4K TVs are getting cheap as chips these days, and that means you should be getting hold of some 4K video to play on it. There's only one persistent problem with that -- 4K video files are massive, so you need some easy way of storing them en masse and playing them back on your TV conveniently. Enter a multi-bay network-attached storage (NAS) device like this one: Synology's over-sized DS918+ can handle all your house's file storage, PC backups and ultra HD media streaming and more.
What Is It?
The circa-$799 Synology DS918+ is a four-bay NAS that sits near the top of Synology's network storage drive system hierarchy. There's three tiers, really -- the entry level J series, the Value series and the Plus series -- but the Plus is the most powerful and includes some fancy features you don't find on the lesser models. The 918+, for example, has built-in support for two solid-state drives to speed up access. It's a very sturdy and well-constructed drive, too -- this is something that will last for years and years, and two massive 120mm fans at the back make sure everything remains well cooled. There's a USB 3.0 port at the front and at the rear for transferring data, but you'll almost certainly just use the wired network port.
If you're living that 4K life, you'll like the fact that the DS918+ has four 3.5-inch hard drive bays, each of which can be set up independently as its own volume or configured as part of a multi-disk array. Even massive 8TB disks are reasonably affordable these days, so reliable RAID storage is easy with a four-bay NAS like this one. More than that, the DS918+ has two M.2 NVMe solid-state drive slots at its base which can be configured as fast-swapping cache, so the drives themselves won't need to spin up and seek nearly as often -- prolonging their life. NAS devices live and die on disk uptime, so the addition of some cache here is hugely useful for the longevity of the DS918+. I measured transfer speeds through my Linksys EA9500 router to a SSD-equipped PC hooked up over Gigabit Ethernet and a pair of WD Red NAS hard drives to hit 112MBps, more than enough for some 4K playback as well as a file transfer or PC backup.
Setup is not especially quick -- especially the initial creation of a multi-disk volume if you're using Synology's proprietary Hybrid RAID storage system -- but it is very straightforward. Once you've pulled the NAS out of its box and plugged it into your home network through one of the two Gigabit Ethernet ports on the DS918+'s rear panel, you'll need to download Synology's Network Assistant on your PC and use it to transfer the latest version of DiskStation Manager to the drives you've installed. Choosing drives for a NAS is its own headache too, but the DS918+ works with anything from one to four hard drives, and with Hybrid RAID you can swap in and out a drive at a time if one starts to go flaky. It's a good setup for peace of mind if you really care about the sanctity of your digital storage.
The DS918+ uses the same Synology DiskStation Manager software as other DiskStation NASes, and that's a good thing. In my opinion it's the gold standard for NAS software, not only due to its versatility with your initial storage setup -- everything from Synology's own hot-swappable Hybrid RAID to a good ol'-fashioned RAID 0/1/5/10 setup with enough drives -- but because it handles a lot of tasks you'd normally have to boot up a PC to do. If you're reading Gizmodo there's a better than average chance that you've downloaded a torrent or two in the past, for example -- well, the DS918+ can replace your PC in doing that too, as well as storing that file for you to actually watch later. It can host a website, it can handle shared file syncing between multiple PCs, it can do just about anything you expect of it.
I've never used the more advanced features of Synology's NASes, but I like to have the option available for if I need it in the future. That's why I'd happily spend more on one of the more powerful Plus models than the J or Value series -- what if I want to set up an email server and website some time and not have to pay for cloud hosting? What if I want to set up a network of security cameras? But I am demanding of the basics -- PC backups, file storage, and media serving -- and I've never had a Synology NAS disappoint me from that side of things. Moreover, in the age of 4K video I want my NAS to be able to serve me out those files quickly and quietly and without dropped frames, and the DS918+ delivered every single time I wanted it to.
Should You Buy It?
The $799 DS918+ has replaced my much more powerful -- but much less energy efficient -- hardcore gaming PC for mass storage, but that's really the least important thing a NAS can do. For me, the big appeal comes from the fact that the DS918+ makes an extraordinarily efficient Plex server, safely and effectively storing all my downloaded media and transcoding on demand if and when I want it. It handles everything else that Synology's DiskStation Manager operating system can do, too -- PC backups, DLNA music and photos, and so on. With the DS918+ whirring away quietly -- well, entirely silently thanks to those two big fans -- I don't have to leave my giant flashy PC tower on overnight if I want to watch a couple of seasons of Rome in bed.
Having recently invested in a lovely Samsung 4K HDR TV, I'm finding myself storing more and more 4K video -- and it's only going to get more extensive in the future. H.265 means file sizes are actually surprisingly reasonable, but plenty of devices still can't play back that format natively. The DS918+ is powerful enough to handle two 4K H.265 transcoding streams simultaneously, so I can be well assured of watching a high quality 4K movie and not ruining the experience for anyone else doing the same. Having those two M.2 slot in the DS918+'s base for solid-state storage, which you can use for caching regularly-accessed files, contributes to disk performance
There are a couple of things that a NAS has to do well -- file storage and transfer, and file or complete PC backups. There are a couple more extras for convenience and peace of mind -- like BitTorrent support and Plex playback -- that I want too if I'm going to drop cash on one. The Synology DS918+ ticks all those boxes -- very much so -- and it does plenty more that makes it a powerful and future-proof NAS device for home and business use. There are cheaper NASes out there for anyone that doesn't need all the features of the hardcore Plus series, and there are two-bay and one-bay NAS drives... but there's nothing like a little bit of overkill when it comes to buying tech for yourself.