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Thecus N7710-G 7-Bay NAS with 10 GbE

The Thecus N7710-G is a no-nonsense 7-bay NAS tower server that focuses on function over form. The user interface is humdrum but the hardware is the true star, including a 2.9 GHz Sandy Bridge processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 10 GbE card.

October 14, 2014 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Thecus N7710-G
7-Bay NAS Server
Manufacturer
Street Price
US$1050

We were impressed by the features of the QNAP
TurboNAS TS-469L
, but what really stood out was the highly polished
user interface. Not only was it pretty, the use of tabs was a refreshing and
convenient, and like the modern smartphone, it relied heavily on its app ecosystem
which extended its functionality considerably. By adopting a familiar phone-like
interface, thje TS-469L enhanced its appeal to home users in particular. This
an excellent quality to have as the amount of digital storage held by lay people
is growing fast enough to make Network Attached Storage, a tool mainly for office
and enterprise segments in the past, an increasingly important appliance in
many homes.

The Thecus N7710-G is a different kind of NAS. It’s more of an old school,
strictly business NAS server, placing greater importance on function rather
than form, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting.

For starters, it’s bigger and faster, with seven drive bays, a Intel Pentium
G850 (Sandy Bridge) processor running at 2.9 GHz, and 4GB of RAM. It allows
for greater flexibility and its tower form houses more standard components that
are easily accessible, paving the way for upgrades and general tinkering. The
most notable feature is a 10 GbE card fitted in the PCI-E 8x expansion slot,
opening up the possibility of phenomenal network performance over ethernet copper,
CAT6a, to be precise, an upgraded higher-density version of CAT5. The system
also has a pair of standard gigabit controllers with Intel chipsets, two USB
3.0 connectors, and an HDMI port that can be used to output video and audio.
RAID is available in several different modes and there’s support for AES 256-bit
encryption, link aggregation, VMWare, a variety of file protocols, and a host
of other software features listed here.


The Thecus N7710-G.

The chassis has the look of a typical NAS tower with a mostly matte black steel
surface and heavily ventilated front door. A rounded column of brush aluminum
containing the activity LEDs, front USB ports, and power button, gives the housing
some character but it looks somewhat strange extending around the corner. The
proportion of silver makes the side panels uneven in size. At the bottom is
a small LCD readout and some unusually long buttons that resemble dials.

Thecus N7710-G: Hardware Specifications
(from the product
web page
)
Processor Intel® Pentium G850 (2.9GHz Dual Core)
System Memory 4GB DDR3 ECC Memory
LAN Interface (PCI-e) RJ-45×2: Intel 82574L 10/100/1000 BASE-TX Auto MDI/MDI-X, WOL supported
Supports 1 x Single-Port 10GBASE-T Ethernet Network Card
USB Interface USB 2.0 host port x6 (front x2, back x4)
USB 3.0 host port x2 (back x2)
10GbE NIC (Included x1)
LCM Module Displays system status and information
HDMI Output HDMI port (back x1)
VGA Output VGA port (back x1)
Disk Interface 7 x SATA for internal
Power Supply 300W Power Supply
Bundled 10GbE Network Card 1 x C10GTR Installed
Thermal/Fan Control Thermal sensor on processor temperature
System Clock Battery-backed up system clock
Power Management Auto power on after shutdown due to power loss
Buzzer Adjustable frequency alarm
Buttons Power button
LCM button (ENT, ESC, UP, DOWN)
Environment Temperature: 5°C to 40°C
Humidity: 0 ~ 80 % R.H. (Non-condensing)
Chassis Tower base
Dimensions (HxWxD) 320 x 210 x 270 (mm)/12.59 x 8.27 x 10.63 (in)
Weight 8.4(kgs)/18.51(lb)(NAS only)
Certificates CE/FCC/C-Tick/VCCI/BSMI
RoHS
WEEE
VMware

 


The box.


Accessories.

The box our review unit shipped in arrived with a substantial dent on one of
the corners but there was no physical damage inside. The unit was packed well
with extremely thick styrofoam inserts. The package includes a warranty card,
quick setup guide, a software disc, a complimentary copy of Acronis True Image
Personal 2010, keys for each drive tray, a power cable, and an ethernet cable.


The Thecus C10GTR 10 GbE network card.

The NAS ships with a 10 GbE NIC installed but obviously full performance cannot
be achieved if the rest of the network is running 1Gb hardware. Thecus kindly
provided a second card to connect the NAS directly to a desktop PC to test out
its capabilities. The C10TR
uses a Marvell controller and comes with a warranty card, driver disc, and a
low profile bracket. It retails for US$200 on its own.

PHYSICAL DETAILS

The Thecus N7710-G measures 32.0 x 21.0 x 27.0 cm or 12.6 x 8.3 x 10.6 inches
(H x W x D), giving it a total volume of just 18.1 Liters. With a mostly steel
construction, it weighs a substantial 8.4 kgs or 18.5 lb when empty. It’s much
bigger than 4-bay devices like the QNAP TS-469L and the HP
MicroServer Gen8
, especially in height, as the drives are oriented horizontally.


Just below the drives is a small LCD that displays basic information
like the IP address, RAID status, temperature, etc. Accompanying it
is a control system that can be used to access some basic functionality
but it’s a pain to use with only up and down buttons to scroll through
all the options. Entering in numbers is especially arduous.


The door swings out to reveal seven hot swap bays. Oddly enough
there is no locking mechanism on the door, but each tray is equipped
with one.


In operation, each drive has its own white power LED.


The drive caddies are fairly standard design with thin (useless)
anti-vibration strips on each side.


The backplane is surprisingly open, providing every drive with a
moderate amount of airflow.


The motherboard occupies the top portion of the case with the expansion slot (populated by the 10 GbE NIC) at the top and the 300W power supply at the bottom. Two 92 mm fans exhaust hot air out of the system. The board has VGA and HDMI outputs, two USB 3.0 and four USB 2.0 ports, and a pair of gigabit ethernet RJ45 connectors.


The bottom is solid but interestingly, one of the case feet is not in line with the others, seemingly pushed to the side by the aluminum corner.

INTERIOR

Like a typical desktop PC, the N7710-G’s side panels come off but there’s little
reason to do so. The back of the motherboard dominates the left side, while
the right is blocked off almost entirely by the hard drive cage. The back panlel
pulls through, allowing access to the fans and internals. Like most no-nonsense
systems, the build quality is solid.


Despite having a typical PC case design, the side panels were surprisingly loose, rattling noticeably when tapped.


On the left side we can see the back side of the the motherboard and a screw holding the card providing all the SATA connections.


On the right side there isn’t much to see at all.


Accessing the interior requires loosening four captive thumbscrews, removing the screw/clamp holding the expansion card, and removing the standoffs from the VGA port.


Popping off the back panel reveals the fans, standard 92 mm models with short 3-pin cables.


Removing two more thumbscrews on the inside releases the SATA/RAID card from the drive cage, allowing the board to slide out.


The CPU is cooled by a low profile heatsink and a fan with a standard 4-pin PWM connector. Next to the socket are the DIMM slots, three of the four being unoccupied.

SOFTWARE

Like many other NAS solutions, the N7710-G runs a modified version of Linux
with a user interface similar to what you would find on a router. Basic interactions
can conducted via the front control panel and through mobile apps, but the main
interface is accessed remotely through a web browser from another system on
the network. The N7710-G ships with ThecusOS5. The interface is somewhat barebones
and lacking in refinement compared QNAP’s QTS. Here is a brief run-down of the
some of the available options.


The ThecusOS “home” screen. Individual settings that are bookmarked appear here for convenience.


The system monitor is composed of four windows allowing you to track multiple things at once.


There are a variety of different items that can be monitored: CPU and memory usage, fan speeds, temperatures, network and individual service activity. Interestingly, the N7710-G reports three different system temperatures but no hard drive temperatures.


Notifications can be send to multiple email addresses, but not through SMS.


Disk information.


RAID Management. Multiple arrays can be built in RAID 0/1/5/6/10/50 and JBOD configurations with multiple file systems and with AES 256-bit encryption.


Quotas can be set for individual users, a useful feature for enterprise environments.


Each NIC can act as its own DHCP server.


A wide variety of options are available for each supported network service.


The NAS itself can be backed locally, remotely, or through Amazon’s S3 service. Additional cloud storage can be used via third party apps.

NAS APPS

Like a smartphone or tablet, the modern NAS relies heavily on aftermarket applications
as they can expand its capabilities considerably. At time of writing the Thecus
app center
had 265 apps available for the N7710-G, though many were duplicate
versions, some not actually compatible. Notable titles include Dropbox, CrashPlan,
NZBGet, SabNZBd, SickBeard, Transmission, Google Drive, Plex (server), XBMC,
PS3 Media Server, TrueCrypt, IP CAM, and Minecraft (server).


Unfortunately, you can’t navigate to the app center within the NAS UI, you have to go to the Thecus web site. It’s a bit clunky to use as only 20 apps appear on each page and you have to select the NAS model every time you select a different app category to filter out incompatible apps.


Each app has to be downloaded locally first, then installed manually
through the application server, and finally enabled before it starts
working. Some apps require a certain module to be installed first in
order to work. Located on the NAS download page, modules change fundamental
functionality, opening it up for other apps to take advantage.


The Local Display module is of unique importance as allows apps to output video. Without it, the only thing a connected display only shows the command line interface. Local Display paves the way for XBMC which works flawlessly, allowing the N7710-G to double as a media player. There’s also a Plex app but it acts only as a back-end and can’t play any content itself.

MOBILE APPS

Complementing Thecus’ app library are a two couple of simple mobile apps, available for iOS and Android devices only. T-OnTheGo allows users the ability to manage and open NAS files remotely while T-Dashboard provides status monitoring and control over a limited number of administrative functions.


T-OnTheGo is a rather simple app that resembles any number of third party file managers available for Android.


Any file can be opened on your mobile device,and you can perform basic file management functions.


T-Dashboard is geared toward system administrators, but it’s not very powerful. The only important things it can do is change passwords and enabling/disable network services.


It also obviously lacks polish as some of the text is cut off, even in landscape mode where there’s plenty of room.

ENVIRONMENTAL & /PERFORMANCE TESTING

Connecting System Configuration:

Server Drive Configurations Tested:

Measurement and Analysis Tools

Testing Procedures

Given the limited customization options of the Thecus N7710-G, our physical testing procedures were brief. First, the system was put through a couple of different load states while system temperatures, power consumption, and noise were recorded. Secondly, we benchmarked the machine using LAN Speed Test, a network benchmark tool configured to transfer 10 successive packets of 1MB, 10MB, and 100MB, back and forth between it and a designated machine on our LAN detailed above. Timed manual file transfers of a batch of 99 files of various sizes totaling 1738MB was also performed. All performance tests were conducted three times each way with the results averaged. All traffic flowed through an unmanaged D-Link gigabit switch. There’s nothing special about our network — all our hardware is consumer grade.

Noise

Noise Measurements: Idle
Configuration
SPL@1m
Empty, fans disabled
24 dBA
Empty
28 dBA
4 x 4TB Seagate NAS HDD
29~30 dBA
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle left/front
of case.
Ambient temperature: 20°C.

The N7710-G has four fans altogether, one on the CPU heatsink, one in the power
supply, and two 92 mm exhaust fans to cool the hard drives. Sitting idle without
any drives installed, the NAS registered a total SPL of 28 dBA@1m, which is
plainly audible if not exactly loud, but not by NAS standards. The last two
NAS devices we tested, the QNAP TS-469L and HP MicroServer Gen8, were in the
same ballpark. Adding four Seagate
NAS HDD 4TB
hard drives only increased the overall SPL by 1~2 dB.

Unfortunately there are no built-in fan control options. Unplugging the 92
mm fans resulted in a noise savings of 4 dB, but after it finished booting up,
the NAS beeped continuously until they were reconnected. 24 dBA@1m is about
as quiet as it gets, even if the case fans are taken out of the equation. The
power supply fan is the louder and more annoying of the two remaining fans,
so it’s not possible to quiet it further without replacing the PSU or modifying
its fan. The power supply is a 1U unit manufactured by Enhance, model number
FLEX-0130D. A quick look at the unit
spec sheet available here
shows the Enhance is 80+ approved, but only for
a modest 80% efficiency. There are no details on acoustics.


Stock 92 mm fan.

The stock 92 mm fan runs at 2500 RPM at full speed (about 1500 RPM when the system is idle) but it’s a standard 3-pin fan and thus easily replaced. We were able to swap them for 1000~1200 RPM models which worked flawlessly with the system slowing them down to 650~750 RPM, so just about any speed fan will do the job. Devices with in-line resistors/rheostats are another option as the fans themselves aren’t too bad acoustically, they just spin far too fast.

Out-of-the-box, the system’s acoustic profile is dominated by the case fans.
They produce a turbulent sound that helps hide the more high-pitched electric
whine coming from the power supply. The hard drives introduce some significant
vibration effects as evinced by the tonal peak at just under 100 Hz, corresponding
to their rotational speed of 5900 RPM, though this is mostly drowned out by
the fans.


Our makeshift vibration dampening system.

The vibrations from the hard drives were affecting the loose side panels. The
aforementioned tonal peak was all but eliminated by sticking thick pieces of
foam to the drive cage so it would press up against the panel prevent it from
shaking. This improved the subjective noise. However, measured SPL remained
the same as the low frequency of the tone isn’t well represented in A-weighting.

System Measurements

System Measurement Comparison (4 x Seagate NAS HDD 4TB)
System
QNAP TS-469L
Thecus N7710-G
System State
Idle
H.264 Playback (XBMC)
Idle
H.264 Playback (XBMC)
CPU Fan Speed
N/A, passively-cooled
1230 RPM
1270 RPM
System Fan Speed(s)
980 RPM
1540 / 1520 RPM
1620 / 1600 RPM
CPU Temp
36°C
39°C
32°C
38°C
System Temp(s)
33°C
23°C / 23°C / 33°C
23°C / 24°C / 37°C
System Power (AC)
40W
44W
56W
62W
SPL@1m
28 dBA
29~30 dBA
32 dBA
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle left/front
of case.
Ambient temperature: 20°C.

Compared to the QNAP TurboNAS TS-469L, the N7710-G is louder and more power
hungry. Its fans are more sensitive to minor temperature increases, so much
so that merely playing H.264 video with XBMC caused the fans to pick up the
pace even though the CPU never exceeded 40°C. The ~17W power difference
is understandable as its Pentium G850 processor is a standard desktop chip with
a TDP of 65W while the TurboNAS is powered by 10W Atom D2700. The N7710-G also
has more fans, an extra NIC, and PCI-E slots, and a larger SATA/RAID controller.

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

The N7710-G’s energy efficiency is more like that of a custom desktop. With a single SSD and a power supply of reasonably good efficiency, the two platforms we used to test the AMD A8-7600 and Intel Core i7-4770K both used slightly less power. Smaller Atom-based servers didn’t surpass 20W on light load while the N7710-G used twice as much.

NETWORK PERFORMANCE

For our network performance tests, we pitted N7710-G against the MicroServer Gen8 and QNAP TS-469L in both synthetic and real world file transfer tests.

According to LAN Speed Test, the N7710-G offers similar gigabit performance to the QNAP TS-469L regardless of packet size. This makes sense as they have similar operating systems and the same Intel-based gigabit ethernet controller.

10 GbE performance (connected directly to a desktop with the same PCI-E NIC
via the provided CAT5a cable) wasn’t 10 times faster but the difference was
staggering, three to five times quicker than gigabit. Interestingly, for smaller
packet sizes, writing to the NAS was favored over reading. 10 GbE is really
required on a NAS box to illustrate the performance benefit of RAID-5. Striped
5900 RPM hard drives are easily capable of exceeding 100 MB/s.

In a real world file transfer test, the N7710-G pulled well ahead of the TS-469L,
suggesting it has a superior and/or better optimized RAID controller. The 10
GbE results weren’t as impressive but still a huge jump over gigabit. There
was a considerable bias toward write speeds which correlates with the small
packet LAN Speed Test results (many of the files copied in this test are on
the smaller side).

MP3 SOUND RECORDINGS

These recordings were made with a high
resolution, lab quality, digital recording system
inside SPCR’s
own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber
, then converted to LAME 128kbps
encoded MP3s. We’ve listened long and hard to ensure there is no audible degradation
from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent a quick snapshot of
what we heard during the review.

These recordings are intended to give you an idea of how the product sounds
in actual use — one meter is a reasonable typical distance between a computer
or computer component and your ear. The recording contains stretches of ambient
noise that you can use to judge the relative loudness of the subject. Be aware
that very quiet subjects may not be audible — if we can’t hear it from
one meter, chances are we can’t record it either!

The recording starts with 5~10 second segments of room ambiance, then the fan/device
at various levels. For the most realistic results, set the volume so that
the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then don’t change the volume
setting again.

  • Thecus N7710-G
    — empty (28 dBA@1m)
    — filled with 4 x Seagate NAS HDD 4TB (29~30 dBA@1m)

FINAL THOUGHTS

Undoubtedly, the Thecus N7710-G’s backbone is robust hardware. Though the Pentium
G850 is a couple of generations old, it is faster than most of the processors
driving competing NAS devices and the 4GB of RAM is a big bonus as well. And
if even this is insufficient, it’s easy enough to upgrade. The inclusion of
10 GbE network card is nice but the cost of outfitting a network to take full
advantage of 10 GbE is still probably not worth it for most small businesses.
(Editor’s Note: Off the top of my head, it would be apropos for
small video editing/production shops and other operations that require similar
fast remote processing and storage of large files.) Performance with the standard
gigabit controller is solid, slightly better than the QNAP
TS-469L
when running in RAID-5. The only thing we can knock about the
hardware is the lack of eSATA, though USB 3.0 does give it some reasonably fast
external expansion potential.

The biggest defects are environmental. Power consumption is twice that of the
TS-469L, understandable considering the hardware involved: The CPU is a 65W
desktop chip rather than a 10W Atom, the SATA controller can handle more devices,
and the unit has an add-on 10 GbE NIC and additional fans. Like many NAS devices,
the fans are overly aggressive and no fan control options are offered. Fortunately,
the system fans can be replaced with lower speed models but the tiny fan inside
the power supply is ultimately the limiting factor. (This single factor is the
primary reason keeping the Thecus N7710-G from a Recommended by SPCR award.)
Hard drive vibration is also an issue due to the loose side panels but this
can be dealt with rather easily.

On the software side, it supports all the features you would expect in a NAS
including VMware support, different backup options, encryption, link aggregation,
just about every type of RAID, and the ability to have multiple arrays with
different file systems running concurrently. The third party app ecosystem isn’t
extensive but there are enough big titles to keep most users satisfied, especially
those looking for a machine that can double as a media center. XBMC works flawlessly
and there are usenet and torrent clients in the app center to feed it content.
There is also an app for Plex, but it only allows the N7710-G to act as a Plex
server, not as a player.

Aside from the physical side, the overall user interface feels dated compared
to what QNAP is doing with QTS. Nowhere is this more noticeable than the app
center, which resides on the Thecus website rather than being accessible directly
through the NAS. Having to manually download, install, and enable each individual
app is tedious. The NAS interface is easy to navigate but the UI has a bland,
utilitarian look that lacks polish and this carries over to their mobile apps
as well, especially T-Dashboard. The Thecus UI feels behind the times, and while
this is unlikely to drive users away, it isn’t going to attract them either.

The Thecus N7710-G is a compelling solution for small businesses looking for
a high performance NAS system, especially if their current storage needs max
out a smaller 4-bay unit. Not only are there additional drive bays but some
of the system’s hardware can be upgraded over time, and one potential upgrade,
10 GbE, is ready to go. It also provides good value at its current price of
US$1000~$1100. The 7-bay NAS category is tiny but competing 8-bay
NAS servers in the same price range almost all have lesser hardware and lack
10 GbE.

If you feel 10 GbE isn’t worth the premium, consider the N7710, which is identical except with an empty PCI-E slot. It costs about US$200 less, putting it in the same price level as underpowered 6-bay devices.

Our thanks to Thecus
for the N7710-G sample.

* * *

Articles of Related Interest

WD Red 6TB and 1TB (2.5-inch) Hard Drives
Seagate Enterprise Class v4 6TB Hard Drive
QNAP TurboNAS TS-469L 4-Bay NAS Server
SilverStone DS380 8-Bay Server/NAS Chassis

Supermicro SuperServer 5018A-FTN4 Rackmount Server
HP Proliant MicroServer Gen8

* * *

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