Last year's Synology DS107+ impressed us with its vast amount of features, great expandability and top-notch user interface. The DS209+ impressed us even more by offering all that plus RAID configurations and unprecedented throughput speed.
The unit unfortunately lacks what the DS107+ also lacked: an easy-to-use interface for the novice user. If you want something that you can plug in and use, you might want to look elsewhere. On the other hand, if money isn't an issue and if you're comfortable tinkering with networking device settings, the DS209+ is a great choice.
Set-up and ease of use
The Synology DS209+ review unit we received came with two 500GB hard drives; however, Synology does not sell the DS209+ with any hard drives so you'll need to install your own. Fortunately, the device supports SATA hard drives of all capacities from any vendors. If you want to use a RAID solution, it's recommended that you get two identical hard drives.
Unlike most NAS servers we've reviewed, the DS209+ will require a Phillips head screwdriver to install hard drives. Other than that, this process is fairly easy and straightforward.
Since we had some previous experience setting up the similar DS107+, connecting the DS209+ to our network was painless. Although the process is fairly self-explanatory, novices may need to refer to the instructions. The device also comes with a software CD that contains Synology Assistant, which detects the NAS on the network, helps map network drives, installs a printer (if you want to connect a USB printer to the NAS server) and launches the web interface to manage the server.
Out of the box, the DS209+ isn't set up with any shared folders or any of its features turned on. The server's web interface (an AJAX-based application), works just like a desktop application. Once a share folder is created, you can use the Synology Assistant software to create a network drive, which makes it available as a drive letter when you double click on My Computer. Or you can access the folder just as you would a normal shared folder from another computer in the network via Windows Explorer. This is possible because the DS209+ is fully compatible with the Windows SMB system, so you won't need to install anything on other computers in the network before they can access the DS209+.
Once launched, all features and functions of the DS209+ are listed in a well-organised menu on the left of the interface. Most of the set-up section is handled by a wizard that guides you. For example, when you click on Share Folder and then click Create, a wizard launches to walk you through all the steps involved in making a new share folder, assigning user access to that folder and so on.
Our review unit came with RAID 1 preinstalled, but it's easy to switch between the RAID configurations, using the wizard in the Volume Management section. The DS209+ supports a quick mode to set up the array where it skips the disk check. This helps to significantly reduce the RAID build time to about 30 minutes — down from hours, if done in normal mode.
Other than the black colour and the width, which is doubled, the DS209+ shares similar design with the DS107+ with two USB ports, a gigabit Ethernet port and a reset button on the back. On the front, it features a slick panel with blue LED indicators that show the status of the hard drive, network activity and the power status. There's also another USB port, an eSATA port, a power button and a USB copy button. This button copies the entire contents of a USB drive into a designated folder of the NAS' internal hard drive, making for a quick solution for backing up your thumb drive.
The drive bay Synology DS209+ is a NAS appliance with RAID 1 support and an intuitive AJAX-based user interface. (Credit: Synology)
We don't like the eSATA port on the front; this space is reserved for a semi-permanent connection, therefore having the port in the back would reduce cable clutter. Like the DS107+, the DS209+ can support three USB devices at the same time, as long as the number of connected printers is limited to one.
We didn't investigate all of the many features the DS209+ has to offer, but we were impressed with what we did try.
The DS209+'s Surveillance Station now supports up to 10 cameras (up from six in the DS107+). Unfortunately, only one camera licence is included; according to SynologyStore.com you'll have to pay £28.95 per additional licence — it doesn't seem as if local pricing is available. So, if you want to use it as a 10-camera surveillance system, you'd be paying an additional £260 (or whatever the exchange rate of the day is) just for the camera licences (not counting the cost of the cameras themselves). We tried the NAS server with the Panasonic BL-C1 camera and found that it had an even better response time than when we used the same camera on the DS107+. This is most likely because of the DS209+'s improved CPU speed (800MHz) and amount of RAM (512MB).
One noticeable change in the DS209+ over the DS107+ is its Download Station, which is now capable of downloading from websites that require authentication. We tried it with a 2GB file from RapidShare and had no problems as long as we used the DS209+'s web-based interface. When we tried it with the included desktop software, Synology Download Director, we found that it was not compatible with websites that have authentication requirements. The DS209+'s Download Station now also fully supports the antiquated eMule file-sharing service.
Unfortunately, the Download Station doesn't allow you to keep track of RSS feeds, which is a useful feature in the Zyxel NSA-220. This is rather disappointing. Since the DS209+ supports iTunes and UPnP media servers, it would be useful if you could keep track of audio and video podcasts and make them available to the rest of the devices connected to the network. Also missing is BitTorrent download support.
The DS209+ comes with Photo Station 3, which makes it easy to organise photos into albums and may be the device's biggest selling point for home users. Following activation, a share folder called Photo will be created on the DS209+. Once you've dragged your photos into this share folder, the DS209+ will take care of the rest and turn each folder of photos into a well-organised, customisable album. You can then browse the album via a web browser, and — as in Google's Picasa Web album — you can easily add captions and comment to each photo/album. Different themes can also be added to the albums.
Photo Station includes a blogging function; you can also create user accounts to allow and limit access to the photo album. Presented with a folder of 275 photos, the NAS server took about 10 minutes to generate thumbnails for all of them.
The DS209+ provides a very flexible way to access the Photo Station feature over the internet as long as you're capable of setting it up with a Dynamic Domain Name System (DDNS), or if you access the internet via a static IP address. To use this, you'll need networking knowledge such as the ability to forward certain ports to certain IP addresses. Synology provides rather scant set-up instructions here, partly because this depends on your router. The DS209+ supports four DDNS services: 3322.org, NoIP.com, Two-DNS.de and DYNDNS.org.
Additionally, you can use the DS209+ as a web server, a MySQL server, a file server and an audio server, among other things. In Audio Station mode, you can listen to audio files contained on the DS209+ via USB speakers attached to the device's USB port.
The DS209+ has a few backup options focused on getting content from the device onto a USB external storage device or network location. For backup duties, Synology bundles the DS209+ with its Data Replicator 3 desktop software.
The Data Replicator 3 is a simple backup application that allows you to quickly copy data — much like copying and pasting using Windows Explorer — from your hard drive to the DS209+. However, the software does have a nice feature that helps you find and quickly back up email archives, which generally are buried deep in layers of subfolders within a user's profile. In addition, it also allows for scheduling and keeping track of the backup process via email notification. For a more complete backup solution, Synology recommends Acronis.
We tested the DS209+ in both RAID 1 and RAID 0 configurations, and it did well in both modes, topping our performance charts by a remarkably large margin.
In RAID 1 mode, where the hard drives are set up for data redundancy at the expense of throughput, the DS209+ scored 240Mbps for write speed and 322Mbps for read speed. These are faster than most USB 2.0 external hard drives. For comparison, the second fastest on our NAS server chart is the Iomega StorCenter ix2, with merely an 89.1Mbps and 137Mbps for write and read tests respectively.
In RAID 0 mode, the DS209+ did even better with 256.3Mbps for write speed and 375.5Mbps for read speed.
This performance is achieved, in part, thanks to the DS209+'s new configuration, including an 800MHz Freescale CPU and 512MB of RAM (compared with the 500MHz Marvell CPU and 128MB of RAM for the DS107+).
Throughout the testing process, the DS209+ performed smoothly and quietly. However, if you're using the device in a quieter room than our labs, what you hear may be different.