Since the year 2000, Synology has manufactured a range of products with Network Attached Storage at their core. From two bay devices aimed at the home market all the way up to 24 bay enterprise units, there is a product on offer for nearly every company size and home user.
Synology has sent us their DS416play DiskStation to review. The DS416play would be right at home in a small office but its impressive media capabilities mean it is also an excellent choice for more advanced home users.
Many consumers may be unfamiliar with what Network Attached Storage (NAS) is but they will no doubt be familiar with cloud storage providers such as Dropbox or Google Drive. At its most basic level, NAS is a storage device such as a hard drive attached to a network which makes that storage available to any connected device.
As “cloud” is a buzzword right now and companies like Google and Apple bundle storage with their devices and services, people have become more familiar with storing their data in an offsite location. Photos, videos, contacts, documents all get stored or backed up to another location and while this has huge benefits for consumers, it also presents some challenges.
NAS devices offer the same basic capabilities as cloud storage but while most cloud storage services have a limited set of features available to users, backing up photos and documents is only scratching the surface of what’s available from a properly spec’d NAS device.
There are many advantages and disadvantages to both NAS and Cloud based services. They shouldn’t really be directly compared as such and the correct strategy for people who really want belt and braces protection is to have a mixture of both local and off-site storage. If you put all your eggs in one basket it is a single point of failure so a strategy that provides the most suitable solution for your location combined with off-site backup is usually the most preferable.
There are so many features available on the DS416play that this could have turned into a 20,000-word review were we to cover every aspect in detail. So with that in mind, we’re going to concentrate on the main features users will find most interesting.
What’s in the box
Inside the box, you get the DS416play, a power brick and two RJ45 cables. There’s also the usual documentation and a quick start guide. The DS416play comes diskless from Synology so you’ll need to install your own suitable hard drives.
The DS416play is a 4 bay unit which comes with an Intel Celeron N3060 chipset which is clocked at 1.6Ghz but can burst to 2.48. It includes 1GB of RAM and has a max capacity of 40 Terabytes (4 x 10TB).
One feature of note, which is often forgotten about when spec’ing units, is its incredibly low power consumption figures. At idle, the unit draws just 12 watts and while being accessed draws 29 watts.
If you were to build a home server based on a normal PC tower you would have a power supply of at least 350 watts. At a time when we are all trying to reduce energy consumption, the savings here are clear.
There are three USB 3.0 ports (one on the front and two around the back) and 2 Gigabit RJ45 connections which allow for duplexing.
A full list of the unit’s specs can be found here.
To review the device we installed two 2TB WD Red hard drives which are specifically designed for NAS units. While you can install any hard drive you like, it is highly recommended that you use hard drives that are designed specifically for NAS units of this size. NAS hard drives are designed to run all of the time, have a longer mean time between failures and can withstand the vibrations caused by having multiple hard drives all spinning/ reading/ writing in the one, close proximity, location.
Both Western Digital and Seagate produce suitable hard drives that are reasonably priced but still feature many near enterprise level features.
The read/ write speeds achievable will vary depending on setup and hard drives used. We tested the WD Red hard drives by transferring files from a computer to the DS416play via a wired connection and also over a wireless connection via 802.11ac to a dedicated router connected to the same network. Using the wired connection we averaged 100MB/s and over the wireless connection, our average was 44MB/s.
Synology has made the setup of the device really simple.
First, you need to install hard drives in the bays. The bays in this device have a plastic carrier that allows you to install the drives without any tools, once you are using 3.5″ drives. If you want to use 2.5″ drives, Synology includes some small screws which allow you to mount the drives to the larger carrier.
Once you have the drives installed you power up the device, wait for it to beep and then it’s ready to begin the operating system installation.
The Synology operating system, DSM 6.1, is browser based. To get things going you navigate to find.synology.com in your browser and this identifies the NAS unit on your network.
From there you go through a series of options which asks you to install the latest version of DSM, set up admin accounts, pick when critical updates will be performed and create Synology accounts for later use.
From start to finish the whole process only took about ten minutes and we were ready to go.
During the setup, you can allow everything to be set up automatically which will result in the system using Synology’s proprietary RAID system or you can manually choose one of the more traditional RAID options to be implemented.
With 4 drive bays at your disposal, the DS416play supports pretty much every major RAID option. Beyond that, Synology has two of their own RAID versions called SHR and SHR-2. SHR stands for Synology Hybrid Raid. It’s a software solution that offers a lot more flexibility than traditional RAID arrays.
The main advantage of SHR is that it allows for different sized hard drives to be used in the same array. To take full advantage of this though the drives need to be at least in pairs for sizing.
For example, in a traditional RAID 10 array, you would need 4 drives of all equal size where two of the drives would be used for backup and two of the drives would be used for striping. In this example, if we used four 1TB drives, you would have 2 terabytes available for storage and 2 terabytes would be used for backup. With the same drive configuration, using SHR would result in 3 terabytes being available for storage with 1 terabyte would be used for backup, which is a nice increase, but the difference between both options really starts to show when you want to upgrade the drives to add more storage.
With the RAID 10 example above, if you wanted to increase the available storage to let’s say 4 terabytes, you would need to change out all four drives and replace them with four 2TB hard drives. With SHR you can replace each drive one by one when it suits you and the array is rebuilt each time to include the extra memory (or reserve it for future use). As I mentioned above, this works most effectively when you change drives in pairs though. To achieve the increase to 4 terabytes of available space using SHR, you would need to replace only two of the 1TB drives with two 2TB drives. You would then have 2 terabytes used for backup and 4 terabytes available for storage.
This functionality provides greater flexibility than traditional RAID arrays and allows you to spread the cost of upgrading over a period of time rather than having to change out all drives at once.
SHR allows for one disk to fail in an array without you suffering data loss. If a drive fails you swap it out and the array is rebuilt from the data stored across the other drives. Synology also offers SHR-2 which has a fault tolerance of 2 drives in the array should you need this level of protection.
OS and UI
As I mentioned above, the operating system is web based and its layout & UI are very similar to most modern desktop systems. As such, there is no real learning curve here and after a few minutes of use, you are up to speed.
The desktop has a widget which shows the system health, CPU, RAM and network load and there are some shortcuts to some of the installed packages. The top menu bar has a launcher, a search bar, user profile, settings and a system messages drop down.
Tasks such as adding new users, configuring external access to the system and applying updates can be looked after from the Control Panel.
The “File Station” allows you to create shared folders on the system and grant permissions or access.
For remote access to the device, you can configure this manually yourself to suit your own network or security requirements or you can use Synology’s own system which is called QuickConnect. If you use QuickConnect, your remote connection will be routed through Synology’s servers and on to your DiskStation. If you are happy with that arrangement it is a really straightforward way of connecting and from our testing so far it works very well.
The Package Centre is basically the App Store for the DS416play. On last count, I found 98 different packages available. There is a broad range of different features on offer here.
Overall, the packages on offer fall into the categories of:
Backup, Multimedia, Business, Security, Utilities, Productivity and Developer Tools.
A full list of the available packages can be found here, but we’ll give you an overview of some of the more interesting ones below:
With Cloud Sync, you can sync and share files among your DiskStation and multiple public clouds, such as Dropbox, Baidu Cloud and Google Drive. As you make changes to a file or folder the changes are synced between both locations.
Hyper Backup helps you back up data and LUNs and retains multiple data backup versions to keep important information handy and easy to track. Hyper Backup also makes restoring data and LUNs straightforward.
USB Copy helps you copy files between your Synology NAS and external USB/SD storage devices. File copy can start right after an external storage device is plugged into the Synology NAS, without any need to open the DSM web console. USB Copy comes with multiple copy and file organisation strategies to ensure efficient storage usage and easy location of files.
Mail Server offers an easy solution that turns your DiskStation into a mail server, allowing Synology DiskStation users to receive and deliver emails.
WordPress is an open source blog tool and publishing platform powered by PHP and MySQL. The package enables you to host a WordPress blog on your DiskStation.
Surveillance Station is a web-based application that can manage IP cameras to safeguard your home or office environment. With Surveillance Station, you can watch and record live view videos, set up scheduled recording, playback recorded events via a web browser, VisualStation, or mobile device for remote monitoring. Notifications can also be sent to you whenever important events occur.
Apache, Java, Mono, Node.js, PHP Pear, Perl, PHP and Python can all be installed.
The DS416play has a number of great features which make it ideally suited to being a media server in your home.
Synology includes three packages called Video Station, Audio Station and Photo Station, which as you may have worked out from the names, are applications which look after video, music and photos but there are also other packages avaialbe for common services such as Plex and iTunes.
Video Station allows you to organise all of your Films and TV Shows in one library. As you add films or TV shows the system automatically pulls information about them from the web and downloads the correct thumbnail images to go along with them. The end product is a visually impressive library that is far better than just a collection of files on a drive that most people usually have.
Video Station can stream the content to any of your connected devices such as smartphones, tablets, set-top boxes or smart TVs. It can also transcode 4K content on the fly so your devices get a quality that is best suited for them.
When streaming to mobile devices there is a slight delay as it buffers at the start and then it works flawlessly. This is the first system I have ever tested that I can say that for. Most systems start to stutter with high-quality content and can become unusable if you try to scan through to another point in the movie. The DS416play makes streaming video content simple so if you are someone who watches a lot of TV on the go I can’t recommend it highly enough.
When we connected the DS416play to the same network as a Samsung Smart TV, the TV found the NAS unit on the network and could navigate through the shared folders but there is also a dedicated DS Video App available for a number of Smart TVs. The DS Video app offers the same interface as is available via the web interface but it is sized correctly to take advantage of the bigger screen.
Audio Station, much like Video Station, combines your music into one location with album art and lyrics. It’s an obvious replacement for an app like iTunes but where it excels is in its ability to stream audio to almost any device via apps or a browser or any DLNA certified piece of equipment.
There’s a large selection of Internet stations available to pick from and you can also connect speakers directly to the DS416play or via Bluetooth to listen to your music.
Photo Station takes many of the features you associate with online services like Flickr but gives you back control. To test things out we transferred a whole collection from another drive at it which had over 22K pictures and 4k short videos. The app converts the images for use when displaying on your devices but the originals are untouched. It runs away as a background task and the processor was showing around 90% during it but the system was still perfectly usable and you have the option of pausing the process should you need to. It took the system a couple of days to process the whole collection but under normal use where you may be only adding 100 images at a time or so, you won’t even notice it running.
You can share images from your collection via a link or to sites like Flickr and a selection of Social Media sites. The only function that I would like to see added here is a native ability to perform some basic editing. Other than rotating an image, adding tags or locations there isn’t much else you can do with the image. There is an option to use a third party web service such as Pixlr to edit the photo but it would be great if there was a local package capable of performing the task.
As someone who has quite a large photo collection, I am always concerned about how they are backed up and how easily accessible they are. There is no point taking all these photos and videos if you can’t easily access them. After several external hard drives failed on me down through the years I became an early adopter of cloud storage for backup. While initial storage allowances were pretty terrible they grew over time and broadband speeds increased enough that the services were usable. Not everything with Cloud storage providers is rosy though. Many services have shut down over the years leaving users stranded and in many cases without their data. A secondary issue that began to surface with many services as they became popular was bandwidth throttling. It’s usually easy enough to upload large amounts of data to these services but have you ever tried downloading them back to a local drive? It can be infuriatingly slow and downloads often fail completely. Both Apple and Google have robust solutions available now, which I use, but they also have many limitations.
Also, as cameras have improved the files sizes of both images and videos has rocketed. The phone in most people’s pockets now can record 60fps 1080p and many can now record 4K. “Quick” clips of the kids can now consume hundreds of megabytes and it all adds up. If you have a number of family members all producing content then this issue only gets multiplied.
At present, I upload all our photos and videos from multiple cameras to Google Drive for backup and store another copy on an external SSD. It is a little convoluted and can be time-consuming but after losing data in the past I’m happy with the level of backup we have now. Depending on how you do this yourself or what services you use, it can be also hard to easily view all your stored pictures and videos.
The DS416play solves a lot of these headaches and here’s how:
– Multiple hard drives for storing data so no single point of failure
– Large volume size and easy to upgrade if more space is needed
– Multiple users can all backup into one shared location or to their own individual folders
– No internet connection required for backup or to view
– Cloud Sync: can upload directly to cloud storage for more redundancy
– USB Copy: Easy to plug UBS device into the front of the unit and have it automatically pull the files. This feature can also be used to backup files from the NAS to an external drive if needed
Overall the number of steps necessary to backup and view your collection locally is greatly reduced and the automated steps such as Cloud Sync and USB Copy reduce your workflow even further.
Synology has a range of smartphone apps available which cover everything from managing the DiskStation to accessing photos and videos. They are available for both Android and iOS. There are dedicated apps for photo, video and audio which are counterparts to the packages outlined above in the media section.
There’s also a file viewer, chat and mail app, a camera app for if you are using the DiskStation for CCTV and a couple of other apps to help with admin.
All of the apps worked well during our testing. Over a local network, everything is instant but even using a mobile connection things still worked with little delay. The DS Video app does recommend though that you set up port forwarding to get the best experience possible when streaming video to your mobile device.
Another great feature, and one that most home users will no doubt find interesting in the Download Station. This application allows you download files, including torrents, directly from the web to the DiskStation.
We tested it out with a number of different files and found it to work excellently. Being able to move this task from your computer to DiskStation frees up resources and means you don’t have to worry about leaving a computer left on while you’re away or overnight for example.
For SMEs and professionals who require a lot of storage in the office environment and on the go, the DS416play is ideal. The setup and general operation of the unit means nearly anyone can administer it once they have a basic level of IT skills. Extensive training or dedicated personnel are not required and the initial outlay is relatively low.
It’s simple to add multiple users and shared folders with varying permissions and access levels. Important documents on user’s computers can be synced to the DiskStation and the SHR array gives a level of redundancy. It’s also easy to upgrade the storage when needed.
The DS416play comes jam packed with features. We have only scratched the surface with this review and many of the features could have their own article.
Not everyone will see the need for a product like this and that’s understandable but for those who do, they will appreciate the simplicity of use at all levels, the massive feature list and above all the fact that it just works. So many NAS products on the market look great on paper but fail to deliver once you use them.
If you are someone who has a large photo and home video collection, likes having their collection of films and TV shows in one place ready to stream, the DS416play is completely suited to your needs.
If you are looking to have a backup solution for all the computers or devices in your home or office or if you need large amounts of backed up storage for items like video projects this is a relatively low-cost option and handles these taks well.
The DS416play feels like a refined product. With a little bit of thought, you can have a near seamless backup solution for all your devices. Most of the features you’d expect or hope for from a device like this are present and there is also a whole host of third party packages available which we haven’t even touched on here.
The DS416play is available online for around €400.
For more information on the DS416play and the range of other products from Synology visit synology.com