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Thecus N1200 Single-Drive NAS

Date: April 8, 2008
Author(s): Greg King

The first-ever NAS we took a look at was a dual-bay Thecus N2100. We are returning to those roots today by now taking a look at the single-bay N1200. We were pleased to see that Thecus once again delivered a well-built NAS that’s not only strudy, but packs in numerous useful features as well.



Introduction


It’s been over a year since we looked at our first network-attached storage device, the Thecus N2100, and in that time, we’ve taken our fair share of looks at other offerings from other major players in this industry segment. We’ve worked with Synology, D-Link, QNAP, Vantec and Matrox and found them all to give users, in one way or another, a centralized place to deposit those files we can’t afford to lose conveniently on their home network.

As we have stated time and time again, a reliable backup procedure is an absolute necessity, eliminating the possibility of a single point of failure bringing down your entire collection of data. Fortunately for us all, one event has happened recently that has allowed the simple NAS to permeate homes across the world… the price per gigabyte in today’s hard drives.

What once was a distant hope, 500 GB drives and higher have come down to a price that almost anyone can afford to purchase, and BYOD NAS companies have been close behind offering their goods for anyone interested.

This has undoubtedly been a very good shift in the storage market. As more and more households create their own home networks, the ability to access the family’s data from one centralized location has been a long time coming. No longer does the PC designated as the “storage” computer need to stay on at all times. No longer do clunky workgroups need to be setup either. Network-attached storage allows your data to be shared by simply mapping the devices drive to your local PC and for those not familiar with this process, most companies provide applications that will make setting-up easy. Now is definitely a good time to be on the lookout for a NAS of your own.

While NAS is available in many different varieties, ranging from single disk to multiple, RAID 5 capable machines, we are looking at another single drive box, the Thecus N1200. While most NAS boxes allow simple Ethernet connectivity with an additional USB or eSATA port for expandability, Thecus has taken the conventional set of connectivity and thrown it to the wind. Coming equipped with a four port 10/100 switch, the N1200 adds to its value by providing extra connectivity for those that could use the extra ports.

Closer Look

Our first impressions of the N1200 were ones of excitement. While the N2100 that we looked at in March of ’07 was built out of plastic, the N1200 comes equipped with an all metal body with the only plastic on the NAS being in the front bezel. Designed to be set upright, I suppose you could set the thing on its side if space is of concern to you (risking that pesky red ring of death… wait, wrong device). Being as well designed as the N1200 is, I can’t see why you wouldn’t want to use the thing vertically.

Taking a closer look at the front panel, we can see a set of buttons, a lone USB port and six led indicators. Running from the top down, we see a large silver power button, LEDs for power, status, WAN, LAN, hard drive activity as well as USB. Wrapping up the front of the NAS is a silver button labeled “copy”. This is used to copy the contents of and attached USB drive onto the installed drive in the N1200. The all black look works for the N1200 and when the activity lights are doing their thing; the device is a rather nice looking.

Flipping the N1200 around to the back, we can clearly see the built in 10/100 Mbps switch. Moving from left to right, there is a power connection, reset button, 1 WAN Ethernet port, 4 10/100 Ethernet ports, USB and eSATA ports and a Kensington lock slot. If you notice in the upper right hand corner of the N1200 there is a wireless symbol. For those who can find a compatible wireless card, there is a slot for it on the N1200’s motherboard. One thing to point out is that each port on the back of the N1200 is well marked, hopefully eliminating any confusion that could come up.

On the bottom of the N1200 there is a single 30mm fan. This actively cools the installed hard drive and has two speeds, normal and hurricane. It will be interesting to see how well it keeps the internals cool, as well as at what cost to your ears. Just above the fan we can see a small Phillips screw. This, along with one other screw on the other side of the N1200, must be removed in order to get the NAS apart to install a hard drive.

One the two screws are removed, all that is needed to split the N1200 apart is to gently pull one side opposite of the other. When putting the NAS back together, we must make sure the tabs align properly; otherwise the two sides won’t sit even with each other.

With the N1200 open, there is a simple hard drive tray that holds the disk drive. Secured with four screws, the tray is slid into place, locking the power and data connections in place and then in turn, is secured to the motherboard of the N1200. As in all of our other BYOD NAS reviews, our 750GB Seagate Barracuda test drive is used.

When everything is in place, simply set the N1200 in the included stand and your ready to set up your NAS. To protect desktop surfaces, the stand for the N1200 is covered with a felt like material everywhere that touches the surface of a desk as well as the surface of the NAS itself.

Bundled with the Thecus N1200 is a quick start manual, a software disk and a warranty card. Like with the QNAP and Synology devices we have looked at in the past, the disk included with the N1200 contains a locator application, software for the NAS itself as well as documentation in .pdf form.

Aside from the stand, Thecus also includes a short length of Cat5e cable, a hard drive tray, power adapter and cord. This is certainly nothing that stands out but certainly enough to get you going right out of the box.

Taking a closer look at the PCB itself, we can see that the Intel IOP processor is kept cool with the help of a small aluminum heatsink. The seven fins on top of the sink should help heat dissipate away from the CPU and out the breather holes on the top of the N1200. Surprisingly enough, Thecus has placed 128 MB of RAM on the board of the N1200. This is interesting for no other reason than that for a “home” oriented NAS device; this is a considerable of system memory. Unlike its bigger brother, the N1200’s memory is integrated into the motherboard whereas the memory on the N2100 could be expanded by simply putting another stick of RAM.

Taking a closer look at the memory, we can see that the 128 MB of RAM is provided courtesy of Samsung. There is also a Marvell Ethernet controller chip located just above the CPU.

We finish on a Silicon Image SteelVine SATA chip. This chip controls the SATA port for the hard drive as well as the eSATA port located externally on the back of the NAS. The most interesting thing about the chip is not what it does but where it’s located. Positioned directly beside the wireless PCI card bus, the SATA chip would sit underneath the wireless card should one be installed. As of writing, there are only a few supported cards and more information can be found at Thecus’ website.

Now, let’s take a look at the setup and software.



Software, Setup

The first step to installing your NAS onto your network is to run the setup wizard provided on the included CD. This can also be downloaded from the Thecus website should you misplace your disk. Once installed, simply run the wizard and it will begin by scanning the entire network for any attached Thecus devices. Once you have found the NAS you’re looking for, select it and click on next.

You are now given an option to either initialize your hard drive or configure the system (assuming you have already got the NAS setup.) In our case we will be selecting the initialize a new system option.

The next screen allows us to configure how the N1200 will behave on the network. You can either assign it a static IP address or allow your DHCP server (usually your router) to give it an IP address as soon as it’s connected to the network. You’re also allowed to change the device name. This is nice because thanks to DNS, all that you need to do is type this device name in a web browser and it will navigate to the UI page automatically. This is the alternative to typing in the IP address of the N1200, that will take you to the exact same page.

You’ll want to setup an administrative password. This is especially important when using the N1200 outside of a home environment such as a dorm room or hotel room.

After setting up your password, the software will take over and do the rest. Simply click next and it will begin to format your hard drive and install the system software. This is really a waiting game and will take longer depending on the size of the installed hard drive.

Once the setup procedure is complete, simply navigate your web browser of choice to the UI of the N1200 and get to configuring. The home screen of the NAS gives us the option to go into one of four areas of the device. For this review, we are going to focus on the administration options but will touch upon the rest in a bit.

The first screen we see gives us basic information about the device such as firmware version, model number and uptime.

In the WAN configuration page, we see that the N1200 supports jumbo frames up to 8000 bytes. For networks that support this, this technology greatly increases throughput of data.

Also offered on the N1200 is FTP setup. This allows the user to setup their own FTP to host files for those on the local network as well as those outside of the network as well. Thecus also gives us an option to allow anonymous access to the FTP.

What’s a good NAS without the ability to serve iTunes? Like most all other NAS devices available today, the N1200 too allows serving of iTunes across the network. You can setup the name of your server and even protect it with a password, limiting access to the added functionality of the N1200.

One of the more popular features of the N1200 is the mediabolic media functionality. This basically allows the N1200 to connect to all other supported devices with little or no effort on the part of the user. This can be enabled or disabled and even lets you choose what folders to share and what ones to leave private.

If unsupervised downloading is your thing, you won’t be upset with the ability to setup different tasks and even assign them a set time to run. This is a “set it and forget it” approach to downloads and it works wonderfully.

If you’re using the N1200 in a multi-user environment (those not using the NAS strictly for backups), you can setup different user accounts as well as assigning each user to a specific group, each with their own permissions. Users can bet setup with their own passwords to further secure the data coming in and out of your NAS. This is ideal for small office settings where not everyone needs access to every single file housed on the N1200.

For groups, you simply setup the group name and designate which users are members and which ones are not. Again, this is great when wanting to grant access to certain folders for some but not others.

For all you administrators out there, the N1200 can be setup to send out email alerts when an event occurs. Up to four email addresses can be entered in to let more than one person know if the disk dies or it’s reached capacity.

Logs are another important piece in administering any piece of network hardware and the N1200 is no exception. You can sort between information, warnings and errors when browsing the logs to help condense the information you’re looking for. The events are time stamped as well.

Take a look at the media functions of the N1200, we first see the web disk page. This is basically a visual of the folders setup on the NAS allowing them to be browsed through a web browser. If protected, a password prompt will pop up when trying to access a folder with permissions setup.

In the audio page, you can upload music tracks to share with anyone else on the network. Once uploaded, the songs will appear on the screen allowing all to see.

If sharing photos is your thing, Thecus offers this as well. Allowing the user to setup multiple galleries, each containing a many photos as needed, the N1200 allows users to share their favorite pictures with anyone they please, local to the network or not.

Let’s wrap the review up with some testing, and also my final thoughts.



Testing, Final Thoughts

The testing procedure here at Techgage for networked hardware is pretty simple and straight forward. Starting with Sandra, we run the network bandwidth benchmark built into the popular suite of tests. While not entirely indicative of real world performance, it does give us a good idea of how one piece of hardware compares to another one. In this case, we are adding the N1200 to our list of tested NAS boxes. As we continue to grow in our reviews, more and more NAS devices will be added but for now, our charts consist of the Synology DS207+, the QNAP TS-109 Pro and the Thecus N1200.

Another test we have run in our past reviews as been a real world transfer test. In this, we are attempting to simulate actual scenarios that most any user will find themselves in at some point or another. We all have data that we transfer back and forth in one capacity or another in through our tests, we intend to give you an idea of how well each device will work in these situations.

The hardware uses in these tests consists of:

Test System

As we can see in our tests, the N1200 falls behind both the other NAS boxes is the real world tests but in Sandra, it holds its own. I am putting far more weight behind the real world transfers compared to those numbers given by Sandra in this case. Even though it fell behind the others in most of the tests, it did put up respectable numbers and when considering the price of each unit, the Thecus N1200 is easily the cheapest of the lot.

So how was our experience with the N1200? It was a good one to be perfectly honest. What it lacked in all out speed, it more than made up for in functionality. We must also keep in mind that the N1200 is not meant to be a high-end, high-performance NAS. It’s designed for those looking for a simple and convenient way to back up their critical data as well as serve media as they see fit.

With the option to expand the storage of the N1200 by adding a USB or eSATA drive speaks is a great example of the versatile storage that the N1200 brings to the table. For those that enjoy sharing photos with friends and family around the world, the N1200 can do this as well. With its ability to serve music thanks to its “mediabolic” DNLA certified server capability, the Thecus NAS proves again that it’s more than up to the task for day to day users.

For those needing performance and looking for the convenience of active directory integration, you will have to look elsewhere. The overall feel of the user interface is somewhat clunky when compared to that of QNAP and the superb Synology DiskStation Manager 2.0 but it gets the job done.

The build quality of the N1200 is one of the best we have seen to date. The all metal housing screams sturdy and when compared to the plastic enclosures of Synology and even other Thecus devices, the N1200 takes top honors when manufacturing quality comes into the picture. The fan leaves little to be desired as our model was somewhat noisy. It never got to be distracting but in a quiet office, it might drive you up the wall with it’s higher than normal pitch. The LED lights are bright and the USB copy function works as well as other comparable devices.

All in all, I like the Thecus N1200 and would like to see features of it, like the all metal casing and integrated switch, in other devices. If the N2100 that we looked at last year was built of this same material, it would be an obvious choice for those looking for functionality on top of durability. With all this in mind, the Thecus N1200 earns an 8 out of 10.

Pros

Cons

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