It was a challenge for me to review the Synology Disk Station DS412+, not because it's hard to use, but because it has so much to offer.
The new four-bay NAS (network-attached storage) server in a way is the follow-up to the award-winning DS410 that was released more than two years ago, and makes an excellent upgrade. It now offers an excellent drive bay design, much faster speeds, support for USB 3.0, and a lot more.
Running the DiskStation Manager (DSM) 4.0 operating system -- and upgradable to future versions, such as the upcoming DSM 4.1 -- the new server offers a vast number of features with a stellar Web interface that operates much like a native operating system. Like all Synology NAS servers, the DS412+ turns even the most complicated tasks of a server into a walk in the park for intermediate and advanced users. For home and novice users, however, the DS412+ isn't as easy to use.
My biggest complaint is that while the server supports some 20 IP cameras, it comes with just one camera license to host just 1 camera out of the box. Additional licenses cost about $50 each, making it expensive to use as a surveillance system.
That said, the DS412+ is still by far much better than any other four-bay NAS server on the market. It excels in most if not all of the categories in which one judges a network storage device, more than enough to justify its $650 street price (storage not included). If you want something similar but slightly slower, the four-bay DS410 still makes a great investment. Those who want more storage should also consider the five-bay DS1511+.
Design and setup
Unlike the DS410, where you have to open its chassis to install a hard drive, the DS412+, following the design of the DS1511+ and the DS712+, makes servicing its storage much easier with a front-facing drive bay design. Each of its four drive bays comes with a tray that you can easily pull out. After that, you'll need a standard screwdriver to attach or detach a standard SATA hard drive. The server supports both 2.5-inch (laptop) and 3.5-inch (desktop) hard drives, of any capacities. This means with all four bays occupied by 4TB hard drives -- the top capacity of 3.5-inch hard drives to date -- the server offers up to 16TB in RAID 0 or 12TB in RAID 5. RAID 0 is optimized for top performance and capacity. RAID 5, which is the most popular RAID setup for multiple-drive-bay NAS servers, balances performance and storage space while still guarding data against a single-hard-drive failure.
If you buy a DS412+ unit with hard drives preinstalled, chances are the hard drives are set up in Synology's Hybrid RAID, which is similar to RAID 5. Hybrid RAID, however, is much more advanced and offers the capability to mix and match hard drives of different capacities, as long as you don't add hard drives of lower capacities than those in the existing RAID. Hybrid RAID also makes it possible to add more hard drives to the RAID without having to rebuild it from scratch, meaning in the case of the DS412+ you can start with two hard drives and then later add two more, possibly of larger capacities, when need be.
If you buy your own hard drives, you can also create a Hybrid RAID setup that offers protection against the unlikely event that two hard drives fail at the same time. And of course the server supports hard-drive hot-swappability, meaning that you can replace its hard drives one at a time without having to turn it off or even losing access to it.
If for some reason 16TB is not enough, you can resort to the server's two USB 3.0 ports and one eSATA port on the back to add more storage to it. In this case, external storage devices attached to these ports can only be used as separate volumes, and not part of a Hybrid RAID. They can also be used as backup destinations for important data storage on the server's internal drives. If you have data that's very important, it's a good idea to get a disaster-proof external hard dive, such as the IoSafe Solo G3 (3TB) as a backup drive. The server also has another USB 2.0 port on the front and its USB ports can be used to host other devices, such as a printer, uninterruptible power source (UPS), speakers, or a TV tuner, which is supported starting with DSM 4.1.
Also on the back, the server has two large ventilation fans. These fans are standard computer cooling fans and can be replaced easily. The fans that come with the review unit are very quiet, even during heavy operation. And finally, there are also two Gigabit Ethernet ports on the back. These ports can be used together for fail-safe or load-balancing purposes, and when used with supported switch, can also increase the performance via Link Aggregation.
As with other NAS servers from Synology, savvy users should have no trouble getting the DS412+ up and running. The part that takes the longest is the RAID building, and the DS412+ was very fast in my testing, taking just about 25 minutes with four 1TB hard drives for any type of RAID, even when disk checking was performed during the build. This is amazingly fast compared with most servers, which typically take half a day or even more.
Home users may find the server harder to set up, however. The NAS server comes with a desktop application called Synology Assistant to help with initial setup and installing the operating system (included on the CD and downloadable from Synology's support Web site) in case you buy a diskless unit and choose to install the hard drives yourself. After that the software only helps with detecting the NAS in the network, mapping network drives, and launching the Web interface. The software generally doesn't provide enough information on what it does, giving the wrong impression that the server doesn't have much to offer, which couldn't be more untrue.
Once you have launched the server's Web interface (by the way, the default log-in credentials are admin for the username and the password is blank), an entirely new world opens up.
The DS412+'s Web interface is used to control its Linux-based DiskStation Manager operating system (or firmware). The server runs version 4.0 of the OS, which offers basically the same GUI functionality as that of a native operating system, such as Windows. You can open multiple windows, resize them, move them around, and so on, from within the Web page. There's also a control panel where you can customize server settings; each has its own icon. There's also a taskbar that displays a button for each window being opened, a package center where you can add and remove packages (aka applications), and a Start button that pulls up icons linked to installed applications. All in all, everything is very well-organized and intuitive and is a delight for savvy users.
From within the Web page of the server's Web interface, you can manage multiple things at a time, such as adding new users or new share folders, or searching for a particular file and so on in separate windows. There are even fading effects as you move from one item to another, and you can change the background photo. In fact, when opening the server's Web interface in a browser's full-screen mode of Firefox, you can easily mistake the server's Web interface for the GUI of a Linux desktop, as though you were working with a computer directly. And while all that's already really cool, it's still the least interesting part of what the server has to offer.
The server comes with built-in features (aka settings, accessible via the Control Panel) and features that can be added via packages. It would be too long to list all these settings, but the server basically supports everything you can imagine for both home and business environments, including really advanced functions such as iSCSI, support for Active Directory, a VPN server, and virtualization. I actually tried most of these settings out and they were all well-designed and easy to use. For example, when you choose to add a new user, you'll be prompted to set that user's access to the existing share folders (full access, read-only, or no access), and assign what applications that user will have control over. And when you create a new share folder, you'll be prompted to determine existing users' access to it. All of that can easily be done with a few clicks. All of the router's settings offer a great level of depth and integration. Consider what I mention in this review to be just the tip of the iceberg.
The server can run many applications at the same time. In fact there's no limit to how many it can handle, but, like any computer, the more you have it run, the slower it'll get. For that reason, the server comes with few built-in apps. These apps as well as others can be removed or installed via the Package Center. Since I can't review all these apps, I'm only discussing here those that I feel most users would appreciate, which are the Download Station, Cloud Station, Surveillance Station, and Photo Station.