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Thecus N5550 NAS Network Storage Server E-mail
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Written by Bruce Normann   
Monday, 24 September 2012
Table of Contents: Page Index
Thecus N5550 NAS Network Storage Server
Closer Look: Thecus N5550
Insider Details: Thecus N5550
Technology Details: Thecus N5550
Thecus N5550 Features
Hardware Specifications
Software Specifications
NAS Setup and Usage
NAS Testing Methodology
Basic-Disk Test Results
RAID 5 Test Results
Intel NASPT Test Results
Non-Traditional NAS Results
NAS Server Final Thoughts
Thecus N5550 Conclusion

Closer Look: Thecus N5550 NAS Server

The bottom line with any high performance storage solution is that the number of drive spindles in play is often more important than almost any other factor, assuming that everything else is based on reasonably modern technology. When you combine the higher level of performance with the greater flexibility for online RAID capacity expansion & online RAID level migration, the additional cost of the extra drive bays always looks like a bargain instead of conspicuous consumption. This is the reason more and more people are opting for NAS systems with at least four bays, even though they may not need all that capacity now. What initially looks like overkill in a NAS system might just be the very thing that saves the day some years down the road.

The Thecus N5550 is a relatively small unit, which is arranged in a tower format and should fit in anywhere, in a variety of home or business settings. The standard model is a diskless unit; Thecus doesn't sell them with drives installed, but there are a number of distributors that will bundle the NAS with some sensible drive combinations. The size and weight are a little smaller than the competition: 230mm (H) x 190mm (W) x 240mm (D), and 7.1 kg without drives installed. Each HDD you install will add about 1-1/2 pounds, depending on your choice of drive. Many users will be looking at 2TB and 3TB drives for a unit like this, and they're heavier than most. There are no handles on the unit, which can make it a bit difficult to pick the whole thing up once it's fully loaded. The top and side panels are metal, with a textured powder-coat finish, so they do provide some purchase for occasional transport.

Thecus_N5550_NAS_Server_Front_Lights_On_02.jpg

We've all got data that we can't live without, the question is, how long do you want to be without it? Very few people are going to want to live without their important information for any length of time, and a RAID configuration that includes some redundancy is undoubtedly called for. With multiple SATA drives installed, you can have: RAID 0 (Disk Striping), RAID 1 (Disk Mirroring), RAID 5 (Block-level striping with distributed parity), RAID 6 (Block-level striping with redundant distributed parity), RAID 10 (Striped array whose segments are RAID 1 arrays), and JBOD (Linear Disk Volume). The most popular choice is going to be RAID 5 because it offers the highest capacity with built-in redundancy. RAID 6 offers additional redundancy, allowing for continued operation even with two simultaneous drive failures, and this option is available for the Thecus N5550. RAID 6 is very popular for larger NAS units and mission-critical data stores, because if one individual drive fails in a RAID 5 implementation, the array instantly starts operating as a RAID 0 configuration, which has NO redundancy. It stays in that vulnerable state until the array is rebuilt, which is a slow process that generally taxes the system and the remaining drives to the max, and can take several hours to complete.

Opening the plastic front door of the enclosure lets you access each of the five drive trays, with their locking handles. There are barrel locks on each of the handles, and two keys supplied in the accessory kit for them. My advice is to use the locks and think twice before unlocking the release lever. Trust me when I say that you do not want to start accidentally pulling drives out. The drive bays are not marked on the front bezel, the individual drive trays are not marked, and there was nothing in any documentation I could find that would identify Bay 1 v. Bay 5. Consequently, the first time I booted up the NAS and dug through the disk statistics in the web-based software, I found that I had a single drive installed in Bay 5. I'll tell you now (and for some number of months or years, this will be the only place you can find this information...), Drive Bay #1 is on top and Bay #5 is on the bottom. The LCD panel is providing useful information about the RAID system in the image below, and you can also see the backlit Power button, with its blue LED lighting up the universal on/off logo. The smaller button below it is the Reset switch. The four oval buttons below the display navigate through a number of system configuration settings. This is a relatively common feature on mid or high-end NAS products, but the Thecus N50550 goes way beyond this, with keyboard, video and mouse interfaces on the back panel that are fully functional for the normal user.

Thecus_N5550_NAS_Server_Front_Door_Lights_On_01.jpg

With the unit safely turned off, it's OK to remove one or more drives and they all slide out the front like this. Each steel-framed tray holds one individual drive in the N5550, and the tray is a common part across several models in the Thecus product line. The trays are not labeled with the chassis slot number. They are all physically identical and you can mix and match them all you want, until you build a drive array and then you had better remember which one goes where. I recommend making your own labels or marking the trays with a Sharpie as soon as you start installing drives into the unit; if you mix them up the NAS won't recognize the array, and worst case you could end up destroying data as you try to figure out which drive is which. Inserting and removing the drive trays was smooth and positive, both with HDDs mounted in the trays and without. The latches acted like a locking lever; once the trays reached the end of their travel, swinging the latch levers the tray firmly into place. It's a sturdy, well designed system for getting the drives in and out. Not that you want to take them out very often, maybe just for spring cleaning once a year!

Thecus_N5550_NAS_Server_Drawers_Out_01.jpg

Around the back of the Thecus N5550, you can see all of the hardwired I/O points. Starting at the top right is a trio of Audio jacks: Line In/Out and MIC In. Directly below them are a single eSATA connector and two USB 2.0 jacks, with an additional pair of USB 2.0 jacks below that. There are no USB 3.0 jacks on the back of the unit - they're all USB 2.0 spec, despite the different color coding for the two pairs. Still on the right side, about half way down are video connectors for VGA and HDMI, which can be used for system configuration in standalone mode, and as a regular computer monitor. Bottom right is where the two 1000BASE-T Ethernet jacks are located. Just to the left of that is the integrated power supply, with its own fan, IEC receptacle and power switch integrated into the rear panel. The main cooling fan is in the middle left, keeping both the drives and the electronics cool. I didn't see a spot for a Kensington lock hole.

Thecus_N5550_NAS_Server_Rear_Panel_01.jpg

There are ventilation holes on the sides, bottom, and rear of the Thecus N5550 chassis. The primary entry point for cool air is through the front of the drive trays; it passes over the HDDs and is then exhausted out the rear of the unit. The additional holes in the side panels help to balance the flow, especially if you let dust build up on the mesh front panel. I've yet to use a NAS that had effective filtering, but I guess the mesh on the front door does help catch some dust. In order to keep things cool when needed and quiet the rest of the time, the fan speed is modulated. I haven't paid much attention to fan noise in most of the smaller NAS models I've reviewed, as it was never really noticeable during my daily use. The Thecus N5550 continued that pattern, blending in to the background noise of my study, despite having two cooling fans exhausting out its rear panel.

Thecus_N5550_NAS_Server_LH_Side_34_01.jpg

The bottom of the Thecus N5550 is a simple affair with four composite feet, a few more ventilation holes to feed fresh air to the power supply, and a product label with Model and Serial numbers. All of the feet had slipped sideways a bit, as the adhesive holding them in place had loosened somehow. The unit was not subjected to any high heat conditions, but the power supply is located on the bottom, so maybe the heat was internally generated. The feet are pretty low profile, so there is normally not a lot of room below the bottom panel and I may have pushed the unit sideways when trying to lift it a couple times.

Thecus_N5550_NAS_Server_Bottom_Panel_01.jpg

Now that we've had a thorough tour of the exterior, let's do a complete tear-down and see what the insides look like. The next section covers Insider Details.



 

Comments 

 
# RE: Thecus N5550 NAS Network Storage ServerMoogle Stiltzkin 2012-09-25 04:16
honestly... when will these NAS brands ever release a product which has ZFS in it. I am sick and tired of these crappy spec NAS, that can't offer the greatness that ZFS offers such as....

1. deduplication
2. end-to-end check sum error correction (CERN has stated officially, ZFS is the only reliable solution to protect data from bit rot)
3. and other ZFS features

also whats with 2gb minimum ram. they act as if ram is expensive, it's not. these days ram is sickeningly cheap because the companies producing them were not long ago fined for price fixing. Makes me wonder whether NAS companies are purposely price fixing to over charge for devices with little ram to squeeze as much more profit margin ....

People are starting to get fed up and moving onto DIY NAS solutions and which is cheaper, and has ZFS.
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# We Just Did....Bruce 2012-12-07 11:03
We just reviewed that NAS I was talking about. Check out the EonNAS 1100 review on the front page.
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# ZFSBruce 2012-09-25 09:02
I know at least one manufacturer who has brought ZFS into their mainstream product line, and I've reached out to them, to get a unit for review.
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# SynologyFAbio 2012-09-25 09:44
You should review Synology NAS products, too. They are awesome!
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# RE: SynologyOlin Coles 2012-09-25 09:47
We have reviewed several Synology products, but when one product did not receive an award they no longer offered samples to us for testing. Maybe that's why you think they're so awesome?
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# RE: RE: SynologyFAbio 2012-09-25 10:01
They had problems with some products in the past. But recently I bought the model 1812+ and I am glad with his features and behavior. It has basicly the same features that thecus.
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# RE: RE: RE: SynologyOlin Coles 2012-09-25 10:05
I was very disappointed when they decided to stop supporting us with reviews samples a few years back just because one product didn't receive an award. Hopefully they'll change their minds and want to show off their new hardware. QNAP is one particular brand I've seen good things from, and they continue to impress.
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# N5550 Graphic and Memory MALFUNCTION - BE AWAREYaron 2012-09-27 23:46
One thing you should know before even considering this NAS.
#forum.thecus.com/viewtopic.php?f=65&t=4440
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# Only affects memory "Upgrade"....Bruce 2012-09-30 21:04
The manufacturer did not, and does not offer an authorized upgrade of the memory from the standard 2GB. If you change the memory configuration on your own, it might work, and it might not. Don't worry, someone will figure out a way to make it work, and share it on the forum.
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# RE: Thecus N5550 NAS Network Storage ServerYaron 2012-09-30 22:07
I own few Thecus units of different modules.
None of them ever had a problem after upgrading the memory.
This one DOES & for a very specific problem that Thecus CAN'T SOLVE & MIGHT NEVER BE SOLVED.
See the forum for more details...
FOR NOW JUST KEEP AWAY FROM THIS UNIT.
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# RE: Thecus N5550 NAS Network Storage ServerCarlie Coats 2012-10-02 09:03
I'd like to see ATA-over-Ethernet (AoE), in addition
to SMB, NFS -- much better latency, better security
since it's a UDP (not IP) protocol (confined to the
local network).
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# Thecus one day - Thecus no way!Souldream 2012-10-11 21:31
Forget about buying Thecus NAS.

They have the lowest level of support i have ever seen.

If you plan to buy NAS to put non important files = you can go.

If you plan to buy it for your company to store file, i will not let go ... as you could loose your job LoL

They do the same for 4100 model , low memory = unstable , web manager slow , and Raid destruction ( no hardware raid controller LoL ).

Look over my post in the official forum, and you will understand why Thecus is good on paper , in real use this is nightmare !

You are warned !
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# RUN!!!Tracey 2012-11-08 08:32
As the above post states.. stay far away from this device. Unless you want an Enterprise device that can't copy files to and from without crashing or falsely reporting drive failures. I definitely regret this purchase!

You have been warned... again!
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# 111MB/s is IMPOSSIBLEscavenger 2012-11-28 14:10
I'm using 5x2GB dreives in RAID5.
With ATTO i can have the same results as you have, BUT :
in real life, everybody is using samba shares under windows.

what about the only 55-65MB/s file transfers I get this way ?
Did you do this test ?
How can you show 111MB of read/write as it's impossible to achieve ?
I cannot get 111MB/s with any of the protocols available : smb, ftp, sftp, ssh, nfs, afp.
Please, tell me the truth about your tests ?
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# Yes, it's possibleBruce 2012-11-28 18:22
I assume you just read the Conclusions page, where I stated:
"During timed transfers of 1GB and 10GB files the N5550 recorded Read speeds of 111 MB/s and Write speeds above 118 MB/s. These are the RAID 5 results..."

Go back and read the NAS Testing Methodology page, where I explain how each test is run. The timed file transfers are done in Windows Explorer, of all things. Imagine that...Windows is faster than some dedicated file transfer protocols!

If you can get 120+ MB/s using ATTO, just like I did, then you already know that your unit is capable of that level of performance. So, look at all the extra elements that might be holding transfer rates back in your application(s). Also look at the host computers doing your transfers. I'm using a 10GB RAMDisk to eliminate any potential slowdowns due to the impact of storage devices on my test bed system. Transfer rates from a laptop HDD are going to be MUCH slower, for instance.
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# Oh really :-)scavenger 2012-11-29 14:54
Well I didn't understood you were transferring files on Windows Explorer with mounted SMB shares, exactly the same way I do my tests...
I got the same n5550 with 5x2TB HDD RAID5, and the same RAM disk drive, the difference is my Windows XP 64, and the fact I test with 802.3ad and 2xCAT5 cables on both sides.

I unfortunately am unable to reproduce your tests :
- which switch are you using ?
- which MTU is set on the PC ? on the NAS ? on the switch ?
- which strip size is set on your ext4 FS ?
- can you provide the result of "hdparm -tT /dev/md0" on the NAS ?
- did you "sync" the PC and the NAS after a transfer to eliminate the disk cache smoothing ? (I'm using a ported GNU version of sync.exe)
- did you monitor the RAM usage on the NAS during transfers ? I can get a 2GB peak during heavy load...

None of the time I did achieved a 110MB/s transfer with a single file, the max I get is 82MB/s with 2 files at a time from PC to NAS.
On normal conditions, I get 50-65MB/s max, mostly the same as on the n5500.
Thanks anyway for your time :-)
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# Use Win7Bruce 2012-11-29 17:56
Well that explains it. You will never get the results I get if you continue to use Windows XP. In the "Testing Methodology" section, I reference the comparison I did two years ago between XP and Win7.

"...We are continuing our NAS testing with the exclusive use of Windows 7 as the testing platform for the host system. The performance differences between Win7 and XP are huge, as we documented in our QNAP TS-259 Pro review. The adoption rate for Win 7 has been very high, and Benchmark Reviews has been using Win 7 in all of our other testing for some time now. It was definitely time to make the jump for NAS products. ..." Here's the link:

benchmarkreviews.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=517&Itemid=70&limit=1&limitstart=10

Win7 beats XP by a mile in these scenarios, you should try it. None of the other factors you mention will make as big a difference as using Win7 on the PC side.
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# LACP BenefitBruce 2012-11-29 19:55
BTW, what improvement in transfer speed are you seeing with IEEE 802.3ad (LACP)?
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# LACP Benefitscavenger 2012-11-30 11:50
Absolutely none, now that I finally understood it's not a load balancing protocol but just a failover one.
But since I invested in a L2 switch + 2 x cables between PC NAS I'm not throwing them away :-)
For the real load balancing one, one have to select balance-SLB + round robin, but it's charging the network for nothing since the packets are not ordered and the final bandwidth is not what I expected :-(
Well with this network configuration, I can have at best 90MB/s but only with 3 file transfers at a time, which is not I wanted.
I want as you have, a 110MB/s bandwidth with a single file transfer.
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# RE: Thecus N5550 NAS Network Storage Serveraceggroll 2013-02-13 18:06
The features I'd like to see are:
  • a USB 3 device (not host) connection (5GBit/Sec max), and
  • SATA III.


Surely this would be a cost effective way of increasing data transfer between computer and dedicated external storage. (And yes, I know this is not a NAS at this point, but I need a solution to replace a single external Harddrive for a laptop, and USB is a far simpler & cheaper setup than a network connection.)

Are there any vendors that are offering this in the SOHO market?
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# USB, Yes. SATA III, No.Bruce 2013-02-13 18:34
Thecus has upgraded the front USB port to 3.0 specs on the N5550, and many other products. But it's not a "Device" connection, like you are looking for. Does your laptop have an eSATA port? There are several "boxes" available that have 1-4 drive bays and will run pretty well off eSATA, in Port Multiplier mode.

SATA III has a very minor impact on HDD performance, in my experience. It's only when you get to the third generation of SSDs, that SATA III was really needed.
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# RE: Thecus N5550 NAS Network Storage Serveraceggroll 2013-02-13 21:22
Bruce, thanks for tip.

Laptop does have eSATA (1 x eSATA/USB 2.0 combo), but manufacturer doesn't give away how fast the eSATA is going to run :-(

I'm not sure if I'm interpreting the N5550 spec correctly, but the eSATA spec seems to be imply that I would use if for adding an external disk to the device. I want to be able to use the NAS as eSATA storage for a computer/laptop.

If anyone has tried this with other NAS devices, I'd be very interested to know how transfer rates compare between eSATA and GB LAN (as the LAN connection should no longer be the bottleneck.)

Also, if vendors are monitoring this thread... Would be great if you are not then could publish your noise spec. Pretty important if the device isn't sitting in a rack, and next to or on somebody's desk.
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# Not a NAS, per se.....Bruce 2013-02-14 10:01
Yes, all the other interfaces, besides Ethernet, are going to be host connections. It's very rare that any NAS unit would have the capability of multiple "device" interfaces. One that DOES, is the IOCELL NetDISK 351UNE Network Storage Device, which I reviewed here: benchmarkreviews.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=849&Itemid=70
It only supports one drive, though.

The drive enclosures that have just USB 3.0 and eSATA interfaces tend to be a whole lot cheaper than a full-blown NAS solution. There are dozens of them at Newegg, like this one:
newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=9SIA1DS0CD0624

eSATA itself is a pretty quick interface.
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# RE: Thecus N5550 NAS Network Storage ServerYaron 2013-02-13 22:15
Bruce,
The N5550 can't be a USB target - it can be used only as USB host.
Thecus has the N5200 family which is a bit "older" and I remember one of it's products can do it.
Take a look at their site.
Yaron.
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# Product EvolutionBruce 2013-02-14 10:25
Yes, the N5200 had it: USB ports 2 x USB A type (Host mode); 1 x USB B type (Client mode) .

As others have mentioned, Thecus did a major architecture update on their product line a few years ago. I can't find any instances of Client mode USB in their current offerings.
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# RE: Thecus N5550 NAS Network Storage ServerYaron 2013-02-14 20:24
Right - it doesn't exist anymore.
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# 8 gig ram installed on N5550Bruce MacDonald 2013-03-26 22:36
I just bought this unit last week and have it running on 8 gig of ram I took out of a 2011 MacBook Pro. I edited the menu.lst file via SSH to remove the 4 Gig Ram limitation soft coded. Surprising because Intel lists this processor as only supporting 4 Gig too.

To edit the menu.lst file to remove the MEM=4G parameter

Via telnet/ssh (or console) :

# mount /dev/sdaaa1 /boot
# vi /boot/boot/grub/menu.lst
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# RE: Thecus N5550 NAS Network Storage ServerYaron 2013-09-03 13:25
Bruce,
R U using 1x8g or 2x4g ?
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