In an effort to strengthen its NAS (network attached storage) lineup for the home or small office, Thecus has released the new N2200. Designed to be easy to setup and use, it offers enterprise-class data protection combined with rich multimedia features. Because this is meant for the home, ease-of-use is a key concept since it needs to be easily accessible and useful to a larger audience. In addition, the hardware needs to be easy to configure and setup, while having a design that can easily fit within a home environment. If a company can build a product that performs well in all these, I’m sure the product will be a hit. But from my past experience, each NAS product always seems to have certain strengths and weaknesses. Let’s begin by having a look at the product.
Many people are not aware of what a NAS can do or how it differs from an external hard drive. While an external hard drive is portable and can be used to store files, a NAS allows you to do that as well AND easily share files across multiple computers. Since the NAS is connected to the network, any other computer on the network can access to store and retrieve files making it very easy to collaborate on projects, move files between computers, or even backup files.
A Closer Look
The N2200 is a NAS capable of holding up to two SATA hard drives with its 2 bay slots at the front. The N2200 is quite small for a 2 bay NAS. Holding it in my hands, the NAS feels fairly compact and substantial. This NAS box is very simple in terms of design. It has a box like shape.
At the front are the two bay slots with a large power button, a copy button, and a LCD screen right in the middle. The aluminum casing the product makes the N2200 feel solid and sturdy. It is just as cool as having an aluminum computer chassis. It helps with heat dissipation keeping the temperatures low and is of course lightweight. An aluminum case is easily scratchable though. Something as simple as a pen, paperclip or some other metal object grazing against it will probably create a minor scratch. For the most part it is not visible under normal lighting unless you shine a light on it and view it closely at a particular angle.
The front LCD is a small area right at the center of the front. It has icons which indicate disk activity when the drives are operational and in use. In addition it shows the status of when the network line is being used as well as if the USB ports are used. While I do understand that choice was made probably to save energy, the display is a bit difficult to see. The icons are not well lit and it may be difficult to recognize the icons unless you look closely at the LCD display.
The back of the NAS has a visible large fan, a gigabit Ethernet port, three USB ports, a Reset button and a DC power plug. The USB ports are useful if you want to connect other USB devices such as a camera, a USB stick, or a USB external drive.
The package includes a power supply adapter, a network cable, hard drive screws, an installation CD, and a quick start manual. The accessories included are just about what I’d expect with a home NAS product. In order to access the drive bays, you have open up the plastic cover flaps on the front. This is accessible by pressing on the cover and it will spring open slightly. From that point you can remove the bays to install the hard drives.
From that point on, the bays are removable by pressing down on the lever based mechanism to unlock the bay. From that point, you open the lever all the way and slide the bay out.
To install a hard drive, you just need to place the hard drive in the frame and use the provided screws to secure the hard drive to the bay frame. The frame is conveniently labeled in the back indicating which screw holes are meant for a 3.5 inch hard drive and which are to be used for a 2.5 inch hard drive. Once you are done, you can slide the drive back into the bay by pushing firmly and closing the lever to lock the drive into place.
To prepare to turn on the N2200, you just need to plug in the power adapter to the back of the unit. In addition, you will need to connect a network cable from the N2200 to your router or a hub/switch connected to your home network. Press the power button and you are ready to go. The power button will light up blue indicating that is has been powered on and you will start to see some status indicators flash on the front LCD screen.
In order to install the needed software, you will need to first insert the DVD into your computer. From there, you can start the installation of the Thecus Smart Utility. This software is what allows you to recognize and access the Thecus N2200 on the network and to configure it initially.
When I ran the Smart Utility software, it was able to autodetect the N2200 easily and then it proceeded to ask me whether I wanted to do the easy setup or the advanced setup. I chose to the do the easy setup.
It took about 5 minutes to wait for it to configure the NAS until it finally succeeded. It automatically configured itself without prompting for anything. I was a bit concerned though that it wiped my hard drive without even asking. If I had inserted a drive with some data, I would have lost the data immediately.
When everything is set up, you will be able to access the NAS through your browser. You are presented with a decent looking interface. There are categories at the left hand side such as System Information, System Management, System Network, Storage, User and Group Authentication, Application Server, Module Management, and Backup. There are also icons at the bottom left which allows you to easily access certain pages such as disk drive statuses and temperature.
It is generally easy to assign permissions to certain folders. You can create a user or group. Then when you go to the ‘Share Folder’ section, you can assign permissions. If a folder is set to public, it can be accessed by everybody. If a folder is not public, you can give read or write access. But that is about it.
Yes, you can turn this NAS into a Networked file system (NFS), an iTunes server, a Backup server, or even a FTP server. These are the features that are pretty much expected and standard on most decent home NAS products these days.
Overall, I feel that the software on the NAS is ok, but not great. Yes, you do have the features that you mostly need, but once you start tinkering with them, you feel the need to have more options and advanced functionality. It seems like someone who has a bit of knowledge about NAS will feel comfortable changing settings and understanding what the options are. But someone completely new to the NAS product, might feel a bit lost since there is no simple help button nearby.
Again the software interface is ok, but not quite polished. For example, this file system check page is a bit vague. It says the file system check has been enabled and needs to reboot. But is it really applied since I haven’t even clicked the apply button?
When accessing pages from one to another, I did feel that pages loaded a bit longer than they should be. Pages took about 5 seconds to load on each click. I’m not sure what the source of that issue is, but I have seen faster in other products. It could get annoying quickly if you like to explore and tinker with settings.
Looking at the price comparison website Froogle, I was able to gather that the Thecus can be bought for around $200-250. This price is about the range that you would expect for a 2-bay home NAS. I was impressed with the hardware overall and gave a good initial impression. The software was just ok, but I felt it could be better. The page load times were slightly longer than expected and some options weren’t quite self explanatory. Nevertheless, this NAS has the features and functionality that will satisfy most home NAS users. If you are completely new to the NAS area, you might need a little bit of help from someone knowledgeable who can help set it up for you.