The rising tide of portable devices over traditional laptop and desktop computers is being facilitated by systems that used to be associated with those mature platforms. Case in point, Network-Attached Storage (NAS) devices, which are essentially purpose-built computers that serve files from the hard drives connected to them. This review takes a look at an economical, full-featured NAS from Thecus ($159) with model number N2310.
Instead of having to leave a computer running all the time with file sharing on, you could simply connect a NAS like the Thecus N2310 to your home or office network. Whenever you need to read, write, or transfer a file, the N2310 performs just like a regular desktop, laptop, or server but without the costly overhead associated with a traditional PC configuration. And because a NAS is a purpose-built device, it excels at what it does without a lot of overhead or babysitting.
For the price, the Thecus N2310 NAS offers some pretty attractive features, especially for iPhone and iPad users. In addition to serving out files using multiple file sharing protocols that iOS can work with, the N2310 also provides a simple one-button backup solution to external USB storage. USB Printers can be plugged into the N2310 and shared out over the network. The N2310 can also monitor an Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) that powers it and send email notifications in the event of an outage or other file-serving errors.
The Thecus N2310 also offers a fairly intuitive web interface to manage users and groups of users, granting access rights to certain file shares and even imposing storage quotas (a very helpful feature in a multi-user home or office environment). Logs can be enabled to provide historical interactions with the NAS and the files it stores.
The N2310 includes a built-in iTunes Server. That’s right, the N2310 can serve out music files just like the regular desktop iTunes program. This makes it a breeze to connect and play back media files stored on the NAS. However, it’s limited to serving out MP3 files, since MP4 and other video formatted files don’t show up in a remote instance of iTunes. But that’s not much of an issue since, in addition to the iTunes Server, the N2310 also offers the option to install a Plex server. So if you have the Plex app for iOS or use something like Roku box in lieu of an Apple TV, you can run the Plex media server directly off the N2310. No additional Mac or PC-based server is required.
However, that’s not to say that you don’t need a Mac or PC to set up the N2310. Indeed, you need use a Mac or PC at least once when setting up the N2310 for the first time. While it’s a safe bet that most iOS users also have a laptop or desktop, this will not always be the case as time goes by. Hopefully Thecus will realize that a mobile device like an iPhone or iPad is just as capable as a PC or Mac for launching the initialization sequence on the N2310.
As for the initialization process, the Mac and PC setup application has its quirks. Besides the poorly translated English (which is also apparent in some of the cringe-inducing translations in the N2310’s web-administration console), the setup program simply didn’t allow me to set up a Thecus user ID when prompted to do so. Clicking the submit button failed to produce any result. Fortunately, a Thecus ID is not required to use the product (it’s mainly there to set up a Dynamic DNS connection so that you can more easily find your NAS on the Internet by name rather than whatever dynamic IP address your ISP has assigned to your Internet router.)
I also came across a few other bugs within the appliance’s web console, though none of them were show-stoppers. For example, a cryptic error appeared when I attempted to modify the network configuration of the NAS from a dynamic IP to a static IP address. It turns out the submission form needed to have a domain name associated with the settings, even though that was not indicated as a mandatory field. And did I mention that the English translation is, to put it kindly, lacking?
Other problems like the device’s noisy cooling fans, lack of RAID Level 5 support (the N2310 only supports up to RAID Level 1, which essentially mirrors data on a two-drive configuration for better data redundancy. Level 5 offers the ability to restore data if a drive fails. Instead of Level 5 support, the N2310 offers both manual and scheduled data backups to either local external drives via their Data Guard program.
But when you get past the minor issues, the N2310 is actually a fairly competent, full-featured NAS. The Web administration console offers everything you need to manage nearly all aspects of the device. And if you prefer to stick with the basics (such as which file sharing services need to be turned on or off, the free Thecus Dashboard app is adequate (although I still prefer managing the device via the web admin console using Safari on an iPad). Thecus also offers a free media browser app called ThecusShare that can be used to select and play back media from your iOS device.
One feature I hope will appear in a future OS update (ThecusOS, the operating system that drives the N2310, is Linux-based) is smarter power management with Wake-On-LAN capabilities. While the N2310 does offer scheduled power on/off support (good for automatically turning off the NAS at night when no one is expected to use it, and turning it back on in the morning), it would be less energy consuming and less taxing on the storage media if it could intelligently power down after a while when not in use, and power back up when a request is being made of it. And speaking of updates, Thecus had a few updates waiting for me when I turned on the device for the first time, so it’s nice to see that they have the ability to provide fixes and improvements to the device when necessary.
Overall, the N2310 accomplishes its primary intention of serving files on your network without having to run a separate computer to do so. It has enough features to satisfy most customers, though it’s presentation is still rather rough around the edges. And while the price is attractive, keep in mind that you will need to account for the costs of the one or two 3.5” hard drives that need to be populated in the N2310’s drive bays.
Product: N2310 NAS Server
Rating 3 out of 5 stars