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.
The device also supports both USB and eSATA external hard drives. Once plugged in, the external hard drives will be shared as "USBHDD" and "eSATAHDD." The hard drive needs to be formatted in FAT32 to offer read and write access; NTFS drives can only be read. The N3200 can also copy the entire content of a USB thumb drive into its internal hard drive--all you have to do is plug the drive into the front USB port and initiate the command using the navigation buttons and the little LCD.
The N3200 supports up to six USB devices at a time via its two USB ports (you can add more devices by using a USB hub). It can also support a limited number of USB printers, USB Webcams, and USB Wi-Fi adapters. We didn't have any that it supports to try this out. The N3200 worked very well, however, with all external hard drives we tried it with, including three USB external hard drives and two eSATA external hard drives. All of them were recognized and shared within less than 30 seconds upon being plugged in.
The most interesting and unusual feature that the N3200 offers is called ISO Mount, where you can mount up to 200 ISO 9660-standard files. Once mounted, the content of the ISO files is available to network users from the read-only folder within the shared folder where the ISO file resides. This is a very convenient feature in case you want to access the content of ISO files without having to burn them to CDs. Keeping data in ISO format is also a good way to compress it to save storage space.
The Thecus N3200 comes with a backup software application called Windows Backup Utility that we found primitive, both in design and functionality. It's so rudimentary that it's hard to describe. The software's interface looks like that of program written by an amateur programmer, or a quick mockup for some college programming assignment. You can't pick more than one folder for each backup job, and while you can set a schedule, during our hands-on testing, none of the scheduled backup jobs ran at the preset time. Every step you do with the software, you need to sort of guess what's going to happen if you click on this button or that field and so on. We definitely recommend using a third-party backup software with the N3200.
On CNET Labs' read and write throughput benchmarks, we were very happy with the device's performance. We tested the N3200 with three 320GB, 7,200rpm drives and used two RAID configurations: RAID 0 and RAID 5.
In RAID 0, the configuration optimized for performance, the device topped our charts on both our read and write tests by a relatively large margin with the scores of 62.5Mbps and 57Mbps, respectively. When we switch to RAID 5, where the device balances the performance and data redundancy, the throughput speeds were lowered to 50.3Mbps and 54Mbp for write and read tests--still very high on our charts.
Despite the fact that it has a very big fan, the Thecus N3200 worked very quietly during our testing process. It emitted almost no noise. Performance-wise, other than the fact that it took a very long time to build a RAID 5 setup with the stripe size of 64Kb (about an hour for each 20GB), we were pleased with everything else. Except for the backup software, all of its functions that we tried worked well and as intended.
Service and support
Thecus backs the N3200 with a one-year warranty, which is short and disappointing. Its tech support is available Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PST, where you can open and manage support tickets. You will find a lot of useful information, including firmware update, device compatibly lists, and instructions at the company's Web site.