Technology Details: Thecus N2310
The Thecus N2310 NAS server is meant to be a very low cost device, so for the electronics inside that means putting as many functions as possible on one chip. That’s the traditional path for cost reduction, and the reduction in physical size is often a happy afterthought. Consumers may say “Smaller and cheaper”, but the business always says “Cheaper and smaller.” 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:
- Single-Core Power 465 processors with a floating-point unit
- 16/32-bit DDR3 SDRAM controller with optional ECC
- Two Gen 2 PCI Express interfaces with x1 operations
- USB 3.0 – 1 Host with integrated PHY, 1 Host & Device with integrated PHY
- Two SATA-II ports
- Two Ethernet 10/100/1000 Mbps MAC ports
That covers all the basic necessities, and there are also a few nice-to-haves thrown in:
- Boot support from NAND flash, NOR flash/SD card/serial flash/USB/DRAM
- SLIMPro ARM 32-bit acceleration processor for enhanced hardware acceleration
- Dedicated Ethernet Offload Engine
- Embedded volatile and non-volatile private key storage
- Power Management via advanced wake up capabilities
For me, the telling feature that signals just how completely this SoC solution fits the bill is the integrated USB 3.0 capability. I know it’s the year 2014 and we all expect USB 3.0 ports on new products, but a lot of systems are still relying on discrete add-on chips to provide this function.
Power consumption is seemingly more important for some than others. From a macro point of view, it’s actually important to Everyone, since energy politics drives so much of our global experience. But, I digress…. The Thecus N2310 is designed to be a low power device, and even with two HDDs spinning away inside of it, it manages to do just that. Power usage will depend somewhat on which drives are installed, but a lot of the energy is saved by turning the drives off when data is not required. The APM86491 SoC is enhanced by AppliedMicro’s Scalable Lightweight Intelligent Management Processor (SLIMpro), a separate ARM processor subsystem that provides power management and a number of other features. Think of all the power management features that Benchmark Reviews has highlighted in our PC motherboard reviews over the last few years. Almost all of them have featured a separate power management IC (or two, or three…). In the embedded processor world, those functions are now integrated on a single chip, even if there is a dedicated processor on the die just for the “overhead management” tasks. You can’t argue with the results, and 5W for the overhead functions is a very light electrical load. In most of the US, that equals a yearly operating cost of $3.50. Adding two HDDS into the mix will increase that by about seven to nine dollars a year, depending on your choice of hard drives.
Even though the AppliedMicro SoC provides interfaces for two Ethernet 10/100/1000 Mbps ports, there is still a need for a transceiver chip to shake hands with the outside world. The tech term for that part of the interface is PHY, which is short for physical layer. The Thecus N2310 uses a Realtek RTL8211E Ethernet transceiver to provide 10Base-T, 100Base-T, and 1000Base-T capability. This IC performs all the necessary electrical tasks, to transmit and receive Ethernet packets over standard CAT5 cable.
512 MB of DDR3-1066 memory is standard on the Thecus N2310. Two ICs with a 96 ball FBGA package are soldered directly to the main controller PCB and are not upgradeable or removable. The chips in my sample were supplied by Samsung and they are rated for a variety of DDR3 timings. Given the capability of the DRAM controller on the AppliedMicro SoC that runs the entire NAS, the memory is probably running at DDR3-1066 with timings of 7-7-7 for CL-tRCD-tRP.
Last, but not least is the Flash memory, which holds the operating system and the system configuration details for the NAS. This one chip is 2Gb x8 of SLC-based ECC NAND, and is sourced from mainstream memory manufacturer, Micron. Like the DRAM memory chips, it is soldered directly to the controller board. The little splashes of paint indicate some production control mechanism, either the fact that programming is complete or that it has passed some test function.
To measure isolated NAS power consumption, Benchmark Reviews uses the Kill-A-Watt EZ (model P4460) power meter made by P3 International. Obviously, power consumption is going to depend heavily on the number and type of drives that are installed. The power draw also depends on the fan speed that’s required to keep the drives cool. When the Thecus N2310 first boots up, it peaked briefly at 31 W, and then once the system completes its boot process, and got into normal operating mode, it settled in at 13 watts of power consumption. With one drive installed and during Write operations, it drew 15W; Read operations drew 14W. Formatting and building a RAID 1 array used 24W, and then the N2310 settled down to a steady 19W. Write operations in RAID 1 mode used 23W, and Read operations used 21W. When the unit is turned off, I couldn’t detect any power consumption at all. Usually, Vampire mode still pulls a small amount of power. The Kill-A-Watt power meter can’t display differences less than 1 watt, so the N2310 may be using some power, but it’s less than a watt.
We’ve seen the ins and outs of the hardware, and the technology under the hood; now let’s take a quick look through the list of features that you get with the Thecus N2310. The next couple of sections are critical to understanding what features you get with these units, and what you don’t. It’s not just a box full of drives; a modern NAS server is capable of more than that, and some NAS devices are more capable than others.