We've been reviewing NAS servers for a very long time now and are now taking steps to bring in more manufacturers and increase our testing. To date we've seen units from QNAP, Thecus, Netgear, INEO and a few smaller companies, but today we're looking at a unit from Synology.
Synology is a large NAS manufacturer with several products. Looking at the numbers, Synology rivals both QNAP and Thecus in terms of the number of products available and in some categories outpaces them in truly innovative offerings. One such area that stands out is Synology's Disk Expansion products that allow you to double the drive count of your existing NAS with an add-on enclosure. I can't really tell you why Synology hasn't been a larger target on our radar, because I don't really know, but their blip is gaining more attention moving forward.
Today we're looking at the DS411+II NAS that's available at a modest price point, yet still offers over 100MB/s of data transfer throughput. With DLNA tipping up in many of the latest TVs, Blu-ray players and other devices, we've been on the hunt for quality systems that offer exceptional performance at low prices. On paper the Synology DS411+II meets the criteria. This compact NAS server is also designed for small business use, so it should also do well for keeping your work data secure and with the built in redundant RAID functionality, you don't have to worry about losing what's important.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
At the heart of the Synology DS411+II is a dual core 1.8 GHz processor that is paired with 1GB of DDR2. The system supports four HDDs in either 3.5 or 2.5" form factors. At the time of writing Synology says they support up to 3TB drives; we'll have to see if this gets updated later to the new 4TB models that are just around the corner.
On the connectivity side of things you have a single gigabit Ethernet port, dual USB 2.0 ports and a single eSATA port. That should be enough to keep you busy for a while.
The DS411+II is cooled by dual 80mm fans. Synology gives a dB rating of 22.5. With the system just four feet away from our primary seating position in an enclosed small office, we never knew when the system was off or on other than the lights on the front of the NAS. The system ran very quiet.
Synology gives a two year warranty with the DS411+II should you ever encounter an issue. Online you are able to find this system in several different configurations. Those range from a bare system without hard drives to a fully loaded system with 12TB of raw capacity. Our system arrived with four 1TB drives already installed.
A bare system void of drives will set you back around 640 Dollars. At that price we are clearly talking about a machine that is built for business, but we didn't realize how much business the DS411+II was capable of until we started looking at the software and feature list.
Uh yeah....I don't think I saw foot massager or kitchen sink listed anywhere on there. In the future we'll cover more of the software functionality with a full software review. We'll cover the basics today and analyze what we thought while working with the system.
While testing the Synology DS411+II to determine its file transfer capability, I made my way through the software. For years I've talked about Thecus and QNAP's evolution and how easy it is to get through. With their systems you see the maze and feel like you have an unlimited number of possibilities to explore. Don't get me wrong, you are only a few clicks away from any targeted section that you are looking for, but you still get the impression that you have a lot to learn if you want the optimal configuration.
The Synology software is completely different in the way it's presented. You get the impression that everything is sitting right in front of you, just a single click away. Because of this I was quite surprised at the vast amount of functionality the DS411+II has on the list above. On paper it looks like a complicated cluster, but the truth is setup and configuration was less complicated than a modern Blu-ray player.
Of course, those looking to really take full advantage of the dual core processor can start adding even more functionality. On Synology's web page we found packages for turning you NAS into a web server, mail server, VPN server and so forth. The packages go on and on and there are some listed that I've never seen officially supported by the manufacturer before on other NAS products at this, or any other price.
The Synology DiskStation package has a bit of mystery to it on the front. This isn't really a good thing even though it looks really cool.
Luckily Synology realizes that people want to learn a little about the product on the retail shelf before they reach for their credit card. On the side we found the model number, short hardware specification list and a small list of applications.
It's a shame Synology doesn't use the large sides of the package to give the full breakdown of what all the DS411+II is capable of.
The last side of the package shows some of the features, but they don't provide any details.
The inner packaging is pretty good, but not the best we've seen. The NAS is kept in a separate location from the accessories and enclosed by a minimum of 1 inch of foam.
Speaking of accessories, you get a Quick Start Guide in paper, a disc with a full manual, backup software and the like. A couple of bags with screws for installing drives, an Ethernet cable and the power module are also included.
The Synology DS411+II
Being a big time hardware guy, I was a little turned off at the sight of the DS411+II at first. My initial thought was about the lack of drive sleds poking out of the front with giant LCD screens telling me information that I don't really need to know. At that time my thoughts went back to the modest price of the DS411+II and it hit me. Most people don't want to spend an extra 400 Dollars to get a blue LCD screen that is used as a night light most of the time.
The DiskStation does produce some nice lighting effects that work well to see a bit in the dark. A status light illuminates when the system is on (which is good, because you can't hear it). The LAN cable flickers when you have network activity and the four HDD lights bounce to data being moved around on the disks.
Both sides of the unit look the same. All of the air flow moves from the front to the back so there aren't any vents on the side. We like this because it means you don't have to move the system every month to clean dust that collected on the sides of the NAS.
The DiskStation DS411+II is like the Warren Buffet of NAS servers. It's so rich with functionality and features, yet comes across so modest. Here you'll see exactly what I mean. On the back you get two USB ports, an eSATA port, gigabit Ethernet port and the power plug.
The power supply is an external 'brick' type. With the power supply being outside of the NAS, the system doesn't have to cool the switching circuits.
With the four easy access thumb screws removed, we can get down to business and see what the system is all about. The DS411+II can use up to four drives in several different RAID configurations. Most home users will want to go with RAID 5 since it offers the best mix between performance, capacity and redundancy. Our system shipped in a proprietary Synology Hybrid RAID that allows the system to run everything automatically.
Each drive is held in place by a drive sled and each sled screws into the NAS.
Here we see one of the four drive sleds out of the system. The sleds are plastic so you don't get a lot of vibration through the system. This also eliminates a lot of the noise that some lower cost NAS servers usually have.
Test System Setup
We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: AVADirect, GIGABYTE, Cooler Master, LSI, Noctua, Seagate, Crucial and Corsair.
To compare the Synology DiskStation DS411+II we chose the QNAP TurboNAS TS-459. The TS-459 is another high quality NAS that offers very good performance, a small footprint and a lot of functionality. The current market price for the QNAP NAS is right around 1,000 USD, nearly 400 Dollars more than the DS411+II.
The Intel NAS Performance Toolkit (NASPT) is a file system exerciser and analysis tool designed to enable direct measurement of home network attached storage (NAS) performance. Designed to emulate the behavior of an actual application, NASPT uses a set of real world workload traces gathered from typical digital home applications. Traces of high definition video playback and recording, office productivity applications, video rendering/content creation and more provide a broad range of different application behaviors.
Benchmarks - HD Playback
HD Video Play - 720p HD stream from Windows Media Player* 256kB reads
2HD Video Play - 2x playback
4HD Video Play - 4x playback
The Synology DS411+II starts out very strong even with a single drive. This means you'll be able to start out with just one drive and still have good performance. As your needs grow more drives can be added to the system. If should be noted that single drive JBOD systems do not have any redundant functionality for your data.
In almost every test the DS411+II outperforms the QNAP TS-459. The RAID 5 results show a significant performance increase over the competing product. In RAID 6 both systems start to level off, but for the most part the DS411+II is still faster.
Benchmarks - HD Record
HD Video Record - 720p HD stream, 256kB writes
HD Video Play & Record - 1 playback, 1 record simultaneously
2x HD Video Play & 2x Record - 2 playback, 2 record simultaneously
That theme is going to carry over to nearly all of our tests. The DS411+II is just faster in most areas and delivers a large amount of performance even though it started out as the underdog with a lower price tag.
RAID 5 is still the standout even when writing large amounts of data to the DS411+II.
Benchmarks - Content
Photo Album - All reads - wide distribution of sizes
Office Productivity - Reads and writes, 1kB & 4kB reads; Mostly 1kB writes
Content Creation - 95% writes; 1k, 4k & little reads; Writes up to 64kB
It's easy to read and write large sequential chunks of data, but these are the tests that show the difficult tasks. Here we once again see the Synology outperforming the QNAP TS-459 repeatedly. The Office Productivity tests show the largest differences between the two.
Benchmarks - Copy
Directory Copy From NAS - 64kB reads
Directory Copy To NAS - Predominantly 64kB writes, wide scattering under 16kB
File Copy From NAS - 4GB file copy, 64kB reads
File Copy To NAS - 64kB writes
In the copy tests we found that each product had certain configurations and tasks in which they excelled at. We can call this area a draw since neither product truly outperformed the other across the chart.
I have to admit that the Synology DS411+II took me by surprise. With the NAS sitting in my growing collection of servers, it looks like the runt of the litter. Its appearance is an understatement and even to say that is an understatement as well. This just goes to show that you can't judge a book by its cover or a NAS by the amount of light it emits from a front display.
While researching and testing, we found three areas in which the DS411+II stood out in. Those are performance, functionality and cost. Our performance charts today show the DiskStation outperforming a much more expensive unit. The TS-459 offers really good performance, but the DS411+II offers more in nearly all of our tests. This could actually be the highest performing 4-Bay NAS on the market today.
Synology offers several functions right out of the box, but in order to get the most out of the system you need to check out the expanded packages on Synology's website. I highly doubt anyone would have a need for everything on one system and in order to keep performance high you should only install what you are going to use anyway. The important thing is that the options are available for what you do need. We'll expand on the software side of things more in a follow up article that goes over all of the ins and outs, but the layout is very good. It gives us the illusion of being cut down even though it isn't. The way Synology displays everything gives you confidence in what you are trying to do and doesn't overwhelm you with several options at the same time. This is truly a user friendly system that we like.
The last thing is the price. We won't try and downplay the 640 Dollar price we found online for a drive less unit. It is a large investment for most small businesses in this economic climate and even more so for those looking to use the system as a home network storage / content distribution device. With that said, it is actually pretty cheap compared to the competition and a worthwhile upgrade once you measure the risk involved when your current single drive on a desktop fails. At some point you really need to ask yourself how much your data is worth to you and what the ramifications would be if it all just blows away. I can tell you from experience that my wife wasn't very happy when it happened to us eight years ago. I still hear about it from time to time and it isn't pretty when she brings it up. You just can't put a value on some things.