Thecus M3800

Thecus M3800

Written by John Yan on 6/16/2009 for PC  

After my first NAS review for Thecus, I was really impressed by what it offered, how well it performed, and how solid it has been. When I saw that Thecus was making a media centric NAS, I was pretty excited. The ability to plug the device into any HD TV and just have a lightweight box to view video as well as the peace of mind of RAID support really makes for keeping your media on the device a great option. So with that, here's Thecus's m3800 NAS. Let's take it for a spin and see how it comes out.

The m3800 is a 3 bay NAS powered by an AMD Geode processor. The AMD Geode LX800 runs at 500Mhz and it's a low power processor with 256MB ram onboard. Such specs would procure it from running most OS other than Linux variations and as such this one does too like all the other Thecus NAS devices. The three bays on the front support up to 1TB each allowing you a maximum of 3TB worth of SATA hard drive space. Each bay has a screen on the front to allow air to flow through and cool the hard drives. The front also features an LCD display that will give you the status of the NAS as well as output some of the menus that you can traverse through. There's also one USB plug on the front for plugging in more storage, a Wifi dongle, or printer. Besides the power button, there are four buttons to help you navigate the onboard menu and adjust settings.

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On the back you can see the giant fan to help cooling in the middle. To the right of the fan are the audio and video connection options. There are HDMI and component options for video, composite for both audio and video, and SPDIF for audio. I'm a fan of using SPDIF with optical cables but am gradually going to the all inclusive HDMI connection to simplify things. I just wish HDMI had a locking mechanism to keep the cable secure. Below the fan and starting on the left are two gigabit connectors. Another USB connector and an eSATA connector gives you even more storage connection options should you need more than the 3TB that's capable or want another external box to back up to.  Finally, the DC in connector lets you plug in the electric cable.

Overall, the size of the box equates to many of the Shuttle boxes you see. It's small and compact giving you the ability to place it in many areas without being overbearing. The size also makes it pretty portable should you want to take it with you. The black finish should fit into most entertainment center themes.Thecus used heavy duty aluminum to construct the m3800 making it light and strong.

For a media centric device, Thecus has included most cables except for the one that high end media enthusiasts want to use. Component and composite cables are there as well as a nice long HDMI cable. Thecus also puts in a CAT-5e and a USB cable for you to use as well. One thing they did include which is nice is a remote to access the device. Since it's an IR remote, those with universal learning remotes can be happy to know they can use their controller to also control the m3800.

Access to the bays is pretty easy as you just push the top half of the front plate covering the bays up and it comes out. There are three rail systems that can easily be removed by the large finger screws. The rails attach to the hard drive using tension as there are some clips that go into the hard drive screw holes. Just stick one on each side of the hard drive and then slide them into one of the bays. They are screwed into the m3800 via thumb screws that are easily turned by hand. Each of the thumb screws are spring loaded so they do produce some tension when installed all the way into the bay.

One of the things that sets this apart from the other NAS that Thecus produces is the ability to plug it straight into a TV and access all your multimedia files via an on screen display or OSD. It's a nice option if you just want to stick the box next to a TV and watch something but it's not the most elegant OSD out there. Seeing as this is a Linux machine essentially, I would have liked to have seen Thecus use some sort of open source software such as MythTV or LinuxMCE. The m3800 OSD is a pretty standard affair as you can see from the pictures and it's really slow at times. Yes, traversing menus can be a chore because of how slow it is and when you turn on the OSD, the m3800 also loses performance when copying files to and from the NAS. It's definitely a very limited set of things you can do with the OSD. Now, if Thecus were to use something like MythTV or LinuxMCE, imagine being able to plug a USB TV tuner and turn the m3800 into a full fledge DVR complete with RAID support. Not only would you get the security and peace of mind of having files in a redundant solution, you'd get a really nice rich menu system as well. Perhaps Thecus can offer upgrades or someone can program in a plugin to implement this but as far as the base OSD goes, it does need some work.

The m3800 comes with a very small lightweight remote to let you traverse the menu system and it works via infrared so you can program this into a learning remote to control the NAS.

Compatibility among file types are pretty basic. Supported file types include:

Video

Format

WMV9(no DRM), WMVHD(no DRM), AVI, VOB, TS

Codec

XVID, H.264, VC-1

Resolution

Up to 1920 x 1080i, 1920 x 1080P

Audio

Format

WMA, AAC, PCM, M4A(no DRM)

Codec

AC3, WMA, WMAPRO, PCM, LPCM, BDLPCM(Blueray LPCM)

Setup was pretty easy but it was missing something that I liked in the previous Thecus NAS I reviewed. The default IP address conflicted with one of the items on my network. Now, on the Thecus N5200, I was able to use the front buttons and LCD screen to change the IP address assigned to it. Unfortunately, the m3800 doesn't have this feature so I had to turn off the device that had the conflicting IP address and then go into the menu system with the m3800 on and change it that way. It's a minor annoyance and it made me appreciate the ability that the N5200 had over the m3800. The menu system accessed via the web is pretty much the same as the N5200 though and while it's not visually impressive, it does get the job done. I won't go into the module system as much here but you can read about it more in my N5200 review. Suffice to say one of the great things about the Thecus NAS devices is that users can program their own modules to extend the functionality of the machines. There aren't that many modules for the m3800 yet but it's nice to know that if you have the programming skills, you can add functionality to the m3800 this way. The N5200 has a nice list of modules that you can install and I'm hoping that more will come out for the m3800.

For testing, I used the HDMI cable and plugged the system straight into my Samsung 46" LCD 1080p TV. The OSD displayed on the screen without any problems and I was able to start watching videos in a short amount of time. Now, I did find a problem though with WMVHD. I downloaded a few WMVHD from Microsoft's website of various resolutions. On each one, the video would play for a minute or so and then lock up the machine. Yeah, there was nothing I could do but to hard reset the box to get it running again. Thecus sent me a beta firmware that has fixed this problem so I was finally able to play the various WMVHD files from Microsoft. Now as for other videos, I was able to play all my non-DRM WMV9 videos without any issues. Also, some of my DIVX files but there were some issues I ran into once in a while where the video would stop playing completely. I was able to go back to the menu and restart the video; something I couldn't do with WMVHD playback. Now this happened randomly as the same file I tested might have played without any issues but the next time it would run into the stopping problem. So, it's hard to deduce what could the problem be with some DIVX files since it acted differently on the same file sometimes.

Format wise, I was disappointed to see no support for MKV. A lot of HD videos use MKV as the container so seeing as this device can be attached to a HD television the lack of support for one the formats so somewhat disappointing. I actually found a module that would let me convert an MKV to an AVI file with the m3800 but it was so extremely slow. I stopped it after about 4 hours and it had just done 40MB so that should tell you how long it would have taken the unit to convert a 4GIG MKV file over. That's not the m3800's fault though in that it's not made to do transcoding but I would have liked to have seen video playback support for MKV out of the box.

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Playback on video when it was working was smooth at 1080P. If you have videos that support that resolution the m3800 will play them back on supported TVs with a great looking picture. I was pretty happy at how well it performed but only when it didn't run into the issues detailed above. Hopefully, Thecus continues to produce firmware updates to make the m3800 more stable.

Audio works but there's one big format missing. Yeah, no MP3 support. You'll have to convert the audio to one of the four listed above which is a little disappointing. I know some people will also list the lack of OGG and FLAC support as negatives as well but not having MP3 support out of the box is a big issue. So, I had to spend time to convert a bunch of my songs to WMA to test the application out. A problem I ran into though was none of my WMAs played through the OSD. I had no problems streaming it from the m3800 and I had no problems playing the file on a few of my computers but for some reason the m3800 wouldn't output any sound at all with the few WMAs I tried.

As far as performance in copy operations, the m3800 isn't a top performer and definitely slower than the N5200 I reviewed earlier. Transferring a .5 GIG file took 1:42 compared to the N5200 time of 21 seconds. For a 1.5 GIG file, it took 2:13 while it only took 45 seconds to transfer to the N5200. Now this is from the same source computer going through the same switch which in my testing area are Gigabit switches. I also made sure the OSD on the m3800 was turned off. The times are OK but a tad disappointing to me.

The m3800 has all the features to make it a great NAS and if you aren't going to use the multimedia setup then it will suite your needs to secure your files provided you have the hard drives installed and RAID configuration setup. But, the m3800 isn't just a NAS and Thecus does want you to use it to play back items as well on your TV. It's here where it falls short with the slow OSD, stability issues, lack of support for some major formats, and minor annoyances. Now all of these can be fixed via firmware updates should Thecus do them so we're going to have to keep an eye on out that. But at the cost of the machine, I might be more inclined to build a LinuxMCE or MythTV setup with a Shuttle case but you do lose some of the great functionality the NAS software affords you. It's a tough decision and I'm holding out on Thecus continuing to improve on the m3800 on a few of the software fronts. The m3800 is a good try for Thecus and I think that they can do better with the experience they have in building the m3800. For the future, I'd like to see a more robust OSD and stability issues fixed. Right now though, the m3800 needs a little work to become a good multimedia player but it does a solid job as a NAS.
All the strong NAS functionality is there but the video, audio, and OSD options needs some work. It's great that you can play 1080p video with the device though and there's all sorts of connection options available.

Rating: 8.1 Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.

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About Author

I've been reviewing products since 1997 and started out at Gaming Nexus. After writing for a few different sites that went under, it's nice to bring back a site that's not dependent on revenue and just wants to deliver news and reviews of products.

I'm  married, and enjoy first person shooters, sports games, and real time strategy games.





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