NAS – network attached storage — devices used to be about business, but like all things related to technology work can just as quickly turn into play — figuratively and literally in some cases. For certain home users, however, the preference of managing data can quickly become specific enough that having a personal server becomes a necessary solution. Enter Synology and their NAS DiskStation DS218+ with the potential of capability, accessibility and security rolled into one; just remember to bring the hard drives yourself.
I’ve always preferred to freely access my vast library of content on a local network; I have terabytes of stuff I watch or listen to when the mood hits me, though I’ll admit to hording things I’ve become too sentimentally attached to delete (but probably should’ve years ago). Products like the DS218+, including Synology’s other Plus and Value series offerings, do require you ‘bring your own hard drive’ (BYOHDD), yet allow a massive level of content flexibility that would be compromised otherwise. Whatever the reason for wanting a NAS bay and the upfront costs, you have complete control over what is shared and distributed within any configurable network.
Neat and Packing
The DS218+ works as a secondary server, one that’s unexpectedly compact from most NAS enclosures I’ve dabbled with. The front exterior is where most of the visual activity happens. It’s cleanly organized with status lights, physical power (I/O), one USB 3.0 port and and a USB copy button that directly clones everything on a connected jump or external HDD with a single push. The panel itself is removable and able to house two drive bays, including the necessary tool-free bracket holders to help secure them in place.
The rear of the DS218+ is where you’ll find two more USB 3.0 ports, Gigabit LAN port, Kensington Security Slot, and an eSATA port. Of course, all of this requires power from the included DC power brick and a 91mm fan for ventilation.
The Synology DS218+ is powered by an Intel Celeron J-3355 dual-core 2.5GHz processor, with 2GB of DDR3L RAM that can be upgraded to 6GB maximum with an unoccupied SODIMM slot. In its default configuration, this NAS is already well suited for the demands of home entertainment and video transcoding, especially if watching 10-bit, 4K/30fps H.265 material is a deal-breaker. For even more peace of mind, maximum raw capacity of this NAS device can accommodate up to 28TB (2 x 14TB drives) through RAID 0 virtualization.
Other technical features are accounted for and typical of NAS drives such as DLNA, RAID 0+1, EXT4 and BTRF Linux-based file system support, and Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR) format optimization for quick and simplified storage volume deployment. If you’re a novice to the intricacies of HDD and RAID management then SHR then might be an appealing draw, making drives immediately swappable without the error of guesswork.
DiskStation Manager: Have It Your Way
From personal experience, NAS solutions are nothing revolutionary as they’ve been around for a couple decades, finding their niche among consumers over the past few years. It used to be a tedious endeavor just in cost — let alone installation. For this particular review, Synology provided the DS218+ while Seagate included two 12TB IronWolf Pro NAS 3.5” units, these HDDs were cloned with a 10.5TB partition in the unlikely event of drive failure.
For the most part, the DS218+ is tremendously better than the last NAS I reviewed, which basically put everything on lockdown and forced users to rely on proprietary apps to access their own data. Synology isn’t completely innocent of incorporating their own DiskStation Manager (DSM) ecosystem, which is a web-based tool that allows instant drag and drop transfer of your files. Of course, to take proper advantage of this you’ll need to download the Synology Desktop Assistant and go through the necessary drive setup, doing all the straightforward stuff like making a username, password, drive formatting and updating firmware.
Fortunately, it all works well enough and isn’t terribly intrusive. For instance, if you remove the drives your current state and tasks are thankfully left intact on whatever hard drives you have. This also means all your personal data and other traces migrate with you, so no loose ends to cover. Although this is under the assumption that you’re moving stuff to another DiskStation device.
As a standalone NAS operating system, the DSM UI is dutifully versatile for what you get and is only as curated as you need it to be. You get an adequate level of functionality if you’re comfortable using yet another suite of internal apps, separate from PC and Mac. You can expect the aptly-named Video Station to pull videos directly from the drive, and other apps like images (Photo Station) and music (Audio Station) do the same.
It even goes beyond that with additional software like drive synchronization, personal mail servers, note collaboration and even virtualization machine and storage management (VMware, Citrix, Hyper-V, OpenStack). Even I must admit, you get a large amount of flexibility if you use this NAS within the DSM UI with security or the ability to share specific resources. The Download Manager is another perk because it operates like a BitTorrent client with secondary support for remote FTP servers. You can download files directly on the NAS instead of manually doing it via desktop or notebook, or even turned on for that matter, and a definite timesaver if you’re a heavy content consumer.
The most important attribute of the DS218+ is how flexible the system is. Aside from utilizing DSM, I really appreciate being able to manually access the drives through Windows Explorer without incident, even if it does involve more legwork. The latter part is typical of any NAS and probably reinforces the benefits that DSM instantly offers, but it does help that you do have the choice to take the reins if using yet another dedicated UI sounds unfavorable.
Another perk, regardless of approach, is that everything runs smoothly thanks to the capable hardware. With a 400Mbps internet connection I experienced smooth playback of UHD/H.265 videos through the DSM browser. Running the same content natively on Windows was identical in quality, but there was some initial 2-3 second buffering when larger files, though nothing egregious when compared to my local drive. Transfer speeds were equally impressive on CrystalDiskMark, and I observed 115MB/s for read and consistent writing speeds of 113 MB/s.
Choose Your DiskStation
But what about equivalent DiskStation models in the lineup like the DS218play or standard DS218? Either one is acceptable if your needs are more basic, but only the DS218+ is classified as a ‘4K Group 1’ device, meaning that you gain some video transcoding features of emerging file formats. The DS218+ also has that better CPU and upgradable memory whereas the other two only have a 1.4GHz Realtek RTD1296 CPU and fixed amounts of DDR4 RAM. This probably won’t matter for novice users but still represents a moderate advantage for the DS218+.
A Versatile NAS
Synology’s NAS DiskStation DS218+ is a traditional NAS solution properly retooled without alienating experienced professionals. It hits a sweet spot between performance and price that should make it an attractive option for most media-hungry situations, with a strong emphasis on media performance, entertainment, remote file sharing and even productivity for workplace collaboration projects. No matter what your priorities may be, the DS218+ is how you do a domesticated NAS drive correctly with the power and autonomy to match.