Why virtualise your NAS environment?
Thecus N4200 NAS device
A NAS device with four drive bays and 8TB potential storage capacity
- ISO mounting, good file transfer performance, inexpensive
- Poor external storage file system support, relatively poor media streaming performance
The Thecus N4200 is an attractive network-attached storage device for small businesses that don't want to fork out for overpriced options from Netgear or Western Digital.
Price$ 800.00 (AUD)
The Thecus N4200 network-attached storage (NAS) device provides up to eight terabytes of storage over four drive bays. It also boasts a DHCP server and some innovative features like ISO mounting, but lacks the refinement and flexibility of competing NAS devices.
Like most NAS devices, the Thecus N4200 has a Spartan design; it's little more than a black box with room for four 3.5in or 2.5in hard drives. The drive bays sit horizontally and are individually lockable. They are behind a small panel door, which will prevent dust from clogging them up.
Thecus makes a big deal of the N4200 NAS device's "dual displays," which consist of an OLED display and an LCD. The LCD has indicator lights for the internal hard drives and network activity, while the OLED screen provides a simple configuration panel for viewing the NAS device's status and changing basic network settings. It isn't much different from what we'd expect to find on any of QNAP's current NAS range, except the configuration panel can be difficult to use and, frankly, it looks a bit ugly.
The front panel is also home to two USB 2.0 ports and a one-touch copy button that backs up flash drives and external hard drives to the NAS device; a third party module is required to back up data already on the NAS device to external storage. On the back panel you'll find four more USB ports and two eSATA ports. These can be used to connect and share printers, UPS devices and external storage. As with the Thecus N7700, any external hard drives will need to be formatted in FAT32, ext3, XFS or ZFS to be fully supported; the NAS device can only read NTFS drives and won't support Mac-based HSF+ hard drives at all.
Two Gigabit Ethernet ports on the back panel support load balancing, failover and 802.3ad link aggregation. A static IP is required to enable these, which makes the N4200 NAS device difficult to work with when managing network discovery.
The Thecus N4200 NAS device is powered by the same dual-core Intel Atom D510 processor we found in QNAP's TS-659 Pro Turbo NAS. The desktop CPU is teamed here with 1GB of DDR2 memory — a rather potent combination for a device this size.
We test all NAS devices by connecting them through a Gigabit Ethernet network to a testbed PC with a 300GB Western Digital Velociraptor hard drive. We run Intel's NAS Performance Toolkit, which determines how the NAS device performs when streaming 720p high-definition media from the device, as well as the ability to record the same video while performing backup operations.
We also run two file transfer tests to see how the NAS device performs in the real word. One file transfer test uses 3000 1MB files; this is intensive for both the hard drives and the embedded processor, and a good indication of how the NAS device will perform when backing up your computer. In addition, we transfer 20GB worth of 3-4GB files — a faster test that is similar to dealing with large videos, disk images or database files.
|Intel's NAS Performance Toolkit - HD Streaming|
|HD Playback (MBps)||HD Playback &
|HD Playback &|
|Thecus N4200||$800||3TB||RAID 0||48.3||55.3||31.3|
|Synology Disk Station DS409||$678||3TB||RAID 0||53.2||50.1||32.1|
|QNAP TS-419P Turbo NAS||$999||3TB||RAID 0||21||25||23.7|
|Synology DiskStation DS509+||$1065||3TB||RAID 0||70||58||37.9|
|Thecus N7700||$1200||3TB||RAID 0||40.8||45.1||32.2|
|QNAP TS-459 Pro Turbo NAS||$1399||3TB||RAID 0||99.2||91.3||44.5|
|ProWare DN-500A-CM||$1599||3TB||RAID 0||56.5||68||33.2|
|Netgear ReadyNAS Pro Business Edition||$3669||3TB||RAID 0||44.4||48.5||30.4|
|Small File (3GB) Transfer Test Results|
|Thecus N4200||$800||3TB||RAID 0||38.5||38||14.6|
|Synology Disk Station DS409||$678||3TB||RAID 0||36.6||6.9||5.2|
|QNAP TS-419P Turbo NAS||$999||3TB||RAID 0||23.6||17.7||8.9|
|Synology DiskStation DS509+||$1065||3TB||RAID 0||45.5||30.3||14.8|
|Thecus N7700||$1200||3TB||RAID 0||57.6||25.4||12.9|
|QNAP TS-459 Pro Turbo NAS||$1399||3TB||RAID 0||51.7||38||18.4|
|ProWare DN-500A-CM||$1599||3TB||RAID 0||31.6||33.3||16.7|
|Netgear ReadyNAS NVX||$2519||2TB||X-RAID2 (Redundancy)||47.6||21.8||11.4|
|Large File (20GB) Transfer Test Results|
|Thecus N4200||$800||3TB||RAID 0||63.2||76.4||28.2|
|Synology Disk Station DS409||$678||3TB||RAID 0||55.3||36.6||21.1|
|QNAP TS-419P Turbo NAS||$999||3TB||RAID 0||38.8||27.9||16.3|
|Synology DiskStation DS509+||$1065||3TB||RAID 0||63.4||41.7||24.2|
|Thecus N7700||$1200||3TB||RAID 0||71.9||74.3||39.2|
|QNAP TS-459 Pro Turbo NAS||$1399||3TB||RAID 0||86.6||69||36.8|
|ProWare DN-500A-CM||$1599||3TB||RAID 0||40.4||43.5||19.4|
|Netgear ReadyNAS NVX||$2519||2TB||X-RAID2 (Redundancy)||78.5||51.7||25.8|
The Thecus N4200 NAS device performs capably — particularly given its price — and, despite having half the memory of the Thecus N7700 it outpaces the seven-bay NAS device in most tasks. However, in Intel's synthetic benchmark the N4200 only managed to perform half as well as the QNAP TS-459 Pro Turbo NAS, which is a pricier NAS device that uses similar components. Our tests show that the NAS device's strengths clearly lie in writing files, though its multitasking ability isn't to be scoffed at.
Thecus' new Web UI is a huge improvement over past efforts.
One of our biggest complaints about the N7700 NAS device was the user interface, which fell behind that of its competitors. Thecus has resolved this issue by adding an AJAX-based Web configuration portal, spicing up the aesthetics while making it easier to use overall. The interface resembles the DiskStation Manager that Synology packages with its NAS devices, with a two-pane layout and plenty of wizards to aid newcomers.
Thecus has bundled some of its more innovative features like stackable volumes, allowing the N4200 to initiate other compatible Thecus NAS devices as internal volumes (check the company's Web site for a full compatibility list). You can also mount ISO images on the NAS device's internal storage as individual shares, making it easier to deploy software without physical CDs and DVDs.
Backup options have been improved too, with Thecus adding rsync support to the list of available backup destinations. Since most current NAS devices are compatible with the protocol, this will make it easier to remotely back up the N4200; FTP and Thecus' proprietary Nsync protocols are still available.
The NAS device can support Apple (AFP/Bonjour), Windows (SAMBA) and Linux (NFS) networks environments. Remote file access can also be set up through FTP/FTPS or HTTP/HTTPS servers. You can set up a UPnP server for streaming media to DLNA-compliant televisions and networked media players, or an iTunes server for streaming music. The N4200 NAS device even has a DHCP server built-in, so you'll be able to use it as a fully functioning office server.
Like most Linux-based NAS devices, the N4200's functionality can be expanded through third-party software. Here they are called "modules," but unfortunately it isn't a "one size fits all" approach. Browsing through Thecus' Download Centre, it appears that each module has to be specifically geared to a certain Thecus product. While there's a chance there will be a version of a module for your NAS device, it isn't a certainty.
Though an improvement over past efforts, some aspects of the Thecus N4200 still seem a little unrefined and individual server components lack the scope of configuration usually found on competing NAS devices.
The Thecus N4200 is an attractive choice for small businesses that don't want to fork out for overpriced options from Netgear or Western Digital. It isn't the prettiest or most refined DIY solution we've reviewed, but innovative features like stackable volumes and the ability to mount ISO file are certainly pleasing, while raw file transfer performance doesn't seem to be lacking.
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