The rise of the digital household is a strange thing. It was less than a decade ago when many homes had one, perhaps two desktop computers or laptops. General media was on USB Flash Drives, CD, DVD and for the oldies, the floppy drive. Indeed we have moved on from those days; the average household often has a 1:1 ratio of people to computers, all of which are connected to a high speed broadband connection. Ever growing music and video libraries have removed all emphasis from the CD/DVD format and as of late, even our Televisions and Media Devices are beginning to leverage the power of internal and external networks.
Naturally these days, the sensible thing to do is to store files to a central location which can be accessed on multiple devices. Now not everyone has the space, budget or ability to justify a standalone desktop for the purpose of file storage so this is the next best thing - NAS.
Forgive us, we fully appreciate that the concept of network attached storage is nothing new, but regardless we are keen to show you all two new products from Synology - the DS211 and DS411j. Having already been impressed by their previous products we were keen to find out more.
The full details of the two NAS Servers are as follows.
• CPU Frequency: 1.6GHz
• CPU Clock Rate: 1.2GHz, 16bit@DDR800
Volume Type: Basic, JBOD, RAID0, RAID1
Volume Type: Basic, JBOD, RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 5+Spare, RAID 6
Windows ADS Domain Integration
DLNA/UPnP Media Server Support
iTunes Server Support
The two units sport near enough the same feature set. It is very interesting to note that the dearer 411j features an inferior processor with less onboard memory. Time will tell if this will hurt the NAS device's performance.
Let the unboxing begin!
The DS211 arrived in a somewhat "no frills" box; a conventional brown base with a black Synology theme. Regardless, the packaging was secure and the decoration was clear and concise - exactly how we like it.
Inside are two smaller boxes. One contains all the power and ethernet cables necessary to get started as well as the relevent manuals. Unsurprisingly the other box contains the NAS box itself.
Aesthetically there is no real way to fault the DS211. Sporting a predominantly white theme, its size allows it to hide itself in most conditions with relative ease.
Once stripped of its clothing, there isn't much to show really. Your two Hard Disk Drives simply slide (and screw) into place. A small fan at the rear of the case acts as an exhaust - time will tell if it is quiet or not...
On the other hand, the DS411j touts a more retail themed package design. Despite the white colour scheme the details remain clear and concise, merely highlighting key features by means of self descriptive logos.
The accessory set is more or less identical to the DS211, with the exception of the driver disc (for obvious reasons).
Naturally as a 4 drive NAS, it is almost twice as tall as the 211. On the other hand it is constructed from solid material; aside the plastic front bezel the outer shell is entirely metal.
Synology saw fit to implement two fans in the 411j. Unfortunately under certain conditions a NAS box is likely to need active cooling. Once again, time will tell if these devices are able to keep noise relatively low...
Installation Process & Synology Assistant
A major aspect these products is the ease of use, starting from installation. After all we are living in an era where devices such as these are becoming common place in many (non technically minded people's) homes. Thankfully this is an area where we can commend Synology as the installation process was a breeze.
The installation CD is fully automated. Once the "Synology Assistant" is installed, all you have to do is open the application where it will locate your NAS on the local area network. You will be asked to locate the device's firmware on the CD however it is easily accessible. From here on the server is ready to use.
The Assistant offers other basic facilities such as the ability to add a network printer, map your NAS' Hard Disk volume to client machines as well as view real time information pertaining to CPU, LAN and Memory utilisation.
Synology Assistant barely scratches the surface of these NAS Servers' facilities. Let's press on...
Disk Station Manager 3.0
Don't be fooled by DSM 3.0 as it is certainly not your average web interface. You will quickly find that it has a lot more in common with a linux based Operating System. It is very responsive, aesthetically pleasing and has an extensive set of features and diagnostics. Over the next few pages we'll cover what exactly these features are.
Upon first log in, you will be greeted by a Quick Start Menu. This offers direct access to key areas which any new adopter of the device will need to visit.
Quick Start is orientated towards new users as well as technology novices in general. Each action within Quick Start is associated with a brief description, outlining what the feature does and how the user is supposed to configure it.
Unless stated otherwise, the Quick Start window will appear upon every visit to DSM. Once familiar with the system, it is likely that the end user will disable this facility and use the conventional control panels instead.
Users, Maintenence & Backup
Whether you have just 4 users or an elaborate array of 1024 users across dozens of groups, assigning user credentials and strong access permissions is all too important on a device carrying centralised (and potentially sensitive) data. The Synology DSM supports individual and group permissions for Read/Write, Read or Disabled access across all shared folder (as shown below)
Simply assign your client's username/password credentials and the job is almost done; note that the system will email your user once their account has been activated.
As we will cover shortly, these NAS devices come bundled with a number of applications. Under user permissions you may also specify the applications that a given user may access.
DSM3.0 allows you to view all Hard Disk Drives inside the NAS box, carry out SMART diagnostics and format them where required. Again the menus are very intuitive.
On a similar note, it is also possible to undertake internal and external file backup. The NAS servers can be configured in order to assign scheduled times for this to occur.
Web Station, PHP & MySQL
The Synology DS211 and 411j are capable of acting as basic website hosts. Web Station in a nutshell allows users to create websites directly from the NAS devices. Administrators are also able to choose the users who are permitted to do so. As shown about it is also possible to enable MySQL database and PHP functionality.
Firewall & IP Block
As you would expect, a firewall has also been implemented in order to restrict unauthorised access to the device. Moreover, you may manually select specified ports to block as well as choose from a list of applications to protect as well.
Following on the subject of unauthorised access, Synology has also implemented an "IP Block" function. If for example a client attempts to log in to the NAS device repeatedly with no success, the 211 and 411j can block that given IP address for a specified period of time. An email notification is sent to the administrator to make them aware.
DDNS & SNMP
As the title suggests, both boxes offer DDNS support so that they can be accessed via a given hostname URL. This is a priceless option for those with a domain and the need to access their files away from home.
The 211 and 411j also support SNMP, which allows network management software to access and monitor the servers.
Photo Station offers a basic web interface to access shared photographs. Once enabled, all photographs in the target folder become visible from http://**NAS IP**/**Folder Name**. Photostation can also be accessed on all common Smartphone OS' - Android 1.5+, Apple iOS, Windows Mobile and Symbian OS.
As I hinted earlier, Music and Video tends to be a popular reason to consider such centralised storage options. A particular perk of the 211 and 411j NAS systems is that they offer a sizeable amount of flexibility with media.
The most notable feature is DLNA Media Server capability. This will allow users to stream music and video from the NAS box to certified media players, which range from games consoles (XBOX360, PS3) to Wi-Fi equipped Televisions.
Don't lie. Many of you are likely to be hefty Torrent users. Synology NAS systems are equipped with an e-mule based application where your server can be left to download independently of other machines.
This avoids having to leave a desktop machine switched on in order to download large files. Consequently this should result in significant power savings...or will it? Read on to find out more about the NAS servers' power/energy parameters as well as consumption figures.
Regardless of where you intend on using your new NAS server, it goes without saying that you would want to conserve as much energy as possible. For those who are more power conscious, you will be glad to hear that Synology have implemented a number of useful features pertaining to this.
The main page offers basic power saving features such as a provision to power down Hard Disk Drives after a given period of inactivity. This may seem like a small deal for many but at least when maxing out the four drive DS411j, every watt counts. Further, from a power and noise perspective it is possible to adapt fan speed settings on the basis of you HDD's physical size.
This particular feature refers to power usage but not so much about energy saving. It is possible to use a USB based UPS with the DS211 and DS411j. Once enabled, the NAS servers can halt all services and unmount all hard disk drives so not to lose any data.
The above feature is probably the most important. Within DSM it is possible to assign a power schedule and thus triggering your NAS server to power up/down at given times of the day. This offers energy savings as well as additional security during hours where clients shouldn't have access to certain data.
On a similar note, we felt it was important to determine the power consumption of these devices. As always, actual power consumption will depend on the number of HDDs installed and their type. For the purpose of testing, we recorded Idle and Load readings. The former was determined through a period of time without any Hard Disk activity while load was achieved through the batch transfer of files from the testbed computer to the NAS servers.
Here we find the DS211 consuming considerably less power than its bigger brother. That said it should be noted that we are squabbling over pennies with less than 5W difference across the board and neither consuming any more than 20W loaded. This is without doubt an area where basic desktop servers will struggle to compete.
With the perks of the DSM operating system and power consumption discussed, lets discuss performance.
In order to take full advantage of Network Attached Storage, you will also need to have laid down the appropriate infrastructure within your office or household. For a start, you can forget about achieving optimal performance across Wireless-G/N or 100Mbps LAN. As even the fastest Wireless technology (300Mbps) has a maximum transfer rate of 37.5MB/sec excluding overheads you will most certainly want your storage linked to a fully Gigabit LAN compliant network.
For the purpose of "bottleneck free" testing, our DS211 and DS411j samples are linked directly to our testbed system's PCI-Express Gigabit LAN module.
In order to conduct our testing, we need a range of files to transfer to the NAS devices. For this, we used a Dummy File Generator which can create conventional or random (non compressible) files. Further, it is also possible to create a batch of files, varying in size. In order to determine a well rounded result we are conducting three tests; one 700MB file, one 1500MB file (to simulate videos and movies of varied size) as well as a batch of 11 files ranging from 1MB to 1GB (2GB total).
While we would have like to have tested the devices in different RAID configurations, we were not supplied with identical capacity drives.
To prevent any hold backs from the testbed machine, the files are being transferred from a Mushkin Callisto 120GB Solid State Drive. Finally for the sake of comparison, the same Seagate 7200.12 500GB Hard Disk Drive used in the NAS servers was tested directly from the motherboard's SB850 Southbridge controller.
Write Operation Performance
Batch File Test
Here we find the DS211 performing significantly better than the dearer 411j device. While the DS211 performed reasonably well, we cannot help but feel particularly disappointed by the 411j's transfer rate. Regardless, it really does seem as though we are judging between the lesser of two evils
Individual File Test
Unsurprisingly, the Individual File Test paints a similar picture. The fact that multiple file headers needn't be written during an individual file transfer has resulted in higher rates across the board. Again, roughly a 15MB/sec gap holds between the two NAS boxes.
Read Operation Performance
Of course for many media users, write performance forms only a small portion of the NAS' operations. As a DLNA compliant server device, it is likely that many will spend more time listening to music and watching video compared to the time spent loading the data in the first place. Particularly when handling high definition media, read performance will have to be top notch. So how will the two NAS' fair?
Batch File Test
The batch file test shows very promising results as both the DS211 and DS411j show considerably faster read rates compared to write. The DS211 excels again with over 75% LAN utilisation and performance within 15% of the same drive connected to a local SATA controller. Meanwhile the 411j lags behind with transfer rates of just 70MB/sec.
Individual File Test
Some impressive results delivered by the DS211 yet again with read rates pushing over the 100MB/sec barrier, while just below when transferring the larger 1.5GB file. The less performance orientated DS411j peaks just short of 80MB/sec, which is still a fair effort regardless.
LAN Speed Test
LAN Speed Test is a benchmark which measures network throughput between host and destination devices. By transmitting a 100MB file back and forth the program can determine a specific transmit rate. With a bit of luck it will confirm the results identified above.
Thankfully it did. One noticeable observation is that both results are proportionally lower than the Dummy File Tests carried out above. Regardles, we reach a similar conclusion of acceptable read rates while obtaining slightly low write speeds.
Let's wrap this one up.
Having considered all crucial aspects of these NAS devices it is now time for a final verdict.
Today the DS211 and DS411j can be found for around £220 and £270 respectively. At these price points, these devices are most certainly pitched against higher end Home/Small Office NAS products. Needless to say we have found a plethora of features that makes the pricing justifiable, but would we purchase either of the two?
Both products feature the latest DSM 3.0 operating system. Based on a proprietary Linux OS, you will find just about all software applications that you would hope to see in a basic home media server, from LAN/WAN Maintenence, Security and Power Saving to Media Streaming/Downloading. All that is required of you as the user is to install your Hard Disk Drives, run the installation CD and that's it; centralised storage in less than 15 minutes. What more could you want?
Well, there are a few snags. While the DS211's write speeds were arguably average when compared to the capacity of gigabit ethernet, the DS411j was particularly poor. It was surprising to see that the more expensive device, which is capable of holding up to four HDDs in a multitude of RAID configurations would perform as much as 15MB/sec worse than its smaller sibling. We are aware that "j" based Synology drives are not orientated towards "performance" but unless you seriously see the need for >4TB storage then this device does not represent great value at all.
As a matter of fact, a £250-300 budget could potentially allow someone to build a dedicated desktop server for centralised data/media storage. Such a setup is likely to achieve higher network utilisation and write speeds closer to the 100MB/sec mark. However you will spend a significant amount of time building and configuring the system; inevitably the vast majority of end users are not interested in such a proposition.
As an all in one piece of kit, it is difficult to be particularly harsh on the new DSx11 NAS servers. They are simple to install and use, are considerably more compact and consume less power than a fully fledged desktop server. While writing huge files to these devices will prove tiresome over time, the DS211 and 411j could comfortably form the basis of a media server for music/video streaming as well as the storage of documents, photos etc. Without doubt however, our preference lies with the faster, cheaper and more compact DS211 device.
All in all, a respectable effort from Synology. Keep your eyes peeled for these on retail shelves over the next few weeks.
- Easy & Quick Installation
- Comprehensive Feature Set
- Low Power Consumption
- Transfer Rates (DS211)
- Pricing is relatively dear
- Transfer Rates (DS411j)
Thanks to Synology for the products on test today, you can discuss your thoughts in our forums.