Review: Synology DiskStation DS214
Synology is probably one of the best-known names when it comes to Network Attached Storage, or NAS for short. This Taiwanese company has been making NAS devices since the year 2000 and they are pretty good at it, considering the fact that they keep introducing new products all the time.
The DiskStation DS214 was launched several months back and is a high-performance NAS server for the SMB/SOHO market segment. It’s a 2-bay enclosure and comes with a dual-core processor, offering read/write speeds of over 100MB/sec. One thing that’s common across Synology’s offerings is the software – the DiskStation Manager (or DSM for short) is an award-winning NAS operating system that is widely regarded to be one of the best out there.
As I previously mentioned, the DS214 is a 2-bay enclosure. Currently, the largest 3.5″ hard disk drives in the market are 4TB drives, so the DS214 can hold up to a maximum of 8TB of data. However, as drives get bigger, users will be able to put in larger drives, thereby increasing the DS214’s max capacity. Of course, the usable space would depend on how the drives are configured.
Due to its limited drive bay, this NAS can only support RAID 0, RAID 1, JBOD and Synology’s Hybrid RAID (SHR) which is an automated Linux RAID management system that minimizes wasted space on a NAS that contains different sized hard disks. On a 2-bay NAS like the DS214, this feature isn’t as useful but it’s there all the same. For more information on SHR, visit Synology’s website here.
[[DS214 – The Hardware]]
Physically, the DS214 is very light and some might consider plasticky; the only metal part is the rail into which the hard disks slide. The lower-end NAS models (e.g. the DS214se) still requires tools to install the hard drives, but thankfully, the DS214 has a tool-less design. Screws are still provided to secure the drives to the rails, but that is optional. The plastic front panel comes off easily, exposing the removable hard disk trays which are secured individually by a small latch on top.
Installing the hard disks was easy; the tray slides out effortlessly and the plastic strip that holds the drives in place can be yanked out using your fingers. The trays have rubber bits that will absorb any vibration but the WD Red drives which we used for this test are apparently tested to ensure they do not vibrate in any way during operation. In any case, putting in both hard disks should take only a minute or two.
The DS214 has a single USB 2.0 port on the front and two USB 3.0 SuperSpeed ports at the rear. The Gigabit Ethernet port is located right next to the two USB 3.0 ports and there’s even a Kensington lock slot, if you need to lock your NAS down. A single, large 92mm fan keeps the hard disks and logic board inside cool. According to the specs, the DS214 has a maximum noise level of 19.9dB(A) and frankly, you will hardly notice any some coming from it except maybe for the loud beep at startup.
The power supply is a 65-watt brick that is similar in size to those used by notebook PCs. Peak power usage is just below 23 watts and around 9 watts when the drives are in hibernation mode. As this is a lower-end NAS, there’s no redundancy, either for the power or network ports.
Synology uses the same chassis for a few different models of their 2-bay NAS, which is why there is a blocked-off SD card slot. This feature is available in the DS213+ which is virtually identical otherwise. There are four LED indicator lights on the front for Status, LAN and Disk 1 & 2. There’s also a button labeled C above the power switch, which allows users to quickly copy data off a USB device (e.g. thumb drive) onto the NAS’ drives.
On the software front, it’s not easy to write about Synology’s DSM; its ecosystem is so powerful that you can even turn your NAS into:
- DHCP, DNS, Directory, SQL, Mail servers
- iTunes, Logitech Media Servers
- CCTV recorder
- DLNA server
- Joomla, WordPress or Moodle server
plus many others. Synology has the largest number of plug-ins compared to other vendors’ products. In addition, the DSM interface is hands down the best in the industry, at least from the user-friendliness perspective. The company also updates it regularly, so users can be confident that their NAS devices will not become outdated a few months down the road.
We will definitely do a DSM review when the next big update happens, so stay tuned.
[[Testing the DS214]]
Moving on to performance, the DS214 is rated at ‘100MB/sec for writes and over 110MB/sec for read operations’ according to the product’s web page. To test these claims, we used two Western Digital RED 4TB drives (model number WD40EFRX) which were graciously supplied by Western Digital for this test. The other hardware and software used were:
- Intel DZ87KLT-75K motherboard
- Intel Core i7-4770k processor
- Kingston HyperX 2GB DDR3 1600MHz (KHX1600C9AD3B1/2G)
- Kingston 128GB SSDNow V300 Solid-State Drive
- Windows 7 32-bit Service Pack 1 with all the latest updates
- Intel NAS Performance Test (NASPT) ver. 1.7.1
- CrystalDiskMark ver. 3.0.3
- ATTO Disk Benchmark 32-bit ver. 2.4.7
We would like to take this opportunity to thank our hardware sponsors for providing us with the components used in this review, in particular Intel Malaysia and Kingston Technology Corporation.
The testbed was connected to the DS214 via the on-board Intel I217-LM Gigabit Ethernet chip with 9k Jumbo Frames enabled on both ends. And of course, we used a CAT6 Ethernet cable to provide the best connection possible. The reason we used only 2GB of RAM and Windows 7 32-bit was because the Intel NASPT test results would be skewed if the system RAM exceeded 2GB. In addition, although NASPT is no longer supported by Intel, we will continue to use it as it has proven to be accurate for the purposes of storage benchmarking.
To gauge the efficiency of the DS214’s CPU and hardware performance, we ran our tests using two different configurations:
- Synology Hybrid Raid
- RAID 0 (striping)
As Intel’s NASPT will not run on a mapped networked drive, we had to create an iSCSI target on the RAID array and then used Windows 7 iSCSI initiator to connect and mount the drive. The partition size was 100GB, which is above the minimum 80GB required by Intel’s NASPT benchmark. For CrystalDiskMark and ATTO Benchmark, there were no significant differences in performance whether we used a mapped network drive or the iSCSI method.
Okay, with all that out of the way, let’s take a look at the actual benchmark results.
[[Benchmark Results & Conclusion]]
DS214 with Synology Hybrid Raid
The HD video playback figures here show an average of around 100MB/sec, which means that the DS214 will not have any problems handling video streaming around the office or home. Content creation uses small bunches of files that vary in size, which explains the drop in speed. The file copying function resulted in a 100MB/sec rate for writes and 79MB/sec for reads.
CrystalDiskMark gave the DS214 (in SHR mode) a 98.14MB/sec read speed and 86.47MB/sec write speed. ATTO figures hit a maximum of 120MB/sec for reads and 109MB/sec for writes. Both these tests show that the DS214 is capable of at least 90MB/sec speeds for large sequential read/write operations.
DS214 in RAID 0 (Striping) Configuration
When we switched the array to RAID 0, we noticed that the speeds actually dropped. From an average of around 105MB/sec for the video playback tests, the drive now manages only around 92MB/sec. This drop can also be observed in the file copy test. One anomaly we noticed is the Directory copy to NAS which hit 263MB/sec. This happened over several runs, so we would omit this figure as it is highly improbable.
For a striped array, CrystalDiskMark measured the DS214 at 100.2MB/sec and 88.74MB/sec for read and write operations respectively. ATTO put it at around 118MB/sec for reads and 108MB/sec for write ops.
Intel’s NASPT seems to suggest a performance hit when using RAID 0 over SHR. If there is any difference in speeds, it could be attributed to operational overhead of having to split the data between the two drives. This would suggest that the Western Digital RED drives are more than capable of handling the transfer speeds and the bottleneck would lie in the NAS itself.
As the DS214 is not considered a high-end NAS, I would think that its performance would easily satisfy the majority of home, SOHO or even SMB users. To be honest, 100MB/sec transfer rates cannot be considered slow by any means. NAS devices are usually meant for storage of large files (photos, videos) and not to be used for random access.
At an RRP of RM1,299, the DS214 isn’t cheap, but it does have one of the best software ecosystems you can ask for and its performance is also top notch. If a 2-bay enclosure is all you need, then I would highly recommend giving the DS214 a closer look.