Synology is a specialist in network storage, aiming its NAS wares at discerning consumers and small businesses. The Synology DiskStation DS413 is a four-bay network-attached storage drive, a step up from the company’s entry-level DS413j, and featuring most of the features of the similar-looking and more powerful DS412+ but at a slightly lower cost.
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It matters little to anyone who’s unconcerned how their storage device delivers data, but the Synology DiskStation DS413 takes an unusual processor to drive its many available functions. At this level we’d expect to see an ARM processor, cheaper and cooler running than the next alternative of the lowish-power Intel Atom PC processor.
Instead of ARM though, the Synology DiskStation DS413 takes a new Freescale RISC processor, based on the Power Architecture devised by IBM, Motorola and Apple in the 1990s and still used in key roles today.
The dual-core 1.1GHz P1022 chip here is related to that once used in the Macintosh – the G3, G4 and G5, before Apple migrated to Intel in 2006 – as well as the chips that now power the Microsoft Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii and even the Cell processor in the PlayStation 3.
Besides lower prices, the key advantage of ARM and similar RISC processors over the older x86 chips still favoured by Intel is cooler and more efficient operation. This translates into a NAS drive that requires less active cooling of the hot motherboard, as well as much improved electrical economy – a key consideration for a product that’s likely to be left switched on 24 hours a day for every day of the year.
The drawback remains reduced processing grunt, which means that file serving performance is typically down on that available from faster Intel processors – especially write performance. The gap between x86 and RISC-based architectures is closing, though, as recent breakthroughs in smartphone and tablet performance have shown.
Synology DS 413: Features
Like the DS412+, the Synology DiskStation DS413 has a pull-off plate on the front that neatly covers the open hard-disk bays. Also upfront is a USB 2.0 port for transferring data or adding additional storage; but if you’re going to add storage you’ll really want to use the two fast USB 3.0 ports at the back.
Supporting the Freescale processor is a useful 1GB of memory. Network connection is via a single gigabit ethernet port, where models further up the range will include two network ports. In addition to the USB, there’s also an eSATA port for external hard disks. Cooling is courtesy of two very quiet 92mm fans.
Build quality is good – almost entirely in plastic which doesn't have the quality feel of QNAP units, for example, but is very good at containing noise.
Like all its NAS drives, the DS413 is managed by Synology’s DiskStation Manager software, currently at version 4.1. This is a rich and powerful environment, accessed through any modern web browser, which resembles a PC’s complete graphical interface. It’s bright and cartoony and is a refreshing change from the flat and sometimes obscure industry norm.
As well as file serving over standard PC protocols such as SMB/CIFS (Windows), AFP (Macintosh) and NFS (UNIX), you can run FTP servers, an iTunes music server, start UPnP media streaming and run a print server.
But to really expand the unit further Synology has added a host of applications that can be downloaded and installed from within the DSM interface, through the Package Center.
Here you’ll find useful apps such as Time Backup for a Mac’s built-in Time Machine syncing, Download Station for BitTorrent downloads, Cloud Station for cross-platform PC file synchronisation, and Surveillance Station for security IP camera recording.
There are also dozens of third-party packages that unlock its use with, for example, a Squeezebox music streamer.
We tried the Download Station app, which worked successfully and uncannily easily. Not only does it handle downloads in the background, with timed schedules possible, it will also allow you to search for torrent files from within the app itself.
Cloud Station is a potentially indispensable addition, giving you one or two chosen directories on multiple Windows PCs or Macs that will automatically sync with a folder share on the NAS.
It works like Dropbox or SugarSync, but without having to pay a penny in rolling subscription charges, giving you potentially terabytes of cloud-stored files for free.
As files are only held on your NAS device and your PCs, confidentiality stands above US-hosted services like Apple iCloud, Microsoft SkyDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox and SugarSync. These are not considered secure for business due to US government policy on hosted data. With Synology’s Cloud Station, files are only transferred between your laptop and your NAS – wherever you are in the world with a net connection – over an encrypted SSL connection.
We found some restrictions, such as single file size limit of 5GB (expanded though, from earlier versions’ 1GB); and it cannot be used with system files or applications. Perhaps the biggest drawback compared to other commercial services though is the overly simple administration of sub-folders: if you move a file from one sub-folder to another within the synced top folder, Cloud Station will consider it a newly added file, and copy it afresh.
So moving files within the folder or even just renaming a large .iso file, for instance, will generate a lot of needless network traffic; especially frustrating when you’re working remotely as Cloud Station may try to push gigabytes of data over the internet.
Surveillance Station aims to provide a one-stop network video recorder (NVR) to monitor and record footage from IP security cameras.
In the case of the Synology DiskStation DS413, up to 16 cameras are supported from a range of popular brands. Synology has licensed DSM 4.1 to let you view only one camera though; if you wish to add more cameras you’ll have to buy additional licenses, available singly or as a pack of four. These cost around £45 for one camera, or £170 for four.
We tried to set up the Synology DiskStation DS413 in the IDG UK test lab, to monitor and record a video stream from a camera remotely sited at home. The first camera we tried, a Y-cam Bullet HD 1080, could not make an H.264 connection over RTSP; but a different camera worked fine with the remote connection. The facility to monitor and record from cameras off-site to the Synology NAS is a very useful facility that the Surveillance Station handled well.
Do note that – quite ironically – in order to use this security-camera software, you must install one of the least secure examples of PC software in common use today on your computer, namely Java.
Up-to-date anti-virus software is not always enough to prevent drive-by infection with malware via a Java browser plug-in. If you must install Java on your Windows PC or Mac, you’re advised to keep monitoring for the latest known security vulnerability to befall the platform. Zero-day flaws in Java that open up the host PC to remote ownership are not uncommon.
Synology DS413: Performance
In lab tests, the Synology DS413 proved to be a usefully quick performer, certainly a step up from most consumer-level NAS drives. We used four 3TB WD Red hard disks, which are optimised for use in network storage.
Best recorded performance, if not necessarily reflecting real-world usage, was with the ATTO Disk Benchmark, which reported sequential read speeds up to 115 MBps, and writes up to 91 MBps.
More realistic figures were recorded using QuickBench with an AFP connection, where read speeds for large files again nudged the gigabit-ethernet limit (this time to 112 MBps), while write speeds hit a maximum of 63 MBps at the largest data size of 100MB.
Small file transfers were less impressive, yet in line with most TCP/IP network storage drives; and especially so when using AFP.
For sequential transfers of mixed files from 4kB to 1024kB, the DS413 averaged 64 MBps for reads but just 4.9 MBps for sequential writes. Random read/write were no better, here averaging 64 MBps again for reading and just 3.4 MBps for random writes.
These results illustrate one of the drawbacks of network storage, namely poor small file transfer characteristics, rather than any particular issue with the Synology DS413. We hope to try iSCSI with this model and will update this review with that protocol’s performance figures.
Power consumption should be very low, especially when the NAS is in its full hibernation mode. Unfortunately this can be difficult to witness, if our experiences are anything to go by.
We determined that some installed running packages, even when not in active use, can cause insomnia here. But after deactivating these packages we still had to physically remove the network cable to make the Synology DS413 hibernate.
When the Synology DS413 finally found its hibernate mode, it consumed just 3W, a reassuringly low figure. We’ll update this review when explorations from Synology’s engineers have determined what may have been keeping the unit awake despite no user processes running.
Update: we have been told by Synology that an issue with busy Windows networks will keep the NAS from going into its deep-sleep System Hibernation state. As a temporary fix until a forthcoming patch in DSM firmware, disabling System HIbernation will allow just the disks to spin down.
We measured 13W power consumption with disks static and processor alive.
Best-case idle power consumption with disks spinning was measured at 25W.
Under a read/write benchmark test load, the DS413 with its four WD Red hard disks consumed just 28W, an impressive result when compared to an under-load figure of 47W we measured for the DS412+.
This review was updated 17 Feb 2013 with information about power consumption and System Hibernation issues.