Thecus W5000 NAS Review
Just when I thought it was safe to open a box again, Thecus drops one at my door and tells me that they have produced the First Ever Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials NAS. After coming hot off the heals of the Buffalo WSS 5400 NAS review, I thought I would have a break to get back to some good ole fashioned Linux based NAS reviews, I guess not. Having liked the Buffalo NAS, I can’t wait to see what Thecus is able to accomplish with their W5000 5-Bay premium NAS.
If you were paying attention, you may be asking yourself what the heck I am talking about. “I thought you said a there were only two flavors of Windows Storage Server 2012 R2, Workgroup and Standard.” Well, guess what my friends, now there are three. So, what makes this one different? First, it comes with ability to be an active directory domain controller and it mirrors the Server 2012 R2 Essentials experience. This makes this NAS EXTREMELY attractive to small business that do not want to invest a few thousand dollars in a server, and server software, for less than 50 people.
With that out of the way, there is one thing about this NAS that is a stretch from the norm. Outside of shipping with a Windows OS, this NAS also ships with a 500GB SSHD (Seagate ST500LM000) pre-installed. The W5000 is also outfitted with an Intel® Atom™ Processor D2550 (1.86GHz Dual Core) and a meager 2GB of DDr3 RAM. Additionally, you will find dual Ethernet Ports, VGA, HDMI, 4 x USB 2.o, 1 x USB 3.0, MIC input, Line input, Audio output, 1 x eSATA, and an LCM display to keep them company.
To highlight some of the things Thecus has with the W5000:
- Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials
- Intel® Atom™ Processor (2.13GHz, Dual-Core)
- 2GB DDR3 RAM
- HDMI and VGA output
- 1 x eSATA for external
- Enhanced Boot Drive: Embedded SSHD
- Data Deduplication: Performance Optimization
- Active Directory Domain Services: Scalable, Secure User Management
- Office 365 & Microsoft Azure: Cloud Service Integration
- Global Language Pack: 36 Interfaces Available
- Automated client backup built in
- Microsoft Bitlocker drive encryption
- Simple administrative dashboard
- NTFS Online Scan and Repair
Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials
Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials is the latest version of Windows Storage Server that is designed for small businesses that want to leverage cloud services in a NAS appliance. It enables cross-premise functionality, providing small businesses with robust on-premises solution for file and print, client backup and restore, secure remote access, and identity management services, combined with optional off-premise services supported by Microsoft.
Critical Data Protection:
The File History periodically (every hour by default) scans the file system for changes and creates a copy on the server. It simplifies the recovery of files, accidentally deleted or overwritten, without the need for an administrator’s assistance.
Client Computer Backups
Configured to run daily on each PC that’s connected to the Essentials environment, client computer backup stores your backup data centrally on the server. This type of automatic protection enables you to restore individual files and folders, or an entire PC, as you would do when replacing a faulty hard drive or upgrading from and older hard drive.
You can add a hard disk drive to the server, either internally or externally, and designate it as a backup destination as opposed to server storage. Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials will then use this drive to back up all the data stored on the server, including both the operating system files and your business data.
NTFS Online Scan and Repair (CHKDSK)
CHKDSK in Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials introduces a new approach that prioritizes volume availability and allows for the detection of corruption while the volume remains online with data available.
Robust Windows Server Security
Flexible anti-virus support and complete disk protection with BitLocker Drive Encryption for robust data protection.
Storage Spaces delivers Software Defined Storage (SDS). Easily group multiple hard drives into a storage pool and protect data in the pool, without the need to understand RAID. Storage Spaces enables cost-effective, highly available, scalable, and flexible storage solutions for business-critical deployments.
Controls data growth by removing duplicate data. Allows the server to efficiently store, transfer and backup less data.
Integrated Cloud Services
Integration with Office 365
Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials provides the option to integrate with Office 365 or a third-party Hosted Exchange provider. Administrators need only create a user’s account once — an associated mailbox can be automatically created at the same time. The Essentials server syncs passwords with Office 365, helping end users enjoy a seamless sign-on experience whether they are accessing local or cloud-based resources.
Integration with Microsoft Azure Backup
Integration with Microsoft Azure Backup complements your local server backups with a cloud-based service that stores your business-critical data in a highly secure, offsite datacenter.
Essentials Administrative Dashboard
The Dashboard is the command and control center for Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials. Designed with a streamlined look and feel and enhanced with improved functionality, the Dashboard is used to perform all the management and maintenance tasks you need to control how your behaves on network.
The Launchpad is a small application that provides authenticated users with access to key features of the server, including shared files and media, add-ins, and Remote Web Access. The Launchpad also provides real-time information and notifications about the health of the computer.
Printer Server Support
Print Services enables you to share printers on a network, as well as to centralize print server and network printer management tasks. It also enables you to migrate print servers and deploy printer connections using a Group Policy
Health status notifies you of issues or problems related to computer backups, server storage, low disk space, and more. Health reports can be automatically generated on a scheduled basis and emailed directly to local administrators or external partners.
No Windows Server CALs Required
No Windows Server Client Access Licenses (CALs) required benefits users the ability to access the services of the server without a permit. With this, business users will not have to go through the trouble of obtaining authorization of per-user or per-device. With no CALs required, users are able to access data on demand, without the troubles of CALs.
Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials offers an affordable server solution that can be used as the primary infrastructure server in multi-server environments.
User Groups Management
You can create user groups and add user accounts to them. User account permissions can be managed through their user group memberships.
Secure and Fast Remote Access
Remote Web Access (RWA)
RWA enables end users to work remotely from virtually anywhere using almost any device. A website for RWA delivers a highly secure way for users and administrators to use their web browser to access files and folders, client computers, and the servers running in your environment.
Remote Domain Join
Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials turns setting up virtual private networking (VPN) into a painless wizard-driven process of just a few clicks, and simplifies the management of VPN access for users. Client computers can leverage a VPN connection to remotely join the Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials environment without the need to come into the office.
My Server App
My Server app provides a modern and touch-friendly way for end users to access files and folders, as well as perform light administration tasks. The app runs on Windows and Windows RT desktops, laptops, and tablet devices.
BranchCache can help you optimize Internet usage, improve performance of networked applications, and reduce traffic on your wide-area network (WAN).
SMB Multichannel enables file servers to use multiple network connections simultaneously. It facilitates aggregation of network bandwidth and network fault tolerance when multiple paths are available between the SMB 3.0 client and the SMB 3.0 server.
One of the very confusing aspects of the product’s web page is the fact that Thecus elects to highlight the fact that this NAS ships with an inbuilt HDMI output and the info box reads: “Turn your NAS into the ultimate multimedia hub! An inbuilt HDMI output allows you to connect your NAS directly to your TV for media streaming and easy device management.”
Now forgive me here, but I can’t think of one person on earth that would install KODI (XBMC) or Plex on a Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials NAS. Not to mention that the NAS only sports 2GB of RAM!
Now that we have a lot of the marketing stuff out of the way, let’s start to look at what this NAS is all about. Outside of the specs this NAS first features a black and very bland exterior similar to the N5550. I still feel the same about it as I did back when I reviewed that NAS, and it sill looks like a diner jukebox to me. On the face of the NAS, the most predominant feature is the push to open panel. Just below the panel you have an LCD screen, up and down buttons, an enter button, and an escape button.
The LCD screen is the same one found on the N5550 and displays the same sort of information. Things like the IP address, the Hostname, %Free on disks, and some marketing information about the OS. The funny part is, none of the buttons actually do anything. Instead, they are just plastic placeholders for this NAS Linux siblings. Fake buttons?
Just behind the front panel is where you will find the five removable drive trays. Each of the trays is well constructed and sports a lock to keep prying fingers from removing your HDDS. Two sets of keys are included… thankfully, because I lost one already. Next to the drive trays you will find activity LEDs for System, Ethernet (2 of them), and… well to be honest with you, I don’t know. There isn’t a manual included with the NAS. If I were lazy, I wouldn’t have gone back to my N5550 review to look… ah… USB activity. The last one is for error.
Just below those are the Power button and the reset button.
Around back is the audio connectors, 4 x USB 2.0, and eSATA port, HDMI, VGA, and dual Ethernet ports. The shell is held in place by three simple thumb screws that invite you to upgrade RAM. The system is cooled by an 80MM ADDA cooling fan and the PSU is easily removable should it ever decide to fail.
Inside the W5000 is an organized and well planned NAS. First, Thecus advises against opening your NAS but then makes it easy. Just turn three thumbscrews and slide the cover off.
Thankfully, everything is right in front of you. Memory Upgrade, CPU, HDD, etc. Motherboard on right and SHDD on top. Hidden under the heatsink is the Intel® Atom™ D2550 (1.86GHz Dual Core). Video and HDMI is handled by Intel Cedarview GMA 3600/3650
As mentioned, the SSHD is a Seagate ST500LM000
The installed 2GB Memory Module is by Transcend and rates at DDR3 1333. Once removed, the other DIMM slot is revealed. Total installable memory in the W5000? 4GB (OS Limitations).
Navigating our way around the motherboard, we first find a pair of Intel 82574L Gigabit Ethernet Controllers. These controllers are designed specifically for SFF designs and are just 9mm x 9mm. Each uses 1 PCIe 1.1 (2.5 GT/s) lane and supports 10/100/1000.
Up top and toward the left we find 3 packages. First up is the ITE IT8728F H/W monitor and Fan Speed controller. Up and to the left we find a Realtek ALC262 for HD Audio (EAX, Direct Sound 3D compatible and 4 DAC channels). Keeping them company is a Silicon Image Sil3132cnu host controller. Unfortunately, this controller is limited to just 3.0 Gb/s.
To power the NAS, Thecus has gone the route of employing an 1U Enhance 200W PSU (ENP-7020D).
Before you even get started on what you may think is the correct method for configuring your NAS, throw any ideas you have out of the window. Remember, this is a NAS based on Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials and not the typical Linux variant. You must remember, RTFM (google it if you don’t know what that is).
Thecus advises to first connect a USB Keyboard and Mouse, then an HDMI or VGA cable to a monitor. Then power on the system. For me, HDMI didn’t work, had to be VGA. When I asked Thecus about this, they informed me that if HDMI is connected before the system is powered on, it will not work.
Upon firing up this NAS for the first time, Microsoft presents you with the initial installation for Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials. The basics like Accept Terms and Conditions, Enter Product Key, and press next a few times are all there. Once you are thrust into the OS, a Configure wizard guides you through the rest.
For administration, Thecus relies on the strengths of Microsoft’s server platform instead of Thecus NAS OS for the W5000.
For more on the administration please see:
It is a given that using your NAS should be easy, and it is also a given that your NAS should perform well in serving up your files. After all, this is basically what the devices is intended for. To benchmark the NAS, we run synthetic benchmarks as well as benchmark some real world activities.
NAS Benchmarking Hardware & Methodology details hardware used & methodology for conducting benchmarks.
To see how this NAS compares to others, please visit our NAS Benchmarking Database
For testing the large file transfer speed of the NAS, we transfer a 46.6GB Blu-Ray ISO (Avatar) from the workstation to the NAS and back five times. We pipe the transfer speeds during the benchmark to a .csv file for charting. For more on our Avatar Benchmark please see our Benchmarking application: COD Benchmarking Utility
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For testing the transfer speed of the NAS with smaller files, we use the same method as the Avatar test but instead create two hundred individual MP3’s of specific file sizes for repeatable results. The files are copied from the workstation to the NAS and back 5 times. We pipe the transfer speeds during the benchmark to a .csv file for charting.
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For testing the large file transfer speed of the NAS, we transfer a 2GB file from the workstation to the NAS and back five times. We pipe the transfer speeds during the benchmark to a .csv file for charting.
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For further benchmarking, we test each NAS using Intel’s NAS Performance Toolkit to rate 2 key areas of NAS performance. We measure File Copy speeds to and from the NAS and the Directory Copy speeds to and from the NAS. System RAM is set to 2048MB of RAM to ensure there is no mem caching for transfers.
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For benchmarking the performance of iSCIS, we created an iSCSI connection to the NAS and benchmark the NAS using Intel’s IOMeter. IOMeter has to be one of the most widely used software packages for benchmarking disks. There are an endless number of ways you can build a benchmark, but we chose to limit our benchmarking to 100 percent Sequential Read and Write then 100 percent Random Read and Write. You can emulate our benchmarking by using the following configuration
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CrystalDiskMark is another benchmarking utility that determines speeds by measuring 512KB, 4KB, and 4KB (Queue Depth 32) sequential and random read and write speeds. Test data can be Random, 0Fill, and 1Fill. For our purposes, we left the test at Random.
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While I really like where Thecus is going here, I have to admit there are somethings that I wish were changed. One of these is the fake buttons up front. They just scream for me to press them and when I did, I was disappointment that they didn’t perform any useful function. I understand that the need to keep down production costs drives some of the design choices, like the recycled chassis from the N5550, but I would have preferred a simple plug instead of some fake buttons.
Another one of the things I wish had been done differently is the initial partition size for the Windows Server OS. Thecus chose to set the initial partition size to 32GB. It is not optimal to install a ton of applications on your OS partition, but some of the requirements alone shrink the available space to shrink quickly. I would have much rather seen a partition size of 60-100GB. It isn’t like there isn’t enough space, Thecus was kind enough to install a 500GB SSHD to begin with. Thankfully, the process for expanding the partition is a simple one.
Beyond that, having a Server operating system, albeit a NAS operating system, installed on a system with an Atom processor and only 2GB of RAM is just asking for trouble. Navigating the system became incredibly slow and the time it took just to perform Windows Updates was unbearable. It took more than four hours just to configure the Client Restore Service for the first time. Luckily, there is a Memory Compatibility chart for the W5000 available at Thecus so that you can upgrade the RAM. Unfortunately, the memory compatible with the system is a bit hard to find in the US. However, some folks that I have spoken to have had success with popular memory brands.
When speaking to Thecus about this, 2GB of memory was decided on to keep the price point as low as possible, and they did succeed. In a recent press release, Thecus has decided to offer a version of the W5000 with 4GB of memory already configured. If it were me, I would spend the extra money and go for the upgraded version. You won’t be disappointed. Having purchased and installed an additional 2GB of memory (directly from the compatibility list) I can honestly say that there is a considerable improvement in system responsiveness.
For further polish, I would have liked to see Thecus brand their own RAID configuration application instead of having to rely on Microsoft’s Disk Management for creating my RAID array. There is nothing wrong with this approach, I just think that Thecus missed the boat here to brand and simplify the experience for the less inclined.
With all that out of the way, I will admit that Thecus is the first to do this and there are going to be some opportunities for growth. Do I like the direction Thecus is taking? Absolutely. There are plenty of homes / small offices that can really benefit from a product like this. Having the ability to store plenty of data, act as a domain controller, DNS server, backup computers, provide access from anywhere and do it for just around $529.99 USD (at time of review) is INCREDIBLE! Bottom line, would I buy one? Yes, but I would immediately purchase a RAM upgrade or opt for the 4GB version. How much do I like it? I like the W5000 enough to recommend it to a personal friend for his small business start up.
Just when I thought it was safe to open a box again, Thecus drops one at my door and tells me that they have produced the First Ever Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials NAS. After coming hot off the heals of the Buffalo WSS 5400 NAS review, I thought…
Thecus W5000 NAS Review
Thecus W5000 NAS Review
Performance - 7.5
Features - 8
Design - 8.5
Value - 10
Although Read and Write speeds weren’t chart toppers, the features and functionality of this NAS are what make it a winner. Top it off with an aggressive price tag and Thecus has a winner.
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