So you want a central place to store all of your files? A place where other members of your family or small office can easily gain access to them? Well, you've got two choices. Either go out and buy a full size file server, or invest in a NAS.
The latter option of the two has been increasingly growing in popularity over the past couple of years, with many people realising that they they can save on both office space and money by opting for a NAS device over a full blown server. NAS's are smaller, more efficient and designed for just one purpose - to serve files. But are all NAS' equal?
Today we've been given the chance to review one of Synology's latest NAS boxes released only a few days ago. Listed under Synology's SMB (Small Medium Business) section of their website the DS710+ boasts some very impressive specifications combined with stylish looks. But let's hear what Synology have to say:
Synology® DiskStation DS710+ offers a high-performance, scalable, and full-featured network attached storage solution that meets the needs of small and medium-sized businesses that require an efficient way to centralize data protection, simplify data management, and rapidly scale storage capacity with minimal time spent on setup and management. The Synology DS710+ is backed with Synology's 3-year limited warranty.
* 113+ MB/sec Reading, 102+ MB/sec Writing
* Scalable with Synology DX5102 to up to 7 Drives
* Power-saving with only 31W in Operation
* Wake on LAN/WAN
* Includes Feature-Rich Synology DiskStation Manager 2.2 (DSM 2.2)
With the promise of reading/writing results over 100MB/sec the DS710+ comes very close to making full use of its Gigabit ethernet connection. This means that in order to take full advantage of its performance, you really do need to have a good network in place. The benefits of this should certainly pay off though with far less waiting around for backups to complete, folders full of MP3's and video's transferring over within seconds rather than minutes and and essentially local hard-disk-like performance, only over a network.
Windows ADS Domain Integration
DLNA/UPnP Media Server Support
iTunes Server Support
Audio Station Support
Photo Station 3 Support
Supported Mobile Devices (Photo Station, File Station)
Now that's what I call a spec list! Synology have litterally listed every single feature of the DS710+ whether it be big or small. But enough paperwork, lets rip open the packaging and see what it is like in the flesh...
The DS710+ arrived in a professional looking plain brown cardboard box printed with the Synology name and logo graphics. Details of the product contained within are located on several stickers dotted around the sides of the box, but Synology have avoided printing anything product-specific directly on to the box. Normally I'd take the view that packaging such as this wouldn't really stand out on retailers shelves, but considering that most manufacturers do everything possible to thrust their products in your face, Synology have been quite clever here by making the DS710+ stand out by not standing out.
The simple but effective approach has been continued onto the inner packaging where the main NAS box and accessories have been isolated from each other to prevent any damage during shipping. The accessories box contains items such as the mains cable, RJ45 cable, instructions manual and an installation CD all wrapped up in separate clear plastic bags, whereas the NAS unit has been lovingly wrapped up tightly in a thin polystyrene-type foam.
Overall the DS710+ packaging has a very 'enterprise' feel to it, and despite not being jammed with polystyrene blocks or filled with foam pieces, should still arrive at your door in pristine condition. Now on to the appearance...
Having reviewed a few Synology NAS boxes now on Overclock3D and every single one having been white, it was quite a surprise to see the DS710+ outfitted in black. A quick look at Synology's website seems to reveal that this is a colour normally reserved for the high-end products that mean 'business' (in more than one sense of the word) so hopefully the 710 is going to push out some decent performance figures today.
Starting with the front of the unit there's the obligatory power button and a reset switches just in case the system goes a bit Pete Tong. Sitting between the two buttons is a standard USB2.0 port that can be used to hook up an external storage device or a printer should you want to share either device on the network. 5 LED's tower above the buttons providing visual status indicators for hard disk activity, eSATA activity, LAN activity and a general system status light.
At this point I was quite perplexed about where the hard disks needed to go as most NAS boxes tend to have their removable drive bays situated at the front of the unit for easy access. But not the DS710+, nope they're round the back....
Although this layout is far from ideal in terms of convenience when you're trying to swap out a dead hard disk without accidentally unplugging the NAS, I can only imagine that it had to be done this way due to design limitations with the motherboard used inside the DS710+. If I'm wrong, then Synology need a serious spanking as the only other reason could have been for aesthetics - which should always come at the bottom of the priority list when designing a SOHO / SME product.
A collection of ports is positioned to the left and below the removable caddy area. From top to bottom these are a VGA output (which doesn't seem to do anything), two USB2.0 ports, a Gigabit LAN connection, a PS2-like power connection and an eSATA port for expanding the capacity of the DS710+ by using a (as yet unreleased) DX510 hard disk unit.
The hard disk caddies themselves are formed almost entirely from plastic, which does make them feel slightly tacky. But not to the point where you feel that the quality of the unit has been compromised. Removing them entirely from the NAS gives us our first look at what's to come over the next page.
Stripping down the DS710+ was only a little fiddly with quite a few screws holding the main PCB and various riser cards in place. But man was it worth it. The PCB is essentially a small motherboard which I guess is unsurprising considering that Synology have used a fully fledged Intel Atom CPU for the task. The quality feels extremely high with nothing but solid state capacitors and chokes being used throughout.
Going in for a closer look we can see that a Bothhand 24HSS1041A-2 IC has been used to provide the DS710+ with its 1000 BASE-T full duplex ethernet connection. Sitting in close proximity is a ITE IT8720F super I/O controller responsible for monitoring items such as CPU & System temperature along with controlling the fan speed of the unit.
The DS710+ firmware and Synology Disk Station software is installed on a 1GB Samsung SLC NAND flash chip attached to one of the internal USB headers. This essentially acts as a bootable USB stick loaded with a stripped down Linux based operating system that the BIOS is instructed to boot from at power-on. Also attached to the board is a mini-USB connector which suggests the memory can probably be flashed even when the NAS box is unable to boot.
Providing the grunt of the entire system is an Intel Atom 1.67Ghz CPU coupled with a 1GB PC2-6400 DDR2 SODIMM. This is comparable specifications to that of a netbook and is certainly not to be sniffed at on a device configured to perform just one task. Should you want to increase the available memory of the DS710+, a similar specification memory module designed for a notebook should work fine in the unit. However, Synology are quick to point out that if you want guaranteed compatibility and stability, then you should use one of the approved 1GB or 2GB memory modules available for purchase on their website.
Last but not least, cooling is provided by a Y.S Tech 80mm fan with 40.4CFM airflow and 35.5dBA noise output. The fan is installed at the front of the unit and blows air through to the back. But what's quite worrying is that there are no ventilation holes in the 710+'s front fascia, and only a small grill underneath the chassis. This could potentially starve the fans intake making it more noisy and less efficient.
Now that we've drooled over the hardware it's time to fire it up and see what the software has in store for us...
"If there's one thing more important than the hardware in a device, its the software on it" - James Napier 16.02.10.
Its true. No matter how much expensive hardware you bung inside a device, whether it be a notebook, mobile phone or a NAS box. If good quality, well written software isn't there to glue the whole experience together, then you might as well have purchased a brick. Thankfully this is one area that Synology quite frankly kick arse in. We've had experience of their NAS boxes dating back to the DS207+ and the range of features included with their entire NAS range is only superseded by the sheer number of settings, options and other tweaks their web based interface gives you access to.
Probably the most intriguing part of the entire NAS setup is that the device doesn't actually come with any firmware installed. This means that when you receive the unit, you can download the very latest firmware direct from the internet and install it onto the NAS without having to go through any messy upgrade procedures. The DS710+ box we received came with Synology's DSM (Disk Station Manager) version 2.2 firmware on a CD, but with version 2.3 just around the corner, Synology NAS users (both existing and new) can expect several new features not shown in these screenshots.
Installing the firmware on the DS710+ took about 10 minutes in total. The install CD gives you two options: Simple or Advanced to guide you through the process. With the latter of the two allowing you to configure settings such as a static IP address and the NAS's network name. Once complete, you can point your browser to the NAS's IP address and login to the system.
The 'Status' tab was my first port of call, and in here we can see useful information such as the system temperature, what hard disks have been detected, how much memory is installed in the NAS and what network settings are being used. You also get a resource monitor graph for monitoring CPU, Memory, Network & Hard Disk utilisation.
The 'System' section allows basic system settings to be changed such as the interface language, networking settings and system time. As well as allowing you to set power saving features such as WOL (Wake on Lan), hard disk hibernation and a scheduled power off (but not on) time. You can also configure email or text message notifications for any system issues.
Before you can start adding shares and granting users access to them, you need to tell the NAS how you'd like the disks installed to be configured. This option is located under the 'Storage > Volume' section and launches a 'Volume Creation Wizard' on first use. To be honest I would have quite liked the wizard to appear immediately after logging into the admin area after installation, as less technically minded users may not realise they need to perform this step before they can start using the NAS.
A wide range of RAID options are listed to chose from, but very little information is given on the advantages/disadvantages of each one. A better approach would have been to briefly tell users what performance and disk space implications each option has along with how resilient to hard disk failure each array would be. Additionally, after configuring our RAID1 array a full sync of the disks needed to be performed. This can take several hours in which time the performance of the disks is degraded. A warning message to this effect would have been nice.
Once you've got a volume up and running you can start adding shares and granting users access to them. Yet again the interface is simple and intuitive, but does give you all the options you could ever need. Folders can have permissions set for both individual users and groups and extended options can also be set for disabling folder browsing, downloading and modification of existing files.
Flicking through the rest of the options is enough to make a grown man giddy at the knee's. There's options to enable FTP access, an AJAX based File Browser, a FULL web server with PHP & MySQL support, Dynamic DNS Support, a Firewall (for protecting the NAS if used on a public IP), a UPnP/DLNA compatible media server, iTunes server, *deep breath*, a media player (for playing music through USB speakers plugged into the NAS!), Torrent Downloader and more!
C'mon - SERIOUSLY! If it could just do the dishes and show me some love at night I could swap the wife for it.
Enabling some of the options adds extra sections to the main homepage screen of the NAS. For example enabling the Audio Station adds a full blown, web based media player to the main DSM screen and allows you to play your music direct to USB speakers without the need for any kind of sound card. Torrent junkies get an interface that they can just copy+paste long lists of torrent links to and leave the NAS to download in the background, and if you just want to grab a few files quickly from your NAS while outside of your home/office network, the File Station gives full access to all of your shares and allows downloading of both files and folders.
To be honest I could easily wax lyrical about the Synology DSM interface all night. There really are so many features included on the NAS that its impossible to cover them all in any reasonable level of detail without this section spewing over onto several pages. If you want to find out for certain just how the interface works and whether its got the features you need, the best place to check out is Synology's live DSM demo. But now, lets get on to the testing...
The Synology DS710+ may be pitched as a fairly high-end NAS for SOHO use and as such has a fairly high price tag to match, but in comparison to a fully fledged file server the Synology is actually the budget conscious option. We already know that the DS710+ has a tonne of features that places it ahead of any other storage solutions we've ever seen before, but how does it fair in performance. Will it punch above its weight, offering an excellent alternative to big bulky file server, or will it be just another poor performing box of tricks? To find out we're going to place it head to head with both a low-cost NAS (Patriot Valkyrie) and a full-fat Quad Core dedicated file server.
|Synology DS710+||Patriot Valkyrie||Dedicated Fileserver|
|Processor|| Intel® Atom™ Processor D410|
(512K Cache, 1.66 GHz)
| 500MHz Embedded|
| Intel Core 2 Quad|
|Memory|| 1024Mb PC2-6400 DDR2 SODIMM|| 128MB (Unknown Specs) || 4GB PC2-6400 DDR2|
|Hard Disks|| 2x Hitachi 7K1000.B SATA2|
1TB 16MB Cache
| 2x Hitachi 7K1000.B SATA2|
1TB 16MB Cache
| 2x Hitachi 7K1000.B SATA2|
1TB 16MB Cache
| RAID |
| Network |
| 1x Onboard Gigabit Ethernet|| 1x Onboard Gigabit Ethernet|| 1x Onboard Gigabit Ethernet|
| Operating |
|Propitiatory / Linux||Propitiatory / Linux||Windows 2008 Server R2 x64|
The configuration of the host machine is as follows:
• Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 @ 4.2GHz
• ASUS Maximus Formula Motherboard
• Dual Gigabit Ethernet connections (Teamed)
• OCZ Vertex 60GB Solid State Disk
• 4GB OCZ DDR2 Memory
• Microsoft Windows 7 x64
Testing will be kept as close to 'real world' as possible by making our main focus of todays tests on the transfer of files to and from the test subjects. All test subjects will be assessed using fully initialised and freshly formatted RAID1 arrays, and any potential for bottlenecks at the host end have been removed by using a Solid State hard disk capable of ~200MB/s transfer rates along with teamed dual gigabit ethernet connections connected to a high quality gigabit router.
The first of the tests involves transferring a 1GB VOB file to each of the subjects using a utility called DiskBench by NodeSoft. DiskBench is not to be confused with synthetic benchmarks as the sole purpose of the software is to time the transfer of a specified file between source and target drives. Based on the size of the file and the time taken, it can also calculate the average transfer speed in MB/s. The results are below:
Here we get our first glimpse of the DS710+'s performance. In the write benchmark the Synology NAS manages to perform within only a few MB/s of the full-blown file server, while the budget Patriot NAS puts out abysmal results. This is continued into the single file read results where less than 10MB/s separates the Synology and the fileserver, but once again the Patriot NAS trails miles behind.
Something interesting happens when we attempt to simultaneously read two files back from the devices. The performance of the Synology more than halves, while the performance of the fileserver only takes a fairly minor hit. This would indicate that the DS710+ doesn't quite have the power to deal with multiple connections at once, and may not be suited to environments where lots of people will be writing/reading large files to the NAS at the same time.
Dummy File Creator
Dummy File Creator is a utility that pretty much does exactly what it says on the tin. Random files of any size can be generated by the host machine 'on the fly' and written to any target drive. This removes any potential filesystem bottlenecks on the host machine as as no data is read from the hosts hard disk. A total of 80 files will be written to each of the devices with filesizes ranging from 1GB to 1KB. Average transfer rate is calculated from the time taken against the total size of all files written (3.1GB).
With the Synology trailing around 12MB/s behind the fileserver, we can see that the mix of small and large files being written tests the performance of the Intel Atom CPU a little more than the single file write conducted during DiskBench. What we need to remember here though is that the specs of the DS710+ are MUCH lower than that of the fileserver, and therefore the results are extremely respectable. The results from the Patriot Valkyrie are once again quite pitiful to the point where it could be frustrating to use as anything more than a backup device.
LAN Speed Test
LAN Speed Test is primarily designed for testing the 'real world' performance of a network connection. It does this by writing a file to a remote network drive and then reading the same file back again. At the same time the test is also heavily reliant on the performance of the host and remote machines (especially over gigabit connections), so this makes for an ideal tool to confirm everything we've seen so far and wrap up the testing section of the review.
The throughput results are pretty much indicative of of everything else we've seen so far with the Synology coming in just a little slower than results from our Quad-Core file server. Whats more interesting though is that with the results presented in Mbps, we can see just how reliant the DS710+ is on a good quality Gigabit connection. Furthermore, the 'time taken' results show just how much slower the Patriot NAS is at performing file transfers. Up to 6x slower in some cases!
Now lets head over to the conclusion to try and wrap things up.
If you've followed this review from page 1 and not simply jumped straight to the conclusion it will be of absolutely no surprise to you that I'm going to praise the DS710+ to the high heavens. The range of features that Synology have managed to cram into this little box is utterly staggering and the interface that brings them all together works like an absolute dream. You want to listen to your MP3's through USB speakers on the NAS? You got it. You wanna share your music via UPnP or iTunes, you got it. You wanna browse through your photo's using a web browser interface...guess what, you got it. How about running your own PHP web server, controlling video surveillance camera's, download torrents overnight or access your files remotely using a web browser? No problem at all. Synology have literally thought of every possible task you could ever want to perform with a NAS and have seamlessly integrated them all into their slick DSM interface.
And then there's the performance. An Intel Atom 1.67GHz CPU coupled with 1GB of DDR2 memory might not get lips licking in the desktop computing world, but when it comes to a diminutively sized NAS box running on a trimmed down operating system, those are some pretty hot specs. Even when pitched up against a full-blown Quad Core file server fitted with 4GB of RAM the DS710+ didn't disgrace itself and managed produce hold read/write results within 10% of our energy sucking server. The only place that the requirements of a 'proper' server still appear to be beneficial is when multiple clients are performing read/write operations at the same time.
But all of this greatness does come at a very steep price. £409 to be exact.
"Youch" I hear you say. Youch indeed. After all, for that kind of money you could easily put together a cheap mATX system with a reasonable dual-core CPU and 4GB of RAM. But then what? Install Windows and watch as it gobbles up all of the resources? Install a Linux NAS distro and just pray that it supports the network cards or RAID controller? Even if you get the basics working, there's a lot more messing around ahead if you want it to do anything more than serve shared folders.
So in defence of the price, you really do have to look beyond the "hardware costs this much" aspect. You're paying for the whole experience with the DS710+ ...and what a nice experience it is too.
- Synology's DSM software is simply awesome - and set to get even better when DSM2.3 arrives.
- The performance in both read and write is on par with much higher specc'd file servers.
- Ability to upgrade storage when the DS510 comes out in March.
- Very low power consumption in comparison to a full server.
- Price is high, but justifiable if you intend on using the features of the device.
- Removable drive bays are round the back. Awkward to get to if you have a drive failure.
- Fan seems to lack ventilation space and is also easily audible in a silent room.
We would like to thank Synology for the review sample today, you can discuss our thoughts in the forums.