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NAS Reviews

{mospagebreak toctitle=Introduction, Inside}
NAS Server
At a glance
ProductThecus NAS Server (N10850)   [Website]
SummaryIntel Xeon-based ten-drive high-performance BYOD NAS with USB 3.0, HDMI & audio I/O ports.
Pros• Multiple volume support
• Four USB 3.0 ports
• Optional 10 GbE
• HDMI & VGA ports
• Audio I/O ports
Cons• Very basic IPv6 support

Typical Price: $2682  Buy From Amazon

Introduction

Eight-bay NASes seem to be the object of some NAS vendors' attention lately. QNAP, Synology and Thecus have all asked for reviews of their latest products, so I'm leading off with Thecus' "Top Tower" N10850, which actually has ten bays.

The N10850 is part of Thecus' "Large Business Tower" NAS family that also includes the N6850 and N8850. Each member has a different Intel CPU as summarized in Table 1.

N10850 Intel Xeon E3-1225 @ 3.1GHz
N8850 Intel Core i3 2120 @ 3.3GHz
N6850 Intel Pentium G620 @ 2.6 GHz
Table 1: Thecus Top Tower Family CPUs

The N10850's chassis design has more in common with the N6850 we reviewed last July than the N7510 we looked at in December. But all are cut from similar cloth physically. The N10850 stands taller than all other desktop NASes that I have tested so far. It has to, since it has space for ten 3.5" or 2.5" SATA hard or SSD drives.

The front door is secured with a push-push latch and no lock while each of the drives sits in a lockable tray that has light pipes to carry power and activity / error lights forward from the drive backplane. Because the drives are behind the door, you still don't get a clear view of these lights when the door is closed.

N10850 Front panel callouts

N10850 Front panel callouts

The front and rear panel callout diagrams above summarize the ports and indicators. I'm happy to see USB 3.0 ports on both front and rear panels, something the N7510 lacks.

Inside

Like the other "Top Towers", Thecus has thoughtfully designed the N10850 for easy servicing. Loosen four captive thumbscrews and unplug two cables (power and SATA) and a module containing the main board and two case fans slides right out. Like on the N6850, Thecus includes a foldable handle on this panel and the power supply assembly.

Replacing the non-redundant internal power supply is a bit trickier. You need to reach in and unplug two mainboard-style power connectors, which aren't easy to access.

Thecus N10850 board sliding out of chassis

Thecus N10850 board sliding out of chassis

The photo above shows the SATA cable freed from the drive backplane, but the lower GPIO connector cable still plugged in. The photo below is the rear view with the motherboard assembly removed. After comparing photos of the N6850 and N10850 innards, I've concluded that they are essentially the same design, with the N10850 just four drive bays taller.

Thecus N10850 rear view w/ module removed

Thecus N10850 rear view w/ module removed

The black connectors on the right appear to be PCIe X4 and X8 and conduct power and control between the main board and front-side backplane. This backplane has an NEC D720200AF1 at the upper right that drives the two front panel USB 3.0 connectors. The other one is on the main board near the rear panel connectors.

The lower horizontal edge connector brings power from the power supply to the main board via a "Top6810 Riser" board that you can see at the lower right of the board module photo below.

Thecus N10850 board module

Thecus N10850 board module

On the photo above of the N10850's main board, we can see two 2 GB DDR3 DIMMs and two empty slots. Thecus' spec doesn't say anything about memory expansion. But I'm going to assume that Thecus' statement about testing expansion to 16 GB on the N6850 holds true for the N10850. After all, they do link to a memory compatibility list.

The board has one PCIe x4 slot and one x8 slot at the top of the photo. Either of these slots can be used to add a 10GbE adapter from Thecus' "Extra NIC" compatibility list that includes Intel, Emulex and Thecus (Tehuti) adapters.

I also concluded that the N6850 and N10850 use the same main board, populated with different memory and CPU. So see the commentary in the N6850 review for more construction details.

Table 2 summarizes the N10850's key components and includes comparison information for the N6850 and N7510.

Component N10850 N6850 N7510
CPU Intel Xeon E3-1225 @ 3.1GHz Intel Pentium G620 @ 2.6 GHz Intel Atom D2700 @ 2.13 GHz
RAM 4 GB DDR3 DIMM (expandable to 16 GB total w/ 4 GB DIMMs) 2 GB DDR3 DIMM (expandable to 16 GB total w/ 4 GB DIMMs) 2 GB DDR3 DIMM (expandable to 4 GB)
Flash 1 GB DOM 1 GB DOM 1 GB DOM
Ethernet Intel WG82574L (x2) Intel WG82574L (x2) Intel WG82574L (x2)
Companion Intel Q67, B65 or H61 [guess] Intel Q67, B65 or H61 [guess] Intel NM10 [guess]
USB 3.0 NEC D720200AF1 (x2) NEC D720200AF1 (x2) NEC D720200AF
PCIe PLX Tech PEX 8604 4 Lane, 4 Port PCI Express Gen 2 (x2) PLX Tech PEX 8604 4 Lane, 4 Port PCI Express Gen 2 (x2) None
Audio Realtek ALC262 2+2 HD Audio Codec Realtek ALC262 2+2 HD Audio Codec Realtek ALC262 2+2 HD Audio Codec
SATA Silicon Image SiI3132 SATALink PCI Express to 2-Port Serial ATA II Host Controller (x2) Silicon Image SiI3132 SATALink PCI Express to 2-Port Serial ATA II Host Controller (x2) Silicon Image SiI3132 SATALink PCI Express to 2-Port Serial ATA II Host Controller (x2)
I/O - Winbond W33795G hardware monitor
- Fintek F71889 Super Hardware monitor & I/O
- Winbond W33795G hardware monitor
- Fintek F71889 Super Hardware monitor & I/O
ITE8728F Super I/O
Video Pericom PI3VDP411LSZBE Digital Video Level shifter Pericom PI3VDP411LSZBE Digital Video Level shifter Chrontel CH7318 HDMI level shifter
Table 2: Key component summary and comparison

Thecus arranged for four 3 TB WD RE (WD3000FYYZ) drives for testing. But to see if drives could make a difference in such a high-performance NAS, I also ran some tests with four WD Red drives. Power consumption measured 95W with the four RE drives and 75W with the four Reds.

I could not get the drives to go into power-save spindown, even when I removed the network cable. This could be due to the continuous drive access at one-second intervals, which Thecus said was due to parity checking. With the noisier (and hotter) RE drives, this produced a continuous clackety-clack that could be annoying (or soothing, if you're a fan of train travel). The quieter Red drives didn't produce much noise, but the drive access lights let me know that the same access was happening.

I rated noise as high, mostly due to fans. But if you use "enterprise" drives like the RE's you'll get plenty of drive noise too. The N10850 isn't as noisy as a rackmount NAS with its smaller, screaming fans. But it's not something you would want to keep in your office, either.


Features

The N10850 came with 2.03.08 firmware. Since Thecus standardizes its feature set across its products we won't be covering the features here. A look at the N4800 review will provide a good feature overview and you can use the online demo to get a feel for the user interface. The N7510 review describes the newer Data Guard, Data Burn, Local Display and Transcoding Service modules.

For quick reference, here is a summary of the main Thecus OS features:

General Features

  • Network file sharing via SMB/CIFS, NFS, AFP
  • Hot-swappable JBOD, RAID 0, 1, 5, 6, 10 with hot spare for RAID 1, 5, 6 and 10
  • Optional AES256 volume encryption
  • SMB/CIFS, HTTP/HTTPS, NFS v4, AFP file access
  • Online RAID expansion and RAID level migration
  • FTP/SFTP with upload / download bandwidth control
  • HTTP / HTTPs admin access
  • Bonjour / UPNP support
  • Joins NT Domain / Active Directories for account information
  • Dual Gigabit Ethernet ports supporting Load balance, Failover, 802.3ad, Balance-XOR, Balance-TLB, Balance-ALB modes
  • IPv6 support (very basic)
  • iSCSI target and initiator support
  • iSCSI Thin Provisioning, MPIO, MCS, Clustering and Persistent Group Reservation supported
  • ISO mounts
  • User quotas
  • Email alerts
  • Logging
  • USB print serving
  • Scheduled power down/up
  • Programmable idle disk spindown
  • Apache webserver (via installable module)

Backup

  • Scheduled Backup to USB and eSATA drives (via installable module)
  • Schedulable To/from rsync backup with optional encryption and compression (via installable module)
  • Apple Time Machine support
  • Client Backup: Acronis True Image (Windows); Thecus Backup Utility (Windows/Mac OS X)
  • ACL backup/restore
  • Schedulable DOM backup

Media

  • BitTorrent / HTTP / FTP download service w/ scheduling
  • iTunes server
  • UPnP AV / DLNA media server (via installable module - Twonkykmedia)
  • Picazza photo album (via installable module)
  • Video surveillance support (via installable module)

Mobile

  • Remote monitoring and admin app (Thecus Dashboard - iOS and Android)
  • File and media access app (ThecusShare - iOS and Android)

Performance

I tested the N10850 with 2.03.08 firmware, using our NAS test process with RAID 0, 5 and 10 volumes. As is our standard practice, four drives were configured in each volume type.

Windows File Copy tests show well-matched read and write throughput across all tested volume formats. Highest write throughput measured was 106 MB/s for RAID 5 and highest read was 105 MB/s for RAID 0.

Thecus N10850 benchmark summary

Thecus N10850 benchmark summary

Intel NASPT File Copy results measured about 20 MB/s higher for write and slightly lower for read. Highest write throughput of 133 MB/s was in RAID 0; highest read was 100 MB/s, also in RAID 0. Keep in mind the maximum theoretical throughput with a Gigabit Ethernet connection is 125 MB/s. So results higher than that have some write cache effect baked in.

iSCSI performance of 91 MB/s for write rank the N10850 about mid-chart and 95 MB/s for read put it at the top of all NASes tested.

Attached backup tests were run with our standard Startech USB 3.0 eSATA to SATA Hard Drive Docking Station (SATDOCKU3SEF) containing a WD Velociraptor WD3000HLFS 300 GB drive. Best backup throughput of 112 MB/s was obtained using eSATA and a FAT-formatted drive and put the N10850 at the top of that chart.

Since Thecus doesn't have a drive formatter, I could not test backup for an EXT3 formatted drive. I should note the unusually high 41 MB/s result for a USB 2.0 connected NTFS formatted drive, which is 10 MB/s higher than I have previously measured from any product. I ran the test twice to be sure that it wasn't an error.

Network backup to a DeltaCopy target on our NAS Testbed system measured 39 MB/s. For comparison, best network backup measured to date is still 44 MB/s with a NETGEAR ReadyNAS Pro 2.


Performance - Comparative

To put the N10850's performance in perspective, I created a set of custom performance charts using the NAS Finder to compare a group of non-Atom Intel-based NASes. I came up with only the Thecus N6850 (Pentium G620), QNAP TS-1079 Pro (i3-2120) and relatively-old Thecus N7700PRO (Core 2 Duo) to compare.

The performance spread is very small among this group, but the QNAP TS-1079 Pro won three of the four comparisons. When it didn't win (NASPT File copy), it lagged behind the winner—the N10850—by 12 MB/s

As I've noted before, unless you were paying close attention, I doubt you would be able to tell the difference in performance among this group.

RAID 5 file copy performance comparison

RAID 5 file copy performance comparison

Performance - Do Drives Make A Difference?

As mentioned earlier, Thecus asked that the N10850 be tested with enterprise-grade WD RE drives. So I thought I'd take the opportunity to see if these more expensive, power-hungry and noisier drives made a difference.

I created four-drive RAID 5 volumes with the RE's and also four WD Red drives for comparison. I ran the complete benchmark suite ten times, to provide an extra measure of averaging for the results.

  WD Red WD RE % Diff
FileCopyToNAS 126.49 129.76 2.5
FileCopyFromNAS 93.97 98.83 4.9
DirectoryCopyToNAS 31.30 31.02 -0.9
DirectoryCopyFromNAS 30.54 34.92 12.6
ContentCreation 11.78 13.40 12.1
OfficeProductivity 48.84 50.95 4.1
HDVideo_1Play_1Record 106.28 109.65 3.1
HDVideo_4Play 106.37 106.94 0.5
       
Win File Copy Write 101.89 105.90 3.8
Win File Copy Read 95.09 102.61 7.3
Table 3: WD RE vs. Red Performance

Table 3 shows the largest performance difference of around 12% was seen in the NASPT Directory Copy From NAS (read) and Content Creation benchmarks. The Directory Copy test reads 236 MB consisting of 2,833 files in 44 folders, while the Content Creation test is 95% writes with a mix of 1k, 4k & little reads with a wide range of mostly sequential writes with file sizes up to 64kB. I thought it was interesting that both these tests had the largest gains, since one was only read and the other mostly writes.

In contrast, the Office Productivity test, which has a balance of reads and writes of smallish files didn't show a similar performance gain.

So the answer to the question is yes, drives can make a difference in this class of NAS. But the gains are highly dependent on how you use the NAS and you might not find the additional cost, power consumption and noise worth the trouble.

Use the NAS Charts to further explore and compare the N10850's performance

Closing Thoughts

To be fair, a NAS as powerful as the N10850 pushes the limits of our NAS test process. To really take the best advantage of a NAS this powerful, you would need to use it with at least aggregated Gigabit NICs, or preferably one of the recommended 10 GbE adapters. And you would probably want to run multi-user benchmarks against it too.

But on the test we did run, the N10850 did not win hands-down, being edged out in many cases by the i3-based QNAP TS-1079 Pro. However, you'll pay about $400 (20%) more for the QNAP's slightly-better performance, which you probably won't notice in real-world use.

If you're in the market for a 10-bay desktop NAS and have around $2,000 to spend, you probably should have the Thecus N10850 on your short list.

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