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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

Insider Details: Thecus N5550 NAS Server

The insides of these things are always more interesting than the outsides, at least to me. The N5550 comes apart very quickly and easily, with just three captive screws to be released on the rear panel. Once they're loosened, the outer shell slides off the front, revealing all the internal parts. Further disassembly requires a nutdriver or two, to remove the jack screws from the VGA D-Sub connector and to remove the power supply from the rear panel. The main controller board takes up the entire left side of the unit, and nearly everything is integrated on the one board, including all the front and back panel connectors. The two exceptions are the backplane where all the SATA connections for the drives are mounted, and the LED display and menu buttons from the front panel, which connect via ribbon cable. The main controller PC board slides into the plastic channels chassis at the top and bottom of the inner chassis. The board is not held in place by screws, but is captured so that it has no room to move.

Thecus_N5550_NAS_Server_Side_Panel_Off_01.jpg

Once you remove those couple of screws holding the rest of the chassis together, it comes apart in several smaller pieces. Most of the metalwork is permanently fastened together, or formed from a single sheet, so there are fewer loose components than I've seen on other NAS products. One design feature I was very impressed by was the bonding of the backplane PCB to a metal backing plate. The resulting sandwich is very stiff, which is exactly what you want for a backplane that has 1 kg HDDs occasionally slamming into it. The inner framework is a solid sheet metal assembly that is riveted together so that it stays dimensionally stable. The integrated power supply slides in from the rear and is held in place with four screws. The electrical output looks to be standard ATX connectors, which makes sense once you figure out just how close the overall architecture of this NAS is to a regular PC.

Thecus_N5550_NAS_Server_Parts_Apart_01.jpg

The main controller board is densely populated, not as much as a high performance video card, but the majority of the parts on the N5550 board are there to provide a unique set of functions. A video card PCB has at least 25% of the surface consumed by power regulation and distribution hardware. The main controller board and backplane connect with an x16 PCI Express connector located toward the rear of the controller card, between the CPU and the stacked I/O connectors. Noticeably absent from the main controller card is a power connector; all the electrical current comes through the PCI Express connector via the backplane PCB. Most of the current goes out to the hard drives, so it makes sense to land the power supply cables directly to that board, instead of here. The two passively cooled heatsinks cover the main chips supplied by Intel, the Dual-Core D2550 Atom CPU, and the ICH10R Southbridge that provides the SATA connections and the RAID logic. These two ICs do the bulk of the work for this NAS device; the only other chips that are even moderately stressed are the memory and the Ethernet controller.

Thecus_N5550_NAS_Server_Controller_PCB_01.jpg

The limited cooling required for the two hardest working chips on the controller board is made even more obvious once you remove the heatsink and see the type of thermal interface materials in use. The ICH10R Southbridge is thermally connected to the heatsink with that hard, plasticky material that we used to see on low-end video cards in the '80s and '90s. At least the assembly process and the viscosity of the material worked together to produce a thin interface layer. That's better than a 1mm thick layer of the good stuff, perhaps.

Thecus_N5550_NAS_Server_SB_Heatsink_01.jpg

Speaking of cooling - I know I mentioned the fan before, but here it is mounted to the rear panel with the traditional, stubby, thread-forming screws that 90% of PC case fans are fastened with. It's a standard 92mm case fan, with 3-wire tachometer control and is modulated by the controller card. It was quiet and unobtrusive the entire time I had the unit under test, to the point where I never really paid any attention to it.

Thecus_N5550_NAS_Server_Fan_Panel_01.jpg

So far we've had a good look at what there is to observe as far as hardware goes, but let's dig down one more layer, down to the chip level where the technology really starts to get interesting. I love my shiny hardware just as much as the next person, but it's only half the story....



 

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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