It's difficult to go wrong when choosing a NAS in 2017. There are a few bad choices for advanced features, but processor technology has progressed to the point where even entry-level models are good for mundane data storage tasks. There are many options available if you want to go beyond simple data storage. Personally, I like systems with features or hardware that aren't locked down. The ability to choose from a vast library of applications, and add more system memory to run the software, is vital to the user experience.
Even though it doesn't look like a powerhouse server that will meet a large family's demands, Thecus checked a lot of boxes with the N4810. The system has a small footprint and many plastic parts. The looks are deceiving, though. The Intel Celeron N3160 system-on-chip (SoC) processor is as powerful as an Intel Core2 Duo E6700, but it uses one-tenth the power and packs on-die video capabilities, too. In our testing, we found the four gigabytes of system memory sufficient, but like the ability to upgrade the system to eight gigabytes. The Linux backend doesn’t tax the memory as much as Windows does. In Windows, 4GB of memory is like trying to move from one apartment to another with a compact car. In Linux, 4GB is like moving your belongings in a dually pickup truck.
I was reluctant to embrace the media center capabilities found on newer NAS systems. The early implementations weren't very good on both the hardware and the software side. Intel ran into some GPU issues early on, and software vendors didn’t optimize well for Intel's processors because most of the low-cost media players featured ARM and Marvell-based SoCs. Intel fixed the issues on its end, and now most software features optimizations for the company's processors. The combination works so well that you may start to think the N4810 is a media center and distribution appliance first, and a storage system second.
Multimedia is just the latest example of how systems like the Thecus N4810 have adapted roles previously reserved for dedicated hardware and incorporates them into a one-size-fits-all black box. Three years ago the trend was IP camera support, and two years ago it was strong data encryption. These features are now commonplace and just part of expected NAS core capabilities.
The most difficult aspect to accept is the price of the base unit. The N4810 costs less than $500, and many will claim the ability to buy a Craigslist computer for less and make a comparable product. You can certainly try, but dollar for dollar the N4810 with a low power envelope and easy-to-configure services is light years ahead of a system built with ten-year-old parts. It would cost you $500 in time just to get the software up and running. I'm the first person to volunteer for a DIY project, and I have built a large FreeNAS server to run an all-flash array. Looking back on the experience, I'd rather just spend the money upfront and spend my time in a more productive way. I would also retain a few more hairs with pigment.
Looking across the four and five-bay NAS market, there really isn't any other product that matches the N4810's price, hardware, and features. I found systems with the same processor, but less memory and a higher price point. Other products at the same price either lack the media center functions or use previous-generation processors that only support 1080p playback.
With all the competition in the $500 NAS market, Thecus managed to thread the needle with this product. The N4810 delivers either more or higher quality features at an aggressive price point. The Thecus N4810 is the system to buy if you want the best bang for your buck and can afford the $480 expense.
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