Customer Review

423 of 427 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sweet spot of performance vs price for entry level NAS, 16 July 2012
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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.

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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)...

DO:
* 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.

DON'T:
* 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. The way I solved this problem is as follows:

1) Create a shared folder on the NAS called `music'. (It's important you call it exactly that: the NAS only indexes music in the folder with that exact name.)
2) Now map that drive on the NAS onto your main computer. Call it "X:" (or whatever your favourite letter is). Locate your current iTunes library on your local machine and copy it over to that folder.
3) Go into iTunes on your local machine, and delete every song in the library BUT SELECT THE OPTION THAT SAYS, "Keep the files". You do this so you have a second copy of it all in case you go wrong somewhere. Close iTunes and re-open it to ensure this takes effect.
4) Open iTunes `preferences', and change the location you want to store your music to "X:". At this point, your music should already be in that folder (you copied it over at stage 2), and since it was organised by iTunes before, it already has the directory structure it likes.
5) Finally, click on iTunes' `add folder' option, and select the "X:" drive. Now, the library file is created on your local machine, but the files are stored on the NAS. So to that one iTunes client, it appears as if the files are stored locally. You can now use this iTunes to sync your Apple devices.

I realise it's a bit fiddly, but it's the only workaround I have achieved without duplicating the entire library. The NAS automatically re-indexes music, so give it a few minutes and its own Audio Station will catch up too. I should clarify: when I want to add music to the NAS, I add it through this iTunes - as iTunes will automatically copy it to the 'music' folder on the NAS when it is added to its own library. If you bypass iTunes and copy new music directly to the NAS, then your iTunes on that computer won't see this new music.

f) In order to be able to access your NAS from the big wide world (either through the web interface, or through DS Audio/Video/File apps), you will need to open up some ports in your router, and for extra convenience you should register your modem's external IP address to a DDNS service (Synology provide such a service). For example, I can access my NAS using an address of the form "xyz.diskstation.me". With regards to the router, you can either use the EZ-Internet access feature, which (provided your router is on the list of approved routers it has) will just uPnP its way through all the necessary port forwarding settings, or else you can set up the correct port forwarding settings yourself. I have a Virgin Superhub, and EZ didn't play well with it, so I was in the latter situation. It's actually very straightforward. Provided you have a static IP (a necessity for this to work), the must-have ports are 5000 to 5006 (web interface and apps). The optional extras are 80 and 443. The reason is that if you just type in xyz.diskstation.me (from anywhere, either inside or outside your home network), this request will go to port 80 (http) or 443 (https). Unless these are opened up, you won't be redirected onto the NAS. Now, the downside to opening 80 and 443 up is that you are _bound_ to attract phishing from the web: this is because these are standard ports. What I did was to set up IP blocking: 3 attempts in 30 minutes from an IP address and it's blocked permanently. If you don't want to risk it, then xyz.diskstation.me:5000 will work. It's just a bit more fiddly. If you plan on using the mail server, ftp or other features, then you will need to look up the relevant ports for these too. But I anticipate the web interface and apps as being universal features that most would use.

g) Audio Station: this is the program on the NAS that serves two purposes: it acts as a web-based music player when you log on to the NAS through the web, and secondly the DS Audio app references Audio Station for information on available music when you log in to the NAS. First of all, I've noticed that there can be some disparities between what the iTunes server shows, and what Audio Station shows. The reason is that the iTunes server basically does no thinking for itself: there is an index of music on the NAS, and whatever it comes across, it comes across. On the other hand, Audio Station tries to do some smart(ish) stuff: things like referencing the internet for more complete information (such as composers, contributing artists, album covers, etc). In theory, this sounds brilliant. However, I've noticed that Audio Station can attempt to find information on songs that simply don't exist in the big wide world. For example, I have an mp3 collection of the audio stripped from The West Wing to listen to. It did its best with this, but clearly was forever going to fail. So I've noticed some judicious efforts by Audio Station to rename/reclassify/metadata-strip some of my music collection. You can undo this (most of it gets shoved under "Unknown Artist", so it's easy to identify), but it's a bit of a pain in the you-know-what. On the plus side, the DS Audio app works really well. The app also allows you to 'push' music not just to your iPhone speakers, but other devices on your network (e.g. media centre TV or a computer) via DLNA. This is pretty cool too. So, for example, I can effectively use my iPhone as a remote control for my music through Windows Media Player on my computer while I'm playing on my PS3. All of this works best if you follow step (f) to enable all the port forwarding I have suggested. (In fact, it will fail unless the 5000-5006 ports are opened up.)

h) Video Station: This is the video sibling of Audio Station. As above, Video Station also has a penchant for indexing video material and throwing in interesting metadata. On the plus side, this data seems to be kept separate from the files themselves. Also, I believe it uses IMDB as its reference, which is fairly comprehensive. It can still struggle on the odd occasion (e.g. Battlestar Galactica [1978] vs Battlestar Galactica [2003]), but it's easy to locate the correct source for the entire series and once you do that, it catches up. Indexing video seems to be very labour-intensive for the NAS (it spent HOURS at 100% CPU utilisation to complete this for me). However, once it has done this, provided you install VLC player onto your computer (or whichever computer you're gonna access the NAS from), you can then watch all this material through your web browser as embedded web videos. Pretty cool, huh! This works very well for me, but you will need a good internet connection that has sufficient upload bandwidth in order to achieve this over the internet. I use Virgin 60meg down/ 5meg up (the 5 meg is the important value), and I'm able to stream 45 minute- 350MB AVI files/ 1.1GB MKV files comfortably. A 45 minute- 1.5GB MKV file is roughly 4.5mbps, which starts to approach the limit of the connection (especially at peak times). But it is do-able. On a side note, you can't use HTTPS to access the NAS for watching videos over the web: HTTPS seems to kill VLC player's connections. You'll have to make do with HTTP. In a similar way to DS Audio, DS Video allows you to stream this collection to your smart phone too. I've only used the iPhone app. Now, unlike DS Audio, you can't 'push' the video to another out. I assume this is because it is an unrealistic bandwidth consumption. Also (a particular issue for the iPhone), while it will play h264 files just fine, Apple have a spaz about AVI files, so the app encounters difficulties. But it is not bad.

i) Lastly, and I don't know how many people this applies to, but if your home network is a bit more involved than simply a broadband router (for example, I have a couple of Ethernet switches plugged in), try and make sure your NAS is plugged in your main router - especially if all the devices you want the NAS to serve aren't all on the same switch. The further down the network chain it is plugged in, the more bottlenecks you'll create for yourself. There are online discussions on why daisy-chained switches have their limitations, and when you're talking about a server - the one component of your network that should be the most resilient to power cuts, failures, and data bottlenecks - you realise why you want to connect it to your main router at all costs.

I think that just about covers everything I have come up against. I've modified this review a few times as issues have become apparent, so this is more a working document rather than issues I figured out on day one. I hope it's all helpful to new users. Enjoy!
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Comments

Tracked by 7 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 52 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 19 Jul 2012 15:31:49 BDT
Great review Mr Norton and very helpful! I've had this DS212J for a few weeks and was wondering how to overcome the iTunes sync issue. I've currently got a duplicate library on the NAS and it is a pain copying files over every time I add to the library on my PC so I will try your solution. A couple of questions on iTunes; (1) I haven't figured out drive mapping yet but I recall seeing it in the manual - is it easy, (2) when you say "consequence is that every time you add to the library, you'll need to re-index the library on the NAS" why is that?...surely if iTunes is set to store on "X:" tnen it will index itself? Also a question on your Gigabit speed.....blinding! How do you get that? My max through peaks at 30mbps and is usually lurking around 20mbps. I've just changed my network cables to Cat 6 which made no difference and I've tried connecting direct to the PC but no improvement. Thanks, Stuart

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Jul 2012 17:00:42 BDT
[Deleted by the author on 19 Jul 2012 17:47:26 BDT]

Posted on 19 Jul 2012 17:11:51 BDT
Thanks for your reply - I'm sure it would be very useful but Amazon have deleted it! Any chance you could email me at info (at) stuartbraybrooke (dot) co (dot) uk? Many thanks!

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Jul 2012 17:24:08 BDT
Last edited by the author on 14 Aug 2013 12:39:25 BDT
For some reason Amazon just deleted my reply. I don't understand why. Anyway, sod them, let's try again.

Your issues in order:

1) Mapping network drives is dead simple. On Windows 7:
a) Open My Computer
b) Select "Map Network Drive" at the top
c) Select a drive letter (this is a free choice), and enter the folder location. I highly recommend using a fixed IP address, and not entering the name of the NAS. E.g. in my case, I type "\\192.168.0.4\music". This will make the connection more robust. Everytime you type "\\computername", you are relying on the DNS server in your router to turn that into an IP address. If for some reason your router stops working, "\\diskstation" stops working too. Whereas, if you go by IP address, as long as the physical network is operating, this connection is too.
d) Select "Reconnect at logon". Finally, if you logon to the NAS with a different username/password, select "Logon using different credentials" and enter them when it asks.

2) Right, the reason is a comparison between what is physically stored in the folder, and what the NAS is aware of being stored in the folder. The way iTunes works is that it creates an XML file that lists every song and its location in the library. Under my setup, when you rip a CD on the PC, although it copies that straight to the NAS (and updates the PC's iTunes), the NAS' iTunes server has no knowledge of this change. The only way it finds out is if you click "re-index", so that it searches the music folder and amends its library as necessary. As it happens, I've contacted Synology and suggested an "automatically re-index every day" option on the NAS. We'll see.

*Edit: The NAS now re-indexes the music folder a soon as it detects any changes (for example new songs added).*

3) As for your last problem, well it could be any number of things. Off the top of my head:
a) Are you sure the hard drive in the NAS is capable of more? (Maybe there is a compatibility issue)
b) Do you have a gigabit ethernet adapter in your PC? Latest drivers installed etc?
c) If you have a PCIe gigabit card, maybe your motherboard isn't up to the job?

I reckon it's more likely to be a hardware fault than anything. Virtually any computer can handle 100mbps network speeds - after all this translates to about 11MB/sec read/write...

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Jul 2012 17:38:09 BDT
Fantastic - thank you very much! I will try all of this. Re the speed issue - I am using Western Digital 2TB SATA 6Gbps Power Saving Internal Hard Drive (http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B004VFJ9MK/ref=oh_details_o04_s00_i01). I notice that the NAS reports the cache on these drives has automatically been switched off and that it "will not effect performance" (I understand this is to avoid data losses on the RAID if power fails before the cache has been written). These drives seem popular for NAS applications although that might account for the fact that alot of people report similar speed issues to me!

Posted on 18 Oct 2012 21:02:03 BDT
grimbo says:
Really helpful review - many thanks

Posted on 19 Oct 2012 00:00:04 BDT
Last edited by the author on 19 Oct 2012 00:03:35 BDT
gmiester says:
getting the app on itunes or android makes syncing your music with your device through the nas very simple. A great review though and very helpful

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Oct 2012 01:24:14 BDT
Last edited by the author on 19 Oct 2012 01:25:15 BDT
I believe you are referring to the DS Audio app?

I do use it, occasionally. Actually, it doesn't sync music to your iPhone, it streams music to your iPhone (or android phone) - there is a difference. It is possible to make this connection even over 3G, so in theory anywhere you go you can access your entire library. This is all well and good, but it has obvious limitations:

1) You need 3G or wifi access. No reception = no streaming music
2) If you use 3G, you're going to eat into your data allowance.
3) 3G/wifi is a battery killer for a phone. It is much less of a burden to the phone's battery if you are playing music stored locally.

The problem I mentioned in my review revolves around the fact that it is not the full iTunes client on the NAS - merely an iTunes server instance. I contacted Synology and discussed this problem at length with them, but basically because the NAS is Unix-based (and the normal iTunes client is Mac/Windows-based), having the possibility of plugging your phone/tablet into the NAS directly to sync is not an option.

However, as I added with the review edit, at least the NAS automatically re-indexes music and video now, so adding something by copying to the music folder updates the NAS' library.

Hope this clears up what I was saying, and thank you for the kind comment!

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Oct 2012 23:42:48 BDT
gmiester says:
Thank you for explaining those differences. I am looking into getting one of these soon or maybe the 213 version. I looked at what seagate or western digital had to offer and their products dont seem to match up to the reviews this bit of kit has received, although i would most likely get two WD 2 Gb drives to go into the synology casing. Once again thanks for explaining that difference

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Oct 2012 00:47:43 BDT
Last edited by the author on 20 Oct 2012 00:51:42 BDT
I would steer clear of the WD hard drives too. Not that they're inherently poor quality, but judging by what the S. Braybrooke wrote originally on this thread, he and many others have suffered with poor read/write speeds using WD disks in Synology NASes. FYI, I have used two x Samsung HD204UI F4 3.5 inch 2TB 32MB 5400rpm Internal Hard Disk Drive and had no compatibility issues whatsoever (read/write speeds across gigabit ethernet ~600-640mbps).

Oh and Synology released a new version of DS Audio app (for iPhone) today and I've noticed that now you can tell the app to retain a copy of the X number of most recent songs you've streamed from the NAS (e.g. 10 most recent, or no limit at all). So after a while, it could be possible to use the app in situ of the iPod app once you've built up a playlist of locally stored songs. (Just to correct an earlier point I made.)
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