Thecus N8900 review: Thecus N8900

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The Good OLED display is crisp and clear. Default config is reasonably powerful for a dedicated NAS. Expandability is excellent. Feature list is good, especially the expansion modules.

The Bad Logging needs significantly more detail. Providing an HDMI port and no VGA is an odd choice for the server room. Screws on the side of the unit may make maintenance a pain once rack-mounted. DHCP not enabled by default.

The Bottom Line Thecus continues its "rough diamond" reputation. It certainly costs less to go Thecus rather than the competition, but it comes with firmware quirks that will ultimately keep it out of the server room.

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7.5 Overall

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Thecus' latest 2U rack-mount server straddles the line between heavy equipment and prosumer — something attested to by the Coolermaster fan found on the CPU inside.

The dual 500W redundant power supplies certainly make enough noise to make this thing destined for a server room, but the inclusion of HDMI over the standard VGA port is certainly a bit of a head scratcher. We'd imagine that compared to VGA, HDMI in the server room is next to non-existent. Regardless, it acts as a normal video-out port — but unless you install your own OS, attaching a monitor and keyboard will only let you tweak the BIOS and watch the non-verbose Linux boot, with no maintenance possible from the command line.

Flip down the protective cover and you'll find that it's an eight-bay machine with individually lockable drive caddies, although curiously the cover itself cannot be locked. There are two USB ports at the front, another four at the back, three gigabit Ethernet ports, a serial port, two USB 3.0 ports and an eSATA port. Should you want more, there are another three expansion ports available, serviced by a PCI-e x1 slot and two PCI-e x4 slots, so if you need the likes of 10GbE, it's possible. You can even fit a slim-line SATA optical drive in if you so choose, but we did not have one on hand, and so couldn't test how the web UI would allow access and what you could do with such a drive. Certainly, if you wanted to install your own OS on the system, you could choose to boot from such a device — it is, after all, just a standard x86 machine with a custom-rolled Linux build.

At this point, it's worth mentioning the lid being screwed in — specifically, screws that are on the top and the side. This isn't exactly the quickest machine to get into, especially if rack mounted.

Once open, the present dual 1GB DOMs let themselves known, with the first running the system and the second running a back-up in case the first fails. The NAS itself is reasonably powerful for a dedicated mid-range storage product, running a dual-core Core i3 2120 @ 3.3GHz, and featuring an impressive 8GB of RAM (with two slots left to spare).

All eight drives are served off an expansion card run by LSI's SAS2008 chipset, supporting RAID 0, 1, 1E and 1 by default. This is irrelevant, however, as Thecus bypasses these and uses it merely as a pass-through; RAID levels are handled in software, and JBOD, RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 10, RAID 5 and RAID 6 are offered. Disks can be formatted with EXT3, EXT4 and XFS.

The SAS controller also allows any SATA-based device up to SAS 6Gbps to be connected. It operates on a 4x PCI-e 2.0 interface, meaning a maximum theoretical throughput of 1GBps. Stacking this thing with SSDs would be a waste as a result — best to stick to mechanical hard drives.

Frustratingly, Thecus still doesn't ship with DHCP turned on by default, something that thankfully can be fixed easily through the included software. Unlike its smaller units, you cannot set the IP manually through the unit's menu buttons and display; you have to use the software.