The days are long gone when NAS devices were simply a hard disk with an Ethernet connection. Modern NAS appliances like the Thecus N4200PRO offer many and varied server functions, plus increasingly sophisticated management interfaces and reliability options. The four-bay N4200PRO NAS has several stand-out features that make it attractive to small businesses, including an integrated mini-UPS and failsafe firmware.
Housed in a chunky and solidly-built metal case, the N4200PRO's four front-mounted lockable drive trays are concealed under a non-lockable door. To the left is an array of colourful illuminated status icons for the drives, dual Gigabit LAN ports and USB copy function. Above the drive bays a monochrome OLED display shows status information and allows some basic management tasks, such as changing WAN settings and resetting the system.
Thecus N4200PRO: a four-bay NAS enclosure supporting 2.5in. and 3.5in. drives, including SATA-3 disks
Thecus only sells bare enclosures, so you'll need to check the drive compatibility list before purchasing drives. Both 2.5in. and 3.5in. drives are supported, up to 3TB and including SATA-3 models. For our testing, we installed a pair of 250GB Hitachi HCS72502 disks, which were not on the list but worked without a hitch. After installing the disks, and plugging in the Li-ion UPS battery into its slot at the rear, we ran ran the Thecus Setup Assistant on a workstation to discover the NAS and launch the Ajax-powered web admin interface. The login screen also has links to the Web Disk and Photo Server applications.
Thecus uses an Ajax-powered web admin interface for the N4200PRO
The interface is reasonably easy to use (although not as slick as rival Synology's DSM), and we were able to set up a RAID-0 configuration with no problem using the built-in wizard. It's a pity this step isn't launched on first access to the interface, though, as you have to scour through the menus to find it. Multiple RAID arrays of different levels can coexist, and levels 0, 1, 5, 6, 10 and JBOD are all supported, using either the ext3,ext4, XFS or ZFS filesystem. If ZFS is used, up to 16 snapshots can of shared folders can be stored.
In our performance tests, we achieved transfer rates (using the Disk tests in Passmark's Performance Test 7.0) of 83MB/s sequential write, 81MB/sec sequential read and 67MB/s random read and write. In the Advanced test using a File Server thread (80% random read, 20% random write) we measured 79MB/sec average throughput. Obviously performance will depend on the drives installed, but considering the models we used were not high-performance models, these results are quite impressive. Using link aggregation should produce even better results.
Disk performance with two 250GB Hitachi HCS72502 drives fitted
ISCSI targets with 4KB block size support for volumes over 2TB in size are supported. Two e-SATA ports at the rear can be used for external storage, but can't be used to expand the RAID capacity. A copy of Acronis True Image is provided for client backup use.
The built-in UPS is very handy, giving about 10 minutes of operation. If AC power fails, after one minute the N4200PRO immediately stops any pending operations and starts a safe shutdown procedure. Another reliability feature is the dual firmware support — two copies are stored, the backup taking over if the primary copy becomes corrupted. Backups can be created automatically or on a regular schedule.
Link aggregation, failover or load balancing between the dual network ports are available if connected to a an 802.3ad-capable switch, and there's also support for GbE jumbo frames. The device can be powered on and off on a daily schedule.
Local users and groups can be created, or you can enable Active Directory support. One slight annoyance is that local users cannot be granted admin rights, so there's only one admin account and password. Some might think this is a good thing, of course, but it could be a nuisance if multiple users need admin access.
Like many modern NAS devices, the N4200PRO has a modular system of application add-ons. These range from the USB copying function (there are two front-mounted ports and four at the rear, supporting both storage devices and printers) to the web server and more consumer-oriented iTunes and Twonkmedia UPnP/DLNA media servers. There are many other useful applications, including a basic IP camera surveillance module, a mail server, a download manager and a Dashboard tool that's required for the free iOS status monitoring app. There's also a free Thecus Share iOS app for accessing media files remotely. Our one complaint is the lack of online help for many of the add-on modules, although most do have basic PDF manuals on the CD.