Choosing a Synology NAS Model…

Posted on April 20, 2011

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choose

verb /CHo͞oz/
chooses, 3rd person singular present; choosing, present participle;

  • Pick out or select (someone or something) as being the best or most appropriate of two or more alternatives
  • Decide on a course of action, typically after rejecting alternatives

Now that I had settled on Synology as the brand of NAS that I wanted to put in my Apple environment I just had to choose which model I wanted.  If you’re reading this blog you are probably in the same predicament…

The good news is that Synology appears to be the most Apple friendly of all the NAS manufacturers.  Given that Mac OS X is still only 15% of the market it is nice to know someone is paying attention to all of us Mac using, iPhone tapping, iTune dancing folks.

All of Syncology’s NAS units use the same DiskStation Manager (DSM) operating system so there is no feature loss in choosing a different model.

Most of the confusion in choosing a model is based on how many hard drives does the unit support, the CPU speed (Intel Atom CPU vs Marvell ARM CPU) and the amount of onboard memory.

After having looked at the 60 active QNAP models I was relieved to see that Synology only had 23 models.  Still even that was too many choices to sort through so I took some time to learn more about their model line up.

Synology Models:*

sub 100 series: V60

100 series: DS109, DS110j, DS111

200 series: DS209, DS210j, DS211j, DS211, DS211+

400 series: DS410j, DS410, DS411j, DS411slim, DS411+ DS411+II, RS411, RX410

500-2200 series: DX510, DS710+, RS810+, RS810RP+, RX1211RP, DS1511+, RS2211RP+

*Check Synology’s website for latest model info as this is constantly being updated.

Understanding Synology Naming:

At first you may be bewildered like I was at trying to figure out Synology’s model naming with the duplicate numbers and adding a J, + or a slim to the end of the model name for differentiation.  Here is what I figured out that might help you understand the model naming better.

The first 2 letters of the model name: DS, RS, RX, VS

DS – stands for DiskStation which is the brand name of Synology’s NAS line.
RS and RX – stands for RackStation which is for their rack mounted NAS line.
VS – stands for VideoSurveillance which is for their V60, 6 IP camera surveillance system.

The next 1 or 2 number(s) of the model name: 2, 4, 5, 7, 11, 12, 22 stands for the number of  hard drives the model can handle.  The only exception is the VS60 which is unique.

The last 2 numbers of the model name: 10 or 11 generally stands for the model year.  They are numbered like cars with the 2011 model coming out in the Fall of 2010.

At the end of the model name you might see one of the following modifiers:

II – represents that this is an updated version of the previous model
+ – represents the top end of that model series NAS line
j – represents the less expensive economy (junior) of that model series NAS line
slim – indicates that the NAS can only take 2.5″ laptop hard drives

Example: Synology DiskStation DS411j would translate as the DiskStation NAS with room for 4 hard drives, 2011 model year and being the economy/junior model (lowest RAM and CPU type/speed).

Finalists:

After decoding the model naming scheme I was able to narrow it down to their 2011 lineup of 2 and 4 hard drive models that are standalone units (i.e. not rack mounted).  Here are my quick reviews.

Product Details

DS211J 2 drive unit – $200.  1.2 GHz, 128MB RAM, up to 6TB storage.  Form factor is white and gray blue.  This is a good starter model and allows for 2 drives that can be mirrored to help ensure you don’t have data loss.  Since I already had a 4TB drive connected to my Apple Extreme and needed more storage I wasn’t convinced that being able to put two 3TB drives in this unit was going to be all that useful if one had to act as a mirror of the other, effectively reducing me to 3TB of storage.  I didn’t consider the other 211 models since they get pricey compared to the 411 series.  If you already have Time Capsule and don’t need extra storage for backups and just want a drive to stream iTunes or host your own photo & video sharing with your family then this would be a great choice.

DS411 slim 4 drive unit – $319.  1.6 GHz, 256MB RAM, Up to 2 TB HDD, 1TB SSD storage.  The true small size of the unit is hard to see, but this is a very cute NAS that could fit on one large hand.  It only takes laptop 2.5″ drives but runs super quiet.  Laptop drives are made to higher standards since they are designed for high heat and for getting bashed around in laptops.  Only downside is 2.5″ drive capacity is small and expensive per byte.  I nixed this because the largest 2.5″ drive I could find was 500 GB, thus limiting this NAS to 2TB of HDD storage (or 1 TB if you mirror it).  I’m not sure who the target market is for these drives, but if you wanted pure speed and could go with pricey Flash memory based SSD hard drives then this would be an impressive setup.

DS411j 4 drive unit – $360.  1.2GHz, 128MB RAM, up to 12TB storage.  It uses a Marvel ARM 1.2 GHz CPU and 128MB non-upgradeable RAM. and supports up to 12 TB.  It can handle both 2.5″ and 3.5″ drives.  It has 2 USB connectors if you want to connect an additional drive or printer.  I REALLY liked the look of this NAS.  The form factor looks like what a Mac NAS should look like with white, black and silver aluminium colors.  It looks right at home next to your Mac, Airport/Time Capsule or Apple TV.  It is the economy model of the 411 line and is ranked on Synology’s website as adequate for up to 25 users.  I figure that at most we have 3 Macs using it for backups and iTunes, 2 PCs using it for backups and 3 iPhones and an iPad accessing it for content (music, videos, photos).  On the family and friend side we might have up to a dozen folks who would check out photos from an event, but that’s about it for usage.  I debated using it for hosting this blog, but I figure it would be better to let the more competent folks at WordPress.com handle that bit.

DS411+II 4 drive unit – $628.  1.8GHz Dual Core CPU, 1GB RAM, up to 12TB storage.  This unit is FUGLY with gold and brown highlights, but has the best specs in CPU speed and memory.  This was the only NAS that could be upgraded beyond drives since it used removable memory.  It uses a top of the line Intel Atom D525 dual core CPU and has a 3 year warranty (vs 1 year for other models).  Synology’s website ranks this unit for 100 or more users.  Useful if you run a website, do lots of file sharing or manage a large group of users, but overkill for me.

Choosing…

I spent a lot of time on this one.  At the time I bought mine the choice came down to the DS411j for $359 or the DS411+ for $628 (the faster DS411+II replacement was announced on 4/20/11).  Almost all the features are identical, and for home use both units are very capable of streaming 4+ HD video streams simultaneous to different computers.

What was I going to get for spending $269 more? A dual core faster CPU and 8 times more RAM sounds impressive, but in a NAS how important is that really to the performance that you would see?  Could it push more data thru the pipe?

CPU speed and RAM doesn’t really matter when you are really talking about a device that pushes saved data bits off a disk without having to do much processing (as compared to a PC or a gaming console).  Everything I read about NAS  is that the CPU and RAM is overrated, and that network speed and HDD (hard disk drive) speed are the real performance bottlenecks.

The Winner…

is Synology DS411j.  

For me I decided to save the $269 by going with the DS411j over the DS411+and use the money towards the 4 expensive hard drives that I was now going to have to purchase!  

Where to Buy?

Ended up doing all my shopping on Amazon.com since the Synology products are sold so few other places and Amazon was beating every one in pricing and shipping.

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Posted in: Amazon, Synology