The four-bay Thecus N4800Eco NAS server is a major upgrade to the company's N4200 that I reviewed a couple of years ago. The new server is now much faster and uses less energy, while retaining the excellent drive bay design.
On the other hand, it also inherits some shortcomings, including the lack of a dynamic RAID set-up and the awkward way to add, remove, and manage its add-on features. Its menu-based Web-interface, while seemingly well organized, could be better consolidated to be more intuitive.
That said, if you're looking for raw speed and lots of network storage for data sharing and backup purposes, the N4800Eco will definitely deliver. Compared with others on the market, especially those from Synology or QNAP, the new and superfast server from Thecus, unfortunately, still has some catching up to do in terms of features and ease of use. And given its price of $600 (no storage included), you should also consider these alternatives.
Similar to the N4200, the Thecus N4800eco comes with easily accessible front-facing drive bays. Each of the four bays includeds a tray that can be quickly pulled out should you need to install or replace the hard drive. The server supports standard SATA hard drives -- both 2.5-inch (laptop) or 3.5-inch (desktop) design -- of any capacities and comes with enough screws to attach all four drives to the four trays. You do need a standard screw driver of your own, however. With hard drives currently offering up to 4TB, the N4800eco can host up to 16TB of storage space.
To keep the trays from being pulled out by accident, each of them can also be securely locked in place. There are two included keys for this purpose.
The N4800Eco supports RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 10, RAID 6, and RAID 5. (Read more about RAID here.) RAID 5 is the most popular set-up for a four-bay server, and in this case the N4800Eco offers up to 12TB of protected storage space. The N4800Eco doesn't offer a flexible RAID set-up, as you'd find in Hybrid RAID of Synology or XRAID of Netgear, that allows users to dynamically scale up the server's storage space. That said, make sure you get the amount of storage you need up front, since you'll need to rebuild the RAID from scratch when you want to use higher-capacity drives with the N4800Eco.
The new server now comes with two small LCD displays (the N4200 includes just one) on its front, a vertical one on the left side and a horizontal one on top. The vertical display is always on and show the status of each of the four drive bays and ports. The second display shows the N4800eco's detailed information, including its IP address, host name, temperature, and so forth. You can scroll through different pages of information by using four navigation buttons, including Up, Down, Enter, and Escape. You can also use the LCD and these buttons to control certain functions of the server, such as USB Copy, where you can back up an entire USB external drive, plugged into one of the N4800Eco's two USB 3.0 ports on the front, onto the NAS' internal storage. This display turns off after a few minutes of idleness but comes back on instantly when any button is pressed.
I found that the navigation buttons somewhat unintuitive and you have to guess which one does what at times. For example the Down button, which generally scrolls the display to the next information page, actually starts the USB Copy function when you press it before pressing any other buttons. To make it work as a scroll-down function, you need to first press the Up button.
On the back, the server has two more USB ports on the back (both USB 2.0), one eSATA port, and two gigabit Ethernet ports. These two network ports can be used together for fail-safe, load-balancing, or in certain advanced networks, for increasing the throughput speed. There are also VGA and HDMI connectors should you want to connect the server with a computer monitor or a big screen TV. In this case, you can add a USB keyboard and mouse, and the N4800Eco will work similar to a regular computer. More on this in the Features section below.
The server's power connector, on its rear, is oddly placed above the ports mentioned above. This makes it awkward to work with these ports because the power cable, which is relatively large, is in the way. Moving this power port toward the bottom of the server would make life much easier.
Setting up the N4800eco could be a challenge for many users. As a NAS server, you generally connect it to an existing network via a network cable, and then use a computer in the same network to set up, manage and customize it. That's the case for most NAS severs as well as for the N4800Eco.
Out of the box, the server comes with a CD that contains the Thecus Set-up Wizard desktop utility that supposedly detects the server in the network and helps launch the Web-interface.
In my trial, however, the utility failed to detect the server. As it turned out, the two network ports of the server were manually programed with two static IP addresses that belong to two different subnets, including 192.168.2.100 and 192.168.1.100. Unfortunately, neither of the subnets was the same as that of the router used for the testing, which started with 192.168.0.1. Thanks to the front display that showed the server's static IP addresses, I was able to figure out how to make things work. This problem can be completely avoided if, out of the box, the N4800eco came with default settings that allowed its network ports obtain IP addresses automatically, which is the case in all other servers I've reviewed.
To be fair, the two static IP addresses above belong to two popular subnets used by most home routers. That said, some users might not run into this problem.
This problem aside, the rest was fairly easy. The N4800eco comes with a Web interface that's responsive and reasonably well organized, with granular menus and sub-items on the left that open up more controls on the right.
I did find one annoyance with the Web interface: each time I logged in, the server log window popped up, forcing me to click it off. While this is not a big deal if you log in once a day, it could be a nuisance whenever you need to need to set up or change the settings of the server. The popup is totally unnecessary, since you can quickly access the log via a button at the top right corner of the interface.
When I picked the "Quick RAID" option, the server took a relatively short time, about 10 minutes to set up four 1TB hard drives into a RAID configuration, be it RAID 0 or RAID 5. If this option is not chosen, meaning the drives will be checked for errors during the process, the RAID building takes much longer, several hours or more.