Review: Synology DS210j network-attached storage device

The 2-disk NAS is just about the perfect tool for home storage. It’s affordable, small, doesn’t use much power, makes hardly any noise, has redundant storage, and (depending on the model you get) packs lot of features. They make so much sense for the home because their networking capabilities allow for use with multiple computers, plus they can stream video, music, and pictures to a wide range of connected devices.

Synology’s DS210j is a network-attached storage device, that was released alongside the 4-disk DS410j and single disk DS110j as newest models in the company’s lineup. These two are focused on consumers and the SOHO market, but carry the same features that we’ve come to expect from Synology’s devices, which is to say “lots”. Synology does not skimp on features with its more affordable models and by going with a 2-disk unit you still get everything you’d expect from a performance consumer/SOHO NAS (and comparable features to their more expensive models, like the DS509+). The DS210j currently sells for about $230 (diskless). We’ll be looking at a unit with 2TB of storage in it (2×1TB).

We have previously coverage NAS devices, as well as Synology’s DS207+, so check back if you’d like some background reading.

All of the DS210j’s numerous features are listed on Synology’s site, but some of the highlights include DLNA certification, compatibility with all Synology’s cool stuff (DS audio and DS photo iPhone apps, Download Station 2 for Bit Torrent/FTP/HTTP, Surveillance Station 3 with support for five IP cameras, and more), iTunes server support, local/remote/Time Machine backup… and the list keeps on going.

On the hardware side, not much is changed from previous models. The front panel has been streamlined a bit from the DS207+ (there is the DS209 in between the two, but I don’t have that for comparison) but the enclosure is practically the same. The most noticeable hardware change happened to the fan grill which is now a hexagonal pattern as opposed to the previous more open one. See the video above for a comparison between the DS210j and the DS207+. The size is a reasonable 160mm x 218mm x 88mm (about as big as six stacked DVD cases, or two hard cover books). The unit consumes up to 25W of power when in use with two disks and it sips just 10W when the disks are hibernating (according to Synology). The NAS currently supports up to 4TB (2×2TB).

A lot has changed on the software, with the biggest point being the use of DiskStation Manager 2.2. This is is what allows all the other features that we’ve been talking about. The best way to learn about what is offered is to run through the gallery below. Otherwise Synology’s site has a complete feature list.

If your DS210j arrives diskless you’ll have to install the hard drives first, but that is just a matter of screwing two hard drives into the trays. Synology’s NAS relies on a local computer installation for the setup. This is a pretty easy process that can work on a Mac, Windows, or Linux system on the same network as the NAS. You basically just have to install the DiskStation Assistant application and then run through some steps. The software will find the NAS on your network, map the drive, and do all the other things that make some NAS devices a pain for home users. The biggest point of confusion will be if your NAS is not configured when you get it and you need to configure it before you can see it on your network. The Assistant software will configure the NAS for you as well, it’s a one-time setup procedure. The Assistant software is not needed after the initial setup, though it can be used in the future to find details about your Synology devices (like the IP or system status) and it can act as a resource monitor for them as well.

The DiskStations backend software (DiskStation Manager 2.2) is quite extensive so it might seem easy to get lost in all the options, but it’s well organized and fast to navigate. The AJAX GUI is far ahead of many of the other options on the market simply thanks to its speed, but it is also easy to understand and logically organized. It oddly doesn’t have an automatic update firmware update tool, but the file is easy enough to grab from and then manually install. This will be the first thing to do once you log into the NAS. There is some slight weirdness when you are told to wait 360 seconds after the firmware update for the system to reboot and firmware is not downgradeable, but that’s about where my problems stopped.

DM 2.2 has some very slick features that users will appreciate. Of course the speed is great, but it is smart enough to know the temperature of the NAS, there is very good logging for a consumer product, and there is a system resource usage chart. Notifications can be done either through email or SMS, which is another perk and potentially complex setup tools (FTP, user groups, etc.) are handled smoothly. The system often uses wizards so if you want to, for example, setup a NAS backup procedure, it will run you through the job step by step. Speaking of backups, they can be done locally to an external disk or shared server, to another Synology server, or over the network using rsync, so the options are robust. From the home page of the NAS there is even a Wizard mode if you don’t want tackle the Complete (advanced) mode.

During idle operation the DS210j is silent though when the there is disk activity the drives are audible. The lightweight plastic body doesn’t dampen the sound much so while the DiskStation isn’t too loud, it it can be heard in a quite room. There is a slight hum to the fan, but it can’t be heard until you are a few inches away from it.

Performance isn’t the highest priority for a two-disk consumer NAS but it is something to keep in mind. The performance variant of any Synology device has a “+” at the end and the “j” models a step down from the standard (no “+”) units, but the DS210j is no slouch. Speeds are going to vary based on the file sizes you are moving and the network you are using, but I was able to get transfer speeds averaging 10-10.5 MBps on transfers to the NAS from my computer and 8.5-9 MBps from the NAS to computers on the network when using RAID1. These are real-life transfers so mileage may vary, but on the whole they are a good approximation of what the NAS should be able to handle. If performance is very important to you when you might want to consider the DS209 which costs about $305 but gets you a fast CPU and twice the RAM.

Synology posted this page with their own performance figures, quoting the DS210j up/down transfer speeds of 33.3MBps and 75.9MBps. These numbers were found with the NAS directly connected to the PC so they are inflated relative to networked performance. My directly connected real-life transfer speeds were about 34MBps from the NAS to the computer and 20MBps from the computer to the NAS. In my tests, using IOmeter over the network the DS210j was able to achieve transfer speeds of 12.8MBps.

One of the best things about Synology is the community. If you have a question, don’t worry, someone has had that same problem already. They have a community forum and a wiki that should answer all your queries, no matter how geeky.

Synology’s DS210j ended up being a great NAS. It remained competitive in all the areas where Synology’s previous DiskStation’s have been strong while offering great software and tons of features. The device’s biggest weakness might simply be that the differences between the DS210j and older models are quite small. The setup can also be confusing if you’ve never worked with a Synology product before and you don’t bother to read the instructions.

Don’t forget though that the “j” models are not just a follow-up to the previous offerings, they are a budget-friendly consumer version. This means that relative to the older DS209 the DS210j has half the RAM (128MB vs. 256MB) and a slower clock speed (800MHz vs. 1.2GHz) which means slower performance and limitations on features like the number of supported surveillance cameras and maximum user accounts. Also keep in mind that the DS210j has three USB slots, but no eSATA, like the DS209+ II. That noted, it’s very hard to beat the features offered by the DS210j at the $230 (diskless) price point.[source]


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