Insider Details: Thecus N2310 NAS Server
The insides of these things are always more interesting than the outsides, at least to me. The N2310 comes apart pretty easily, once you crack the code. It wasn’t as hard as cracking open an iPhone, but there’s always some guessing and exploratory prying that has to take place before all the latches let their guard down. There were just two screws on the rear panel, but another two were hidden underneath the front two rubber feet. Once all the screws were out, the front bezel could be removed after popping off a couple internal latches. The one-piece outer shell, which forms the sides and top, then has to slide about 1cm towards the front so it can be lifted off. That’s pretty much it for disassembly, besides removing the controller board and the fan from the rear panel. For the record, it went back together easier than it came apart.
The main controller board takes up the entire right side of the unit, and nearly everything is integrated on the one board, including all the front and back panel connectors, indicators, and switches. The only exception is the backplane where the two SATA connections for the drives are mounted. The main board is held in place by four screws, and was quite easy to remove. The memory backup battery is mounted to the backside of the controller board, and can only be accessed by disassembling the unit to this level.
The main controller board is not that densely populated; the only reason it is this big is so it can span the entire length of the NAS unit, and integrate all the front and rear panel devices onto the PCB. The N2310 uses Applied Micro’s new APM86491 single-core PowerPC processor as the heart of the NAS server. This single IC is truly a System On a Chip (SoC), with everything that a modern NAS needs integrated into one package. Located to the left of the SoC, there is a single 2Gb x8 flash memory module from Micron, to store the system OS. This acts like a system drive, yet it takes up very little space and uses almost no power. Just above that is a single Ethernet PHY transceiver from Realtek. To the right of the SoC is the 512MB of DRAM, contained on two FGBA ICs supplied by Samsung. That’s pretty much it, for active components, besides a number of power supply and regulator circuits spread around on the board. The main controller board and backplane connect with an x1 PCI Express connector located toward the rear of the controller card, near the power and Ethernet connectors. The interface travelling through this connector is pure SATA, coming directly from the APM86491 chip; the PCIe spec connector body is just used for convenience.
There are no provisions for additional cooling of any of the chips on the controller board. I read all the marketing stuff about Applied Micro’s new APM86491 single-core PowerPC processor, and how low the power consumption is. What I didn’t expect, was that the power requirements would be so low that no heat sinking at all would be needed. There’s not even a decent airflow path inside the NAS that passes a lot of air across the front surface of the PCB. The overall performance of the NAS server doesn’t seem to suffer from all this low-power goodness, so just enjoy the fact that modern IC manufacturing can produce this much computing power from such a small amount of electrical power.
So far we’ve had a good look at what there is to observe as far as hardware goes, but let’s dig down one more layer, down to the chip level where the technology really starts to get interesting. I love my shiny hardware just as much as the next person, but it’s only half the story….