A Look Inside and Conclusion
The Atom Motherboard
I couldn't resist the tempation to pull out the N2560's innards and take a closer look at the Intel Atom CE5335 platform board.
With the back cover removed we can see the component layout inside
It took 9 screws and a few minutes to open the shell and remove the components, and this process was completely non-destructive. Now we can take a closer look at this small motherboard.
The SATA interface card is connected via a PCIe card slot on the underside of the board.
The more I examined the board, the more I was tempted to create some bootable USB drives and try installing different operating systems… After all, the components involved are all pretty standard. But in the end, I just reassembled the NAS. Honestly, the software and functionality is already so extensive on these Thecus NAS servers that I don't know how much more I would get out of this platform with another OS anyway. (But it would be a great – and potentially frustrating – project!)
The Thecus N2560 NAS Server is an interesting product that demonstrates what is possible when implementing a low-power SoC like the Atom CE5335. Building on what we saw from the N2310, which featured a proper iTunes server implementation as well as app support for functions like bit torrent downloading, the N2560 provides even more impressive funtionality with the digital audio/video output. Of course this would be useless without good software to drive the experience, but the integration of XBMC as an interface for media playback makes the process of getting files to your TV and sound system extremely simple.
The focus of this review was almost exclusively on XBMC, and this was intentional. The N2560 is capable of considerably more functionality, and the 3rd party app list is constantly growing, but it was the HDMI output afforded by the Intel Atom SoC that really differenciated this NAS (especially in this price segment). For a closer look at some of the additional options available here you can check out our previous Thecus N2310 NAS server review, as the N2310 is running the same OS and offers many of the same software options.
The only drawback to my experience with the N2560 was the peculiar method to install and use XBMC, which never shows up in as an installed program icon (like Transmission or Plex, for example). Be sure to follow the directions for installing and using XBMC provided by Thecus and you should be good to go, but this could certainly be more intuitive. I encountered issues at first because I didn't follow each step in order, and this took some time to troubleshoot. However, once I had followed each step as directed from a fresh install of the Thecus OS (thanks to Thecus support here), it worked as advertised.
With its media functionality growing from the server side to direct connection, the Thecus N2560 NAS Server bridges the gap between storage devices and HTPCs. So much so, in fact, that it may actually replace the need for an HTPC if XBMC provides the functionality that you need. And at just under $180 (as this was written) that makes the N2560 a very attractive option.