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Thecus W2000 Windows Storage Server Review: SOHO NAS with the Power of Microsoft Server

Subject: Networking
Manufacturer: Thecus

Introduction: This Is Not a NAS

The new WSS NAS series from Thecus contains some very interesting devices, and particularly so at the entry-level price with the unit we’re looking at today. WSS is the abbreviation for Windows Storage Server (in this case it’s 2012 R2), and this provides a huge increase in functionality compared to a standard NAS, as you might imagine.

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Need a server? Just add a keyboard, mouse, and monitor

It’s really quite remarkable what Thecus is doing in partnership with Microsoft here in terms of value, as this entry 2-bay unit costs just $350. While this may seem high for a dual-bay NAS, we  really aren’t talking about a NAS at all with this - which will be readily apparent to the user upon first powering it up. We are talking about a full-scale server here, replete with Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials goodness. Of course a savvy user could easily deploy a small server in a home or office, and there are many advantages to managed solutions beyond the simple NAS appliances. But the advantage of a NAS is just that: it is significantly less complex and accessible for a consumer. The W2000 presents a very interesting option due to one particular aspect of its own accessibility: price. At $350 you are getting a very compact server with internal hardware much more akin to a standard desktop than you might imagine, and it ships installed with Microsoft's Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials.

What is “Storage” Server Essentials?

Ok, so I was a little confused as to the specific difference with the Storage version of the Server OS, unless it was simply a licensing distinction. My research first brought me to this quote from Microsoft:

“Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials is based on Windows Server 2012 R2. In fact, when it comes to functionality, you get key some features that aren’t included in these first two editions.”

After looking through the available documentation it appears as though Storage Server Essentials is, essentially, just Server Essentials with the distinction of being licensed differently. Microsoft TechNet defines it further:

“A computer that runs Windows Storage Server is referred to as a storage appliance. Windows Storage Server is based on the Windows Server operating system, and it is specifically optimized for use with network-attached storage devices. Windows Storage Server offers you a platform to build storage appliances that are customized for your hardware.”

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Continue reading our review of the Thecus W2000 Windows Storage Server NAS!!

If you consider the cost of Server Essentials 2012 R2, which is $500 alone, it starts to seem more and more crazy that a $350 device would provide that level of functionality. I reached out to Thecus to clarify, and licensing turned out to be an accurate assumption as to what (if anything) differentiates this version of Server Essentials:

“Windows Server and Windows Storage Server are almost identical. The differences come in the rights that are attributed to each license.”

So think about this for a moment. Not only are you getting a 2-bay NAS with underlying hardware powerful enough to run a Server OS, but you’re getting a full version of that OS preinstalled with a valid Microsoft COA. What’s the catch? Really, for a home or small office user, nothing. The limitation under the terms of the Storage Server license for the W2000 is support for up to 50 users, and Storage Server does not require any Client Access Licences (CALs).


Specifications:

For the (rather lengthy) full listing of specifications you can visit the Thecus product page. Here's a quick rundown of some of the W2000's features:

Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials
Intel® Atom™ Processor (2.13GHz, Dual-Core)
2GB DDR3 RAM
HDMI and VGA output
1 x eSATA for external
Enhanced Boot Drive: Embedded SSD
Data Deduplication: Performance Optimization
Active Directory Domain Services: Scalable, Secure User Management
Office 365 & Microsoft Azure: Cloud Service Integration
Global Language Pack: 36 Interfaces Available
Automated client backup built in
Microsoft Bitlocker drive encryption
Simple administrative dashboard
NTFS Online Scan and Repair


Here's a quick look at the packaging and contents for the W2000. Microsoft's involvment in the product is evidenced by the minimal Thecus branding (in fact, there is no Thecus branding beyond than the product information on the back).

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The W2000 is a nice-looking unit with a shiny back plastic finish on the front, and a matte black metal body.

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Up front there is a USB 3.0 port and SD card reader slot, along with the power button (and of course the dual 3.5" bay door).

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Around back we see a pair of USB 2.0 ports, dual Gigabit Ethernet ports, (which support teaming),  eSATA, and both HDMI and VGA outputs for connecting a monitor.

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The drive trays themselves are well made, and both drives can be locked in place (keys are provided).

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One of the W2000's metal and plastic drive bays

Next we'll take a close look at the components under the hood!


February 13, 2015 | 03:07 PM - Posted by galador (not verified)

How loud is the unit?

I have a Drobo 5N, and one of my biggest complaints about it is the low-quality fan they use. There's a constant high-pitched whine coming out of the Drobo...

February 13, 2015 | 04:20 PM - Posted by Sebastian Peak

The loudest I measured was 3.5 dB over ambient (37.5 dB, room 34.0 dB).  The character of the sound is not high-pitched at all, actually. It is definately noticeable in a quiet environment, but it's more of a "whooshing" air noise at full speed. The fan is a 60mm Sunon, model MB60251V2-0000-G99.  Another 60mm x 25mm fan could be substituted if desired, as this is connected with a standard header on the board.

February 13, 2015 | 03:52 PM - Posted by Esso (not verified)

Thanks for the great article! Would it possible to let us know if the BIOS allows for 'resume on power fail' and 'scheduled power-on'?

This could be a perfect solution for my needs :) :) :)

February 13, 2015 | 04:29 PM - Posted by Sebastian Peak

Under system setup you can enable resume on power fail under the "SIO Configuration" menu, but I didn't see an option for scheduled power on.  The other power options are resume by LAN, and resume by alarm.

February 13, 2015 | 04:31 PM - Posted by Esso (not verified)

So I RTFM'd the W4000 & W5000:
Power Management = Auto power on after shutdown due to power loss

Sweet.

No word on the scheduler though.

February 13, 2015 | 04:01 PM - Posted by Shambles (not verified)

With an atom processor and 2GB of memory (Even with the 4GB upgrade) this really is only going to be a NAS. I can't think of many services that you could run on top of file sharing that would perform adequately. Perhaps you could run a domain controller from it. Most people wouldn't want to run a domain at home and most SMBs would need a proper hardware anyways once they want to start running a proper firewall/VPN/exchange/WSUS.

February 13, 2015 | 04:33 PM - Posted by Esso (not verified)

If you're really wanting something to that capacity, you should look at their Large Business solutions... there are 3 models.

Top of the list has: Intel® Xeon® E3-1225 3.1GHz Processor + 8GB of RAM

February 13, 2015 | 06:06 PM - Posted by Shambles (not verified)

I notice that the Thecus rack mount WSS units aren't available any more. Perhaps a refresh is coming soon. Either way $2500 for an i3 and $3500 for a E3 unit with 8GB of memory isn't compelling anyways for something you're going to have to support yourself.

February 14, 2015 | 10:54 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Tyan ships a power8 based system, Tyan is an openpower licensee their development runs about $2700+.

http://www.enterprisetech.com/2014/10/08/tyan-ships-first-non-ibm-power8...

February 14, 2015 | 10:56 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Edit: development
To: development platform/system

February 13, 2015 | 04:39 PM - Posted by Esso (not verified)

I'll admit, there is a small part of me that wants to drop the 4GB upgrade in and see if I can install Server 2012 Standard... just reading up on the limitations of Essentials, not sure how I feel about it needing to be the top level of a forest and only being able to join a domain for migration purposes.

Looks like there is some support for data de-dupe, nice touch.

February 19, 2015 | 10:40 AM - Posted by DocACE911 (not verified)

For most nice homes/small buisness' the essentials compents makes everything easy... http://server/connect and you "automagically" join the essentials domain. Backups/images automatic etc.

You must hate yourself to want to run active directory at home!

February 13, 2015 | 06:57 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Wow, I have a Netgear NAS (which cost more than this device), but I really like this article and the Thecus! I might have to get one :)

February 13, 2015 | 10:17 PM - Posted by Ophelos

I have a 2009 Acer windows home server still, an i love it.. An yes it does still has the drive extender. :)

February 19, 2015 | 10:42 AM - Posted by DocACE911 (not verified)

Stablebit ($20) or Drivebender ($20) is actually a much nicer/safer solution than Drive extender (still have a WHS V1 box).

Even down to 3 duplications (3 drives), all NTFS formatted, and control at the folder level (So you can have Archives/Utilities (DUP) but not Archives/TEMP.

Drive Extender was fantastic but had its issues... the 3rd party solutions are simply much more robust (and cheap)!

February 14, 2015 | 06:34 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

That's not a 4x slot, it's obviosly a proprietary riser that is physically compatible with 4x. There are no controllers on it.

So that's how the 1x slot can have bandwidth, there are 3x lanes still available to whatever's on the motherboard.

February 14, 2015 | 10:44 AM - Posted by Latuman (not verified)

Now, I'd really find a use for a NAS. However this is "not a NAS" and apparently does gazillion things in addition to a NAS. I'd just like to ask "Like what?". What does the Storage Server Essentials ACTUALLY bring to the table that I might find useful. Does it run a bittorrent client? What other need might the target consumer have than just to be able to access your files on your network.

It's so cheap that I'm intrigued.

February 14, 2015 | 02:59 PM - Posted by Sebastian Peak

It has the same functionality of Server 2012 R2 Essentials, and it runs whatever software you install as long as it's compatible with this version of the OS. Driver support is different, but applications like a torrent client will run as on any system. There's some interesting discussion about the best way to do this on Server Essentials, and a thread on this topic here: 

http://homeservershow.com/forums/index.php?/topic/6639-utorrent-as-a-ser...

February 15, 2015 | 03:26 AM - Posted by Latuman (not verified)

Yeah, this probably isn't for me. I just need a file server and WDs EX2 NAS does this all for almost half the price, though I would appreciate a "toy" any day for tinkering.

February 15, 2015 | 12:04 PM - Posted by JBalcius (not verified)

It does a lot more than just a NAS. Fundamentally, This is a full Windows Server with many pre-built functions not found in a typical NAS. VPN, Active Directory, Office 365 integration, Azure Integration, DNS, Data deduplication for backups, Remote access to files and network machines (even waking sleeping machines remotely if needed), in browser media streaming (locally and across the web).

It is much more than a NAS with some remote connectivity for file sharing. The backup and recovery features alone make it worth it for me. I have been a Windows Home Server user since 2007 and it has been a life saver more than once. This is just the latest offering of this like of server software.

February 16, 2015 | 09:24 AM - Posted by Latuman (not verified)

I'm sure it does all those things. None of which I myself use, so there really is no point. If I had extra free time to fill with something, sure. I just want to have my storage solution to be outside my main PC and available for all networked clients.

February 15, 2015 | 11:46 AM - Posted by JBalcius (not verified)

Finally a replacement for a Pre-Built WHS 2011 box. Has anyone put the W2000 or W4000 on a power meter? I have been running the HP N60L Microserver with WHS 2011 and "Lights out" for several years. I am hoping that the power usage is a little lower.

February 28, 2015 | 10:31 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

The W4000 draws 40W with 4 drives installed.

February 16, 2015 | 06:05 AM - Posted by justin150 (not verified)

Colour me impressed

I have a QNAP server that can operate as a server, but horrible documentation, no information about how to create scripts for each computer to log in meant I could never face using it that way.

The ability to have this to do regular back ups of the 2 (soon to be 3) computers in the house and 2 laptops would be a major plus.

Not being a server administrator, can Linux users also be logged into server - I assume they can but how easy is it? The reason I ask is that I am converting an old laptop which I want to convert to Linux (mostly to experiment on) and it would be nice if my android tablets could log in to access pictures, videos etc stored on NAS

February 19, 2015 | 12:21 AM - Posted by TinkerToyTech

for videos all one would need is a DLNA COMPATIBLE device, or something that can see the device on the network, or see ntfs (samba) shares. The connector software is windows and mac natively.

more info can be found at the microsoft.com site under storage server essentials

February 16, 2015 | 08:18 AM - Posted by jtiger102

Do the clients have to be a Pro version of Windows? Normally, the non-pro versions can't join a domain.
Or is this a workaround through the Connector Software?

February 21, 2015 | 08:49 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

No, the connector software joins a "hidden domain".

This is actually a problem if you are on a real domain - you must do some hacks to get the connector software to work (sets the backups, deduplicaiton automagically)

February 16, 2015 | 09:27 AM - Posted by DocACE911 (not verified)

Is the esata a port multiplier? I can't find that in any of the specs.

February 17, 2015 | 08:06 PM - Posted by Sebastian Peak

The Atom D2700 only supports 2 SATA ports, so it's probably safe to assume that it is. There are two physical SATA ports on the board, one of which connects the boot SSD. I assume the eSATA port would have to share bandwidth with the unused port, so there shouldn't be a slowdown unless you deconstructed the unit and utilized that internal port for some reason.

February 18, 2015 | 09:48 AM - Posted by DocACE911 (not verified)

Wow, so how does the W4000 and W5000 support 4 and 5 drives + SSD + ESATA??? Does this mean that the 4 drive version is slower (potentially) than the 2 drive version? Imagine if you are using Stablebit (for file duplication ala Drive Extender) on Server 2012... at least 2 hard drives are written at once...

February 18, 2015 | 09:48 AM - Posted by DocACE911 (not verified)

Wow, so how does the W4000 and W5000 support 4 and 5 drives + SSD + ESATA??? Does this mean that the 4 drive version is slower (potentially) than the 2 drive version? Imagine if you are using Stablebit (for file duplication ala Drive Extender) on Server 2012... at least 2 hard drives are written at once...

February 18, 2015 | 04:38 PM - Posted by Sebastian Peak

With a x4 PCI Express interface like the one in this W2000 those larger models would have no issue supporting that much storage. Even x1 is more than enough to allow full throughput from multiple hard drives, with the 500MB/s of a PCIe 2.0 lane (though an SSD of course can saturate a single lane easily). With 4 lanes available in addition to the onboard SATA controller's 2 ports there would be enough capacity for those larger models, especially considering the eSATA port likely shares bandwidth with one of the onboard SATA channels.

February 16, 2015 | 11:04 AM - Posted by Interested Party (not verified)

How well does the unit perform in terms of De-duplication of data ?

February 17, 2015 | 02:58 PM - Posted by Eric (not verified)

With the W5000 model (5 bay model) it claims to come with a 500GB SSD for ~$550. Can it use the extra space as a cache?

February 18, 2015 | 09:54 AM - Posted by DocACE911 (not verified)

Where do you see the 500GB ssd? On the Thecus site this is not listed.....

http://www.thecus.com/product.php?PROD_ID=107

February 18, 2015 | 11:54 AM - Posted by DocACE911 (not verified)

actually this is a typo on newegg. It is SSD/HD hybrid - I bet the Seagate drive.

February 19, 2015 | 09:51 AM - Posted by Eric (not verified)

The thumbnail of the video introducing the product line, here:
http://wss.thecus.com/index.php

February 17, 2015 | 08:11 PM - Posted by Eric (not verified)

BTW does Windows Server support AFP now? I remember back when I used to run a Windows Home Server Time Machine backups were really finicky and just plain didn't work well over SMB. With Synology though you just turn AFP on and it works like it should, so I wouldn't want to take a step back on that front if I changed my NAS setup.

February 17, 2015 | 10:16 PM - Posted by Pingjockey

This article was the reason why I grabbed this unit. This is the ultimate mini pre-built windows server I have been waiting for. And the price can't really be beat...

February 19, 2015 | 12:26 AM - Posted by TinkerToyTech

I just ordered one as well, if the 5 bay had the same ssd I would have purchased it..

February 21, 2015 | 08:50 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I can't figure out how big the SSD is on the 5 bay - just a "hybrid" drive.

IF 32 gig one would be fine... but the 4 bay you are assured a decent SSD

February 25, 2015 | 01:51 PM - Posted by DocACE911 (not verified)

50Gb SSD Hybrid to a 5400RPM 500GB 2 platter drive

February 19, 2015 | 06:03 PM - Posted by Shrapnol (not verified)

NICE!

February 23, 2015 | 12:28 PM - Posted by Shawne Beeson (not verified)

I have few questions,

How much RAM will the unit support? Can I put 2 8GB SODIMM sticks into it and have 16GB or is there a OS limit.

Can you add the Hyper-V role to the server OS. I know it only has a atom cpu but it would be nice to have my kids minecraft server running on it.

And this has been asked but not really answered, does the ESATA port support port multiplier? I have a 4 bay drive unit that is about the same size and this would really help with the support all my HDDs.

Thanks

February 28, 2015 | 10:37 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

The motherboard/processor only supports 4GB. I upgraded myself; took about 50 minutes, because it requires removing the motherboard, and I was being careful. Good news is that there are no seals, so although it technically voids the warranty, there is no way to tell that you took it apart.

March 14, 2015 | 12:43 PM - Posted by Achim (not verified)

Hi, do you have a tutorial on how to remove the MB (to add RAM). I removed the cover and the two screws on the top of the MB. So the the top is lose now, but I can't seem to pull it up, though I don't see any screws at the bottom.

Any advice?

March 14, 2015 | 02:58 PM - Posted by Achim (not verified)

Ok, found it out myself after checking a tutorial on a different Thecus system. It didn't quite match the W4000, but it gave me the right idea. You have to pull away the back cover. It's held by 4 small screws, one of which, the one at the top is covered by a metal lid, which you have to remove by loosening another (5th) screw.

The you have to remove the cable for the front display, the SSD power-cable and the SSD S-ATA cable. Then you can pull the back cover together with the motherboard to the back away from the chassis and lay it to the side. That way you have full access, but don't have to remove any other cables.

February 25, 2015 | 01:51 PM - Posted by DocACE911 (not verified)

Arg.. just heard the podcast.

You DON"T have to join a domain with R2 Essentials. There is a Microsoft approved way (yes a registry script) to add 1 line to the clients.

You do NOT need PRO of win 7 to join the R2 Essentials (see above).

Now why the connector does not give you a simple freaking choice is beyind me.

February 25, 2015 | 03:46 PM - Posted by Jeremy Hellstrom

Link?  I am curious what the workaround is.

February 26, 2015 | 12:21 PM - Posted by Shawne Beeson (not verified)

http://www.tinkertry.com/how-to-make-windows-server-2012-r2-essentials-c...

Think this is the link for that.

February 26, 2015 | 01:39 PM - Posted by Jeremy Hellstrom

thanks! That even makes sense

February 26, 2015 | 04:00 PM - Posted by DocACE911 (not verified)

OMG - I knew something Jeremy did not!!! I always listen to you in the car.... can't believe I actually helped you!!!!

Great show. You guys are the best!

steve chmura

February 26, 2015 | 05:48 PM - Posted by Jeremy Hellstrom

and thank you for listening to us. 

February 26, 2015 | 03:59 PM - Posted by DocACE911 (not verified)

ACtually this is also (I need to find it) on the microsoft support sites....

Again, why this is not included in the installer is bat shit crazy!

steve

February 26, 2015 | 11:36 PM - Posted by Scott Baker (not verified)

What does the "windows embedded" description mean exactly?

How is this any different than buying an OEM copy of "Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials" and installing it yourself on a standard X86 PC?

February 27, 2015 | 01:47 PM - Posted by DocACE911 (not verified)

The licensing is for that device, and 50 clients (vs 25 clients on a standard essentials R2)

April 5, 2015 | 01:39 PM - Posted by Gramps (not verified)

Windows Embedded means you cannot purchase the software from NewEgg for example. It only comes on OEM boxes and as I type this Thecus is the only OEM that offers windows storage server 2012R2 essentials. And FWIW there is no user limit and no cals required. Though the practical limits apply. There are just so many computers that can be backed up in one night and just so many folks could rww in without dragging it to a crawl.

May 5, 2015 | 04:27 PM - Posted by FrankInBahia (not verified)

Most of the comments posted here relate to small but fairly sophisticated business applications – not surprising as that’s the W2000’s target market. But I’m sure there are thousands of home users who, like me, want to go NAS but don’t want to go with a Linux-based OS. (It took us too long to master Windows!) With that in mind, I hope you’ll entertainment some questions whose answers may not be so obvious to lots of home network users who know Windows 7/8 well (but are Server-clueless) and would quickly spring for $350 to have a Windows-based NAS.

1)Can you access the NAS via the internet – with PC’s, tablets, smartphones, etc?
2)The mirrored disks you refer to: Is that RAID 1?
3)If one disk dies, can you continue to use the good one while you replace the bad?
4)If the W2000 itself dies, can you connect the removed disks to a PC and easily access them?
5)What is the max. capacity for each of the 2 drives?
6)Is it ready for DLNA and UPnP connections, or will I need to add something?

Not to appear to be fawning, but I’ve got to say that your review is one of the clearest, well written and illustrated that I’ve ever come across. Bravo!

March 29, 2016 | 10:23 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Old post, but I'm reserecting it. I got one of these off the newegg deal for 100 bucks. I'm not a Windows user & find their implementation of server to be overly complicated in comparison to the many Linux flavors. That being said, I kinda wanted to try it but the embedded system was corrupt. Like any good geek, instead of returning it I cracked it open, upgraded the RAM, upgraded the ssd, and threw openmediavault (had xpenology on it too). I found something very odd when I was in there though. Others have reported this too. There was a single stick of adata 8gb RAM in this thing. I replaced it with 2 sticks of 2x8ddr3l for 16gb. It obviously only recognizes the first 4gb (I wasted the 16gb cause it was lying around). I understand why a system would only be capable of utilizing 4gb on a 64bit unit. No need to explain it. I also understand that Intel rates the processor for 4gb. No need to rehash that. But we all know those limits are usualy bunk. I've seen other similar chipset capable of utilizing more. That coupled with several people having 8gb sticks in their units on the w2000 makes me think this is a BIOS limitation & not a hardware one. Any ideas? Anyone edit the BIOS?

September 5, 2016 | 05:50 PM - Posted by Sig (not verified)

I installed windows 10, Plex, Sonarr, and MCEBuddy for a great media server experience. The Atom can't handle transcoding but I have the bandwidth to view eveything in original format and works great. Since it runs 24/7 minimal power consumption was my #1 priority and this setup has been flawless.

January 20, 2017 | 07:00 PM - Posted by wardog (not verified)

Necro ? Maybe, but good info for those owning.

Not the W2000 but the W4000

I found 8GB(2x4GB) that works in my W4000

G.Skill F3-10600CL9D-8GBSQ

Boot and then reboot and it is discovered in the BIOS and OS of choice.

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