The storage demands of digital photography, video and music libraries are now so high on the average home user’s PC that it’s starting to make more sense to keep them on a low-cost NAS appliance. There’s certainly plenty of choice and we’re now seeing a demand for unpopulated boxes that allow you to add your own hard disks. Infrant’s ReadyNAS NV is a fine example but its price and massive storage capacity makes it more suited to small business use. The latest N2100 from Thecus looks a more interesting alternative for home users as this compact, low cost unit is supplied empty and can be fitted with up to two SATA hard disks. A feature that increases it appeal massively is the built-in iTunes server allowing the appliance to share music automatically with iTunes clients.
The N2100 is a completely plastic chassis and comes equipped with a 600MHz Intel XScale 80219 general purpose processor partnered by 128MB of PC3200 memory. That’s not all as it is endowed with a pair of Gigabit Ethernet network ports and three USB 2.0 ports as well. With the lid removed hard disk installation is fairly straightforward. A separate cage sits on top of the controller board and is released and lifted out after undoing four screws. There are no cables or wires to worry about as the cage has a single interface connector at the rear which plugs directly into the board. We originally selected a pair of 200GB Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 9 drives, which worked fine, although we strongly recommend checking the Thecus web site to ensure your drives are supported.
Installation won’t take long as the supplied utility displays all discovered appliances ready for configuration although bear in mind the unit has a fixed default IP address which the quick start guide fails to advise you of. The utility takes you through defining RAID arrays, network interface setup and activating the FTP and iTunes servers. With two drives installed you can opt for using them as individual units, a single large capacity stripe or a fault tolerant mirror. The web interface is easy enough to use and provides plenty of status information on processor and disk temperatures, fan speeds and all installed drives including USB devices.
We have had some enquiries from readers about running temperatures of these smaller appliances and we can report that the drives did get quite hot with the status readout showing them holding at around 50ºC. Maxtor’s environmental limits for its drives state that ideal operating conditions extend to 55ºC without affecting reliability with a limit of 60ºC. Clearly, the drives are running within operating tolerances although we wouldn’t recommend leaving your chocolate bar on top of the unit. We also tested with a pair of Western Digital WD2500 SATA 3Gb/sec drives and found average operational temperatures dropped to a more comfortable 42ºC.