• Thecus 5200B Pro IP Storage Server Product Review

    Storage has traditionally never been a part of the audiophile vocabulary. Now, like it or not, storage is a very integral piece of every music server based audio system. One of the first specs I consider when trying out a new music server is disk space. This is one thing that can make or break a canned or custom music server. If you have 750 GB worth of music you certainly aren't going to purchase a 500 GB music server. Similarly you are not going to buy a sleek looking LaCie external drive if it won't hold your 1000 disc collection. In addition to disk size audiophiles must consider how much noise a hard drive solution generates, how it connects to music servers, and how the data is backed up. I've configured a few storage solutions in my life from $200 to over $2 million. Needless to say I am very selective when it comes to choosing storage for my music server. I want all the options, a lot of disk space, and I'm not willing to spend an arm & a leg. With such specific needs you'd think finding the perfect disk storage solution would be frustrating for me. The answers is yes and no. For a long time I couldn't find the perfect solution. This made the decision very easy. I just didn't purchase anything. Then I found the Thecus 5200B Pro IP Storage Server. Music server storage doesn't get any better than this.



     

    Move Over Drobo

    During my long running quest for the perfect storage product I've looked at just about everything on the market. I've even considered some preposterous DIY solutions that would never make it to any market. I've tried internal disk solutions with RAID and without. I've always found internal disk very limiting and often dependent on less than great software RAID. I've tried standard LaCie USB external drives that used Maxtor hard drives on the inside. I've pieced together an external case and internal drive and connected it via FireWire 800. Recently I permanently moved all my music to a network disk attached to the Airport Extreme USB port. Then came the Thecus 5200B Pro. I knew this was the unit for me since the day I read about it. The 5200B Pro has so many options you couldn't possibly use them all and it holds up to 5 TB of disk. The configuration of the unit is as difficult as you make it. If you want a basic setup there are instructions that will probably get you through it. If you really want to take advantage of all the 5200B Pro has to offer you'll need to know what you are doing.

    If you are looking for a very techie review of this product with performance charts and graphs you'll need to look elsewhere. Most Computer Audiophile readers want to know how this storage solution fits in with their music server system. In the most basic sense the 5200 is an external disk that connects over a network as a NAS disk. Audiophiles will also be interested in the multiple RAID configurations, power management, USB Copy function, iSCSI support, operating system interoperability, expansion possibilities, UPnP capability, and wonderful web based GUI.

     

    File Server

    The Thecus 5200B Pro is arguably the best music storage solution available. The 5200 has five drive slots that can currently hold 1 TB each. No doubt this will increase as the next generation of larger hard drives is released. There is no need to fill each slot up in the beginning. The 5200 only requires one disk to get going. I don't recommend this approach, but it does work. A midlevel approach is to add three drives to the unit, thus enabling you to take advantage of the built in RAID 5 capability. Personally I couldn't resist going whole-hog by throwing five 1 TB drives into the 5200. As a side note, I've made it a mission of mine to fill the 5 TBs with nothing but great music. Talk about having fun! The 5200B Pro has two gigabit network connections which can be bound together, used for failover, or kept separate. For this review I only connected one of the GigE connections to my Airport Extreme via Cat 6 cabling. The 5200 comes preset with an IP address already assigned to the internal network cards. If you network IP addressing scheme begins with 192.168.1.x then you won't have to set the IP manually. I changed the IP address from the LCD panel on the front of the unit. The interface on the physical unit is not very intuitive, but I must admit I hadn't cracked open the instructions before setting everything up. Doesn't everyone just read the quick start guide on the box?

    With the basics taken care of I fired up the 5200. I instantly noticed the one drawback of the 5200. It is pretty loud. Audiophiles would never want the 5200 placed in their listening room. Don't even think about trying it yourself to see if you can live with it. The unit is too loud for a quiet environment! That said, there is no reason you need the unit in your listening area because it is a Network Attached Storage (NAS) unit. Since my Airport Extreme router is nowhere near my listening room I had no chance of hearing the 5200 in my listening room. If your router is within earshot of your listening area you can always get an Airport Express and connect it to the 5200, allowing it to be placed anywhere within reach of your wireless network.

    Once the 5200 was connected to my network I opened Safari and went to the IP address of the unit. The great GUI pops right up asking for the username and password. The Thecus GUI is really nice. It doesn't have complicated menus with links buried ten levels deep. Best of all the GUI doesn't timeout and ask you to re-login every five minutes. Now that I was in, I needed to setup the disk so I could start storing music. The 5200 supports many types of RAID as well as JBOD (just a bunch of disk). I highly recommend RAID 5 because you maximize your useable disk and can sustain a single drive failure without losing any data. There are many more options in the data storage world for protecting data, but I think RAID 5 is a great balance and great choice for audiophiles. Using the GUI I setup RAID 5 without any problems. The Thecus 5200B Pro has an Intel Celeron processor built-in that really accelerates drive formatting. Like I said earlier this is not your typical disk storage unit. Audiophiles will also be like the ability to add disk and expand the RAID set if they didn't fill up all the drive bays in the beginning. If you did fill up all the drive bays and still need to expand you're also in luck. The 5200 has an eSata port on the back that allows further expansion.

    The 5200B Pro works perfect with Microsoft Windows PCs or Mac OS X machines. I used my MacBook Pro throughout this review and had no issues whatsoever. Mounting the newly created drive can be done two ways. Both have pros and cons that audiophiles will want to consider. The most familiar option is to mount the drive using AFP (Apple File Protocol). This is the same way Apple Airdisks mount. My instructions in a previous article here on CA are just as prudent using the Thecus 5200B Pro. Simply use the Connect To Server option from the Go menu in OS X and enter afp://192.168.1.100 and the Thecus drive will mount on your desktop. After doing this I had one multi-terabyte drive waiting to be filled up. The major drawback to this type of drive mounting is the need to remount the drive after every login. This can be remedied with my script that runs at login however. A huge benefit of a regular IP mounted drive like this is the ability to share the disk space with many computers at the same time. You and your wife can each have libraries on the 5200 and access them at the same time without issue. The other connection option is through iSCSI. Most audiophiles have no idea what this is and probably don't care. Good, because I have no desire to explain it here and it won't change the sound of the music either. To use iSCSI on OS X I downloaded GlobalSAN iSCSI initiator. This is a small program that runs to connect a Mac to the disk. Windows now has this capability built-in. Once mounted the disk is displayed in the OS X Disk Utility just like your local disk. The disk can be formatted however you choose. One very nice thing about the iSCSI option is that the drive mounts at login automatically every time. My large problem with this method is that only one user can access the disk at a time and an iSCSI target can't be expanded within the Thecus GUI. A minor limitation with iSCSI is that you have to allocate at least 1% of your disk space to the RAID set leaving only 99% to the iSCSI target. In reality the same is probably true using RAID and afp, but it isn't as glaring when you view the disk configuration within the Thecus GUI. So, my suggestion here is to use a RAID 5 disk array and connect via afp.

    For the heck of it I did some file copy tests in three different configurations. I copied the complete Bad Company 10 from 6 album in each configuration. Here are the times in minutes and seconds.

    3:15 - 5200B Pro connected via iSCSI
    3:19 - 5200B Pro connected via IP NAS
    3:43 - Standard hard drive connected via Airport Extreme USB port

     







     


    Other Notable Functions

    Since spinning hard drives are the only practical option these days we must always consider the MTBF. Mean Time Between Failure is measured in hours that a drive is spinning. Fortunately the 5200B Pro has a solution to minimize the hours spent spinning when the drives aren't in use. Through Disk Power Management you can set the disks to sleep after a specified period of time. This is pretty common in most external devices except the 5200 allows you to set the interval. An even cooler feature is the system Power Management. You can set the 5200 to power down and power up whenever you want it to. During the review I set the unit to power up when I usually wake up in the morning and then power down after I go to bed. Under normal conditions this saves eight hours per day in electricity and system usage. I hate to be the master of the obvious but this could potentially give you a 33% longer lifespan on the unit.

    Another great feature on the 5200B Pro is called USB copy. audiophiles with music on an existing USB drive will really love this feature. Forget copying your music over the network to even connecting both devices to your laptop via USB. The 5200 has a USB port on the front that automatically copies the contents of a connected drive to a USBCopy folder. To steal a phrase from the infamous Ron Popeil, set it and forget it. There is no need to babysit a huge network copy. Connect your USB drive and walk away. All the contents will soon be on your new 5200 drive.

    The last cool feature I'll discuss here is called UPnP or Universal Plug and Play. This is pretty simple to understand. Many canned music servers like the new Olive units can use a UPnP drive to play music. If the internal Olive drive isn't large enough for your collection you can connect it via the wireless network to the Thecus 5200B Pro and play all the music as if the drive was connect. All of this is possible without a computer once the 5200 is configured for the first time.


    Wrap Up

    I have no doubt that the Thecus 5200B Pro IP Storage Server is the best audiophile music storage solution available today. The unit is available from NewEgg for about $750 without any disks. This allows you to purchase or use whatever disks you want. When compared to the Drobo with the Droboshare the price is only $50 more. The performance and options on the 5200 are so far beyond what the Drobo is capable of that the two are not in the same league. The Drobo is easier to use for people without any technical skills. However the 5200B Pro is a far better product and can be configured to work without too much skill needed. A little effort up front will go a long way in the long run. Also remember to leave the unit out of your listening room as it is quite noisy. Fortunately it is made to be placed anywhere. With five drive bays, room to expand, and even the capability to change RAID types on the fly the Thecus 5200B Pro is the only way to go.

     







     
    Comments 27 Comments
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      I agree Spudco! I highly recommend reading over the user manual. There are so many more features I didn't discuss in the review. I had to cut the review off at some point!
    1. markr's Avatar
      markr -
      ......What's 'her' phone number? I think I'm in love....
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Ha! I love it!
    1. imagehawk's Avatar
      imagehawk -
      Hi,<br />
      Great review, thanks for posting.<br />
      <br />
      I am a photographer and have more or less the same storage requirements as audiofiles. I am just wondering how Drobo with FW800 would stack up against Thecus5200 as far as getting best throughput.<br />
      <br />
      Regards,<br />
      Ed
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Ed - Welcome to Computer Audiophile. I've done my fair share of photography including a photo safari to Kenya and plenty of weddings, so I have an idea what you're looking for.<br />
      <br />
      In your situation I would probably go with the Drobo FW800 model because you don't need the silence of a real NAS unit located in another area of the house. Plus the Drobo is absolutely as easy as it gets to configure and use. Locally attached disk is always simpler to use as well. As far as throughput goes this can be a tough one. there are sources that will say Gigabit Ethernet is faster than FireWire 800 and vice versa. If you use it to edit photos from I would go with the local disk i.e. Drobo.
    1. minzyman's Avatar
      minzyman -
      Hey Chris,<br />
      <br />
      I have the Thecus 5200 Pro with three 1 Tb Seagate hard drives in it and have it largely setup via my airport extreme network. I have both LAN and WAN setup so I can access via hardwire ethernet cable directly from my Macbook Pro, or wirelessly via my airport network and the thing is configured via DHCP.<br />
      <br />
      So, getting the HD to come up on my desktop is kind of experimental at this point. Sometimes it comes up, sometimes I can see the 5200 under "Devices" but can't access the folders on it. I'd like for an icon to come up on my desktop when I boot up my laptop, just like I get when I powerup one of my FW external drives. Why is it that I usually have to sort of jiggle the wires to get the thing to work? And only folders within the HD come up on my desktop, not an icon for the whole NAS drive.<br />
      <br />
      Also, in your article on the Thecus you talk about the USB function, which allows you to just plug in an external drive via the front panel USB port on the thecus and the thing auto backs up. Yet, during setup of the Thecus I setup the usb folder as a seperate folder from the rest of the drive's contents, as that is how setup does it. Thus, if you back up in this way via usb you get a bunch of music files that are in a totally separate folder. I want all the music files together, in one place for Media Monkey or iTunes to access.<br />
      <br />
      What is WAN LAN Exchange? When I enabled this, I couldn't access the drive at all.<br />
      <br />
      Much of this may be fairly simple. But I am not super techy with things like IP addresses. Hopefully you can suggest a few setup basics that work for this configuration.<br />
      <br />
      Thx Chris.<br />
      /Lee
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Lee - On Macs only the shared folder pops up on the desktop when connecting to a NAS drive. You may be able to get the whole NAS device to show up, but I haven't seen it done yet. <br />
      <br />
      Can you describe the USB issue a little more. I'm not really following you on that one :-)<br />
      <br />
      The LAN WAN Exchange is if you want to switch the LAN and the WAN ports. I'll go out on a limb and suggest that you don't need this function :-) This is also only available on the 5200BR Pro. I have the 5200B Pro that doesn't have the built in extra Ethernet ports.<br />
      <br />
      I do recommend that you that you assign the Thecus a static IP address.<br />
      <br />
      Let me know if I only caused more confusion with these answers and I'll be happy to help out.
    1. minzyman's Avatar
      minzyman -
      Hey Chris,<br />
      <br />
      Hope you are well and had a great holiday. Perhaps I'll see you next week at CES?<br />
      <br />
      I wanted to ask you if you thought an SS drive in a computer used with a NAS drive (that has spinning drives in it) is redundant. My thinking is that the NAS drive is essentially another computer and if spinning/vibrating drives can distort an audio signal in a computer with a spinning drive then certainly tracks coming from a NAS will have distortion or jitter induced artifacts as well. Thus, my thinking that for now an SS drive may be a waste. <br />
      <br />
      Do you agree with this theory? Has anyone out there tested an SS drive pc used with a NAS? I know Tim used an SS drive recently with great success: said it sounded even more analog than a regular drive. However he used a standalone pc with no peripherals attached and played the Rx track from the internal SS drive. <br />
      <br />
      /Lee
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Lee - I'll certainly be at CES and hope to see you there!<br />
      <br />
      <i>"...if you thought an SS drive in a computer used with a NAS drive (that has spinning drives in it) is redundant..."</i><br />
      <br />
      I don't think redundant is the word you meant to use. Maybe a word like "useless" would be better?<br />
      <br />
      I think your question is a good one, but one that is treading on unknown ground. There are a few different technologies involved which make a NAS with a spinning drive different than a local spinning drive. It's kind of apples and oranges. But, when playing music from a NAS drive it's likely copied to the local drive and/or RAM before it's accessed by the playback application. I can't be positive on that statement about every application, but it's my educated guess. With a local SSD everything except the music on the NAS would be run from the SSD. That's certainly not a bad thing.<br />
      <br />
      On the whole the subject of SSD v HDD is a very touchy one that many people don't buy into. I've heard Tim's SSD based system, in fact I built it here at Computer Audiophile :-) The sound is spectacular. Unfortunately I did not do an A/B of the SSD v HDD.
    1. jem777's Avatar
      jem777 -
      OMG! This is way too awesome! WOW! This one should be in a good storage.<br />
      <a href="http://classyclosets.com/design.php">closet designs</a>
    1. zettelsm's Avatar
      zettelsm -
      I know you have about a zillion irons in the fire, Chris. Here's an idea for a future project for your "spare time" (ha ha ha):<br />
      <br />
      How about a primer or "how to" specific to the Thecus 5200 series NAS? You have some great suggestions, a log on script, etc. but they are scattered around your site. Pulling them all together would be a really helpful thing for those of us looking to set up a Thecus of our own. . .<br />
      <br />
      Just a thought. Great and useful website. Thanks for all your work.<br />
      <br />
      Steve Z
    1. sammie's Avatar
      sammie -
      Hey Chris,<br />
      <br />
      I recently bought a 1TB HD and an enclosure to connect to Airport Extreme. I thought this would work as plug/play. I should have researched better. The airdisk/setup/login stuff seems like a huge pain to me. So, I'm looknig at getting the Thecus Pro as a more permenant, easier to use solution. I have a HD + enclosure conencted via FW800 to my Mini. So, the Thecus would simply serve as backup. Eventually, I might use it as a media server for Mini. So, for backup, will it work with time machime for our two macbooks and also for our mini music server? Or, is there a better way? How difficult is it to set it up to perform automatically? Or, do I need to perform backups manually? Thanks!
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi sammie - An Ethernet connected NAS will not work with Time Machine at the current moment. I suppose it's possible to use the Thecus in a different manner to connect to the Airport Extreme, but I don't recommend it.<br />
      <br />
      What do you mean by this -> <i>"The airdisk/setup/login stuff seems like a huge pain to me."</i><br />
      <br />
      To use a Thecus as a backup server for multiple Macs sounds like a cool idea. I think a backup application designed for this will be your best bet. I can't think of any at the moment, but a google search should bring some to your attention.
    1. zettelsm's Avatar
      zettelsm -
      Hi Chris,<br />
      <br />
      I'm hoping you or someone familiar with the Thecus/Mac OSX might be able to help out with my Thecus problem.<br />
      <br />
      After getting some network addressing issues straightened out, I was able to successfully mount the Thecus shared volume on my Mac laptop's desktop, using either Go > Connect To Server > afp://(IP address) or by the neat AutomountMaker script.<br />
      <br />
      Things worked well for several days and I moved my iTune Music folder over to the Thecus, ripped some new music to iTunes using my wireless network and the Thecus, etc.<br />
      <br />
      Two days ago in the middle of ripping a CD to iTunes I received the message "lost connection to the server" and the process stopped, though the Thecus network icon still appeared on the desktop. Attempts to mount the server again via afp "beachballed" and wouldn't stop spinning with no action until I restart the computer. <br />
      <br />
      I didn't change anything about the Thecus, the network, my Mac -- nothing. I can log in as a user or administrator via my network (and determined that the volume and the shared folders are intact), but so far no matter what I've done, I cannot mount the Thecus shared volume on the desktop. I even tried direct ethernet connection from computer to Thecus to no avail.<br />
      <br />
      I've run AppleJack on my computer, updated Thecus firmware to the latest version, cleared out and re-entered the afp address information, done the same with users and authorization on the Thecus, ensured shared folders are still shared, afp is still enabled. . . etc etc.<br />
      <br />
      Any help would be appreciated. As it is now, the Thecus is totally unusable for me via afp, and iTunes wants to have the iTunes Music folder in afp.<br />
      <br />
      Thanks!<br />
      <br />
      Steve Z
    1. zettelsm's Avatar
      zettelsm -
      No replies to my problem above, but thought I'd pass along the solution to my problem.<br />
      <br />
      Thecus support (and after browsing around, several other sites also had the same suggestion) suggested:<br />
      <br />
      "It is our pleasure to work with you on your Thecus U.S Support ticket #KMU-28789-880. If you have any questions please feel free to respond to this email ticket.<br />
      <br />
      Can you follow these steps to see if AFP shares return.<br />
      <br />
      Turn off AFP<br />
      Reboot n5200<br />
      Use SMB to connect to N5200, then delete the invisible file ".AppleDB"<br />
      Start AFP services<br />
      Reboot n5200<br />
      <br />
      The sudden disconnect may have corrupted some of apple files stored under .appleD* folder, the problem should be resolved by delete .apple* folders."<br />
      <br />
      I used the utility program Xray to look for the invisible files on the shared Thecus volume after mounting it via smb, renamed .AppleDB without the dot to make it visible, dragged it to the trash and deleted it.<br />
      <br />
      After logging back into the Thecus as an administrator and restarting AFP services and rebooting the Thecus, I have been able to log back into the Thecus shared volume via afp<br />
      <br />
      However, I'm wondering if afp is really the best way to go about mounting the shared N5200 volume containing the iTunes Music folder?<br />
      <br />
      I noted that file transfers, such as ripping a CD via iTunes, or transfering music files from desktop/local drive to the Thecus are at least 2X as fast using smb as afp. The files so far have been ending up in the target iTunes Music file on the Thecus and are recognized and played back via iTunes without issue, even when connected via smb.<br />
      <br />
      Comments? Recommendations?<br />
      <br />
      Thanks,<br />
      <br />
      Steve Z<br />
      near Libby, Montana USA<br />
      <br />
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Steve - Thanks for the followup. I've had much better luck with AFP than SMB and never seen this a the proposed resolution before. Very cool that you've posted it for all of us to keep in our back pockets if the problem arises.
    1. zettelsm's Avatar
      zettelsm -
      You're very welcome, Chris. The least I could do to contribute, where you've given us so much information. If it saves someone a bit of frustration that's a good thing.<br />
      <br />
      Another tip, FWIW --<br />
      <br />
      Wake on LAN (WOL) for Thecus works well for the N5200BR PRO. Here's how I implemented it for my Macintosh network:<br />
      <br />
      Logged onto the Thecus as the administrator.<br />
      <br />
      Under Status > WOL > Enable > Apply<br />
      <br />
      For the next step, on the Thecus go to Network > WAN<br />
      <br />
      Copy the MAC address to the clipboard.<br />
      <br />
      Using the Macintosh freeware program WakeUp:<br />
      <br />
      Launch WakeUp<br />
      <br />
      Click on the lock icon in the WakeUp window, log in as administrator.<br />
      <br />
      Click on the + box to add a computer<br />
      <br />
      Double-click on the "Machine Name" field that popped up when + was clicked, and rename as whatever pet name you have for the Thecus (or any other machine you wish to wake from sleep)<br />
      <br />
      Double-click on Ethernet Address field and paste the Thecus MAC address.<br />
      <br />
      That's all there is to it. WakeUp doesn't tell you when the Thecus has spun up, gone through it's self-checks and is available so I wait about a minute before trying to log onto the server. There is, however a cool Auto Update feature in WakeUp (click on the Auto Update box when in the administrator mode) that will automatically collect the machine information whenever a new machine connects to your network.<br />
      <br />
      Since I don't always need the Thecus up and running every time I start my Mac, I can now use this utility wake the server from sleep when needed, and avoid unnecessary run time on the server drives. An enterprising individual could write a script to have WakeUp run at startup, then run AutomountMaker to mount the N5200 one minute afterwards if they always wanted the Thecus available to their computer.<br />
      <br />
      Hope this is useful to somebody.<br />
      <br />
      Steve Z <br />
      <br />
    1. zettelsm's Avatar
      zettelsm -
      Where I previously thought mounting the N5200 via smb provided faster file transfers to the Thecus than afp, after some more experimenting ripping the same CD and timing, I don't think one mode is faster than the other. I think other network traffic (my wife was busy on the network when I was first using afp) was impacting afp speed.<br />
      <br />
      Sorry for the red herring!<br />
      <br />
      Steve Z
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Steve - You're never going to guess what just happened to me! I lost contact with my NAS via AFP while ripping the new Elvis Costello disc. Now I can't connect to it via AFP, but I can via SMB. I searched for the answer and found your post!!!!!!<br />
      <br />
      I'll give it a shot right now and let you know if your suggestion works for me (fingers crossed).
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      NICE! It worked perfect!<br />
      <br />
      I found a great tool to show and hide hidden files on a Mac.<br />
      <br />
      http://www.apple.com/downloads/macosx/system_disk_utilities/showhiddenfiles.html<br />
      <br />
      This make it a simple click to show and hide files.