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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Review: Synology DS213j NAS!

We have spent the past couple of weeks playing with Synology's new NAS for the home, the DS213j! How does this offering compare to others on the market? More importantly, how does it compare to my old D-Link DNS-323?

Read the full review after the jump!
Let's start of with some basics.

Like most of Synology's recent products, the DS213j runs DSM 4.2. Unlike other web based NAS software, DSM works more like it's own OS than a website. From here you can install additional packages (more on that later), update software, manage certain features, check stats and more. You can even reposition icons, drag and drop on top of others to make folders, remove icons from your desktop, etc...  The web based interface also works fine on my Nexus 7's browser, if you don't want to go to your PC to make changes.

To get a feel for DSM 4.2, Synology has a live demo available here.

Hardware:

The DS213j is running off a Marvell Armada 370 at 1.2Ghz. While not as impressive sounding as Synology's offerings running Intel Atoms or Core i3 CPU's, for most home users it will be enough. A bonus of using this chip is that the NAS does run near silent.

In the RAM department, the DS213j has 512MB of DDR3. Considering my previous NAS had only 64MB of ram, this is a HUGE improvement. This will allow you to run multiple applications and services with little to no slowdown.

Hard drive wise, you can run 2 drives with a maximum of 2x4TB. Depending on your choices at setup, including JBOD, Synology Hybrid Raid, Raid 0 or Raid 1;  you can have up to 8TB of network storage. Also, with 2 USB 2.0 ports on the back, you can plug in a USB hard drive for fast transfers or additional storage.
2 USB 2.0 ports, 1Gb network port, power, and a Kensington Lock slot

Other specs include:
    Floating Point
    Hardware Encryption Engine
    Internal HDD/SSD : 3.5" or 2.5" SATA(II) X 2 (With optional 2.5" Disk Holder)
    Max Internal Capacity : 8TB (2X 4TB HDD) (Capacity may vary by RAID types)
    External HDD Interface : USB 2.0 Port X 2
    Size (HxWxD) : 165 X 100 X 225.5 mm
    Weight : 0.91Kg
    LAN : Gigabit X1
    Wake on LAN/WAN
    System Fan : 92x92mm X1
    Easy Replacement System Fan
    Wireless Support (dongle)
    Noise Level : 17 dB(A)
    Power Recovery
    AC Input Power Voltage : 100V to 240V AC
    Power Frequency : 50/60 Hz, Single Phase
    Power Consumption : 19.82W (Access); 3.65W (HDD Hibernation);
    Operating Temperature : 15°C to 35°C (40°F to 95°F)
    Storage Temperature : -10°C to 70°C (15°F to 155°F)
    Relative Humidity : 5% to 95% RH
    Maximum Operating Altitude : 6,500 feet

How replaceable is the fan? It's using a standard plug, so go ahead and add a blue neon fan!
Packages:

This is where the DS213j began to shine! DSM is a modular OS, allowing 1st and 3rd party packages to be installed. I am amazed how just 1st party packages alone have managed to do everything I need and wanted perfectly.
Video Station via DSM 4.2
Video Station is your hub for all videos. Using UPNP, DS213j supports what Synology calls Type-2 transcoding, which means it will transcode audio formats to something your device can support. So if you have a video using something like FLAC for audio, which not many UPNP devices do support, Video Station will down sample it on the fly.

Here you only get 4 categories to choose from, but you can chose whatever folder you like to each category. On mine for example, I have anime setup under TV Shows while Actual TV shows set to TV Recordings. Yes, TV Recordings. Video Station gives you the ability to plug in a USB TV tuner and record OTA or Cable TV. Unfortunately, not in the US. But DVBLink does offer a pay solution if that is a must have, including IPTV and multiple EPGs.

Photo Station Web Blog Interface. Yes, you can customize the background image.
Photo Station was an interesting site. It creates as web blog for all your photos. It will categorize all your photos, give you an easy interface to view them, let you download full res versions, view exif date, and use an RSS feed for everything or per directory. Also, you can customize the interface and setup access permission for internet access. This just happen to be the most taxing application to initialize on the DS213j as it does create thumbnails for all you images. So it took a few hows for it to process and create everything for the 30GB+ of all my photos.

Download Station via DSM 4.2
Now this is what some people may want to know more about. Download Station is DSM 4.2's hub for all downloads. That means FTP, HTTP, Emule, NZB and Torrents. It's easy to manage and get downloads up and running. Granted, on a PC is not the best way though. I found it infinitely easier to use the DS Download app from Google Play (free) or Synoload on Windows Phone ($2.99), also available on other platforms here.

I have not had a chance to try many of the other applications available, but thing like an Email server, Antivirus, DHCP Server, a Radius Server!!!!, video surveillance and more are available. Other neat supported features include LDAP, ISCSI, Firewall, QOS, DDNS, USB Printers, Bluetooth via USB, WIFI via USB, VPN, and more. The enterprise crowd my like a few of those features.

Functionality and Comparison to a DNS-323:

I have had a D-link DNS-323 for the better part of 4-5 years now, and I thought it's speed was fine. I did stream movies and music from it quite often, but having to resort to copying high bitrate movies to USB to play in other rooms. I figured this was just normal. My old home was wired for gigabit networking and my current home is using power-line networking.

Needless to say, I was surprised when I first started transferring files back and forth. In preparation for the DS213j, I moved about 500GB of data off my DNS-323 to my PC. almost 3-4 hours later I was done. Once the DS213j arrived, I copied that data to it.... in 1.5 hours! Now read speeds are generally faster than write speeds, so I was shocked. so I copied that same data back to my DNS-323 and well.....2 hours later it wasn't half way through. Now both Nas' and my PC are both plugged in directly to my router, a DIR-825, so there was no excuses as to why my DNS-323 was so slow.

After all of my files where transferred over, I went and tested video streaming using a SMB share using a Patriot Box Office. EVERY video file that struggled to play from my DNS-323 was not only playing, but played perfectly. Even 6-10GB Blu-Ray rips! I then grabbed my Nexus 7 and tried playing these same files using both Synology's DS Video App as well as the Archos Video Player. Same results, everything played! Now some 10bit rips did exhibit some video pixelation, but the videos did play.

Torrents also displayed a difference. Both NAS' are set to allow no more than 2 torrent downloads at a time. While the DNS-323 did an admirable job, the DS213j blew it away. The DNS-323 would never peak over 700Kbps, still allowing me to use the internet on other devices, I had to limit the DS213j as it used all of my 6Mbps DSL connection, thus not allowing anything to download.

Music and photo streaming did not exhibit and difference between the 2 NAS devices.

All I can say is that my DNS-323 is now relegated to ONLY file backups. No videos, music, photos, or any other commonly accessed file.

Now with all of the positives out of the way, let me give you my VERY short list of negatives....

You have to use a screwdriver to swap drives.

Type-2 transcoding. Type-1 will transcode videos to a format supported by your device.

Video Station's TV support is doesn't work in the US, even thought my ATSC tuner is supported.

Not all packages are compatible requiring either the older arm CPU or an Intel CPU.

USB 2.0 when 3.0 is available.

Are any of the negatives a deal breaker? Not what so ever. They are all icing on the cake.

SCORE?
4.5 out of 5 Geegamons
Considering some of Synology's higher end offerings offer most of the features listed in my negatives list including more drives, multiple USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports, and multiple gigabit jacks; I had to give our rating a bit of space as those offerings may fill out the last .5 on our score.

With a price of about $250 driveless, it's worth it's weight and if you are on the market for a NAS for home this should be that NAS you get. If you are in an enterprise environment and thinking about some of Synology's rack options, this may be a great test lab version to try to convince your boss with.

UPDATES:
I seem to have forgotten to mention a few things.

The DS213j is REALLY quiet. I haven't heard the hard drives or fan ever!

It feels as if it runs cool on the outside, despite the drives averaging 105-120 degrees F.

Apps are available on Android, IOS, and Windows Phone to play music, video, photo streaming and more. On Andoid, the DS Video includes MX Player for video playback.

On Windows Phone, unless your have a Synology that supports Type-1 transcoding your will not be able to playback video unless it's already using a video format compatible with Windows Phone.

I am currently using 2 Seagate ST1000DM003 1TB drives formatted using Synology Hybrid Raid. 

You can read more on Synology's website

Buy a DS213j on Amazon

7 comments:

  1. Good review, I got one to relace (well, add to) my older DS211j. And it is indeed quite and faster then the older models. It is truly my main hub for all my media keeping and serving. Love these things.

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  2. Great review, thanks! I'm curious if you have tried running Plex Media Server on your DS212j? I have been trying to decide between that and the more expensive DS213 (which has a beefier CPU). I know neither will support video transcoding with Plex, but if HD quality streaming with a native file format is possible, that's all I really want. I'm concerned that the CPU in the DS212j won't be enough to smoothly stream a 1080p MP4 file even without transcoding.

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  3. I haven't tried Plex yet, but what file size are your 1080p vids? I have streamed a 6GB blu-ray rip with zero issues. the latest thing seems be to 10bit rips, which none of my players support, so i haven't tried that.

    Videos streamed fine using a Nexus 7 and a patriot box office on a powerline network. and both seemed to play my 6GB file fine... no noticeable frame drops, skips, etc...

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  4. Well, Plex isn't supported yet for the ds213j, but is compatible with the ds213. The ds213j is the only Synology running off of a Marvell Armada 370...

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    Replies
    1. Ahh good point, hadn't noticed Plex was a no-go on the DS212j...that makes the decision a bit easier. Thanks.

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  5. I bought one of these (DS213J( just before Christmas 2013.

    I use it for file storage, and transferred my mail server to it soon after.

    Whilst it does absolutely everything it says on the tin, the only problem is Synology itself.

    I had religiously upgraded the firmware every time a new version came out, and everything was fine until 3 months ago, when , after a firmware upgrade it started rebooting itself. At first the reboot was every couple of hours so it wasn't a huge deal. Then after another firmware upgrade it became worse until it was continuously rebooting.

    I raised a support request with synology very early on, and checked their forums. A lot of people had experienced this, but synology have not acknowledged or resolved the problem

    I upgraded it again last night and instantly the problem improved although it didn't go away.

    I would not buy another one of these, and I am considering asking for my money back if they don't stop being in denial.

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  6. that's strange. we haven't had that issue, but then again, ours was reset after an hdd failure in december. i'm curious about this and will look into it as well.

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