PC & Peripheral Reviews

Gizmodo Australia Reader Review: Synology DiskStation DS415play Media Centre

When I saw Gizmodo’s email saying that I’d won a Synology DiskStation DS415play — complete with a chance to review the unit — I stood up and punched the air. YES! There were some strange looks from people around the office. “I just won a NAS,” I announced with a big grin. ‘What’s a NES?’ they asked. “It’s like my own personal Netflux…”

I work in web technology and my job spans everything from Website maintenance to configuring servers, virtualisation and development. I literally do it every day. I have a fairly complicated network at home with a lot of devices, five switches and three Wi-Fi routers should give you a clue. I have personally wired the house for gigabit Ethernet — it is just the mobile devices that connect via Wi-Fi.

We have about ten tablets, Android, iOS, Surface 2, etc and I run six desktops plus a couple of laptops. If I could afford an Internet fridge, or Internet-connected washing machine I would have those too. For now, we settle for an iPad on a cook-book stand and several clothes baskets. And yes there is a ‘bathroom’ iPad.

My long term plan is to fill the DS415play with 24TB of storage. I considered temporarily installing a couple of older spare drives but ultimately did the right thing and decided to pick up 2 6TB Western Digital Red drives and take them on holiday with me.

I also packed a WD TV live, a couple of portable drives filled with media and five Ipads, one for each member of the family, but two for me… I currently run three Noontech N5 single drive NAS devices. They are full, slow and can be quite painful even though they’re connected via gigabit Ethernet. Run three of them on the same network at the same time and they often have issues with each other.

I have to admit I’ve been looking at a consolidated file storage solution for quite some time, tossing up between building my own NAS box versus an AIO solution.

Perfect for first-time NAS (Network Attached Storage) users, the Synology DiskStation DS415play has FOUR hard drive bays supporting your own 3.5-inch or 2.5-inch hard drives — up to a massive 24TB total storage.
 

Slot in your hard drives, connect the DS415play to your network (via Ethernet or optional wireless dongle) and you’re set.

Enjoy your content across your computers, DLNA devices, TVs and mobile devices. With support for TV streaming across Samsung TVs, Apple TV, and Google Chromecast, the DS415play also makes it effortless to stream digital content to your big screen TV.

You can even sync files between Google Drive and Dropbox — plus use Synology’s mobile apps to access your multimedia collection and work files on the go. As a backup device, the DS415play also supports Windows Backup and Apple Time Machine.


Out Of The Box

The build quality of the unit is quite acceptable. The HDD caddies are super easy to use but I would have preferred if the case was metallic rather than plastic. That said, I’m going to have this hidden away so what it looks like is for me almost irrelevant.

There are a good number of accessible USB ports for plugging in external drives: I will need those. I understand you can also plug in TV tuners and possibly webcams and a USB sound dongle. The glossy front panel is a fingerprint magnet and you might notice from the photos it is already a bit dusty. The DiskStation did warm up a little when under load but in quiet mode it is indeed very quiet and has nothing on the jet engines under my desk. The resource manager showed stable temperatures over an extended period of time. The device also has a smaller than I imagined footprint. I’m reminded of the huttle HTPC machines. In all, this will fit nicely under my main router in the server room, ahem, cupboard.

The DS415play is capable of pretty much every RAID configuration known to man including its own Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR) which looks pretty useful. I’ve decided to take a different approach as I’m not convinced RAID is a great idea for backup. I’d like the Synology to be my primary means of network based storage and media streaming and explore if it’s possible to have the device back up a subset of its more precious data i.e. Photos, home movies and documents to both local and remote locations. Of secondary concern is the movie library and Steam library, though I can see myself using one of my existing portable drives to keep a second copy of my movie collection.

Brett’s Hands-On Video


Getting Started

When you first install your drives and hit the web interface, the device defaults to SHR — but I instead opted for two huge volumes. One on each physical disk. It was reasonably easy to set up without the need to refer to the online help, though the wizard kept referring to RAID even though I’d opted not to use it. I’m fairly certain you need an online connection to set up the unit, which isn’t a bad idea as this updates itself to the latest version of the DSM software. The DS415play defaults to calling itself “Diskstation” — I decided to call it “Splodge” for no other reason than everything on my network has strange names. This makes it easier to hide the real purpose of a device whilst still making it recognisable to me.

If I look at my current storage solutions, across multiple PC’s and portable drives, there’s got to be upwards of 30TB of storage capability. I should really have an oganised backup of a proportion of this. I’m also pretty sure there is a hell of a lot of file duplication going on, so there will be a lot of work involved in consolidating these data stores.

Refreshingly, the Web-based file manager on the DS415play is probably the best and cleanest I’ve seen. It’s the interface you will use the most often and allows you to plug in and eject external drives and connect to other network shares. I took a moment to compare with the interface on a QNAP and quickly came to the conclusion that Synology has the upper hand here. Using it in a modern browser will mean you can also drag and drop files.


Using It

I was able to mount through FileStation several FTP sites and network shares: the benefit of this is leaving a PC as a file transfer instigator out of the equation. I hooked up a couple of portable drives and set off several file transfer jobs which run as background tasks and left the unit overnight.

The next day I checked the unit from mobile safari to see how the copy jobs had gone. Success!

The mobile interface is cut down and lacks the Weindows-style desktop theme. It focuses more on performance reporting and provides access to the notifications. However if you fire up Chrome on an iOS device and force the desktop site you get full access to the management interface. This works pretty well but can get a bit finicky with the popup windows. In preparation my week away, I preinstalled every Synology companion app from the Apple app store on all our iPads excluding the ‘iPad1’ (the apps all need iOS6 or above to run). I noted that the apps were also available on the Google Play and Windows Phone stores, so I will get to our Android devices at a later date. If you run Windows RT you are shit out of luck.

You can check out the interface of the Synology DiskStation Manager (DSM) here. One thing I really love is all the graphs and statistics porn everywhere. There is a storage analyser which gives you access to some reports around quota, duplicates and frequency of access. It has the ability to enable SNMP which means you can monitor it using common network management tools.ie PRTG. (Advanced Host monitor is my tool of choice here). It also has the ability to configure email, SMS or push notifications which can be triggered from a fairly comprehensive list of events. Some examples are disk failure, temperature thresholds, space, firewall rule triggering and security alerts.

VideoStation

In order to get the unit doing anything other than acting as a simple NAS device you need to install packages. There is a ‘Recommended’ section under the Package Centre which contains the core packages that run with the companion apps. I installed VideoStation and pointed it at my movies shared folder. It was necessary to go digging in the control panel under privileges to grant users or group’s access to the application once installed. The iOS DS Video app provided seamless access to the movie library and converted 99% of strange filenames into readable movie names. It also magically provided poster covers for pretty much everything. We had three iPads running DS Video simultaneously while I used the fourth to monitor — and the DS415play didn’t crack a sweat.


Media Server

To configure the device as a DLNA server you need to install the Media Server package. I had some problems connecting to it from the WD TV live. In hindsight it’s probably an application permission issue. I also attempted to install the DS Video Samsung app on my TV the night we returned from holiday but that failed, most likely due to my Internet connection being saturated by a 60GB GTA V download or something going on at Samsung. A second attempt was successful and a quick test on the TV provided a similar experience to that of the mobile apps, except much larger…

Web Server, CloudStation And CloudSync

I enabled the Web service which will let me host PHP, Perl or Python based applications; the Maria DB branch of MySQL can be installed which is a prerequisite to the likes of WordPress and Drupal, but it looks like some of the staple packages use Postgres which is a bit annoying. The Web root directories get placed on to your drives so it’s easy to set up FTP or attach to the file location via network shares. I’d recommend installing the PHPmyadmin package to manage your databases. The Synology proxy server is simple compared to 3rd party offerings, you can log history and cache sites but there does not appear to be any capability to redirect requests for specific external resources, so no redirecting the wife from drphil com to pornhub. You can however block sites but with no apparent ability to import a blacklist.

You can create your own script files and run them on a schedule. And you can use the inbuilt backup and replication service to copy and sync files both locally and to cloud services, more of an enterprise service. More useful for the home user to install the CloudSync package enabling services like Drop box or Google Drive. The Cloud Station package will let you host and manage multiple users local personal cloud storage.

There are loads of tutorials on the Synology website which are worthwhile checking out if you are in the market for such a device. I love it when stuff like this is made easy. The Synology site also has an active forum so there is help a plenty.

I didn’t get as far as I would have liked into installing additional packages, but I did add a bunch of package sources and this is where the beauty lies. It’s possible via these 3rd party repositories to further extend the capability of your Synology unit. For starters there’s BT software, (you should consider making use of the inbuilt VPN feature in order to avoid becoming a Dallas Buyers Club statistic) Newsgroup downloaders, Sickbeard and Couch Potato to highlight a few. For the developers you can install a Git repository and Python is supported. There is also an API available and plenty of documentation available to help you create your own packages and make them available for mass deployment.

There are also alternative media and application servers and several packaged PHP applications not limited to shopping carts and CRM. It appears Synology ecosystem has an active community continually developing new apps and that can be nothing but good.

Here’s a list of monitored package sources.

Should You Buy It?

“I’d find it hard not to recommend the DS415play — or its two bay version with otherwise identical spec

I’m pretty happy with the DS415play. File access is much faster than my Noontech and it handles multiple users with ease. The add-on software takes it further from just being a network storage drive — and that to me is the main selling point.

The companion apps make browsing through your media library very pleasant and the web interface is clean and easy to use. It would have been nice for the unit to have an HDMI or audio out just to bolster the media capabilities with regards to the built in hardware transcoding but I cannot find a massive fault in that.

If you are into real performance figures, check out this review. If I could have one complaint, it’s that the DS415play sits at a fairly high price point ($639), though that is a comparable cost to other self-built NAS drives with similar specs. If I was building my own NAS I would probably spring for more RAM, cores and expandability at the compromise of power consumption and footprint.

With all the above in mind, I’d find it hard not to recommend the DS415play — or its two bay version with otherwise identical spec.


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