The Thecus N7700 is quite cheap too and boasts fast file transfer speeds, though it won't match the QNAP TS-809 Pro Turbo when it comes to server capabilities.
The Thecus N7700's drive bays are aligned vertically, so it's quite tall for a NAS device. The drive bays are hot-swappable and can be individually locked. Each drive tray is simply removed by pressing a plastic latch, but they may require some force to remove and insert them.
Most of the Thecus N7700 NAS device's features are standard. There's an LCD display on the front which displays status information and provides access to USB copy functions and a basic administration menu. However, it's placed at the bottom of the chassis so unless the NAS device is placed up high - on a table or bench - you'll have to bend down to use it. The accompanying buttons are poorly labelled, making it difficult to understand their functions if you aren't accustomed to the NAS.
Four USB 2.0 ports on the front and back panels can serve printers and external hard drives, and an eSATA port is also available for external storage. Unfortunately, the N7700 NAS device only supports read and write for FAT32 external drives; it can only read NTFS drives and it won't support HFS+ at all. The back panel also has a serial port to connect compatible UPS devices as well as two Gigabit Ethernet ports which support failover, load balancing and 802.3ad link aggregation.
Internal hard drives can be formatted to ext3, ZFS and XFS file systems and configured in multiple RAID volumes, with support for JBOD and RAID levels 0, 1, 5, 6 and 1+0. Each RAID volume can be encrypted with an individual password and the NAS device also allows you to create a USB password disk - a handy feature if you think you're likely to lose or forget the password.
The Thecus N7700 NAS device can be configured as an iSCSI target, allowing compatible servers and PCs to connect to volumes as local storage instead of as a network device. It can also initiate and "stack" compatible Thecus NAS devices (currently only the N5200, 1U4500 and N7700 are supported) as iSCSI share on the N7700, so you won't have to initiate several devices. Our favourite feature is its ability to mount up to 50 ISO disk images from the NAS device's internal storage as individual shares. This should allow you to easily deploy software around a workgroup without having to fiddle with CDs or DVDs.
Network protocol support is surprisingly extensive, comprising Apple networks (AFP and Bonjour), Windows SAMBA shares, NFS-based Linux networks and all compatible uPnP devices. If you're looking to use the N7700 NAS device as a web server, it will support FTP, HTTP and secure HTTP. Unfortunately, backing up data on the NAS device might be an issue. The N7700 can only backup to Nsync targets (not to be confused with a certain boy band), limiting backup options to other Thecus NAS devices and legacy FTP servers.
These features are disabled by default out of the box, but easy to enable and configure using the NAS device's web-based interface. However, the interface isn't as easy to use as AJAX-based equivalents on the Synology or QNAP NAS devices, and it isn't as fully featured either. You can set storage quotas on individual share volumes but can't do the same for users and groups. Unless you're using the NFS protocol, there isn't any way to set user and group share permissions either; it's a simple public/private switch for folders.
An Intel Celeron M 1.86GHz powers the Thecus N7700 NAS, alongside 2GB of DDR2 RAM. It also packs a fairly hefty 300W power supply, so don't expect frugal power consumption. In fact with two 1.5TB Seagate Barracuda hard drives in tow the NAS device consumed a minimum of 49.3 watts when idle and a maximum of 59W under maximum load. The device does have hard drive standby and Wake On LAN features to minimise power consumption, nonetheless these power consumption figures are quite high for a two-drive configuration.
We tested the Thecus N7700 NAS device using Intel's NAS Performance Toolkit in addition to two file transfer tests, connected via Gigabit Ethernet to our testbed PC equipped with a 300GB Western Digital Velociraptor hard drive. The first file transfer test involved 20GB of 3-4GB files, while the second involved 3GB of 1MB files.
The N7700 NAS device's streaming bandwidth is certainly capable of pumping out high definition media over a Gigabit network, and it will be able to run some simultaneous tasks in the background. However, its true strength clearly lies in dealing with raw data, as shown in our real world file transfer tests. If you're looking to constantly backup data or access files already on the NAS device, these speeds indicate that the NAS device is certainly capable of facilitating this.
We wouldn't recommend the N7700 NAS device to those looking for a foolproof backup system; the inability to easily replicate data to another device rules out that possibility. However, as an iSCSI server or a basic network share, Thecus' towering device is a reasonably priced option.
The Thecus N7700 NAS device works best as a basic network share and when coupled with an iSCSI server. The ability to mount ISO images is also handy for deploying software across a company, but poor user administration features hamper its effectiveness in large work environments.