The petite (for a NAS, anyway) Synology DS209 breaks from the pack by covering itself in white plastic and stepping away from the stark utilitarian style often employed by the devices. Instantly, you get the feeling that the Synology is something designed for the home environment, rather than the bigger boxes, which, through looks alone seem to be resigned to the professionals and enthusiasts. It will take two 3.5-inch hard disks, although a single 2.5-inch conversion tray is included in the box.
Unfortunately, this form factor has led to a few compromises — there's no quick release drive caddies for a start. Instead, the box has to be flipped on its side, the top popped off, and up to two hard drives screwed in manually, one on top of each other. A short SATA power and data cable are supplied for both; however, if the bottom drive needs to be removed, you have to unplug everything in order to achieve it. It's no big deal for a power user, but home users who were lulled into a false sense of security by the design may be a little put off by the build process required.
After the drives have been secured and the cover put back on, the power button on the front is hit to turn it on, and the various green and blue status lights flash into existence. Synology also supplied a copy button on the front (which will copy data from a USB flash drive, camera or other device to the NAS); a USB port for that copy; disk, LAN and device status LEDs. The back gives another two USB ports and a gigabit Ethernet port, along with an 80mm fan. It's not the quietest of devices, its gentle hum being perceptible at least 2 metres away — we'd be tempted to swap in a Noctua NF-R8 to keep the noise down and risk the increase in heat.
Configuration of the NAS begins with entering Synology's supplied disk. The NAS can be searched for, and once found the on-board software installed. You can either choose a one-click install (which sets up the device with the "admin" administrator account and a blank password), or a step-by-step wizard. The latter offers to set up the NAS' name and administrator account, network settings and time zone. Both require you to select a .pat file supplied on the CD (which actually contains the firmware). Certainly not the most gracious of methods.
After the installation completes (taking an obscenely long 10 minutes to reboot after the initial write), clicking on the manage link opens a web browser pointed to the machine's GUI — or rather, Internet Explorer opened, despite Mozilla being our default browser. Minus points there, however, Synology gets extra kudos for having both OS X and Linux management tools.
Synology's web GUI welcome screen populates
as you enable more features. (Credit: CBS Interactive)
Disk management is a little confusing, even for the power user. Eventually you realise that Synology has rolled disk and volume management into one, and you have to hit the Create button under the Volume to get things started. Only after this are you given RAID configuration options — something which really should be ordered the other way around. Synology's software is clearly rolled out across all its units, with options for RAID 5, RAID 5 + Spare and RAID 6 greyed out due to the device supporting only two disks. Selecting multiple disks isn't done by checkbox, but rather you need to hold CTRL to select both drives. A simple trick for old hands, but once again confusing for the newer players.
The device is heavily feature-laden, like its D-Link and Netgear competitors, supporting CIFS, AppleTalk and NFS protocols, jumbo frames, domain log-in, user and group management, and even containing a web server (including PHP, MySQL and virtual host support). It will happily talk to DDNS services, will run telnet, SSH, FTP, UPnP and iTunes servers, offers a fairly comprehensive set of backup options (either over the network via Rsync, or using one of the USB ports) and supports USB printer sharing and UPS management. Setting up shared files, folders and permissions is particularly easy, an area where other NAS units tend to fall down.
Yep, that sure is a lot of features. (Credit: CBS Interactive)
There are a few things that set the DS209 apart from competitors — every one of them ending with the word "Station". Bill and Ted would be proud. File Station allows you to access your files from a web browser, Web Station manages the above mentioned web server. Audio Station will index all your music and allows streaming to a client PC or to hooked up USB speakers, Photo Station indexes all your photos and makes them available in one spot through a web page, Download Station allows you to schedule downloads (including BitTorrent, HTTP, FTP and amazingly newsgroup and eMule) and finally Surveillance Station, which allows recording to the NAS using up to five IP cameras.
There's even a custom packages section, through which Synology allows the installation of Logitech SqueezeCenter software, a mail server, and a web stats service. It's fair to say the DS209 is heavily featured, but it never gets overwhelming — in a nice extra, if you ever forget which menu the option you want is in, you can simply use the search function to find it.
We ran into one compatibility problem with the DS209 — namely that it didn't like the pairing of a Seagate 7200.11 1TB drive with a Western Digital WD10EADS 1TB drive. With any other combination we tried, it worked fine.
Copying a 1GB file across a gigabit network via a Netgear GS-108T, the maximum speed reached 45.5MBps, while reading back picked up to 76MBps, making the Synology quite speedy indeed when the drives are set up under basic mode. RAID modes appeared to not affect the throughput too much, with RAID 0 writing to the device at 39.1MBps maximum, and reading back at 71.1MBps. RAID 1 (of which the Synology allows both background and foreground processing to initialise) slowed things a little in both instances, attaining a maximum write of 36.3MBps and read of 61.3MBps. Having 256MB of dedicated RAM and a 1.2GHz processor certainly gives the DS209 some extra legs.
The Synology DS209 is an excellent little unit, with a more complex than necessary set-up routine. Still for those looking for a highly featured, high performing NAS with an easy to use and flashy menu, it's certainly a compelling choice.