Synology DiskStation DS213Air review: A great home NAS server with built-in Wi-Fi

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 running, 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 (at the time of the review there were about 40 apps available for download), I'm only discussing here those that I feel most users would appreciate: the Download Station, Cloud Station, Surveillance Station, and Photo Station.

The Download Station enables the server to download files from the Internet by itself, from any FTP and HTTP site, including sites that require authentication, such as RapidShare. It's also the best BitTorrent application I've seen that lets you search for what you need and and download it with a double-click. There's no need to download the torrent file from a separate Web page and load it, even though you can also do that with the Download Station. You can tailor the Download Station to use a certain amount of bandwidth and to avoid certain types of content, such as those that could pose a copyright infringement violation. There are also many other ways to customize the way it works.

The Cloud Station is one of the best personal online storage options.
The Cloud Station is one of the best personal online storage options. Dong Ngo/CNET

The Cloud Station works similarly to the Dropbox service but much better. Once the application is run, you'll be given an EzCloud ID (you can choose your own as long as it's still available). This ID needs to be unique for each server. After that, you can download and install the Synology Cloud Station on your PC (running Windows XP or later) or Mac (running Mac OS 10.6.8 or later), run it, and enter the EzCloud ID and the user name and password for your account on the server. After that you can sync data from the computer, no matter where it is as long as it's connected to the Internet, with your DS213Air server at home. The Cloud Station feature is also available for iOS and Android mobile devices via the DS File mobile app.

The only limits to how much data you can sync with the server are the available space on the server and the quota of the account, and, individually, files can't be larger than 5GB. There are no other limitations in terms of how much you can sync between computers.

Note that each user has his or her own folder for the Cloud feature, meaning that multiple users can sync their own data without affecting one another. They can also sync shared folders in case they want to share the same synced contents. The DS412+'s Cloud Station supports up to eight accounts; more than enough to support every member of an average household. Think of the Cloud Station feature as the Dropbox service but without the limited storage space and the monthly cost.

The Surveillance Station supports up to eight IP (Internet protocol) cameras. This means you can use the NAS server as a video recorder and management station of a very comprehensive surveillance system -- again, possibly the best I've seen. I tried the server with multiple IP cameras from Canon and Trendnet, and they all worked very well, individually or together. I could record images based on scheduling or motion detection. When multiple cameras were used, I could even synchronize the playback to see what happened at different cameras at a given time. The Surveillance Station supports all features of the camera, such as night vision, pan, tilt, zoom, and audio. The server doesn't support every IP camera on the market, however, so make sure you check the supported list before getting yours. There's also a free DS Cam mobile app for iOS and Android devices that people can use to monitor and manage their Surveillance Station while on the go. The mobile app worked excellently in my trials.

Unfortunately, most users can't make multiple cameras work together right from the start. This is not because the Surveillance Station is hard to set up -- it's actually very easy and automatically finds and adds supported cameras to the network for you -- but because there's only one camera license included with the server. To use more than one camera, you'll need to buy additional camera licenses that cost about $50 each. This potentially makes the DS213Air a lot more expensive if you wish to use it as a surveillance system.Compared with other, similarly advanced surveillance options on the market, however, the DS213Air is still a lot more affordable.

The Photo Station lets you easily organize photos into albums. Once activated, a share folder called Photo will be created. Photos stored in this shared folder will be automatically placed in well-organized, customizable albums, one for each subfolder. You can then browse the album via a Web browser, like a Google Picasa Web album, and very easily add captions and comments to each photo or album. The Photo Station also offers a complete blogging engine for those who want to chronicle their lives with photos and text. And like the Surveillance Station, the Photo Station comes with a mobile app called DS Photo for both iOS and Android platforms. In my testing, the Photo Station took a rather long time to generate photo thumbnails, which would be a problem if you wanted to add a large number of photos at a time. You won't notice the wait if you want to add fewer than 100 photos at a time.

In addition to these, there are many other useful and effective applications for the DS213Air, such as Time Backup, which makes backups of data on an external hard drive; a VPN server; Audio Station; a DLNA/UPnP Media Server; a Video Station for recording digital TV and streaming recordings and movies to mobile devices and so on. The server can also run applications developed by third parties and comes with many other mobile apps for both iOS and Android devices.

In most cases, there's practically nothing you could want from a NAS server that the DS213Air doesn't offer.

With third-party packages, the DiskStation DS213Air can offer virtually all you need from a storage server.
With third-party packages, the DiskStation DS213Air can offer virtually all you need from a storage server. Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

Performance
I tested the DS213Air both with Hybrid RAID and RAID 0, and it offered very fast data rates. The server wasn't as fast as other Synology NAS servers, but for a budget home storage device, it was indeed very fast via Gigabit Ethernet.

In Hybrid RAID the server scored 46Mbps and 79Mbps for writing and reading, respectively. These are about the spees of USB 3.0 portable drives. In RAID 0, which is optimized for speed and storage space at the expense of data security, the server did better, at 63Mbps for writing and 85Mbps for reading. Compared with some other higher-end NAS servers, including many from Synology, the DS213Air's performance is about average.

I also tested the server's Wi-Fi. Performance was as expected for a single-band Wireless-N device, registering some 45Mbps at close range (15 feet). When I increased the range to 100 feet, it now scored 23Mbps, also about average.

The DS213Air offers very good performance and worked smoothly during my testing. The server also remained relatively quiet (there was just a minor humming from the ventilation fan) and cool even during heavy loads.

NAS performance (Via wired Gigabit Ethernet connection, measured in Mbps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Read  
Write  
Synology DS412+ (RAID 0)
106.8 
109.9 
QNAP TS-469 Pro (RAID 0)
109.76 
108.1 
Synology DS1511+ (RAID 0)
112.3 
104.9 
QNAP TS-469 Pro (RAID 5)
103.3 
104.8 
Synology DS712+ (RAID 0)
100.3 
97.7 
Synology DS213Air (RAID 0)
85.4 
64.3 
Synology DS213Air (Hybrid RAID)
78.7 
46 
QNAP TS-412 (RAID 0)
80.8 
42.7 
QNAP TS-412 (RAID 5)
59.6 
26.2 

2.4GHz Wireless-N performance (in Mbps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Range  
Throughput  
Cisco Linksys E4200v2
35.8 
148.5 
Trendnet TEW-692GR
31.3 
77.8 
Netgear WNDR4000
23.9 
67.8 
WD My Net N900 HD
16 
58.1 
Asus RT-N66U
45.5 
55 
Netgear R6300
41.6 
51.2 
Belkin N750 DB
26.6 
50 
D-Link DIR-857
29.6 
47.8 
Netgear WNDR4500
31.1 
45.3 
Synology DS213Air
23.3 
44.7 
Asus RT-AC66U
15.2 
36.8 
D-Link DIR-865L
22.1 
36 
Belkin AC 1200 DB
9.6 
33.5 

Service and support
Synology backs the DS213Air with a two-year warranty from the date of purchase, which is the same warranty as the rest of its NAS servers. Phone tech support is available Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT. Synology's customer support is generally very responsive and helpful. At its Web site, you can find its forum, download software and the latest firmware, and get more information about its products from its wiki page.

Conclusion
While the DS213Air is not the fastest NAS server on the market, it's probably the most affordable one that offers all you'd want from a network storage device and more. Its built-in Wi-Fi, though not perfect, is also a bonus for those who want to extended their wireless network to where the server is located.

Editors' Top PicksSee All

 

Discuss Synology DiskStation DS213Air

Conversation powered by Livefyre