Below, we would like to summarize the advantages and drawbacks of the Thecus N4100, as we see them:
- As a compact external system, the N4100 is small, comparatively light and certainly more energy efficient than any computer running as a dedicated file server.
- Adding the device to a network, ideally with Gigabit Ethernet speeds, is an easy task even for novice users or less experienced administrators.
- Using a RAID 1 or 5 configuration greatly improves data security compared to storage on a single drive.
- The N4100's support for JBOD lets the user start small and then add up to three more drives as the need arises
- Drives with capacities up to 500 GB worked flawlessly, allowing a maximum capacity of up to 2 TB.
- Even at 600 MHz, Intel's Xscale IOP80219 chip is too slow for the XOR calculations of a RAID 5 array.
- It is practically impossible to manage the N4100 while large amounts of data are being moved via Ethernet. It seems that the unit does not prioritize the ports used for administration, which can be freely chosen (even for SSL).
- The power supply fan runs at a relatively high speed. As a result, we can't recommend the N4100 for use in areas where noise is an important factor.
- The unit's performance is slightly disappointing, and can't fully exploit the potential of the Gigabit Ethernet interface.
Conclusion: On The Right Track
Considering that the N4100 is Thecus's first independently designed NAS product, and that the company itself is still young, this device is a solid offering. It worked flawlessly during our tests, features good build quality, and allows easy integration of additional storage space into existing networks, complete with authorization structures (LDAP/Active Directory). The use of CIFS (Common Internet File System) may explain the low transfer rates, an area that could definitely use some improvement. On the other hand, it also allows the N4100 to be accessed by Linux/Unix/Mac OS systems.
The N4100 is definitely still too loud to be considered for home use. Thecus should find alternative cooling solutions for the power supply in future versions of their products. Compared to the 120mm fan, the power supply's 40mm fan is a real nuisance. The WLAN option is a nice touch, but impractical for large amounts of data or big files. However, it may be a useful addition in an environment where many small files are used. As a bonus, the N4100 can also serve as an access point.
We would also like to see an auto update system that downloads and installs the newest firmware at the click of a button. Finally, we would also like to suggest the integration of a VPN client into the unit. This would allow this standalone unit to authenticate itself on a VPN server, and then periodically synchronize certain data sets via an encrypted connection either locally or over the Internet. Such a feature should be possible for a product that costs about $849 without hard drives.