While there's a lot of players in the external storage market, the two most impressive players are those who dedicate themselves to NAS storage - QNAP and Synology. And with new twin-bay network attached storage devices from each of them on the market, we thought it was high time to put the two to a head-to-head test.
$459 • www.synology.com
Twin 3.5 inch bays • hot-swappable • Intel Celeron N3050 CPU • 8TB max disk size (16TB total)
I f you’re running a couple of PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones at home, now is the time for a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device. Once the sole domain of network engineers who had the know-how to configure their confusing interfaces, these boxes of data storage are now easy enough for the average Joe to setup. And with their ability to stream music, movies and images to multiple devices simultaneously, not to mention back up that valuable data in one central repository, makes them a must-have device in today’s connected home. Synology is one of the best brands when it comes to easy-to-use home NAS devices, so let’s see what its new SOHO box can do.
This is a twin-bay device, which means it’ll handle two drives, neither of which is included. The largest drive size supported is 8TB, giving you a rather hefty 16GB of storage if you choose not to use one of the RAID arrays that use duplication to ensure double back-ups of your data. Either drive bay is hot-swappable, so you needn’t power down the unit if one goes kaput. Installation couldn’t be easier, with each drive mounted to a screw-less cage.
A single Celeron N3050 CPU handles the heavy lifting, but it’s only a twin-core chip, along with 1GB of DDR3 memory. Twin USB 2.0 ports, one USB 3.0 and one eSATA port allow for the speedy copying of files directly to the DS216+ via external drives, which can also be used to increase the overall storage capacity. A single RJ-45 port delivers Gigabit Ethernet, but there’s also an optional wireless dongle if you hate blue cables. We’d recommend sticking with Ethernet though, as Wi-Fi will struggle with the speeds required to stream to multiple devices. A single fan is included to keep the entire unit cool, and it’s basically silent, with a total overall noise level of just 19dB.
Several RAID modes are supported – Synology’s own Hybrid RAID, Basic, JBOD, RAID 0 and RAID 1. Hybrid RAID is a great option for those unfamiliar with the other modes, as it’s incredibly easy to set up tailored to your needs – be it speedy performance or data redundancy. The NAS also now includes support for Btrfs, or B-tree file system, which promises better performance and reliability than the EXT4 file system that used to be the only option at this price point.
We’ve long been fans of Synology’s brilliant DiskStation Manager operating system, which uses a GUI-based interface that any Windows user should soon find easy to use. Thanks to a simply massive range of free plug-ins, the DS216+ can be configured to do a heck of a lot more than simply save and serve files. The Photo Station and Audio Station make sorting and organising thousands of image and audio files an absolute breeze, and you can even stream from these to Synology apps available on both Android and iOS. In fact, you can stream basically anything from the NAS to any computer around the world, including video files.
Unlike earlier versions of Video Station, you can now transcode videos before you plan to watch them, whereas earlier versions all had to be in real time. This will be a real time saver for those who are planning to travel and want their videos in the right format before they leave. The Cloud Station utility allows users to set up their own cloud server much simpler than ever before, making the arduous task of creating an FTP server obsolete for most users.
Performance is extremely snappy – we used twin Western Digital 4TB Red WD40EFRX for benching, and hit a brilliant file download speed of 109MB/sec in RAID1 mode with BTRFS. This sounds great… until you see the results of the similarly priced QNAP NAS also reviewed this issue.
While we still prefer Synology’s interface over every other brand, unfortunately the DS216+ comes a distant second to QNAP’s new TS-251+ thanks to the QNAP’s much broader range of hardware features and performance.
Editor's note - this review originally stated that Plex is not supported - this is incorrect and the review has been updated to reflect this, sorry for any inconvenience.