Synology DS414j review – the future of NAS?
With a dual-core processor and four drive bays, has Synology come up with the perfect upgrade for those who have outgrown dual-bay NAS boxes?
Operating system: DiskStation Manager 5.0 (Proprietary Linux-based)
Processor: MindSpeed Comcerto 2000, Dual-Core 1.2GHz ARM Cortex-A9
Memory: 512MB DDR3
Dimensions: 184mm x 168mm x 230mm
Drive bays: 4x 3.5” SATA 3.0Gb/s with sleds, 5TB maximum capacity per sled
Networking: 1x Wired Gigabit Ethernet
Expansion: 1x USB 2.0, 1x USB 3.0
Cooling: 2x 80mm fans, 18.9dBA
When you buy a Synology product, you know what you’re getting yourself in to. The company’s designs rarely change between generations, beyond a few small tweaks and improvements to the internals, and its Linux-based DiskStation Manager operating system only ever improves with time. Its pricing, however, can leave it out of the reach of the budget-conscious buyer, especially when more than two drive bays are required.
It’s a problem of which Synology is only too aware, and its response is the DS414j – the suffix indicating that the device is an entry-level NAS in its small and home office four-bay range. Designed for those who can’t stretch to the DS414, corners have been cut: the Marvell Armada XP dual-core 1.33GHz processor and 1GB of DDR3 RAM have been replaced by a 1.2GHz MindSpeed Comcerto 2000 and 512MB of RAM – a combination more commonly associated with networking hardware than storage devices.
While the DS414j retains the four drive bays of its more expensive predecessor, further changes have been made: the chassis does not provide drive access from the front, with the sleds only accessible by undoing four thumb-screws at the back of the unit and folding down a flap containing the box’s twin 80mm fans. That means no hot-swap support, and an awkward period of down-time if you need to replace a failed drive.
There are other areas in which the DS414j fails to live up to its higher-priced stable-mate, too: the single gigabit Ethernet port and weaker processor means a drop in peak throughput from the DS414’s 135MB/s write and over 200MB/s read to 80MB/s write and 112MB/s read.
It’s easy to focus on the negatives, the areas that have been trimmed in order to bring the price down, but the DS414j is still an impressive piece of equipment. The change in processor means a considerable drop in idle power draw, from the DS414’s 14W to under 9W, and a similar drop in active draw.
At £258, the DS414j is considerably cheaper than the £360 DS414, and while it comes with a few licensing and performance restrictions – 1024 user accounts to 2048, two folder sync tasks to four, 128 maximum concurrent CIFS connections to 256 and so forth – it’s more than capable of the majority of tasks required of a small-office NAS.
Performance aside, the feel of the DS414j is exemplary: the DSM 5.0 software, the latest release of Synology’s custom Linux distribution, remains a pleasure to use with an attractive graphical user interface which runs entirely in a browser. Built-in software allows the DS414j to talk almost any common network protocol, and as usual there are plenty of add-on packages available to install – including the popular WordPress blogging platform.
It’s here, sadly, that Synology demonstrates it hasn’t learnt from its previous releases: installing packages through the easy installation wizard results in an out-of-date version of the software – and with WordPress and other public-facing packages often the target of hackers, it can leave the NAS and its files worryingly under-protected.
It’s hard not to like DSM, though. It’s one of the best NAS operating systems around, and something that really makes Synology’s products stand out from the crowd. It’s also possible to manually install packages, to ensure that you have the very latest versions on offer.
The DS414j targets a tricky market: those with decent budgets will find the DS414 a far more suitable choice, while those counting the pennies can get much of the same functionality from devices costing as little as £100 – albeit without Synology’s polished DSM software.
The newest DiskStation Manager software continues to impress, but its one-click installation of add-on packages can leave you outdated and unprotected. The performance of the ARM-based processor also means some applications will perform sluggishly, but there’s no denying the DS414j excels at its core network file storage tasks while the compact size of the unit also appeals.