The Thecus N3200 is an empty, three-bay NAS drive that sells for approximately $330. Though it doesn't provide any storage out of the box, it's still reasonably priced for a device that supports RAID and up to 3TB of storage. The device boasts a useful set of features, including printer sharing and an iTunes Server support, the ability to mount ISO files, and we were very impressed with its throughput performance. By a large margin, it was the fastest NAS drive we've tested in RAID 0 configuration. Even in RAID 5, an arrangement that places greater emphasis on security than performance, its read and write speeds were still among the top scores on CNET Labs' throughput tests. We also like the solid casing and the fact that the device makes almost no noise during operation. The N3200, however, does come with a few minor shortcomings, including unintuitive setup instructions and third-rate backup software. The device also takes a long time to build a RAID 5 setup. All things considered, however, we like the device and would recommend it for both home and small office environments, where you want a fast and reliable network storage workhorse.
Design and setup
The Thecus N3200 comes in a solid, sturdy package with aluminum casing. On the front, it has three hard-drive bays that are relatively easy to access. Unlike other NAS devices, however, such as the D-Link DNS-323 or the HP Media Vault MV2120 that provide tool-free hard-drive installation, you'll need a screwdriver and a little work with the N3200. Though the design is intended for you to use bare hands, it's hard to screw the drives in securely or remove them without a tool. Nonetheless, it was straightforward to install hard drives into the N3200.
Below the drive bays sits a little LCD with two navigation buttons that you can use to control the USB Copy feature--where you can back up an entire thumb drive's content onto the NAS's internal storage--and view the status of the device such as its IP address, its network name, its RAID building progress, and so on. The LCD is a welcome design tweak and we actually used it more than a few times during the testing process. Also on the front are a USB port and an array of green LED lights that show the status of the hard drives and the network connection.
On the back of the N3200, you will find another USB port, an eSATA port, a LAN, and a WAN port. The LAN port is only used in situations where you have no network and want to use the N3200 in between your computer and the modem that connects to the Internet, as the NAS doesn't provide any way to connect to your computer directly other than using the computer's network port. For most situations, where you have a router and an existing LAN, you will connect the N3200 to your network using its WAN port.
There's a PCI slot that reads "expansion," but when we opened it up to see what kind of PCI card it would take, it turned out be just a place holder. We learned from Thecus that the next generation of the company's products that share the same chassis will have a working PCI expansion feature. A big fan inside the chassis spins slowly and emits almost no noise even during heavy operation, yet was able to keep the device very cool during our testing.
The Thecus N3200 comes with a basic yet confusing illustrated setup guide that's printed in five languages, which are mixed together seemingly at random. Nonetheless, it was easy to hook it up to a router and power it on. We then ran the included N3200 Windows Setup Wizard to detect the device but failed to do so. It took a phone call to Thecus tech support to find out that as the N3200's IP was statically set to be 192.168.1.100; we would need to set our router's IP address to be 192.168.1.x (where the "x" is a number smaller than 100) for the N3200 to be recognized. We did just that and the rest of the setup process was easy. It would be a lot less of a hassle if Thecus, by default, set the IP address of the N3200 as dynamic, where it picks one assigned by the router (or any DHCP server). All other NAS devices we've tested come with a dynamic IP setup by default.
Once set up, the Thecus N3200 can be easily accessed via Windows Explorer, just as you would access another computer in your LAN. You can log into its Web interface to create user accounts, shared folders, and to manage other features of the device.
The N3200 has straightforward user management for shared folders. You can choose a shared folder to be "public," making it accessible to everybody, or "not public" so that only certain users can access it via the use of usernames and passwords.
The strongest point of the Thecus N3200 is its ability to support the most popular RAID formats including RAID 0 (striped), RAID 1 (mirror), RAID 5 (striped with distributed parity), and JBOB. You can find out more about RAID, however, RAID 5 is the preferred setup that allows for a good balance of data storage space, performance, and data protection. RAID 5 requires at least three hard drives and this is where the N3200 beats other NAS devices of the same price. The N3200 supports three 3.5-inch SATA hard drives of up to 1TB each.
The N3200 features FTP, iTunes, and UPnP servers, and they worked very well in our tests. You can't set up the interval that dictates how often the device will automatically scan folders for newly added media; however, it seems the device does it very often and we were able to get the newly added media to the share list within a few minutes.