 1, the unit automatically begins the recovery process using disk 4. When the process completes, you'll see disks 2-4 in the Disks Used column and you can replace disk 1 and designate it as the new hot spare if needed.

 

 

The N4100PRO did an excellent job of protecting the data during a simulated drive failure, allowing the the unit to continue operating with a failed disk while rebuilding the array. Throughput rates in the NASPT test dropped to the 1.5-8.0MB/s range, but the server and its data remained available the entire time and did not require it to be powered off and no data was lost.

RAID Migration/Expansion

The N4100PRO offers you the ability to migrate from one RAID level to another. One of the benefits of this feature is you can expand a RAID 5 array, for example, from three disks to four. To do this you would edit an existing RAID array and click on the Migrate RAID tab on the RAID configuration screen. From there you click the RAID 5 -> RAID 5 radio button and click on Apply. Once the process completes you will see the extra space is now available.

 

 

 

Now that there is additional space available from the added drive, you can expand the size of the existing RAID volume using the Expand tab on the RAID Configuration screen. The screen shows the available space, in GB, as a percentage of the total space. You can then decide how much to allocate. Just be aware that the number shown is a percentage of the total array size, not of the available space. After you hit the Apply button you'll be greeted with several warning dialogs asking you to confirm the expansion process and then you're looking at a lengthy process as the additional space is added to the RAID array. Once complete, the additional space will show up in the Data Capacity column.

 

 

 

Thecus has made it very simple to add additional capacity to a volume. Coupled with the reliable auto rebuild we saw with the removal/replacement in the hard drive 'failure' tests, you could replace your drives one at a time with larger capacity units and then migrate and expand an existing array to take advantage of the extra space offered.

Conclusion:

Thecus touts the N4100PRO as the NAS server with unmatched speed and total security. With that kind of billing, it would seem the N4100PRO would be perfect for a small/medium-sized business or a serious-minded home user. With a range of features like RAID 0/1/5/6/10 and 5 + hot spare and advanced level capabilities such as iSCSI support and RAID level migration and expansion the N4100PRO certainly has the pedigree for the job. However, the N4100PRO lacks some of the bells and whistles found on other units, some of those items such as a download manager with BitTorrent support, Twonky media server, USB and eSATA backup are all available as expansion modules.

With the upgraded firmware, Thecus has added features like iSCSI support and expanded jumbo frame support that now includes standard MTU values such as 9000 bytes. Its RAID level support and hard drive failure recovery capabilities are rock solid and our tests show they work as advertised. What our testing also revealed were some surprises in the form of performance in data throughput. While the N4100PRO produced some solid, mid-range performance numbers, it couldn't keep up with the comparison units sporting more powerful processors and more memory. It also struggled to match the performance of its smaller sibling, the N3200PRO, which has the same processor and memory levels and one fewer drive bay. Careful examination of the setup and multiple reruns of the test suites did not reveal any issues that would explain the reduced performance level. The other issue I had a concern with is the cooling performance where we saw hard drive temperatures 6-10 degrees warmer than other units tested using the exact same drives.

The N4100PRO can be had at a street price of around $379, which is certainly more reasonable than the other units, but units such as the Synology DS408 come with a more powerful processor and double the memory for roughly $120 more. The N4100PRO is a solid unit with features to match or exceed others out there on the market at a good price, just don't expect it to set any land speed records with its data transfer rates, which I think is the real killer here.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: