Thecus N5200 is a high-performance Network Attached Storage (NAS), a box where you install hard disk drives to make them available to your network, basically a small yet powerful file server for your home or office. The reviewed model allows the installation of up five hard disk drives, supporting RAID levels 0, 1, 5, 6, 10 and JOB, featuring three USB ports, one eSATA port and two Gigabit Ethernet ports. How is the performance of Thecus N5200 compared to other NAS boxes? Check it out.
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Figure 1: Thecus N5200 NAS.
With a box like this you can solve two basic problems on your home or office. First, it provides a central location for file storage. Usually on small home/office networks file sharing is achieved by sharing folders on computers and the computer that has the files you want must be turned on in order for you to access them. While on home environments there is almost no performance issues, on offices performance may be an issue as well, especially with we are talking about huge files (such as the ones manipulated by graphic design studios) being accessed by more than one user. If you are working afterhours and the user of that computer has already left and put a password on his or her computer, you may find yourself in trouble.
The second advantage of NAS boxes is that they usually also work as a printer server. On a typical home/office network if the printer isn’t connected to an external device that is working as a print server (some broadband routers have this capability) then the computer where the printer is attached to must be turned on all the times if you want to print documents. Almost all NAS boxes offers at least one USB port where you can attach your printer and configure the box to work as a print server, not requiring an extra computer to be turned on for you to be able to print your hardcopies.
You can also download pictures from your digital camera directly to the NAS box, through its USB port, making them readily available to all users on your network. So you won’t need to download them to your computer and then transfer them to the box. NAS boxes can be also accessed by IP-based surveillance cameras, so this kind of device can store video directly in the NAS.
NAS systems are more than simple boxes to install hard disk drives, as all of them accept RAID configuration in order to improve storage performance, to improve storage reliability, or both. The two basic RAID modes – 0 for performance increase and 1 for mirroring – are accepted by all NAS boxes, but more advanced levels especially 5 and 6 aren’t usually available on mainstream NAS boxes. Thecus N5200 provides as an advantage over competing products RAID levels 5 (a RAID0 system that stores parity information in order to increase reliability) and 6 (a more reliable RAID5 system, storing more parity information). For more information on RAID, please read our Everything You Need to Know About RAID tutorial and for a more in-depth discussion on the reliability differences between RAID5 and RAID6, read our RAID6 Advantages Over RAID0 and RAID5 article.
It is important to know that in order to achieve their maximum performance you MUST use a Gigabit Ethernet network. Fast Ethernet (100 Mbps) networks are limited to a maximum theoretical transfer rate of 12.5 MB/s (100 Mbps / 8), which is VERY slow, especially for large files. A 4.7 GB DVD image being copied between two computers over a 100 Mbps network would take 376 seconds – i.e., a little bit over 6 minutes – to be copied. In fact it will take longer than that, as this transfer rate is the maximum theoretical and on the real world the maximum transfer rate achieved is below that.
Gigabit networks provide a ten-fold performance increase over Fast Ethernet, sending the maximum theoretical transfer rate to 125 MB/s (1000 Mbps / 8). The same DVD image would be transferred in only 37.6 seconds (a little bit more than that for the same reason explained above).
So it doesn’t make ANY sense to buy a high-end NAS box – as it is the case of Thecus N5200 – to use it on a regular 100 Mbps network. If you don’t plan to migrate your Gigabit Ethernet (this is very easy to be done, as we will explain) then don’t buy this product. You can save money buying an entry-level NAS as they both will achieve the same performance on a 100 Mbps network.
Migrating your network to Gigabit is VERY easy. If you have a network at your home or office, you probably have a broadband router sharing the internet connection with all computers, plus allowing them to share folders and printers. You have two options. You can replace your broadband router to one that features a built-in Gigabit Ethernet switch or you can buy a Gigabit switch and install it on your network.
If you decided to go with the second option, all you need to do is to connect all computers to the new Gigabit switch and install one network cable connecting one of the switch ports (it doesn’t matter which one) to any empty LAN port on your router. So the router will have only two cables connected to it, one on its WAN port connecting it to your broadband modem, and one on a LAN port connecting it to your Gigabit switch.
Trust us; this upgrade is worth every penny if you transfer large files between your computers.