Synology DiskStation DS414j NAS Review
Since they entered the NAS marketplace a few years back Synology have been continually evolving their products. The majority of their products get a yearly refresh for enhanced performance and features and between hardware launches their DiskStation Manager OS has continued to receive significant new revisions. Today we take a look at the latest revision of each, the DS414j (their first j model with dual core CPU + FPU and USB 3.0) with DSM 5.0.
Packaging and Bundle
The DS414j arrives in a brown cardboard box with Synology branding and a small sticker noting the model name. Inside we find the extras in their own box and the NAS, suspended to the side and wrapped in protective foam. Bundled with the DS414j are a network cable, screws for 2.5″ and 3.5″ drives, quick start guide and a 120w PSU.
The Synology DiskStation DS414j
The DS414j is a 4-bay NAS and has styling similar to some of Synology’s older models with the perforated front. In the centre we get LEDs for status, LAN and each drive bay along with a power button (which also contains a LED). The DS414j measures 184x168x230mm (HxWxD) weighing 2.21kg. The majority of the casing uses a matt black and internally we have a MindSPeed Comcerto 2000 dual core 1.2GHz CPU with enhanced floating point media functionality (and hardware encryption engine). This is backed by 512MB of DDR3 and each bay accepts drives up to 5TB for a total storage capacity of 20TB.
Both sides of the NAS feature a Synology logo which allows airflow through the sides and the base has four rubber feet. Moving round to the back of the DS414j we find two fan exhausts along with power input, reset switch, GB LAN port, lock slot and the two USB ports, one 3.0 and one 2.0 spec. There are also four thumb screws here which allow us access to the inside…
Installation and Set-up
To install the drive in our NAS unscrew the four thumbscrews and the back folds down to reveal two low noise 80mm fans. Behind them are our four plastic drive trays and into them we place our 2.5″ or 3.5″ drive in the tray before securing with the bundled screws and sliding back in. It is that simple.
Once the drives are installed and the NAS powered on it is time to access DiskStation Manager web interface. To do this we can use the DiskStation Assistant software which finds and connects to the NAS and opens our browser too.
First up are some screens which give us info on the DiskStation as well as allowing us to point the NAS at the latest OS files. Next we create a password for the admin account and here we can also alter the server name, doing so will alter the name for the access URL as well. After this, installation of DSM begins.
Once installation and setup is complete we land on the login screen which now features a weather and clock widget. On first login we can also set up a quick access account used for accessing the device remotely.
Once installation and setup is complete we land on the home screen. This is in effect the ‘desktop’ and has a familiar Windows like UI experience which features taskbar, icons/shortcuts and a main menu (start) button. All Synology NAS solutions operate using DSM from the single-bay home user device to the 100 bay + enterprise solutions which is rather impressive.
On the desktop are the default icons which include File Station, Control Panel and Package Centre. Along the top taskbar we have a ‘start’ button on the left and over on the right, a search function, user account menu, display options as well as a notification system and (when appropriate) an icon informing us that there is a USB device currently connected. In the bottom right corner we have our quick access status indicators. Here we can see over health status of the system, the current CPU/memory usage as well as bandwidth use.
The start button, situated top left opens a menu with pretty much access to all the features of the DS414j. This includes any additional apps installed via the Package Centre.
Looking next to the Control Panel, we have a large array of options available from user admin, firewalls, IP blocks, Traffic Control and a whole lot more. All aspects of the NAS and the way it functions are user configurable, though novice users will find that very few of the options need tweaking out of the box.
The Package Center, is Synology’s ‘App Store’ here we can find packages to download and install on our NAS to improve functionality, these are categorised into Backup, Multimedia, Business, Security and Utilities. We can also see which apps we have installed and make sure we are running the most up-to-date packages. This allows full control of just what is available on your NAS without bloating the initial install.
One of the key apps is File Station, this is a file browser and allows us to trawl our NAS at a directory level. It also allows the user to access the files on another device to easily upload them to the NAS. As well as the usual file control abilities rename, delete, cut/copy/paste we can compress files into .zip archives directly on the NAS and create share file links that allow users who don’t have credentials for the DiskStation to download the file.
Audio Station allows management of the music library stored on the DiskStation and like VideoStation and PhotoStation allows us to view our content on other devices such as TVs, phones and tablets (or give external access to items such as our photos to family members).
Moving away from the DSM we also get a useful utility to install on our PC/Mac. This is Data Replicator. Data Replicator enables us to backup direct to the NAS as the name suggests. (The DS414j can just as easily be used to backup via the built-in Windows Backup Tool as well, simply using it as a network drive.)
Given that those who need a NAS probably have a multitude of devices Synology have a full suite of mobile apps available for iOS, Android and Windows Phone too. These include media players for streaming audio and video content. Also available is File Station which is used to browse files direct and finally there is DSFinder to manage our device.
Looking first at the build quality of our DS414j it is great to see that despite this being the “value” edition of the 414 family there are no real issues. Synology use a sturdy chassis and while it would be great if it was all metal the thick plastic used is more than sufficient and the glossy sections do add a nice look… even if for most people the DS414j will be hidden away. Additionally the LEDs give a nice clear view of the status of the unit as a whole and each individual drive.
Round the back of the DS414j the connectivity is decent. A GB-LAN port ensures a fast connection to our router and support for WiFi dongles and USB drives allows us to connect and expand in different ways with speed maximised by the USB 3.0 port.
In terms of performance the DS414j does everything we would expect. It has low idle power use (9w), decent transfer speeds (Synology advertise 110MB/s read, 80MB/s write) and playback of HD content over our network was flawless. As a nice touch Synology now support 5TB drives which allow us to maximise storage potential and software support was recently added for Chromecast. So we can for example from our browser or Android phone start playing a video from the NAS and then cast the “tab” to our TV while still controlling I from our device.
As always though the highlight of any Synology product is their OS. DiskStation manager continues to evolve at a great pace and not just with little changes… looking back a year or two shows the massive changes which have all occurred and pretty much always for the better. The Windows like layout means it is accessible for novice users, updates are applied in a simple fashion, all of the basics work out of the box and there is plenty of options available to configure when we start to delve into the control panel. A wide range of Raid support on a model like this is also a nice bonus as is Synology Hybrid Raid which allows us to mix different disks in an array.
While the DS414j may not have the performance of some Synology models it has more than enough for the average user but more importantly, all the functionality we would need at a more accessible price.