I decided to write a review of the DS212J for two reasons: the first was to reinforce the overall view that this is an excellent product in its own right. The second half gives a few hints/tips on setting up, and problems I've overcome.
A) THE UNIT ITSELF
I did a lot of review reading before I purchased the DS212J. After weighing up a lot of options (including one or two of its bigger brothers), I came to the conclusion that it is in the sweet spot for price vs. performance. I think the single biggest limitation of the DS212J is that it supports only two drives. However, this is offset by the USB sockets - you could connect two more external hard drives if need be. Also, the way the prices scale means you can always buy a second DS212J (if you really need it) and you won't have spent much more than if you had just purchased one 4-bay NAS. (And since they'll each have an Ethernet connection, there'll be less of a bandwidth limit with multiple users connecting, which is actually a bonus.) So from a price perspective, the DS212J is definitely justifiable.
I had no problem installing the 2 x 2TB drives I had into it. The box is sent out ready to slide open and install the drives, and once you're done you just use a couple of the screws supplied to seal the box. It's remarkably quiet. The amount of noise you can expect to hear from it will depend only on how noisy your hard drives are. I agree with other reviewers that it does feel a bit plastically when it's empty, but once the disks are installed and they give the box a bit of weight, it feels sturdy enough. (Also, once you're done installing everything, it's only going to sit somewhere in your house unattended, so it's not exactly a big issue.)
An Ethernet cable is supplied, although I'm not sure if it's CAT5 or CAT6. When connected directly to my computer, I achieved read/write speeds of ~480mbps (gigabit Ethernet, obviously) and I'm not sure if that figure is limited by the NAS or the disks. At any rate, it's plenty enough. When copying smaller files en masse (such as pictures or mp3 files), the transfer rate drops to about 120mbps, but again that is to be expected.
With regards to its performance under load, I have to say that for the entry-level box it is absolutely fine, but I would also seriously consider the network you are placing your NAS into. If you only have one or two computers connecting to your NAS, then really as long as it is connected via an Ethernet cable to your router, you should have no problems at all. However, if you have many computers/ DLNA TVs/ media streamers in your home (I have three computers, 2 streamers, 1 PS3 and 1 TV that are all capable of connecting to the NAS)...
* Try and ensure you have a gigabit Ethernet network. If your home network runs at 100mbps, this equates to about 12MB/sec throughput (i.e. only about 25% of the performance I've seen from my NAS). The disks and the NAS ought to be able to handle several HD streams being accessed, but only if there isn't a data bottleneck accessing the NAS. If your main router is cheap one, the easiest solution would be to buy a gigabit switch (eg. TP-Link TL-SG1005D 5-Port Gigabit Unmanaged Desktop Switch
) and connect your router, NAS and computer(s) to that. This will overcome your router's 100mbps data transfer rates.
* Use a wifi dongle to connect your NAS to your network. That's just lunacy. Even wireless-N isn't great (high latency, relatively low speeds) and only delivers good performance in ideal conditions. This issue is especially problematic if all your computers also connect by wireless too, as the total throughput of the network is shared (i.e. if you could achieve 100mbps [unrealistic], that 100mbps would be shared across all wireless connections).
* Use Ethernet over Power options to connect your NAS to your network. Again, while they are getting much better (I use Devolo dLAN 500 AVmini (IEEE 1901/ HPlug AV) Ethernet
and their speeds aren't far off 100mbps), it is still a bottleneck, for the same reasons as with wifi: any transfer rates available are shared across all current connections. The only exception I would make for this rule is if you are someone who wants to locate your NAS outside your home (e.g. in your shed) for data safety, in which case EoP is definitely a better option than wifi (but inferior to just routing a network cable out to your remote location).
Basically, if you place your NAS in a gigabit network and have good quality disks installed, you should be able to achieve all of the following:
* I have set up 8 accounts for various family members who access DS Audio remotely. All 8 can connect simultaneously and access the music collection on there (all at 320kbps) [needs a good internet connection]
* All of my computers, TV, PS3 and streamers can simultaneously access SD video (for example 350MB avi files) simultaneously with ease. Each is usually 1.5-2mbps, and the CPU & network controller don't seem to struggle with this at all. To be honest, I need more computers available to find out what full load is, but I assume the above covers most home users!
* I can have between 4 & 8 of the above access HD video simultaneously, depending on the bitrates of the files in question. Certainly 8 x 1.1GB 720p mkv files is very much do-able. I don't need that much, but it's good to know how it responds. The number begins to reduce when I go for higher quality videos, but I suppose that is to be expected. It can handle 4 x 35mbps (blu ray spec) streams, but only in a gigabit network otherwise it exceeds the 100mbps limit. (As a small aside, I have my data spread across two disks. You may find using a single disk throttles this number of concurrent connections.)
The NAS is feature-rich, especially compared to other entry-level NAS boxes. The iTunes server (I'll touch upon this later) works just fine, the DS apps work well; it is relatively straight forward to enable ftp/http access to the box from the internet too. I haven't set up the Cloud feature yet, although having read the spiel about it in the manual on the way to work I do prefer the sound of my own personal Cloud storage than using Google/Apple to store my personal stuff in some server thousands of miles away.
The USB ports on the box serve many more options than simply plugging in extra drives. The NAS can host a USB printer and make it networkable - so it can turn any printer into a network printer. To be honest you can plug virtually anything into them... except a USB hub.
Overall it is rock solid performance, reliable and quiet. I'd avoid the entry-level D-link and spend a bit more money buying this. It's worth it.
B) HINTS AND TIPS
Okay, I'll try and list all the issues/obstacles/tricks that I used in setting up my NAS box. Hopefully some of them will help you too.
a) The box wipes your disks when you install them, so make sure you back up whatever you have beforehand. This was a little tricky for me as I have about 2.5TB of stuff, so I did a lot of copying/moving and I only had one 1.5TB drive to help me. With this amount of data, it takes time, so set things copying overnight.
b) I had previously been using a media streamer as a pseudo-NAS, with an external HDD plugged in. Given this more permanent solution, I opened up my external drive and used that disk directly in my NAS. So if you have an external drive and don't need the disk for anything other than in-house storage, don't go and buy another disk, just use the one you have already! :)
c) If you don't have a gigabit network at home, but *do* have a gigabit Ethernet adapter in your computer, I'd strongly recommend initially connecting the NAS directly to your computer. You don't need a crossover cable or anything, Ethernet sockets these days make that leap for you, so you can just use the cable provided. This will make your initial copy of all of your data to the NAS a lot quicker.
d) When you first begin the NAS setup, it'll ask you whether you want a static IP address or use your DHCP server at home (i.e. your router). I'd definitely recommend a static IP address. You don't have to do anything special to your router settings for this. Just select an IP address for the NAS that you know the router won't dish out to any other device on the network. (For example, I used 192.168.0.4, and my router only assigns in the range 192.168.0.100 - 192.168.0.254, so there definitely won't ever be an IP conflict.) By assigning a fixed IP address, it'll make accessing your NAS from the internet much simpler - as port forwarding rules map to IP addresses not to computer names. Also, some media streamers (I own two PlayonHD streamers) sometimes have a little difficulty accessing workgroups, so if you have a static IP address for the NAS, you can just create shortcuts based on that and they'll always work.
e) The iTunes server built in to the NAS is good, and generally it does work, but it has its limitations. Basically, I wanted my entire music collection stored centrally so that on any given computer in the house I just use iTunes' sharing facility to access this central repository. This is fine (and it works well), but if you own an iPad/iPhone/iPod and want to sync music to it from this collection, it's not immediately obvious how you can do this. The reason is that to sync to one of these products, you have to plug it into a computer that actually stores these files locally, and you can't plug an iPhone into the NAS and expect this result. Read more ›