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Thecus N4800Eco server review: Raw performance meets large capacity

Thecus' N4800Eco NAS server offers lots of speeds and storage space but lacks almost everything else.

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Dong Ngo
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Dong Ngo

SF Labs Manager, Editor / Reviews

CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.

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9 min read

The four-bay Thecus N4800Eco NAS server is a major upgrade to the company's N4200 that I reviewed a couple of years ago. The new server is now much faster and uses less energy, while retaining the excellent drive bay design.

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6.7

Thecus N4800Eco server

The Good

The <b>Thecus N4800Eco NAS server</b> offers very fast data rate and a responsive Web-interface.

The Bad

The Thecus N4800Eco's features and ease of use fall short. Its set-up process and Web-interface could also be more intuitive.

The Bottom Line

If you're in the market for raw speed and lots of storage space, the N4800eco will deliver, but those wanting more should keep looking.

On the other hand, it also inherits some shortcomings, including the lack of a dynamic RAID set-up and the awkward way to add, remove, and manage its add-on features. Its menu-based Web-interface, while seemingly well organized, could be better consolidated to be more intuitive.

That said, if you're looking for raw speed and lots of network storage for data sharing and backup purposes, the N4800Eco will definitely deliver. Compared with others on the market, especially those from Synology or QNAP, the new and superfast server from Thecus, unfortunately, still has some catching up to do in terms of features and ease of use. And given its price of $600 (no storage included), you should also consider these alternatives.

Design
Similar to the N4200, the Thecus N4800eco comes with easily accessible front-facing drive bays. Each of the four bays includeds a tray that can be quickly pulled out should you need to install or replace the hard drive. The server supports standard SATA hard drives -- both 2.5-inch (laptop) or 3.5-inch (desktop) design -- of any capacities and comes with enough screws to attach all four drives to the four trays. You do need a standard screw driver of your own, however. With hard drives currently offering up to 4TB, the N4800eco can host up to 16TB of storage space.

The N4800eco comes with an excellent front-accessible drive bays.
The N4800eco comes with an excellent front-accessible drive bays. Dong Ngo/CNET

To keep the trays from being pulled out by accident, each of them can also be securely locked in place. There are two included keys for this purpose.

The N4800Eco supports RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 10, RAID 6, and RAID 5. (Read more about RAID here.) RAID 5 is the most popular set-up for a four-bay server, and in this case the N4800Eco offers up to 12TB of protected storage space. The N4800Eco doesn't offer a flexible RAID set-up, as you'd find in Hybrid RAID of Synology or XRAID of Netgear, that allows users to dynamically scale up the server's storage space. That said, make sure you get the amount of storage you need up front, since you'll need to rebuild the RAID from scratch when you want to use higher-capacity drives with the N4800Eco.

The new server now comes with two small LCD displays (the N4200 includes just one) on its front, a vertical one on the left side and a horizontal one on top. The vertical display is always on and show the status of each of the four drive bays and ports. The second display shows the N4800eco's detailed information, including its IP address, host name, temperature, and so forth. You can scroll through different pages of information by using four navigation buttons, including Up, Down, Enter, and Escape. You can also use the LCD and these buttons to control certain functions of the server, such as USB Copy, where you can back up an entire USB external drive, plugged into one of the N4800Eco's two USB 3.0 ports on the front, onto the NAS' internal storage. This display turns off after a few minutes of idleness but comes back on instantly when any button is pressed.

I found that the navigation buttons somewhat unintuitive and you have to guess which one does what at times. For example the Down button, which generally scrolls the display to the next information page, actually starts the USB Copy function when you press it before pressing any other buttons. To make it work as a scroll-down function, you need to first press the Up button.

On the back, the server has two more USB ports on the back (both USB 2.0), one eSATA port, and two gigabit Ethernet ports. These two network ports can be used together for fail-safe, load-balancing, or in certain advanced networks, for increasing the throughput speed. There are also VGA and HDMI connectors should you want to connect the server with a computer monitor or a big screen TV. In this case, you can add a USB keyboard and mouse, and the N4800Eco will work similar to a regular computer. More on this in the Features section below.

The server's less-than-ideal placement of its power connector might be a nuisance when you want to access its ports on the back.
The server's less-than-ideal placement of its power connector might be a nuisance when you want to access its ports on the back. Dong Ngo/CNET

The server's power connector, on its rear, is oddly placed above the ports mentioned above. This makes it awkward to work with these ports because the power cable, which is relatively large, is in the way. Moving this power port toward the bottom of the server would make life much easier.

Set-up
Setting up the N4800eco could be a challenge for many users. As a NAS server, you generally connect it to an existing network via a network cable, and then use a computer in the same network to set up, manage and customize it. That's the case for most NAS severs as well as for the N4800Eco.

Out of the box, the server comes with a CD that contains the Thecus Set-up Wizard desktop utility that supposedly detects the server in the network and helps launch the Web-interface.

In my trial, however, the utility failed to detect the server. As it turned out, the two network ports of the server were manually programed with two static IP addresses that belong to two different subnets, including 192.168.2.100 and 192.168.1.100. Unfortunately, neither of the subnets was the same as that of the router used for the testing, which started with 192.168.0.1. Thanks to the front display that showed the server's static IP addresses, I was able to figure out how to make things work. This problem can be completely avoided if, out of the box, the N4800eco came with default settings that allowed its network ports obtain IP addresses automatically, which is the case in all other servers I've reviewed.

To be fair, the two static IP addresses above belong to two popular subnets used by most home routers. That said, some users might not run into this problem.

This problem aside, the rest was fairly easy. The N4800eco comes with a Web interface that's responsive and reasonably well organized, with granular menus and sub-items on the left that open up more controls on the right.

It's very easy to install and replace hard drives with the N4800Eco.
It's very easy to install and replace hard drives with the N4800Eco. Dong Ngo/CNET

I did find one annoyance with the Web interface: each time I logged in, the server log window popped up, forcing me to click it off. While this is not a big deal if you log in once a day, it could be a nuisance whenever you need to need to set up or change the settings of the server. The popup is totally unnecessary, since you can quickly access the log via a button at the top right corner of the interface.

When I picked the "Quick RAID" option, the server took a relatively short time, about 10 minutes to set up four 1TB hard drives into a RAID configuration, be it RAID 0 or RAID 5. If this option is not chosen, meaning the drives will be checked for errors during the process, the RAID building takes much longer, several hours or more.

Features
Running ThecusOS 5.0 NAS operating system out of the box, the N4800eco comes with standards features commonly found in an advanced NAS server,  including FTP, iSCSI, user account, support for Time Machine, Active Director service, and so on. All of these features and server settings can be accessed via a granular menu on the left.

The N4800Eco's Web interface is organized but could use some improvement in intuitiveness.
The N4800Eco's Web interface is organized but could use some improvement in intuitiveness. Dong Ngo/CNET

While these menus are organized and responsive, I feel the items can be consolidated to be more intuitive. For example, the System Information, System Management, System Network, and Network Service items can be grouped into just one or two items.

Primitive add-on support
Generally, NAS servers support add-on applications that add more features and functions to them. In the case of Thecus NAS servers, these applications are called Modules. Out of the box, the N4800Eco comes with just an iTunes Server built in, but you can add some 20 other downloadable modules to the server. These modules add more features to the NAS, such as McAfee Antivirus, Web Server, IP Camera support, BitTorrent download, and so on.

Unlike Synology NAS servers, which allow you to easily add, remove, and update one or more add-ons at a time via a well organized Package Center; with the N4800Eco, you'll need to download each module separately, decompress it from a .zip format, then manually install each one at a time. This process is not just time-consuming, but also very tedious because during the installation, which can takes from a few seconds to 10 minutes, you can't manage other settings or features of the server.

I tried out a few add-on modules, and while they work as intended, none of them was designed to work with the server's Web interface. In fact, each of them needs to open another browser window or tab, making it a rather cumbersome experience if you want to manage several add-ons at a time.

Almost all of the N4800Eco's add-on features (called modules) must be downloaded and installed manually. After that, it's rather awkward to manage them via the server's Web interface.
Almost all of the N4800Eco's add-on features (called modules) need to be downloaded and installed manually. After that, it's rather awkward to manage them via the server's Web interface. Dong Ngo/CNET

HDMI output gimmick
As mentioned above, the N4800Eco comes with an HDMI port and a VGA connector on its back. You can use these to connect the NAS server to a monitor or an HDTV and manage it locally with a USB keyboard and mouse, without having to use a connected computer's browser for the server's Web interface.

I tried this out and found it to be a complete gimmick that's close to useless.

First, you need to download and install the Local Display module for this features to work. Once installed and connected to an HDTV, the screen will display the Linux X-Window environment with two icons, one for Firefox and one for Linux Terminal. The latter is quite useless unless you understand Linux commands, and the former is not exactly what you'd expect. As it turned out, the Firefox browser is used only to open the server's Web interface and can't even access the Internet.

Basically, the N4800Eco's new HDMI port means that you can connect it to a HDTV, then get an extra USB keyboard and mouse just so that you can do the same thing that can already be done via a connected computer.

Other miscellaneous features
The N4800Eco can handle both USB and eSATA external hard drives. Once connected, the external hard drives will immediately be shared as public share folders. A feature unique of the Thecus NAS server is ISO Mount, and it's available with the N4800Eco. This allows you to mount ISO 9660-standard files that the server stores. 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 to CDs. Keeping data in ISO format is also a good way to compress it to save storage space.

The Thecus N4800Eco comes with a copy of Acronis True Image 2010 included, which is one of the best backup utilities on the market. You can use this software to back up all or part of an entire Windows computer to the NAS server.

Performance
Powered by an Intel Atom processor and 2GB of DDR3 RAM, the N4800Eco excelled in my testing, both with RAID 0 and RAID 5. I tested the server with a gigabit connection, using just one of its network ports. This is because CNET Labs' switch doesn't support Link Aggregation, which is required for the server's two network ports to work together for increased throughput.

In RAID 0, the configuration optimized for performance at the expense of data integrity, the server scored 109MBps for writing, the second fastest on the chart, behind the 110MBps of the Synology DS412+. In reading, it scored 98MBps, also among the fastest.

In the recommended RAID 5 configuration, which balances speed, capacity and data safety, the N4800Eco registered 102MBps, again the second fastest, just a tad behind the 105MBps of the QNAP TS-469 Pro. In reading, it scored 96MBps.

Charts: \\cnet2\CnetReviews\NetworkingAndStorage\Januray2013\TheCus4800

The Thecus N4800Eco worked quietly during our testing process despite the large fan on its back side, and emitted almost no audible noise in a regular working environment. According to Thecus, the N4800Eco is designed to use some 20 percent less energy than other servers of similar configuration.

Conclusion
The Thecus N4800Eco's great performance almost makes up for its relatively lackluster Web-based management interface and add-on features. This is a very fast server that offers plenty of storage space and would make a great investment for a small business or home office that needs speed and capacity for data sharing and backup purposes. If you're looking for more than that, you're likely in for disappointment.

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6.7

Thecus N4800Eco server

Score Breakdown

Setup 7Features 5Performance 9Support 6