Synology's DiskStation DS212j is a two-bay network attached storage (NAS) device that's aimed at the home and small office markets. It doesn't ship with any hard drives, so you'll have to source one or two of your own 3.5in SATA disks before you can get started. The SATA interface on the DiskStation supports 3Gbps speeds, maximum disk capacity is 3TB per disk and its networking interface is 1Gbps. The biggest selling point of the drive is its software, which makes you feel like you're using a desktop operating system due to its layout. It has a comprehensive set of features that make the DS212j perfect as a back-up device, as a supplier of files for a media streamer, and even as your own personal "cloud" unit. Visit Group test: what's the best NAS device?
Synology's two-bay NAS drive isn't one that's built to the sturdiest of specifications though. In fact, the case is one of the flimsiest we've seen in the NAS category. The connection panel at the rear, in particular, bends scarily as you plug in the power and Ethernet cables, and it feels like it can actually break off if you apply too much force. Opening the case to install drives entails pulling the enclosure apart in two pieces (basically ripping it in half), rather than sliding drives into bays. It's definitely not the easiest of enclosures to work with. On the upside, it does look attractive, albeit with a front panel that has very bright status lights; the Synology logos on the side panels double as vents. See also Western Digital My Book Live Duo review.
The drives can be screwed securely in place and there is a gap of about one centimetre between them. A fan at the rear of the enclosure helps to disperse the heat they generate. Depending on the drives you use, the DS212j can be loud; during our tests, it emitted a steady whirring sound that was noticeable in a quiet room, and drive seek operations were audible, too (we used two different Seagate drives: ST31500341AS and ST31000524NS). When not actively serving files, the Synology sat quietly on standby and consumed about 7W of power. It woke up with a groan as soon as we accessed it. When under a full load, it consumed about 26W of power, but again, how much it consumes will vary depending on the drives that are used.
Setting it up
Once the hardware is in place, you'll need to go to Synology's Web site and download two things: Synoogy Assistant, which can help you find and connect to the drive on your network, and the latest DSM, which is the operating system that's responsible for delivering all of the NAS drive's wonderful features. The DSM can be installed through the Synology Assistant.
Once you've got it all set up, you can log in to the drive using Synology Assistant and learn the ins and outs of the system. By default, the unit will prepare your drives in a RAID 1 array in the background, leaving you to explore the many features that are on offer. It can be a little daunting if you're inexperienced when it comes to NAS devices, and you'll need to spend a lot of time with it to understand exactly how to use it and what else it can be used for apart from just storing files on your local network for convenience.
DSM 4.0: here you can see the Control Panel, the packages window and the little "start menu" at the top, which shows the installed packges.
Synology offers many of the drive's capabilities using packages that can be installed depending on your needs and wants; through the Package Centre on the interface's "desktop" you can install packages such as the iTunes server, Download Station (for downloading BitTorrent files directly to the disk) and Cloud Station, which allows you to use the drive as your own personal "dropbox" service through a desktop client.
The Cloud Station client for Windows needs an ID before you can use it.
Launch the Cloud Station app from the DiskStation to find the ID.
The NAS will need to be configured on your network in order to undertake some of its tasks, especially for the Cloud Station and BitTorrent packages, which means that ports will have to be forwarded. If your router supports UPnP, then the Synology can do this for you through the Router Configuration applet in the Control Panel. It detected our Netgear WNDR4500 router, but it took many minutes of applying, testing and re-applying the forwarding rules before we could save the configuration. Once it was all completed though, the drive performed its tasks swimmingly. We downloaded the Cloud Station client for Windows and experienced no problems setting it up and using it to keep files synchronised on multiple computers through the DiskStation.
CloudStation synching some files.
DynamicDNS is supported through Synology's own MyDS service and as long as you forward the management port of the DiskStation, you can access its interface from wherever you are online. This gives you access to the built-in packages, too, which is convenient for things such as the BitTorrent application. You can log in remotely, launch this package, and add or even search for torrents within its interface, and then have them download by the time you get home, for example. Not only, but you can use apps such as DS File to access your files from your iPhone, iPad or Android device. DS File allows you to play music files and view photos over 3G or Wi-Fi. We could even watch MP4 files without any issues when hooked up to our Wi-Fi network. For the app to work, you need to forward the ports for the WebDAV service in the aforementioned Router Configuration. There are many other apps to try, too,
The built-in torrent client, through which you can even search popular sites for torrents.
The DS File app for Android showing a list of the folders on our drive.
We had no problems running the Diskstation as a file repository for our WD Live TV media streamer — it was found without a hitch and supplied video and music files steadily throughout our test period. DLNA is also supported. It was never a temperamental device; we found it to always be available on our network every time we wanted to access it. It performed well, too. In our file transfer tests for small files (1MB in size), it recorded a read rate of 27.02 megabytes per second (MBps) and a write rate of 20.13MBps. For large files (500MB to 1.5GB), it recorded a read rate of 56.54MBps and a write rate of 36.32MBps. We tested through a Netgear WNDR4500 router with a Gigabit Ethernet connection, and used a laptop with a Gigabit connection and a 7200rpm hard drive to facilitate the transfers. It's definitely a zippy little NAS device.
USB ports at the rear of the DiskStation allow for external USB drives to be shared on your network and this feature was reliable, too. The USB drives we plugged in showed up immediately as folders within the DiskStation and we could access everything on them, albeit a little slower due to the USB drive itself being slower.
There are many other features that are available for the DiskStation DS212j, mainly in the form of extra packages. What you use it for is up to you, but if you want a powerful NAS that's perfect for backing up, serving files and acting as a "cloud" storage device, then it's perfect. It does take some time to get used to its interface and to figure out how to use many of its features, but there are hints and tips that are given that can guide you through various features. The best for us was, once we set up the features we wanted, they all worked reliably. It's a terrific device in this respect; we just wish the hardware felt a little sturdier.