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Thecus N5200 Pro review: Thecus N5200 Pro

The Thecus N5200 Pro is definitely a higher end NAS, and will benefit power users and tweakers a lot more than entry-level users.

Craig Simms Special to CNET News
Craig was sucked into the endless vortex of tech at an early age, only to be spat back out babbling things like "phase-locked-loop crystal oscillators!". Mostly this receives a pat on the head from the listener, followed closely by a question about what laptop they should buy.
Craig Simms
4 min read

Straddling enthusiast and SMB, Thecus' N5200 Pro is a NAS that means business. It makes no apologies for what it is, and as such its appearance is that of a big black box, with five hot swappable hard drive trays facing the outside world and a blue-lit LCD giving status updates for network settings, drive health, and system health in general. There are buttons under the LCD to change what information is displayed, and to alter some settings — however, by and large it's tedious and unintuitive, and you're best to just stick to the web interface if you can.


Thecus N5200 Pro

The Good

Both OS X and Windows software available. Gigabit Ethernet WAN & LAN with load balancing and teaming. Support for eSATA external drives. USB for external drives and printers. Modules offer powerful flexibility.

The Bad

Data check of hard drives shows no completion meter. Check the hard disk compatibility list before purchasing, does not support all drives. UI needs a usability overhaul.

The Bottom Line

The Thecus N5200 Pro is definitely a higher end NAS, and will benefit power users and tweakers a lot more than entry-level users.

The drives are held in by the only cheap looking part of the system — the silver quick release handles — and every tray can be locked via key, of which x copies are included in the box. Each drive has both access lights and power lights, so you can tell visually if one has failed.

A huge power button is on the bottom left, and below this a reset button. Above the power button is a USB port into which you can hook up external storage, a printer, or USB dongle for wireless capability and an array of indicator lights, for problems, USB copy LED, network activity over the two included gigabit Ethernet ports (one WAN, one LAN), and an upgrade light, showing that data is inaccessible.

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The rear gives the first hint at what this box is truly capable of, with two USB ports, an eSATA port (for external storage alone, you won't be able to hook your PC into this), two gigabit Ethernet ports (capable of being load balanced or teamed), a USB type B port (for connecting to your PC as a mass storage device, but first you'll need to create a target USB volume) and a serial port (for UPS monitoring). While the 120mm fan at the back is acceptably quiet, it could be better, and the PSU fan is tiny and definitely noticeable in volume. Thanks to its medium pitch it never reaches the realms of truly annoying, but in the home it may vex some.

Hardware-wise the Thecus N5200B Pro runs off a 1.5GHz Ultra Low Voltage Celeron, with 512MB DDR RAM. For a bit more flexibility you can opt for the N5200BR Pro, which bundles a four-port gigabit switch, but as a consequence loses the ability to perform link aggregation. The non Pro versions use a slower processor, clocked at 600MHz, and only contains 256MB RAM, which will mainly impact both boot and RAID rebuild time.

The included software is easy to use, and was capable of adjusting the network settings of the device even when it was sitting on another subnet. As a nice addition, OS X software was supplied. Linux users miss out, an oddity considering the open source nature of a lot of Thecus' software.

Features come thick and fast in the web UI. Protocol-wise the N5200 Pro covers AFP, NFS, CIFS/SMB, runs FTP and DLNA media servers, and includes Nsync — this isn't the boy band, but a backup program that allows the N5200 Pro to upload files via FTP to an external site at a scheduled time — and if the FTP happens to be running on another N5200, this is done securely.

Sadly the LAN port cannot accept an auto-assigned IP — this isn't deal breaking, as the WAN port does this just fine, but we do find it curious. Nonetheless a DHCP server can be run over the LAN port if you so desire. As a consequence, setting the IP manually through the front display unit although tedious did work, however, a manual restart was required for the rest of the network to see the device.

It can mount ISOs in user selectable folders, and completely supports user accounts and permissions. The usual email notifications are available should things go awry, you can install modules for extra functionality, and supports stacking; that is, mounting of another device across the network on the N5200 via iSCSI.

The system can support RAID 0, 1, 5, 6, 10 and JBOD, and supports Active Directory authentication.

After updating with the mother of all firmwares at 32MB, we transferred a 1GB file to and from the Thecus, netting a 30MBps read, and a 24MBps write with five 1TB Hitachi disks set in RAID 5. Start-up time was often below a minute, with shut down time being approximately the same. The web UI was responsive, although could do with a dramatic design overhaul, with necessary information such as total/used capacity buried in obscure areas like the RAID set-up, and workgroup settings hidden under Accounts.

The Thecus N5200 Pro is definitely a higher end NAS, and will benefit power users and tweakers a lot more than entry-level users, who should definitely stay clear. While Netgear's ReadyNAS offerings supply better performance and a better user experience, they're also vastly more expensive than the Thecus equivalent. If you're looking for a flexible, price conscious NAS with small business trimmings and don't mind a little bit of UI hell, the Thecus N5200 Pro should definitely be on your shopping list.