With the recent times, it can't have escaped your notice that many, many things are turning (or have turned) digital. The list of all that was once physical and now resides on hard drives across the world would be far too long to recount here. As a result of this trend has become more and more relevant to the home user, and as the list grows, the need for digital storage is rising with it. Simple NAS (Network Attached Storages) boxes have become quite popular to meet the demand for space. With the ability to set up storage accessible from anywhere on your network, or even access your files from a remote location via the internet (if your NAS is clever enough) is a convenience that most people would enjoy.
Today we have go our hands on the Synology DS410j NAS server and will be putting it though it's paces to see if it would be worth your hard earned cash. The last NAS we got to look at here at OC3D was the DS207+, also from Synology. It checked all the boxes and didn't fail to impress us, the only hiccup being the price. So lets hope that the DS410j lives up to it's older brother & manages to obtain a recommendation too.
As normal, we start with the specifications taken from Synology's own website. With such a fully featured NAS device there certainly is a large amount of information here but the belief is always that in these situations it's better to have too much information than too little.
Windows ADS Domain Integration
DLNA/UPnP Media Server Support
iTunes Server Support
Photo Station 3 Support
AJAX-based Management UI
I think you'll agree that's one impressive specification list. You can see that the DS410j is a lot more than just a box with a few drives plugged in. Boasting various types of raid array support, web server capabilities, user account control, iTunes server support and others, it is certainly a well featured box. So enough paperwork, lets rip open the packaging and see what it is like in the flesh...
The box the Synology DS410j comes in looks very professional with only a minimal amount of information on the outside describing the contents of the box. Normally manufacturers have to make their product stand out upon the shelf amongst a host of other similar items, but this is clearly a high-end product for the discerning consumer and not something you're likely to find in your local PC World. So what might be considered a curious lack of flair in other products makes perfect sense with the Synology.
Internal packaging is of a similarly high standard. The main unit is protected by some very sturdy cardboard end-plates and the foam sheets we all know and love. The combination of the sturdy outer box and the robust inner-packaging will ensure that even the most ham-fisted of incompetent couriers will be able to keep it safe.
The accessories that come along with the Synology are provided in a separate box inside the packaging. Something that always impresses as it ensures that the very spiky plugs and similar wont damage the unit in any way. Within this accessories box is a welcome note from Synology, the installation CD, an "assembling kit" which basically consists of the screws to secure the drives in place, the power adaptor and power cord and finally a 2m long RJ45 cable to attach the DS410j to your network.
Now looking at the NAS itself it is a very nice looking piece of hardware with a very professional air to it. Nicely understated it will easily blend in to any environment. Measuring in at 230mm X 168mm X 184mm it isn't much bigger than the 4 drives it can house stacked up. The front shows us the status lights, one for LAN activity, one for the status of the unit and four for the disk activity. In contrast to the understated nature of the DS410j itself, the LEDs are unmissable and something that is very important in a unit of this type. The main feature is easily the large on off button, but with the NAS being controlled by software this is not unexpected. You'll also notice the many vents ensuring that even the hottest drives will remain cool whilst installed within the NAS.
The sides are pretty plain, just bearing the Synology name. Here you can see the difference between the metal & plastic aspects of the case. The metal back being removable in order to secure the drives in place. Moving around to the more interesting back, here we find the two 80mm fans that keep the drives cool dominating the metal section. The plastic lower section holds the connectivity comprising of an Ethernet port, 2 USB ports and the power plug.
Opening the rear of the DS410j up we can see the important part of the internals, the four drive drawers themselves. Initially we were concerned that the rather sturdy nature of the drawers would impede the airflow, especially around some extreme performance mechanical drives, but the Caviar drives we had on test today remained cool and we know they are generally quite warm. Perhaps if you're planning to run 4 VelociRaptors you might run into small temperature issues but for 99% of uses there is plenty of airflow. Speaking of airflow the fans are very quiet producing no more than the small hum you'd expect from two 80mm fans. In keeping with the user-friendly design Synology have kept the fans accessible so if you want a couple of Deltas you can easily switch them out, and if you inexplicably find the fans that come with the DS410j to be too loud it's a quick job to put in some fans of your choice.
As the Synology design is so recognisable to anyone who's ever opened the side of their case, and that's hopefully all of us, it didn't take long before ideas were being bandied about as how it could be modded. After all if fans can be swapped and the case taken apart, it could be powder-coated. Which opens avenues for any other form of modding. Admittedly it's not something that regularly strikes us when reviewing something, but if the performance lives up, then this could definitely be a product that the mad professors could go mad with.
All in all a very sturdy unit with a nice professional look to it that just exudes quality. With NAS devices being all about the user control though, let's have a look at the software and see what Synology have given us to play with.
The level of user control and configuration is vital to the successful implementation of a NAS solution. The ability to easily RAID drives is helpful, but without the capability to provide multiple configurable options it's not providing the value for money or control that modern users require.
Thankfully, as you saw in the specifications, the Synology DS410j has more options than you can shake an enormous stick at. A huge benefit is that the software that is provided is incredibly easy to use and setup. So let's install it.
The installation process is swift and painless. The supplied CD, which comes complete with a personal bugbear of mine the PDF manual, quickly detects the DS410j and installs the software and, uniquely, the firmware. Initially it seemed strange that the firmware for the device is included on the CD rather than pre-installed, but with so many storage solutions benefiting from frequent firmware updates it makes sense to change the one that is on the CD, rather than reflashing all the chips in production. This has meant that Synology have gone to great lengths to provide an incredibly user-friendly flashing method, something that many other companies could take note of. It has the additional benefit that those of us whom are a little more obsessive about having very up-to-date firmware can grab the latest one before installation and be firing right out of the box.
The software itself is the Synology Assistant which runs within your browser. We have tested with both IE and Firefox and although it works perfectly well in Firefox it does look a little flash-er within IE which makes sense as it's still the browser with the largest market share due to its inclusion with Windows.
There are so many options and variables within the software that this review could easily be either 100 pages long, or a copy and paste of the manual. So we've decided to highlight some of the more interesting facets of the software which should hopefully give you a good taste of what is on offer.
A Closer Look
Firstly the status page which is a handy all-in-one guide to your Synology DS410j. It provides an overview of the NAS as a whole, as well as the status of your individual drives. As you can see from the screenshot below the system temperature is generously exaggerated in comparison to the actual temperature of the drives themselves, but that drive 3, the one between the other two, is showing the side-effect of having so many drives in such a tiny space. Thankfully the included fans are very quiet indeed and 37c is easily within operating parameters. The screenshot was taken just after intialising the array too so they had been worked hard.
Next is one of the best features on the Synology DS410j, and one we were pleased to find on a NAS at this price point. If you have decided to either run this as a home server, or maybe to even run a website, and it isn't somewhere you are constantly able to monitor the device it will email you should it detect any problems. An excellent feature indeed and one that really proves that this isn't just a big external hard-drive housing, but a pukka small server.
Next up is a very important feature of any network device, and that is the privileges. We wanted to test that we could lock out unauthenticated users whilst still allows those in who could provide the correct credentials. To achieve this we blocked guest account access and setup an account for Tom to see if he could still gain access. Sure enough he could in what was a effortless procedure. The Synology would certainly be very suitable for a private server for gaming sessions or sharing files amongst your colleagues.
The storage menu is somewhat less initially interesting and really repeats the information available in the initial status page we looked at. However in amongst those greyed out options are are the various changes you could wish to make to your array from enlarging it, checking it for errors and other tasks.
So we've configured it, we've set permissions, what can we do with this mammoth storage potential? On the left you can see the file station. Utilising this you could use the NAS to intercept incoming files and divert them to itself, regardless of their origin. Equally you can use it as a FTP for the odd individual file. If any of you out there develop games or applications the ability to use one part of the Synology to handle the large installation file by use of Bittorrent, and then the more regular FTP type transfer for any patches or updates, I'm sure you'll be delighted with what the Synology DS410j has to offer.
Our other screenshot shows the wealth of internet options available. You can use the DS410j for something as simple as a personal webpage, or you could use it for your business sales by utilising its HTTPS functionality. Want to be the next Facebook or Myspace? If you enable the Personal Website tick-box local users can upload their own personal webpages.
Pretty much regardless of what you want to use it for, this really has got all the bells and whistles covered.
Maybe however you aren't in the line of creating content for your serfs to view. Maybe you are one of those people who has to proof read swathes of text, or beta test a program or loves to be up-to-date on their Linux Distro, in fact anything else that might involve bulk downloading, Synology is there already with the handy Download station. Native support for .torrent files and eMule content is quite a surprise, so make sure you are certain you are allowed to download the file you want.
The backup feature is something NAS devices are almost built for. Although our box in this shot is bare the Synology not only will make a full backup of your system, but also monitor it for any changes. It can be set to automatically back those up too. Anyone who's accidentally deleted the wrong thing or, heaven forbid, have a hard-drive die, will shake this warmly by the hand. The old maxim of "backup and backup regularly" can no longer be ignored with "and where am I supposed to back to?".
Finally we shall end with the external devices section. In this case we have neither a printer nor a UPS to hand so the page is blank.
An item of hardware like this is much more about functionality than benchmarking, but nonetheless we've run a couple of tests just to give you an idea.
Naturally a NAS is only as useful as its ability to provide fast transfer speeds both when data is being requested by a sole computer if used as more of a large storage solution, and also across a network when multiple requests are being made in unison. As this is a smaller Network Attached Storage solution the decision was made that we'd try the Synology DS410J with a sole computer to provide ideal usage conditions.
Naturally a NAS isn't much use without any storage installed and so we populated the DS410j with three 160GB Western Digital Caviar drives and configured them into a RAID 0 array. Initially three would seem a strange choice but actually makes a lot of sense. One drive would be pointless, two is the type of RAID most of us are used to and so the performance would be akin to an average RAID system. Four drives however is still an even number so the thought was that it might be easy to get high performance knowing how much computers love even numbered amounts of things, especially if the Synology treats it like 2 dual-drive RAIDs. So we settled on three to make sure that just because we haven't got a dozen PCs to hand we could still give the Synology DS410j a good test without resorting to madly expensive top end drives. RAID is "inexpensive disks" after all.
Because we have used such inexpensive disks for our testing and the ability of a NAS, we decided to run two brief tests to get a flavour for the abilities of the Synology DS410j.
Given that we are running very average drives, in a strange configuration, we were surprised to see that the creation of a 5GB file provided twice the transfer speed of a 700MB file. We've come across speed differentials in file transfers before when usually the tiny files are slow and then it quickly climbs until the speed plateaus at a certain file-size. With the Synology it just kept getting quicker. Nice indeed. Also as we were creating dummy files of such huge size if anything was going to tax the 800mhz CPU and 128MB of DDR2-800 RAM, this test was it.
The DS410j didn't once stutter or wheeze. We think the only way you could get it to do so would be to have such a large userbase attempting to access all at once that the 8TB physical capacity limit would be the deciding factor rather than the ability of the NAS to keep pumping data.
Don't be fooled by the time taken graph either. Yes it only took a quarter of the time, but it created a file around a 7th of the size. This is most probably a limitation of our test drives rather than of the NAS. Nonetheless it's something to be aware of.
Time to wrap this up.
As someone who constantly desires ever more storage space as HD content spreads and bloat seems to affect every piece of software on the market, I've often looked at external storage as a way to solve the problem and specifically NAS. Unfortunately they seemed to be split into two distinct categories. Those that were no more than a glorified external hard-drive with a connector, and those that would be more at home within Mi5.
The Synology DS410j actually does pretty much everything anyone could ask, and at a price point that makes it very very attractive. After all, why have a burger if you can have steak?
The unit is attractive and sturdy. It wont dominate any environment you choose to place it in and, naturally because it's NAS, you can hide it away almost anywhere of your choosing.
Installation is a breeze. If you can use a screwdriver you can install your hard-drives, and the Synology software itself is amazingly easy to use to configure your array.Anyone who finds the whole "insert your RAID diskette now" procedure to be daunting might just have got the hardware of their dreams.
Once installed and up and running and looking at the Synology Assistant I have to say it's one of the most user-friendly pieces of software it has ever been my pleasure to play with. Outstandingly easy considering the complex nature of what it does.
Want to setup a few folders? A cinch. Change permissions so only you can access the drive? Not a problem. How about blocking access to IP ranges that don't authenticate despite repeated attempts? Water off a ducks back. I could go on waxing lyrically about the staggering wonder that is the software but I think you've all got the idea by now. If you can think of it you can do it. Easier and faster than you thought possible.
So what is there to dislike? Very little. It could be argued that as it's solely a NAS and doesn't come with any drives that once you include the price of some HDDs into the mix it could get steep, but if all you want is pure storage for a home PC, you wouldn't consider one of these. If you want the ability to share files between your PC and your wife's, or the one upstairs, then get a big thumb-drive. This is aimed at a very specific market sector and even with some beastly HDDs populating it's still a lot cheaper than the alternatives. Plus nothing under this price and very little above it provides such a wealth of features for protecting and organising your data.
Other than the price the looks are subtle, but with so many home PCs going black rather than beige it's possibly a little out of place. But this is really nit-picking. The short of it is that the Synology DS410j is well built, easy to use, good value and the only speed restriction is your ability to fill it with fast drives. Even four SSDs wont make it blink.
- Takes user-friendliness to a new level.
- 8TB capacity comes at a cost, but wont fill up in a hurry.
- Built like a tank.
- Solid professional packaging.
- More features than most people will ever need, but without overwhelming you.
- Possibly its beige-ness might put people off.
- It's great value but don't forget to budget for drives.
- It's only as good or average as the drives you put in it.
Many thanks to Synology for providing today's review sample. Discuss in our forums.