Synology DS213j NAS review – a worthy upgrade
Is Synology’s latest-generation two-bay Linux-powered NAS worth the upgrade for owners of previous models?
Operating system: Synology DiskStation Manager 4.2 (proprietary Linux-based OS)
Processor: Marvell Armada 370 1.2GHz
Memory: 512MB DDR3 (not upgradeable)
Dimensions: 165 x 100 x 225.5mm
Weight: 910g (excluding drives)
Drive bays: 2x SATA II (non-hot-swap)
Networking: 1x Gigabit Ethernet
Expansion: 2x USB 3.0
Homepage: Synology DS213j
Pros: More powerful than its predecessors, lighter and with twice the RAM, the DS213j is a significant upgrade
Cons: The thin casing fails to mute noisy hard drives, while DSM 4.2 installs outdated versions of popular packages
Synology is a company which, when it finds something that works, sticks with it. As a result, it’s no surprise that the DS213j looks remarkably like its predecessor, the DS212j: it arrives in the same box, with the same setup instructions, has the same white plastic casing which cleverly slides apart to reveal the same two 3.5” SATA drive bays, and includes the same external power supply.
That’s not to say there haven’t been changes, however: modifications to the internal design have dropped the weight of the NAS by 30g, and the bundled CD includes the very latest version of Synology’s neat Linux-based DiskStation Manager (DSM) 4.2 operating system.
For owners of existing Synology two-bay storage boxes, though, there’s little to surprise – until, that is, you start digging under the hood. The first welcome bonus – more so than a slight weight reduction in a not-particularly-portable device, anyway – is that the DS213j doubles the memory of its predecessor to 512MB of DDR3. While that’s somewhat overkill for straightforward NAS operation, those who take advantage of the ability to run web-facing services on a DSM installation will find the extra memory invaluable.
The processor, too, has been upgraded: the Marvell Armada 300 system-on-chip (SoC) of the DS212j has been replaced with an Armada 370 which adds true hardware floating-point acceleration, boosting performance still further when the unit is used as a server. Other tweaks include the addition of wake-on-LAN (WoL) facilities, to boot the system up from a powered-off state upon receipt of a ‘magic packet’ over the network.
Those who have used Synology hardware in the past will be familiar with the excellent out-of-box experience on offer: installing two drives into their respective bays – which include rubber grommets to reduce vibration audible through the casing – is quick and easy, and upon power-up the entire installation process can be done using nothing more than a web browser.
It’s here where Synology’s products shine: DSM has always been the jewel in the company’s crown, and DSM 4.2 is no exception. Based on a desktop-like user interface, the software allows for monitoring and control of almost every aspect of the NAS – including installing extra packages, such as the popular WordPress blogging platform, Moodle learning platform, PrestaShop shopping cart or SugarCRM customer relationship management system. Each can be downloaded and installed in a couple of clicks and, considering the relative power of the DS213j compared to a true server, they run remarkably well.
Sadly, this simplicity comes at a cost: the versions of software installed through the DSM Package Manager are frequently outdated. Install WordPress, for example, and you get version 3.4.2 rather than the latest 3.5.1 – meaning your installation is potentially vulnerable to previously patched exploits. If you’re using the DS213j internally, that’s not too concerning, but opening the device up to the internet as a public-facing server is probably not a great idea.
Synology has also failed to listen to feedback on its two-bay NAS design from previous models: despite the use of rubber grommets, the thin plastic casing makes it easy to hear the clatter and whir of the device’s hard drives, so be sure to pair the DS213j – or any of Synology’s other two-bay models – with quiet drives if you’ll be sitting near it.
These, however, are all relatively minor points: as a NAS box, the DS213j does its job marvellously, easily keeping up with data transferred at full speed on its Gigabit Ethernet connection.
The low price of Synology’s latest NAS – around £80 cheaper than the Intel Atom-powered DS213 – makes it easy to recommend. Security issues surrounding outdated packages aside, it bridges the gap between NAS box and fully fledged server perfectly, while DSM 4.2 offers a wonderful user experience.