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The Thecus N4200 is one of a few four-bay NAS server we've reviewed recently, and though it has decidedly fewer features and functions found in NAS servers like the Synology DS410, it has a few useful novelties of its own. The server is the first we've seen that includes a backup battery module, a dual disk-on-module (DOM) design, and the ability to host both 3.5-inch and 2.5-inch SATA hard drives. It also has plenty of USB and eSATA ports and a very well-thought-out hard-drive-bay design.
If you are looking for a high-performance RAID 5-capable, secure NAS server to use mostly as a storage space for file sharing, backups, and something that offers many redundancies, the N4200 is worth its rather hefty price tag of around $750 (no storage included). On the other hand, if you can deal with sudden downtime because of power outages and want to get the most out of a NAS server, we'd highly recommend the much more affordable Synology DS410.
Design and setup
We love the N4200's hard-drive-bay design. Unlike the Synology DS410, which requires you to take it apart to install or replace the hard drives, the N4200's drive bays are front accessible, meaning that its hard drives can be quickly replaced when the server is still running.
Above the drive bays, the device has a tiny LCD that displays the device's detailed information, including its IP address, hostname, temperature, etc. Four navigation buttons allow you to browse through the interface. You can also use the LCD to control certain functions such as USB Copy, where you can back up an entire thumb drive's content onto the NAS' internal storage. The LCD is a welcome design tweak, but it could be more useful if it were larger and easier to use. You need to press the buttons many times to see information you want, and it's not clear which button does what. Also on the front are a two USB ports and an array of green LED lights that show the status of the hard drives and the network connection.
The server doesn't come with included storage, but it can take both 3.5-inch (desktop) and 2.5-inch (laptop) SATA hard drives of up to 2TB each. These hard drives can be configured into RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 10, RAID 6, and RAID 5. Though most people won't see why there's the need to support 2.5-inch hard drives, this is actually a bonus if you want your server to use a minimum amount of power.
This makes more sense when you factor in the fact that the server comes with a removable battery module, which resembles that of a laptop. This module automatically kicks in when the main power is lost, giving the server enough time to save critical information or finish a backup task before it can be powered down properly.
On the back of the N4200, you will find another four USB ports, two eSATA ports, a LAN port, and a WAN port. The USB and eSATA ports can be used to host additional storage, and the USB ports can also be used for printers.
The server's LAN port is only used in situations where you have no network and want to use the N4200 in between your computer and the modem that connects to the Internet. For most situations, where you have a router and an existing LAN, you connect the N4200 to your network using the WAN port. These two LAN ports, unfortunately, can't be used together for load balancing or failsafe purposes.
The N4200's dual-DOM design means its firmware is preinstalled on not one, but two separate storage modules. This saves you the task of installing firmware during the setup process, like with typical NAS device. This also means that if one of the modules fails, the server will continue to function when the second one kicks in.
The Thecus N4200 comes with a simple yet confusing-looking quick setup guide with illustrations printed in five languages, all mixed together. Its setup software detects the server in the network, changes the default password, and helps launch the Web interface. Novice users will have trouble getting the server up and running by themselves.
However, it's fairly easy to set up for those experienced with NAS servers and networking in general, as the server's Web interface is well organized and pretty self explanatory. You can log into its Web interface to create user accounts, share folders, and manage the device's other features.
Out of the box, apart from layers of power and firmware failsafe redundancies, the N4200 has all of the basic features one would expect in a high-end NAS server, including FTP, UPnP Media Server, iSCSI, and the ability to host additional storage.
Unlike the DS410, the N4200 doesn't come complete with all features, such as support for an IP camera for a surveillance system, the ability to download files by themselves, or the ability to play music via the USB port. However, according to Thecus, users can add more features or enhancements to the server via add-in "modules" that can be downloaded for free . As a matter of policy, we review NAS servers only with the features that they come with.
The N4200 can handle both USB and eSATA external hard drives. Once plugged in, the external hard drives will immediately be shared as public share folders. The hard drive needs to be formatted in FAT32 (Windows) or Ext (Linux) to offer read and write access; NTFS drives can only be read. The N4200 can also copy the entire contents of a USB thumb drive into its internal hard drive. Just plug the drive into one of the front USB ports and initiate the command using the navigation buttons and the little LCD or just press on the Quick Copy button. The NAS worked very well with all external hard drives we tried it with.
The most interesting and unusual feature that the N4200 offers is ISO Mount, where you can mount ISO 9660-standard files. Once mounted, the contents of the ISO file are available to network users in the form of a read-only folder within the share folder where the ISO file resides. This is a very convenient feature if you want to access the contents of ISO files without having to burn them into CDs. Keeping data in ISO format is also a good way to compress it to save storage space.
We were rather disappointed with the N4200's user and share folder management. It's not very intuitive in regards to mapping folder privileges to users. The easiest way is to make the share folder "public," giving anyone access to it. In the case of the DS410, however, each time you create a new share folder or a new user you are presented with a clear way to assign access privileges. To make up for this, the N4200 supports Microsoft's Active Directory Service (ADS), available in Windows Server 2000 and later. This means the access privileges can be managed via ADS, instead of manually via the N4200's user management.
The Thecus N4200 comes with a backup software application called Windows Backup Utility that's primitive both in design and functionality. The software's interface looks like that of program written by an amateur programmer, or for a quick mockup. You can't choose more than one folder for each backup job, and although you can set a schedule, the backup job may not automatically run at the preset time. It seemed that every action taken with the software, the results would be unpredictable. We definitely recommend using third-party backup software if you want to take backup seriously.
Performance is where the N4200 excels. The server is one of the fastest NAS servers we've reviewed. We tested the server in both RAID 5 and RAID 0 configurations, as these are the most popular setups.
In RAID 0, the configuration optimized for performance at the expense of data integrity, the device topped our charts on the write test with 757.1Mbps; this is almost as fast as a USB 3.0 external hard drive and significantly faster than the Synology DS410's score. On the read test, however, the N4200 scored only 615.5Mbps, compared with the DS410's score of 867Mbps.
In RAID 5, the recommended configuration, the N4200 scored 549.7Mbps for its write speed and 569.1Mbps for the read speed.
The Thecus N4200 worked very quietly during our testing process, emitting almost no noise in a regular working environment.
Service and support
Thecus backs the N4200 with a two-year warranty. Its tech support is available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. PST. On the company's Web site you will find a lot of useful information, including firmware updates, downloadable modules, a device compatibly list, and instructions.