[REVIEW] Synology DiskStation DS411, bang for bucks home NAS.
For most companies, a network attached storage medium is an essential part of getting things shared across multiple users on multiple forms of devices. NAS units are just an essential part of any company’s storage needs. A NAS units holds multiple advantages over business class servers, for one they are way more power efficient, generate a lot less heat and thus fairly silent in operation.
Of course many server enthusiasts will mention the fact that NAS units are indeed targeted for use as a secure storage medium and can’t be compared to genuine servers required to run business class applications.
We will not be focusing on business NAS in this review but take a step back and see what the advanced home user with huge amounts of data might be looking for.
This is the first Synology device we laid our hands on, and I must say it looks good. At first it required some getting used to the way the DS411 handles the hard drives. Many competitors use front bays where you need to mount the drives vertically (most of the time with a slide tray/metal hinging system), this is not the case here. The DS411 requires the drives to be horizontally mounted in plastic trays that slide in a steel frame on the back of the NAS unit. So you need to remove a couple of bolts, open the back plate where the fans are attached, and take of the anodized looking cover. After this you are exposed to the internal frame where the drives must be inserted.
The plastic trays called for some concern at first, but they look like their built quality is quite sturdy and can resist the heat of some of the 7200rpm hard drives can generate. Personally I do prefer a metal mount that dissipates the direct heat to the internal chassis, but I do understand Synology that you can’t keep the consumer price low when using strictly premium parts. In the end we need to realize here that this is a consumer product and heat isn’t much of an issue if we go for 5400rpm hard drives. There are no genuine benefits on using 7200rpm models in this unit since the hardware in this DS411 was designed for low power, low noise and maximum efficiency in home environments.
- CPU Frequency : 1.6 GHz
- Hardware Encrypted Engine
- Memory : DDR3 512MB
- Internal HDD/SSD : 3.5″ or 2.5″ SATA(II) X4 (Hard drive not included)
- Max Internal Capacity : 12TB (4X 3TB HDD) (Capacity may vary by RAID types) (See All Supported HDD)
- External HDD Interface : USB 2.0 Port X 2, eSATA Port X 1
- Size (HxWxD) : 184 X 168 X 230 mm
- Weight : 2.23Kg
- LAN : Gigabit X1
- Wake on LAN/WAN
- System Fan : 80x80x20mm x2
- Wireless Support
- Noise Level : 22.5 dB(A)
- Power Recovery
- AC Input Power Voltage : 100V to 240V AC
- Power Frequency : 50 / 60Hz, Single Phase
- Power Consumption : 29.7W (Access) ; 11W (HDD Hibernation)
- Operating Temperature : 40 to 95°F (5 to 35°C)
- Storage Temperature : 15 to 155°F (-10 to 70°C)
- Relative Humidity : 5% to 95% RH
- Maximum Operating Altitude : 10,000 feet
- Certification : FCC Class B, CE Class B, BSMI Class B
- Warranty : 2 Years
DATA SECURITY, RELIABILITY IS KEY
The Synology DS411 is a 4 bay unit NAS with multiple RAID levels for secure data storing with possibility for parity records for recovery when one of the drives fails. We will sum up briefly what the options of this particular pumpkin are:
- JBOD (Just A Bunch Of Disks) No protection, all hard drives are just capacity-counted and the total amount will be shown in your network. Advantage: You retain all capacity, Disadvantage: When a disk breaks down, you lose all data on that particular drive.
- RAID0 (Striping) As said, it stripes the data in X (where x is the number of drives present in the NAS unit). Advantage: Lower disk load means huge speed gains, Disadvantage: Data is striped over X disks, if one disk fails, all is lost.
- RAID1 (Mirroring) Like the name mentions, it replicates what’s on the other disk(s). Advantage: Everything is cloned, so you’re safe when one disk fails, Disadvantage, the replication slows down data transfers.
- RAID5 (Striping with parity bits) In essence it means that, starting from 3 disks inserted, that the NAS unit will stripe your data over all disks yet with parity bits. Advantage: When one drive fails, the parity bits on the other 2 (or3) disks will contain the data to rebuild that failed drive once a new one is inserted, Disadvantage: Roughly put you will lose about 30% of the NAS capacity which is needed for these parity bits to be stored.
- RAID5+1 (RAID5 Hotspare) same story as RAID5, 3 disks are actively used, a fourth one is just ‘sitting’ there to jump in if one of the other 3 stops functioning. Advantage: You don’t lose performance under heavy load, Disadvantage: The disk is a spare, so useless until things go wrong.
- RAID6 technically speaking this is fairly similar as RAID5 with the difference more parity bits are distributed. You can compare it as mixing RAID0 and RAID1 with a slight bit more free space kept. Advantage: With 4 drives you can have 2 failing drives and the unit will still operate fine, Disadvantage: You lose a lot of storage space on parity bits.
- RAID10 can be compared to mixing a RAID0 Striping with a RAID1 Mirroring. Thus 4 drives will give you a storage capacity readout of 2 of them, since the other 2 drives are essentially a replica. Advantage: Fast, very fast due to the striping, Disadvantage: only about 50% of the unit’s storage capacity is accessible.
Notice: With RAID0 and RAID1 you need 2 drives to start with. When using RAID5 you will need at least 3 disks. Any higher configurations require you to fill up your 4 bays. Multiple file systems are available, but I would strongly recommend just letting the NAS pick its defaults here to avoid future issues.
A very neat feature for the Synology DiskManager software is the fact that you can create multiple volumes on the inserted drives. This way you could for example create 2 separate volumes to separate iSCSI LUN’s (booting a PC over the network, in essence the NAS is the ‘remote hard drive’) and a separate volume for regular file share & store usage. This Volume system is perfectly manageable and can be extended with newly added disks without much effort.
Volumes are also particularly interesting to keep your NAS software (Webserver, PHP client, etc…) running separately on a disk that shouldn’t have the same size and manufacturer make (unlike RAID volumes were this is commonly recommended).
Personal advice: If you are looking for maximum performance and security without breaking the bank, go for the RAID5 setting with 3 disks to start with, you can always insert another one later when storage needs require this action to be taken.
10 NIFTY BITS & PIECES FOR THE MONEY
You can get your own DS411 for about 400€, which is quite a good deal when compared to similar 4 bay units that retail well above the 500€ marker. But what’s in a price without knowing what makes this actually worth its salt. We will refer to the software that’s powering the device as DSM (DiskManager).
- The HDD management panel in the new DSM has some clever features like S.M.A.R.T. monitoring (beeps constantly when a disk fails to pass the S.M.A.R.T. test).
- The unit can be set to hibernate when it detects it’s not used by active computers, thus saving extra power.
- With maximum 2048 user accounts, 256 different groups, 256 shared folders and 256 concurrent connections, you shouldn’t be afraid of thinking about family expansion.
- Support for OSX, Windows, Linux, Android and IOS devices (like iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch,..), Windows Mobile, Symbian and anything still to be released. Due to frequent firmware updates when new technology standards are set.
- DSM sends the user SMS and/or email notifications when disk drives start to fail; too many inlog attempts are detected; or whatever the reason might be for the device to malfunction.
- DSM has one of the most efficient user friendly interfaces available, well-structured without leaving the user in an avalanche of features from the startup screen. Adding users and setting up privileges is easy as pie.
- Very easy way to set up DDNS via No-IP.com, Dyndns.org, etc… , requires no previous knowledge and helps you through the setup.
- Can be set up to work as a Firewall with plenty easy to use blocking options, making it very secure for its price tag.
- Dead easy way of enabling FTP access to allow yourself or others to access the physical folders on remote locations. Idem ditto when setting up the webserver possibilities of this device.
- Default it comes with most public sharing options disabled, which is a really interesting way to make sure the devices are safe from the start. Especially for new to intermediate users who have <wireless> networks with little to no encryption and/or protection.
Our DS411 unit didn’t come with the latest DSM software installed, but our contact at Synology recommended us installing the unit with the latest upgrade. When you first run the unit, it asks you to link to a DSM package file. If your version also didn’t come with the latest version, you can either download the latest and use it for a clean installation. Or you can just install the file that came with the cd and do a live update via the web backend.
The features of this DSM version:
- File Browser
- File Station
- FTP Server
Bandwidth Control, Custom FTP Passive Port Range, Anonymous FTP, Transfer Log
- Mail Server
Supported Mail Server Protocol : POP3, SMTP, IMAP
- Web Station
Virtual Host (up to 30 websites)
Alternative HTTP Error Page
3rd-Party Applications Support
- Surveillance Station
MAX IP cam # (Licenses required) : 12 (1 Free License) (See All Supported IP Cameras)
Total Frames per Second (FPS) : 120 FPS @ D1 (NTSC：720×480, PAL：720×576), 30 FPS @ WXGA (1280×800).
Recording Modes : Manual, Continuous, Motion Detection, Alarm, Motion Detection and Alarm
Event Playback : Sync Mode (4 Channels), Time Slicing Mode
Compression Formats : MJPEG, MPEG-4, H.264
- Photo Station
Supported Image Format : BMP, JPG (jpe, jpeg), GIF, RAW (arw, srf, sr2, dcr, k25, kdc, cr2, crw, nef, mrw, ptx, pef, raf, 3fr, erf, mef, mos, orf, rw2, dng, x3f)
Supported Video Format : 3G2, 3GP, ASF, AVI, DAT, DivX, FLV, M4V, MOV, MP4, MPEG, MPG, QT, WMV, XviD, RM, RMVB, VOB, RV30, RV40, AC3, AMR, WMA3
User can click and download the following video formats: RM, RMVB, VOB, RV30, RV40, AC3, AMR, WMA3, but not able to play it in Photo Station as compressed Flash video.
- Audio Station
Supported Audio Format (USB Mode) : AAC, FLAC, M4A, MP3, Ogg Vorbis, WMA, WMA VBR
Supported Audio Format (Streaming Mode) : MP3, M4A, M4B
Supported Playlist Format : M3U, WPL
Internet Radio : SHOUTcast, Radio
- DLNA/UPnP Media Server
PS3/Xbox 360 Support
Supported Audio Format : AAC, FLAC, M4A, MP3, Ogg Vorbis, PCM, WAV, WMA, WMA VBR, WMA PRO, WMA
Supported Video Format : 3GP, 3G2, ASF, AVI, DAT, DivX, DVR-MS, ISO, M2T, M2TS, M4V, MKV, MP4, MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, MTS, MOV, QT, SWF, TP, TRP, TS, VOB, WMV, XviD, RMVB
Supported Image Format : BMP, JPG (jpe, jpeg), GIF, ICO, PNG, PSD, TIF (tiff), UFO
- Download Station
Supported Download Protocols : BT/HTTP/FTP/NZB/eMule
Custom BT Port Range
BT / eMule Bandwidth Control
- iTunes Server
Supported Audio Format : MP3, M4A, M4P, WAV, AIF
Supported Video Format : M4V, MOV, MP4
Supported Playlist Format : M3U, WPL
- Print Server
Max Printer # : 2
Printing Protocols : LPR, CIFS, AppleTalk, Appel AirPrint, Multi Functional Print Server (Only PostScript USB printers are supported in MAC environment)
- VPN Center
- Squeezebox Server
- Mail Station
- Time Backup
- iPhone/Android Applications
A big plus for Synology is the fact that they have many 3rth party developers who produced some nice integration apps for your current DSM version. There are plenty of add-ons to choose from, they have about everything starting with Blog Systems, Bulletin Boards, Content Management, Customer Relationship Managers, Database Managers, E-Commerce, E-Learning and Gallery Ticket Systems up to Wiki & Groupware apps.
Your DSM can also be upgraded by Synology’s own free add-on packages. They vary from a VPN server, Syslog, Squeezebox server, phpMyAdmin, HASP, HiDrive Backup, WordPress or OpenERP apps.
OUR TEST RESULTS
We tested the unit only in RAID5, since this makes most sense when purchasing a 4bay unit. Plus you are getting the best speed combined with a proper crash-zone. Averages were made from multiple tests in copy and pasting data from the DS411.
|Description||Copy from NAS in MB/sec||Write to NAS in MB/Sec|
|A set of 100 photos in folder||7-10||6-7|
|A bulk of 1000 itunes audio files||7-10||8|
|A 4GB folder containing mixed small files and folders||15-20||33|
|A 7GB single file archive||65-70||36|
|A 30GB folder with 20*1.5GB files inside||65-70||34|
|An 800MB single file archive||60-65||38|
|A 350MB episode||55-60||40|
For this test setup we have been using a gigabit switch with every device connected to Cat6 cables, assuring the possibility for high transfer speeds. We did encounter lower speeds with default settings. So we modified the setting inside the menu “SYSTEM”, “NETWORK” and there the tab “NETWORK INTERFACE”, changing the default ‘Disable Jumbo Frame, the MTU value is 1500’ to “Enable Jumbo Frame, the MTU value is 9000’ which gave us the above mentioned speeds. Notice that some mainboards or network controllers will require you to enable Jumbo frames via the device manager under Windows, and setting it to the same speed as the MTU picked in the Synology DiskManager.
Notice: Because the data needs to be striped over the 3 hard drives inserted, it’s fairly normal that this causes a bit of a bottleneck, resulting in slower write speeds to the NAS unit, whereas the copy speeds back to your desktop don’t require any generation of parity bits and speed up everything significantly. (5200RPM 2TB in RAID5 were used in this test)
At first I admit being skeptical about this device. The PVC disk trays and the odd way of fitting the hard drives requiring home users to half dismantle the unit.
Looking at it from a consumer perspective, once your hard disks are installed there is no real need to hot-swap disks or perform any sort of kinky actions with the hardware. So I understand Synology’s decision to hide the drives and thus avoid users accidentally removing drives if they were mounted with hot-swap front brackets.
It is noteworthy to mention that this unit is actually one of the lowest prices units in its segment, yet still manages to ship with 2y default warranty. Another point to be considered is the fact that this unit consumes slightly below 30W when active and 11W when idle, making it as ECO friendly as some of the competitors +500€ units.
The DS411 isn’t going to set a new track records when it comes to speed in high workloads, this mainly due to the single 1.6Ghz core. Yet when handling files larger than 350MB the unit is giving the consumer a very decent price/performance ratio.
Finally we must say that the DSM 3.2 really is “quite something”. This is not our first NAS review and we have tested many other units from various manufacturers before. Still… Synology keeps amazing us with possibly the best user-friendly management interfaces in the industry!