In the last three years, Synology's NAS drives have steadily improved, both in terms of hardware and software. The DiskStation 212 is a mid-range, two-bay barebones NAS and is ideally suited to home or small business users who want somewhere to store and share files. Read more storage reviews

Gone are the days when there was just one PC at home. Now, you'll have at least two or three computers, plus smartphones and tablets, all of which have their own separate storage. Not only is it a pain to back these up, but files aren't always easily accessible from other devices.

The DiskStation aims to make that easier, as well as providing a host of other features as well.

See also: Tech Advisor

Hardware

The DS212 comes without disks, but it's easy to pop the front panel off and slide out the disk trays and screw your disks in place. Then, it's simply a case of sliding them in and replacing the front cover. It's significantly easier than older DiskStations which lacked removable trays.

A 1.6GHz processor is paired with 256MB of RAM to help ensure the 212 can handle multiple connections and file transfers - we'll get on to performance later. See also: DiskStation 212+ review.

At the back are two USB 3.0 ports (handy for connecting a matching external USB 3.0 disk for local backups) and a Gigabit Ethernet port.

The front panel hosts a USB 2.0 port and an SD card slot.

Software

Once you've installed disks in the DS212 and connected it to your network, you need to use the Synology Assistant software to locate it. You can then assign an admin password and set a static IP address.

Setup is easy, then, but it's the firmware - more like a fully fledged operating system - which truly makes the DiskStation a pleasure to use.

Browsing to the 212's web-based management interface (which Synology calls DiskStation Manager, or DSM) is more like booting up a Linux PC as you get a desktop with icon shortcuts, plus widgets and a status bar.

The quick-start guide prompts you to create a volume (RAID 1 is the sensible default, but note that it's Synology's 'hybrid RAID' rather than plain mirroring) and shows how to make essential settings, but it's simple enough to find what you need in the Control Panel to create a few shared folders and users, giving each person read and write permissions specific to them. You can also allocate quotas so they can't fill up the disks with videos, for example.

What's confusing is that some tools are only in the drop-down menu at the top-left corner of the screen, even though they should really be in the Control Panel as well. Try searching the Control Panel for 'backup' for example, and you'll find Network Backup, but not Backup and Restore since it's in the 'start' menu only. Apart from foibles such as this, everything is logically arranged.

There are all the features you'd expect to find, such as an FTP server, HTTP file server, print server, iTunes server and DNLA/UPnP support. There's also lots of extras you might not expect such as a mail server, web server, VPN server and support for multiple IP camera feeds in Surveillance Station.

The latter two, plus the iTunes server, aren't installed by default, but are effectively apps which join a growing number by both Synology and third-parties. You can see the full list on Synology's website. Of most interest to home users will be Download Station for saving files from websites directly to the DS212, plus the new Cloud Station.

Next page: Apps and performance

Cloud Station

Cloud Station lets you turn your DiskStation into your own personal Dropbox. You install the Cloud Station client software on your PC, laptop and Mac and files placed in the Cloud Station folder are automatically copied to the DiskStation and other computers.

It works across a LAN as well as your broadband connection, so you can also keep a work PC, for example, synchronised with your DS212.

Any files from the Cloud Station folder which you edit offline are automatically synched with the DiskStation when the internet connection is restored.

The beta version of DSM 4.1 has been released and adds SSL support. Prior to this, files were sent unencrypted on your home network and - worryingly - across the internet. The 212 has hardware encryption which takes the load off the CPU.

ezCloud

Another new feature is ezCloud. This aims to make it easier for less technical users to enable remote access to their DiskStation without requiring them to understand how to forward ports in their router's interface.

Unfortunately, we found that this didn't work in our tests as our router (a BT Home Hub 3) wasn't in the database. In theory, it should be able to automatically create port forwarding rules via UPnP, but in practice it doesn't always work.

If your broadband package doesn't include a static IP address, you can sign up for a free domain name with Synology's MyDS DDNS service. This means you can browse to this easy-to-remember URL to access the DS212 without having to first find out your home router's current external IP address.

iOS apps

There's no Cloud Station app yet for iOS, but you can download several for monitoring IP camera feeds, accessing files and printing from your iPhone or iPad. The list of compatible printers is rather small, though.

Performance

We installed a pair of 3TB Seagate Barracuda Green disks to test the DiskStation 212. It supports a maximum of 8TB from two 4TB disks.

Using an isolated Gigabit network, we saw an average of 57MBps when writing and a stunning 104.3MBps when reading large files. A basket of photos totalling 20GB was written at 32.7MBps and read at 45.4MBps. Bear in mind that these are all unencrypted speeds, and that performance will vary depending on which disks you install.

Overall, the 212 is a decent performer and doesn't disappoint.

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DiskStation DS212: Specs

  • 1.6GHz processor
  • 256MB DDR3 RAM
  • 1x gigabit ethernet
  • 1x front USB 2.0, 1x front SD card reader, 2x rear USB 3.0 ports
  • 1x 92mm fan
  • Max capacity: 2x 4TB 3.5in SATA 2 disks
  • iPhone apps: DS file, DS audio, DS photo+, DS finder, DS cam, DS photo
  • 165 x 108 x 233mm
  • 2-year warranty
  • 1.6GHz processor
  • 256MB DDR3 RAM
  • 1x gigabit ethernet
  • 1x front USB 2.0, 1x front SD card reader, 2x rear USB 3.0 ports
  • 1x 92mm fan
  • Max capacity: 2x 4TB 3.5in SATA 2 disks
  • iPhone apps: DS file, DS audio, DS photo+, DS finder, DS cam, DS photo
  • 165 x 108 x 233mm
  • 2-year warranty

OUR VERDICT

You'll probably use only a fraction of the DS212's features, but its huge range means there's almost certainly the functions you need. Cloud Station is a welcome new feature and, given updates we've seen in the past, there will be even more added in each new version of DiskStation Manager.

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