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REVIEW: SYNOLOGY DS213 NAS DRIVE

New hardware, new features, same software, same look

I’m no strangers to Synology NAS drives, I’ve reviewed a few different models over the years (in fact I own a DS411j), so it’s always nice when I get a new Synology enclosure to play with.  This time around it’s the 2013 2-bay model, the DS213.

Lets start with the packaging.  The DS213 comes in a familiar looking box, emblazoned with the Synology logo and a list of product features on the sides.  Inside you’ll find very little polystyrene, which is good for the energy conscious amongst us.  Instead, the drive and accessories are held in place by cardboard formers, with only a thin layer of protective plastic wrapped around the drive itself.

There’s also minimal paperwork supplied, with all of the setup guides and manuals being included on the bundled CD.  The only things you’ll find in the box are:

  • The DS213 NAS drive
  • The power supply
  • Mains lead
  • a CAT5e cable
  • The utility/manual CD
  • A couple of bits of paperwork

This is becoming more and more commonplace these days, and it’s a good thing.  Most of the bundled paperwork will end up being thrown out in favor of electronic copies, so why waste resources providing physical copies?

First Impressions

The device itself compares nicely to other Synology devices that I’ve taken a look at.  The matt-black finish of the chassis should look inconspicuous whether it’s positioned in an office or home environment, with the high-gloss drive bay cover offering a nice contrast and a touch of flare to the design.

That being said, the matt finish does attract dust, in fact the review sample I received was already slightly grimy, which was picked up by the flash on my camera.

To the front of the NAS there’s a couple of nice surprises when compared to previous models.  Both an SD card slot and a USB 2.0 port feature on the front of the casing, just below the usual activity lights and above the power and reset buttons.

This is a great improvement when compared to previous models, in fact I mentioned in a previous Synology review that the lack of front facing expansion options seemed strange.  It’s nice to know that Synology are listening to the feedback from customers and implementing some of these changes.

To the rear of the unit is the gigabit Ethernet port and an additional two USB-3 ports which will allow for much faster transfers to externally connected devices.

Of course, both ports will also work at slower USB-2 speeds so can also be used for connecting external devices such as printers and UPS’s.

Initial Setup

The first step toward setting up this NAS is to install a pair of hard disks into it.  Thankfully Synology have made this an incredible simple job.

Simply pop off the disk bay cover to reveal two removable hard disk caddies.

These caddies can easily be removed by pressing down on the two retention clips at the top of the unit.  They then slide free, allowing you to install your chosen hard drives.

Like some other Synology devices, the DS213 can accept either standard 3.5″ (desktop) hard disks, or the smaller 2.5″ (laptop) variants.  There are pro’s and con’s to using both types of disk; desktop drives are cheaper, higher capacity and will perform better, but laptop drives are quieter and consume much less electricity than their larger counterparts.  Whichever drive size you choose, Synology have you covered.

Another nice improvement over previous models is the inclusion of rubberized grommets on the side mounting holes used for 3.5″ disks.  Older models could seem loud at times due to vibrations from the hard disk against the caddy’s, the added grommets should go some way towards stopping this noise while also holding your hard drives securely.

It’s a nice touch, and one that should help keep noise levels to a minimum for home users.

Once the hard disks are installed, it’s time to setup the NAS using the supplied software.

Software Setup

The CD provided with the DS213 makes setup incredibly simple.  On it you’ll find an app for Windows and Mac that will walk you through the initial setup of your new NAS.

The programs are also available directly from Synology’s website, which is where I would look in order to ensure you get the latest version.

In the screenshot above you can see the new DS213 showing as “Not Installed”, above it is my existing DS411j, which has been setup and is working normally.

Highlighting the DS213 and then clicking on the “Connect” button will begin the tutorial for the initial setup of the NAS:

This will allow the user to install the latest version of the operating system for the NAS and then follow through to complete the setup.

This process includes setting up the administrator password for the device, and then downloading the latest stable version of the operating system from the Synology website or your hard disk.

It’s an incredibly elegant and well thought out process that creates minimal hassle for the owner, ideal for those who haven’t used this type of device before.

Once the initial setup has been completed and you’ve logged into the web interface, you’ll be presented with a Window asking you to setup your hard disks so that the DS213 can use them.  On this two bay model you can choose from RAID0 and RAID1, as well as Synology’s proprietary system: SHR.

RAID0 will offer faster disk write and read speeds by spreading the data over both disks.  The downside being that if one drive fails, you lose all of your data.

RAID1 will protect your data by mirroring it between the disks.  The downside here is that you get half the total storage space and read/write speeds tend to be slower than RAID1.

Most users will opt for RAID1 as it offers the best protection for your data.

Diskstation Manager 4.1

Diskstation Manager (or DSM, for short) has always been a major selling point of Synology devices.  Most devices of this type offer some kind of web based interface to allow you to access and manage the device, but none are as fluid or easy to use as DSM.

The latest version, 4.1, builds on an already solid platform to bring cutting edge features like cloud storage and virtualisation (more for professional markets, but you never know).

Within DSM you can access any of the built-in system features such as the photo, video and music management systems.  There’s also a wealth of in-house and 3rd party apps available via the built-in app store.

It all amounts to a truly glorious user interface which the competition still haven’t caught up with.  You don’t just use your Diskstation as a way to configure and administrate your device, you can almost use it like a full desktop environment, which is a heck of an accomplishment for a device with a fraction of the processing power that a PC has.

Quite frankly, DSM is the main reason that I choose to use Synology products over other devices.

Uses and Applications

People expect more and more of their storage devices these days.  It’s not enough for a NAS drive to sit there quietly and store data, people want to be able to manage and deliver that data in a variety of ways.

They also want to offload functions from their main PCs to their NAS drives, so that they can continue to use services like a web server and VPN without having to have their main computer on 24/7.

The DS213 has more bolt-on features than you can shake a stick at.  Web development tools, media management and streaming tools, Email servers, VOIP servers, surveillance suites, and tons more.

It would take a considerable amount of time for me to list all of the applications that are available for this device, so instead I will refer you to the list of application on Synology’s website, and then describe a few of my favorites.

Download Station.

This is designed to allow you to download large files without needing to keep your main PC turned on.  This is a pretty common feature on this class of device, and Synology’s implementation isn’t anything revolutionary.

You can download files normally or via a Torrent, and can manage bandwidth and time slots to make sure that bandwidth isn’t used up when you need it the most.  This is one feature that the majority of users will use, and it’s implemented just as well here as on any other device I’ve seen.

It also has a built in search facility for torrents, so if you know the name of the file you’re looking for, you can make short work of locating a decent torrent of it.

DLNA/uPnP Media Server.

If you’re not familiar with DLNA then you can read up on it here.

Basically it allows you to stream media from the host machine (in this case, the DS213) to any compatible device on your home network.  The list of devices is growing all the time, both the Sony PS3 and Xbox360 are capable of receiving media from DLNA servers, as are a lot of new TV’s and set-top boxes being produced at the moment.

It’s an excellent way to play back your media library without the need for a PC, and because the library is held centrally there’s no need to keep synchronizing all of your devices.

Synology have opted to use their own software for this, whereas a lot of similar devices will bolt on software from other suppliers such as “Twonky”.  That’s not to say that this device does the job any worse than others, in fact it seems to handle the role well.

Turning on the server will create three shares on your drive, one each for music, photos and videos.  It’s simply a case of dropping the required media files into these folders.  You can use any sort of folder structure that you wish, it will be replicated on your DLNA compatible devices.

Video Manager

This is another media playback tool, but unlike the industry standard DLNA protocol, Video Manager plays back videos within the DSM interface.  It’s a rather clunky implementation as it requires you to open a web browser and log on to your Diskstation before you can view anything.

The upside is that Video Manager downloads metadata from online sources such as IMDB and The TVDB to create a media library full of DVD covers and information regarding your video library.

I can see why Synology has taken this step, most home users will likely store their digital video library on their NAS drive, but it’s not a great implementation when compared to other existing media management suites.  In fact, it’s not even the best media management tool available for DSM:

PLEX Server

This is a relatively new 3rd party addition to the Synology range, but PLEX itself has been around for quite some time.

The PLEX Server on DSM allows you to experience the same kind of information that Video Manager provides, but then makes this information available to the PLEX client, which is available for Windows, Mac, Linux and mobile devices like the iPad and iPhone.

The benefit of this over Video Manager is that you don’t need to open a web browser and log on to your Diskstation in order to browse and access your video files.  You just download the application for your PC or mobile device and the server will be automatically picked up when you’re on the same network.

Some Synology devices allow you to transcode video files using PLEX Server so that they’ll play back on mobile phones and tablets, but unfortunately the DS213 is not powerful enough for this and thus the functionality has been turned off.  This is a shame, but PLEX is still quite usable on the DS213 for desktops and laptops where the files can be sent to the clients without having to be transcoded.

PLEX Server also acts as DLNA server, so you can do away with the built-in streamer in favor of this package, to save resources.

Surveillance Station.

Synology are not alone in including support for IP cameras with their devices, several other big names are getting in on this picture as well.  The idea is that for any surveillance system you need cameras and you need storage space for video.  The NAS provides the storage space and the management, you just need to supply the cameras.

Synology claim support for over 760 models of IP camera, which covers most of them I would think, including support for more advanced models which feature PTZ (Pan, Tilt, Zoom) technology.

Surveillance Station can display live feeds from up to 36 cameras via a web browser or mobile device, which is a great feature should you be using this NAS in an office environment (or be REALLY paranoid about home security).  Unfortunately I don’t have the equipment to test it, but it looks like the suite is capable of some pretty advanced stuff, including only recording footage when motion is detected or when a door/window is opened.  In the majority of office situations, this NAS is probably good enough to do away with a bespoke CCTV system

Technical Specifications

The DS213 stands firmly in the middle of the pack when compared to some other devices in the same price range.

That being said, the DSM software makes the best use of the power that is available, and it definitely doesn’t feel slow during use.

  • CPU Frequency : 2.0 GHz (ARM based)
  • Hardware Encryption Engine
  • Memory : DDR3 512 MB
  • Internal HDD/SSD : 3.5″ or 2.5″ SATA(II) X 2 (Hard drive not included)
  • Max Internal Capacity : 8 TB (2 X 4 TB HDD) (Capacity may vary by RAID types) (See All Supported HDD)
  • Hot Swappable HDD
  • External HDD Interface : USB 3.0 Port X 2, USB 2.0 Port X 1, SD Card Port X 1
  • Size (HxWxD) : 165 x 108 x 233.2 mm
  • Weight : 1.25 kg
  • LAN : Gigabit X 1
  • Wake on LAN/WAN
  • System Fan : 92 x 92 mm X 1
  • Wireless Support (dongle)
  • Noise Level : 19.9 dB(A)
  • Power Recovery
  • AC Input Power Voltage : 100V to 240V AC
  • Power Frequency : 50/60 Hz, Single Phase
  • Power Consumption : 18.48W (Access); 8.28W (HDD Hibernation);
  • Operating Temperature : 5°C to 35°C (40°F to 95°F)
  • Storage Temperature : -10°C to 70°C (15°F to 155°F)
  • Relative Humidity : 5% to 95% RH
  • Maximum Operating Altitude : 6,500 feet
  • Certification : FCC Class B, CE Class B, BSMI Class B
  • Warranty : 2 Years

The extra RAM, when compared to earlier Synology models, makes the world of difference when it comes to the user experience of DSM and additional applications.  Run PLEX on my DS411j and the utilisation rises to around 80%, whereas on the DS213 the figure is more like 30%, which leaves plenty of memory for other functions that might be running.

This model is a little louder than the model it replaces, but only by 0.9dB, so it’s not even noticeable.

Energy usage should keep those who are conscious of their electricity bills happy; less than 20W during hard disk access and under 10W when the disks are not spinning.  This would also be the time to mention that the DS213 features intelligent power management, so it’ll put itself in hibernation when nothing tries to talk to it for a period of time.

Performance

Synology have always been good at publishing performance figures of their drives, and the DS213 didn’t escape their testing, below are Synology’s published figures showing that the DS213 consistently outperforms the DS212j and the DS213air.

All I know if that it wipes the floor with my 2 year old DS411j!

Numbers shown are throughput in Mbps.

Windows Upload / Download (1 x 5GB file)

MODELDS212JDS213AIRDS213DS213+RS212DS712+DS712+
(LINK AGGREGATION)
WINDOWS UPLOAD50.2058.6665.3684.3161.0596.35106.69
WINDOWS DOWNLOAD92.16108.07108.41110.36108.07108.91181.99

Windows Upload / Download (5000 x 1MB files)

MODELDS212JDS213AIRDS213DS213+RS212DS712+
WINDOWS UPLOAD32.8936.8740.5043.8238.9146.23
WINDOWS DOWNLOAD55.9962.2164.8958.1559.7869.61

Conclusions

It’s really hard for me to be objective when it comes to Synology products.  Mainly because I own a Synology NAS, know all of the benefits of it, and will tell anyone who will listen to me that Synology drives are the best home NAS drives available today.

If I’m honest, the DS213 is probably nothing special in terms of hardware.  That’s not to say it isn’t an improvement over the previous model, this one has USB3 and a front facing SD card slot, both of which are brilliant inclusions.

It just doesn’t have much else in terms of performance when compared to drives from other manufacturers.

What sells the DS213 for me is the ever-awesome DSM web interface.  It’s still the best user interface of any commercial storage device available today, whether you’re a home or business user.

What’s more, Synology aren’t sitting around doing nothing either, new applications such as Video Station show that they’re out to make the best possible use of the newer hardware, and buy in from 3rd party developers is increasing to the point where there are dozens of additional apps for you to install.

Few other manufacturers can boast such a wide variety of potential uses for their hardware, and until they do, Synology remain my NAS of choice, and the DS213 gets a big thumbs up from anyone looking for a well performing 2-bay NAS.

Author

Matt

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