Friday, January 08, 2010

Synology DS110j review

Synology's latest 1 disk NAS, is it any good?

To create some order in the chaos of data scattered around my home I had to do something. On one PC there was my photo collection, 60gb and growing fast, on another was a large collection of mp3 files and everywhere where video files.
After a bit of market research I decided that the synology DS110j with a 1.5 Tb samsung disk was a good and affordable way to solve this problem.

I ordered it from mobile-harddisk.nl which, at no charge, installed the drive for me.

First impression
The unit arrives in a small, brown cardbord box with some black printing on it and a white sticker with key specs on the side. Bit understated when you compare it with the visual extravaganza some motherboard manufacturers use these days. Everything is well protected. The unit comes with a seperate power supply that uses the same kind of mains cable as your PC and monitor does. Also included is a short ethernet cable and the necessary screws to mount the harddisk.
The unit itself is white with a grey front and a bare metal back. On the front you will find three status indicator leds and a usb port. 2 more ports, a RJ45 gigabit port and the power connector are on the back. The unit stands on four black rubber suports.

First use
Connect power and network and press the button. While the disk station boots put the CD that you found in the package into your computer and fireup the installation software. This scans your local network and helps you connect to the web interface on port 5000 of your disk station. Logon (no password set on the admin account) and you will find a well thought out web interface where you can manage all aspects of your disk station. I would strongly advice you to set at least a password on the admin account and preferably a fixed ip address.
Basic functions such as creating shares and adding users are intuitive, quick and well documented. Some of the more advanced features are not documented extensively and will require some googling and/or some experience in handling servers. Despite writing that I think anyone who has some experience with computers and who can read a manual can setup basic functionality in 30 minutes.

In use
Both on my 100mb wired network and on my 54G network the network is clearly the limiting factor in read and write speed. I need to do some more detailed testing to determine exact speeds so I will update this information. Shares appear on your network moments after you have created them. The unit can be joined to a domain or you can make it the master browser for your home network. There doesn't (yet) seems to be windows homegroup support.

The built in fan works well, it keeps the unit at room temperature with slightly less noise than a modern desktop pc. I will keep this unit in the same closet that also houses my ADSL modem and some other utilities so noise won't be an issue. If you keep it in your bedroom you may want to use the unit's scheduled power down/up functionality.

This is a single disk unit so the single disk in there is a single point of failure. To work around that I intend to hookup a USB harddisk to it and use the built-in functionality to backup at least the essentials to that second drive.

Multimedia
The DS110j offers a lot of options here, most of them not very well documented in the manuals. It is supposed to be fully DLNA compliant something which I intend to test next week.

Downloading
If you are so inclined you can use the Disk Station to download from torrents, emule or newsgroups (using nzb files). This could very well be illegal where you live so be careful there. In the interest of this review I tested the NZB option and found it works well, it downloads and puts the material where you told it to. There is a ready made package available to install SABNZB on your diskstation which gives you options like par2 verification, automatic extraction of RAR files and bandwidth throttling.

Modification and further use.
Even though this Disk Station is marketed as an entry-level appliance you are buying a small computer running on an 800mhz ARM processor with Busybox linux as the operating system. Busybox is a basic linux version but it is linux enough that clever people have ported some interesting applications to it.
Synology itself delivers mail station which adds mail server functionality to your Disk station. It's based on postfix. Unfortunately the package installs a very basic postfix without the niceties like DNSBL spam filtering. It's there, it's possible but it does require some mucking on the command line.
Another option is to turn this Disk Station into a web server. There's apache and power enough to add PHP and Mysql so you can run any of the popular CMS packages. Synology has a list of tested applications but I'm sure any linux-savvy person can add to that list. As actual installation instructions Synology offers just this.

Conclusion
With the caveat that I have hardly touched the multimedia and streaming functionality this Disk Station does seem to be a very attractive product. It offers an impressive amount of bang for not that many bucks. The product is well thought out and there's an active community using Synology products, discovering new uses and adapting software to them. Synology keeps an eye on that community and occasionally adapts their work into supported addons and features.

So if you are looking for a simple home server or a simple but very good appliance to store your data in just one place the DS110j is a very interesting product that deserves your consideration.

I also wrote a part two to this review.

5 comments:

Tiago said...

Greetings.

Did you have the change to test it on a gigabit lan?
I would like to know smb transfer speeds.
I´m very interested in this Synology model, but the 128mb of ram, makes me think twice.

There are no reviews available.
Please give me a wider feedback.

Thanks
Tiago
from Portugal

Jeroen said...

I didn't get a chance to test it on gigabit yet since I have no gigabit switch available. I can tell you that on 100mb it seems to have speed left over.

Also, I really do not see why 128mb of ram would be an issue. The only time a significant amount of ram is used is when I create a big download job and when the par2 check is done on it.

Tiago said...

Thanks for your answer.

The big amount of ram used in a download job. Can you quantify how much?
On large GB file transfers, more ram is necessary to speed up things, a good cpu is also needed of course.

I´m still consider buying this product, but it was out of stock on my local retailer.

Thanks

Jeroen said...

I'just copied 45gb of dvd images from a usb disk to the syno, that took about 50 minutes. A whole load of small files, about 20gb, was done in about 15 minutes.

When I kick off a job to download a DVD image from usenet the starting and the parring can cause the system load to rise to 80% for a minute or so.

Tiago said...

Copy from usb is not the same has from a gigabit lan.
That way won´t push the NAS to the limit, because usb has less bandwidth.