Closer Look: Thecus N2310 NAS Server
The bottom line with any high performance storage solution is that the number of drive spindles in play is often more important than almost any other factor, assuming that everything else is based on reasonably modern technology. This is the reason more and more people are opting for NAS systems with at least four bays, even though they may not need all that capacity now. But what if you can’t afford all that capacity now, and a 4-bay NAS is out of your price range? If you want to start small, then a two-bay unit fits the bill, and the Thecus N2310 is also one of the lowest cost models in the market.
The Thecus N2310 is a small unit, arranged in a tower format and should fit anywhere in a typical home or aparent setting. The standard model is a diskless unit, and Thecus has a list of compatible hard drives on their website. The size is similar to competitive models: 135mm (H) x 97mm (W) x 207mm (D), and the weight is a bit lower than most, at 1.74 pounds without drives installed. The unit is mostly built from plastic, which is one of the compromises that helps keep the cost down. Each HDD you install will add about 1-1/2 pounds, depending on your choice of drive. Many users will be looking at 2TB and 3TB drives for a unit like this, and they’re heavier than most. There are no handles on the unit, but it wasn’t difficult to pick the whole thing up, even when it was fully loaded.
The front panel of the Thecus N2310 is dominated by the drive bays/trays, but along the right side are a number of indicators and two pushbuttons. Starting from the top, we have the Power LED, which is Solid blue when the system is ready, blinking blue during boot up, and solid red if the system has erred out. Second from the top is the system status LED, which blinks white if the diagnostic mode has kicked in. It is solid white after the diagnostics are complete, and is solid Red if a system error has occurred. I never saw this one light up during my time using the N2310, which is as it should be. The third one down is for HDD #1, and if it’s steady then a HDD is present and powered up, blinking white is for HDD activity, and red means a drive failure. I saw only white during my usage. The fourth indicator works exactly the same, except for HDD #2. The fifth LED indicates LAN connectivity with solid white, and network activity with blinking white. The last indicator is for the USB ports. Solid white means there’s a USB drive present in one of the ports, blinking white indicates USB copy activity, and solid red means there has been a USB copy failure. At the bottom below the indicators, are two pushbuttons for USB Copy and power. The USB copy button copies the USB drive contents to a specified directory on the N2310. It is strictly a one-way copy function; the button cannot be reconfigured for bidirectional copying. The power button is a momentary press to turn the unit on, and you have to hold it down for a few seconds to turn the NAS off. There’s a faint beep to let you know that the unit will start the shutdown process.
There is no front door on the enclosure, and you can access each of the two drive trays directly, with their latching handles. There are no locks on the handles, and my advice is to put the N2310 NAS well away from curious children, and adults for that matter. The NAS is probably safe from most pets, but trust me when I say that you do not want to start accidentally pulling drives out. With only two drives to worry about, and the most likely configuration being RAID 1, which creates two identical data sets on the disks, maybe I’m worrying too much. It wouldn’t be the first time… still, my advice is: don’t tempt fate. The drive bays are not marked on the front bezel, and the individual drive trays aren’t marked either. Drive Bay #1 is on the left, and Bay #2 is on the right, as viewed from the front of the device. You can see some of the LED indicators below, showing what happens when you pull a drive out when the NAS is running. Two red indicators showing error states for HDD #2, and the NAS….
With the unit safely turned off, it’s OK to remove one or more drives and they all slide out the front like this. Each plastic-framed tray holds one individual drive in the N2310, and the HDD is held in place by four screws. The option is there to use the side mounting holes on the HDD, or the bottom ones. The WD Black drives that I use for testing have both sets of mounting holes, but some drives don’t. The screws required for the two options are different, and Thecus provides full sets (+spares) of both. Inserting and removing the drive trays from the NAS was smooth and positive, both with HDDs mounted in the trays and without. The latches acted like a locking lever; once the trays reach the end of their travel, swinging the latch levers down drives the tray firmly into place. It’s a well-designed system for getting the drives in and out, and although the plastic construction is a bit flexible, that actually helps reduce vibration. Any time you have more than one HDD mounted in a common chassis, drive vibrations start to interact and they can get out of hand. Anything that reduces vibration transfer into the chassis can be a really important factor in HDD life. The new trays are undoubtedly cheaper to produce, and yes you can tell by looking at them, but they function just fine and also reduce vibration. That’s a compromise we can all live with, I think.
Around the back of the Thecus N2310, you can see all of the hardwired I/O points. Starting at the top is the small cooling fan, which is held in place with four plastic pins and was reasonably quiet in operation. Along the left edge are two USB jacks; the upper one is a Super Speed spec USB 3.0 version, and the bottom one is a standard USB 2.0 jack. Directly below is the single RJ-45×1: 10/100/1000 BASE-TX connection – the raison d’être for any NAS unit. This one is driven directly from the APM86491 single-core System On a Chip (SoC) that runs almost everything on the N2310 NAS server. A small, recessed Reset switch is located just below the GbE connector, and is accessible with a small diameter pin of some sort, like a paper clip. Below that is the power receptacle, which gets DC power from the 40 watt external PSU that is sourced from leading supplier Channel Well Technologies. Along the right side of the rear panel is the standardized Kensington lock hole. A device this small could get boosted very easily, so the locking device might be a good invesent in some situations.
There are no ventilation holes on the sides of the Thecus N2310 chassis, but two small vents near the front are molded into the top and bottom panels. The primary entry point for cool air is still through the front of the drive trays; where it passes over the HDDs and is then exhausted out the rear of the unit. I didn’t hear any indication that the fan speed is modulated, but it was pretty quiet, anyway. I haven’t paid much attention to fan noise in most of the smaller NAS models I’ve reviewed, as it was never really noticeable during my daily use. The Thecus N2310 continued that pattern, blending in to the background noise of my study, despite having a small diameter cooling fan exhausting out its rear panel. Smaller fans tend to be noisier, or perhaps just more annoying because of their higher pitch, but I never really noticed this one running unless I put my head down on the table. Any time I do that, it means I’m too sleepy to continue working, and a little fan noise isn’t going to make any difference.
The bottom of the Thecus N2310 is a simple affair with four small rubber feet, and a product label with Model and Serial numbers. The feet are pretty low profile, but there was enough room below the edge of the bottom panel, to make it easy to lift the unit up when I needed to move it around. There are two small screws beneath the front two feet, which need to be removed if you want to begin the disassembly process by pulling the front panel out. There aren’t any surprises underneath the rear two feet.
Now that we’ve had a thorough tour of the exterior, let’s do a complete tear-down and see what the insides look like. The next section covers Insider Details.