The Thecus N4100PRO NAS Server
Now any enthusiast will tell you it’s not IF a hard drive will fail, it’s WHEN. With that in mind, when data storage and backup is the goal you have a couple of options. A full blown server sitting in the corner, saving the same data to two different drives and hope they don’t go out at the same time, or a NAS box. Now, NAS boxes are nice for the fact that they are a purpose-built appliance. Being purpose built, all the non-essential stuff can be removed to not only reduce physical size but to also conserve power. Today, I will be looking at the Thecus N4100PRO 4 bay NAS Server.
The Thecus N4100PRO uses an AMD Geode LX800 processor and 256MB of DDR memory for powerful data-processing capabilities. The N4100PRO has the capacity for four 3.5" SATA hard disks for up to 4TB of storage! To keep data secure, the N4100PRO features various RAID modes, including RAID 0, 1, 5, 6, 10 and JBOD. Managing your RAID array is easy with the N4100PRO's advanced RAID management features, including RAID expansion and RAID level migration. To top it off, the N4100PRO comes equipped with a big, bright LCM module, which displays useful status messages such as IP address, date and time, and RAID status, making it easy to keep an eye on the condition of the N4100PRO. To backup your data, the N4100PRO comes with the Thecus Backup Application, as well as a feature called Nsync. With Nsync, users can have the N4100PRO automatically upload files to an external storage device via FTP at a designated time. The Thecus N4100PRO includes 3 USB ports (2 rear, 1 front) and Dual Gigabit Ethernet for excellent connectivity options. The Thecus N4100PRO NAS has a ton of features that make it a solid choice for most home or business applications!
I will be using four Western Digital WD1500 SATA Raptor hard drives in the Thecus N4100PRO. I want fault tolerance from two drive failures (the array continues to operate with up to two failed drives), so I will be using a RAID6 configuration. RAID 6 is often used to make larger RAID groups more practical as it lengthens the time needed to recover from the failure of a single drive. Single parity RAID levels are vulnerable to data loss until the failed drive is rebuilt, which is critical if you don't keep a spare drive on hand. Dual parity gives time to rebuild the array without the data being at risk if one drive, but no more, fails before the rebuild is complete. Let's take a closer look at the Thecus N4100PRO before we fire it up.
A Closer Look
The front of the N4100PRO is classy. I think Thecus did a nice job of making it look nice with the drive bay door.
Behind the door we can see the 4 drive bays; each can be locked individually. At the bottom of the front panel is what looks like a chrome strip; the LCM display is in the area. Just below are the buttons that allow you to cycle through the display read outs. In the normal mode the display will rotate, showing information such as up time, the IP address, RAID status, even system temperature.
Looking at the back of the N4100PRO, it’s fairly simple. There is the power plug, 2 USB ports, and the dual Gigabit Ethernet connections; the top is the WAN port and the lower is the LAN port.
After loosening three thumb screws on the back you can slide the cover off the N4100PRO. Inside, you can see the motherboard, RAM, and exhaust fan.
Installing the Drives
Not too many people have four identical drives lying around. I know I didn’t, but Nate did happen to have five Western Digital WD1500 SATA Raptor hard drives he used in testing the Thecus N5200. He let me borrow four of them for my testing. These drives came out in 2006 and are no longer in production as they have been replaced by newer and faster drives such as the Western Digital VelociRaptor that Nate reviewed a number of months ago. The weakness of these Western Digital Raptor WD1500 hard drives is the fact that they are only SATA 1.5GBps and not SATA 3 Gbps, so keep that in mind during the benchmark results.
Installing the drives in the Thecus N4100PRO is very simple, and the only thing that is needed is a Philips screwdriver and about five minutes of free time. In order to attach the hard drives to the trays, simply attach the four screws to the bottom of the drive through the tray. Once all the drives are installed they can be locked in place so no one can open a tray and pull one out when you aren't around. The box itself measures only 6”W x 8”H x 9”D, so if you are worried about theft then be sure to secure the entire server as well.
The Thecus N4100PRO only has connections for the standard SATA backplate, so if you wanted to use IDE drives or the original Western Digital VelociRaptors (WD1500GLFS), you are out of luck with this model. The new Western Digital VelociRaptors (WD1500HLFS) with the standard backplane do work in the Thecus N4100PRO!
Setting up the N4100PRO
I headed to the Thecus website to download the latest setup wizard as the driver disc that came with the storage server was version v220.127.116.11 and the latest posted on the Thecus website was v1.2.0 dated 12-26-2008. After downloading and installing the setup wizard we fired up the program and got ready to get the server going.
With the new setup wizard installed and running, it scanned for all Thecus devices on the network. Now, the N4100PRO comes set with a default fixed IP of 18.104.22.168. This could be an issue if this IP is not in the range that your network will see. Knowing this ahead of time, I took a few seconds to change the IP address of my PC to be in the same IP range as the N4100PRO just to save a headache. In the coming steps you can change the IP to whatever you like to work with your network.
Once you have selected the device you want to configure you will be asked to log into the system with the default password.
Then, you are given the opportunity to change the basic network settings.
Then, you have to change the default password. Once you click finish you are asked if you would like to start your browser.
Now, for those that are not running a Windows platform, or just don’t want to use the wizard, you can access the box without it by pointing your web browser to the default IP address and log into the system that way.
Configuring the N4100PRO
Once logged into the web interface you are greeted with a screen that has the manufacturer, model, firmware level, and uptime. Across the top of the interface are the various settings for the system. Finding a particular setting is fairly easy; the interface is nicely laid out. I forgot to get a screen shot of it, but our unit had come with firmware v2.01.04. After checking on the Thecus website there was new firmware released for it, v2.01.07.
To upgrade the firmware you go to the website and download the update to your PC. Then, in the N4100PRO’s web interface under System you will find the Firmware Upgrade. Browse to the file you downloaded and click "Apply" and the system does the rest.
When the process starts you will get a warning with a progress meter. The warning tells you not to turn the unit off during the updating process. When the update is done the system needs to reboot; this only takes a minute or so. Once the system is back up and running you can log back in and set up the array.
Configuring the RAID
To setup the RAID you have to go to the storage menu and choose RAID. Since there is no RAID setup, we chose NEW.
In the next screen you have to pick what type of RAID you want. As I said earlier, I will be using a RAID6. Once you have the RAID type picked you can pick the disks you want to use. Since I’m using RAID6 I need to use all the drives.
Once you choose "Create" you will be hit with a couple of pop ups confirming that you are about to create the RAID and it requires that all the server services need to be stopped.
Then, you will be staring at the RAID building status; at this point go get something to eat or go watch a movie. It took the N4100PRO roughly 2.5 hours to create and format the four 150GB drive array. Thecus says that the build time is dependent on the RAID type and the size of the disks being used.
The Thecus N4100PRO has a ton of features, so be sure to check out the entire user's manual if you want to see what you are getting into when purchasing one of these NAS servers. Setup will vary depending on how many drives you have and how you will be using it on the network. Setup wasn't too bad and the documentation was pretty good compared to some of the user's manuals that I have seen.
Benchmarking the Thecus N4100PRO
With the Thecus N4100PRO hooked up to my D-Link DGS-2205 5 port Gigabit switch, I first ran Crystal Disk Mark 2.2.
ATTO has been around for some time, but it is still a very popular hard disk benchmarking tool that offers nice features to benchmark RAID setups. The first benchmark that I ran was the one called 'I/O Comparison', which is where the benchmark writes files on the disk being tested and then reads them back.
The second test I ran with ATTO is called "Overlapped I/O," which is where the benchmark performs the same task as in the comparison test, but allows the tasks to be divided and executed in parallel.
As you can see, the performance numbers between the benchmarks differ, which is why more than one benchmarking utility is needed when looking at hard disk performance. Let's take a look at how the Thecus N5200 does when using an FTP client in a real world test.
FTP Upload and Download Testing
The previous page of synthetic benchmarks looks great and makes it easy to compare performance, but what about real world testing? For this, I downloaded the latest version of WinSCP (v4.1.8) and transferred some game demos from a client system to the Thecus N4100PRO server.
I first uploaded the files to the server from my PC and noticed the speeds topped out at around 17Mbps.
Once the files finished uploading to the server, I then downloaded the same files back down to a different location on my PC. I noticed the speeds topped out around 46Mbps.
The last test I ran on the Thecus N4100PRO is the Intel NAS Performance Toolkit Exerciser. The Intel NAS Performance Toolkit is a file system exerciser and analysis tool designed to enable performance comparisons between network attached storage (NAS) devices. Intel NASPT focuses on user level performance using real world workload traces gathered from typical digital home applications such as HD video playback and record, data backup and restore utilities, office productivity applications, video rendering/content creation and more. Intel NASPT reproduces the file system traffic observed in these traces onto whatever storage solution the user provides, records the system response, and reports a rich variety of performance information. The end result is readily comparable performance measurements that are useful to developers as well as intuitive and compelling to consumers.
The Intel NAS Performance Toolkit is one of the only benchmarks that was designed from the ground up just to measure NAS performance. The benchmark tests 18 different test scenarios to give you a great overall idea of how the NAS performs.
Final Thoughts and Conclusion
The Thecus N4100PRO is not my first NAS, as my “daily driver” is a Buffalo Terastation that I use at work. I've been using the Terastation for over two years now, so comparing the performance between the two would not have been fair. After using the Thecus N4100PRO NAS for the last couple of weeks I notice myself getting annoyed at the interface of my Terastation. Thecus has done a great job with the software and setup, and use of the server is far easier than any that I have used in the past.
Setting up the N4100PRO was a breeze; the web interface is very intuitive. There are many features the N4100PRO has that I didn’t even go into such as media sever, remote client backup, ISO mounting, user access controls, folder quotas and more. To find out just what the N4100PRO can do take a look at the manual.
Even though the Western Digital WD1500 SATA Raptor hard drives I used in the testing were not on Thecus’s approved HDD compatibility list I wasn’t worried about them not working as they worked on the Thecus N5200BR that Nate tested a while back. Just by looking on the list, about any of the Seagate Barracuda SATA drives have been approved by Thecus for use in the N4100PRO. Outside of those you might want to buy a pair just to test and make sure the system likes the drives. Over the past couple of weeks of use I hardly noticed the box sitting on my desk behind me. Only during heavy file transfers did I notice the drives getting loud, and that is with the 10,000RPM Raptors.
Through our shopping link the Thecus N4100PRO can be found for around $420 plus shipping. This, along with the cost of the drives, could easily put the final cost anywhere from $800-$1000 depending on the hard drives you choose. Now, most are thinking, "I can build a PC cheaper than that." Yes, you could, but I doubt it would be this small or efficient and be cheaper. Those lucky few that want the most storage no matter the price should look no further than the just announced Western Digital 2TB hard drives. The WD Caviar Green 2 TB hard drives (model WD20EADS) run $278 shipped over at buy.com, in case you are curious about them.
Legit Bottom Line: All in all, the Thecus N4100PRO NAS is a nice little box that is feature rich, looks nice, is quiet, and is easy to use.