Thursday, 12 May 2016

Synology DiskStation DS216j

Synology DiskStation DS216j

Synology delivers a new j series NAS box for the discerning user

I really liked the DS215j, and so I would have been rather shocked to have spurned the DS216j given that it’s remarkably similar in almost every respect. The outside is almost identical, being a minimalist exercise in high quality plastic and form-is-functionality. Synology has been using this dual-drive design for a while and evidently sees no compelling reason to change it now.

Exactly like its predecessor, this is a NAS box for two SATA drives (not provided), making them available to a network in an effective and robust fashion.

All connections are at the rear, those being gigabit Ethernet, two USB ports and the external power block. At the front are the power button and some activity lights, and nothing else remotely superfluous. Synology’s mantra here is to provide simple and reliable hardware, with all the frilly bits in the software where it's more easily updated and enhanced.

Compared to the DS215j, there are some generally modest improvements without any radical departures.

The 800MHz Marvell Armada 375 88F6720 has been upgraded to a 1GHz Marvell Armada 385 88F6820, both being dual-core.

RAM remains unchanged, being 512MB of DDR3 that’s not upgradable, as it's soldered on to the system board. Whereas on the DS215j one of the USB ports was USB 2.0, here they’re both USB 3.0. That’s useful if you use those ports with an external drive to expand the possible 16TB (2x 8TB) internal capacity, but probably less critical if you hang a printer off one.

The extra CPU power translates into roughly 10% better write speed and 1% better read speed, and it makes the system marginally more responsive when using the web interface.

Performance is about as good as the bandwidth of a gigabit Ethernet allows without using channel bonding: roughly 110MB/s read and 95MB/s write speed. However, to get those speeds you’ll need a pair of matched NAS-specified drives, like the two 2TB WD REDs I used for my testing.

You can use any 3.5” or 2.5” SATA drives in the DS216j – even SSDs if you’ve feeling flush. They can be configured either in redundant mirror, striped performance or as independent volumes depending on your preference. Using stripe and mirror effectively dictates that the drive are the same size. You can also put a single drive in to start and add another later when you’ve got the money, and Synology’s DSM can then upgrade that system to use redundancy through its hybrid RAID technology, should you want that.

The amount of RAM limits how many of the Synology DSM apps you can realistically use on this platform, but then that’s why it makes the DS216Play and DS216+
models with twice as much. That said, the DS216j has enough memory and processing power to handle the typical load-out for most home users and anyone wanting to centralise security camera captures.

What it's not really up to is real-time video transcoding or handling lots of simultaneous users. Those who want to do those specific jobs will need to invest more than this, realistically.

What I accepted early on was that however you look at the DS216j, this design isn’t a major revamp; it’s just the DS215j with a few new bells on. It’s obvious that  Synology wanted a new product but isn't in the business of competing with itself.

Normally in those circumstances I’d direct you to its cheaper predecessor, though the price difference is so small (generally a fiver) that you’d be advised to splash out on the DS216j anyway.

You can buy a dual NAS box for less, like the excellent ZyXEL Person Cloud I covered recently. But what you pay a small amount extra for with Synology is not just build quality; it’s the very polished DSM operating system and the big collection of installable apps it supports. I counted 37 Synology created apps and 39 third-party modules and that’s more than my aging DS411 has available.

There’s a maturity to Synology’s solution that others struggle to match, making it the undisputed market leader in this home/small business NAS sector. The Synology DSM trumps other NAS brands, and the performance of the DS216j is dramatically better than its own entry-level DS216se (256MB RAM).

What seals this deal is the flexibility of this solution, because as your needs evolve, this hardware can be redirected to fulfil those requirements. For those who just want a fire-and-forget NAS, there are plenty around, but if you want something that can do more, the DS216j is an excellent choice. Mark Pickavance

An affordable performance NAS for home and small office use.