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Up to this point, our network attached storage (NAS) reviews have focused on consumer-level products that act as simple backup or media-sharing solutions for home users. NAS is but one of the many features found on the Synology Disk Station DS107+, a sophisticated device that holds appeal for home users and small offices alike. Given its attractive price of $269, we felt it was worth a look, though we suspect many of its features will go untouched by the majority of consumers and CNET readers. The DS107+ boasts a long list of features, but we found that each worked well without being needlessly complicated. In addition to being able to add storage volume to your network, this empty, one-bay enclosure will download files by itself, generate online photo albums and blogs, and share your iTunes library. It also can be used with network cameras to record surveillance video. Some of the features, particularly those involving making your data accessible online, require some networking know-how, but Synology does a fantastic job organizing the features and keeping them separate from one another. You can't beat the DS017+ in terms of the number of features you get for the money, but if you want something simpler and more straightforward (and a bit cheaper), we recommend the D-Link DNS-323.
Setup and ease of use
The Synology DS107+, which, with twice the amount of RAM and a faster CPU, is an upgrade to the DS107, boasts an attractive design with a white, plastic shell and rounded corners. Much like the D-Link DNS-323 and Drobo, the DS107+ doesn't ship with a hard drive; it's just an empty enclosure. Unlike the two-bay DNS-323 and four-bay Drobo, the DS017+ supplies only a single hard-drive bay. The DS107+ takes any 3.5-inch SATA hard drive up to 1TB in size. This is also the biggest hard-drive size that the DS107+ can support with its current firmware. We tested the DS107+ with a 500GB hard drive and its latest firmware (version DSM 2.0-0590).
Since it's a single-bay enclosure, the DS107+ is very compact. Inherently, this also prevents the device from offering disk redundancy setups known as RAID. On the back of the device, you'll find two USB ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port, and a reset button. On the front the DS107+ features a slick panel with blue LED indicators that show the status of the hard drive, network activity, and the power status. There's also another USB port, an eSATA port, a power button, and a USB copy button. This button copies the entire contents of a USB drive into a designated folder of the NAS's internal hard drive--making for a quick solution for backing up your thumb drive.
Generally, we like the DS107+'s design except for the eSATA port on the front. Since an eSATA drive is likely a semipermanent connection, having the port in the back would reduce cable clutter. Also, note that the USB ports supports drives of 512MB or bigger and only in FAT32 format. (Synology actually claims this number to be 1GB or bigger, but we tried with our 512MB thumb drive and it worked.) The USB port can also be used to host a printer or a pair of USB speakers. The DS107+ can support three USB devices at the same time, as long as only one of them is a printer.
Though tool-less like the D-Link, it's still easy to install the hard drive into the DS107+. Anyone who can operate a Philips head screwdriver can get this done in a minute or two, but it does make replacing the drive a bit more complicated than simply sliding out the current drive and sliding in its replacement.
Setting up the DS107+ on your network is a no-brainer. On the bundled CD, you'll quickly get acquainted with the Synology Assistant, which helps identify the device on the network, map network drives to shared folders on the device, and add a printer to the USB port. This is typically where the setup ends for most NAS drives, but the DS107+ allows for a lot more.
The Synology Assistant also opens the Web interface of the device, which is where any similarities to the D-Link DNS-323 and the other NAS drives we recently reviewed ends. Synology's Web interface is the most robust, intuitive, and interactive of any NAS product we've encountered. Thanks to Ajax technology, the DS107+'s Web engine interacts with you much like an operating system would do.
Almost all features of the DS107+ can be set up or adjusted via wizards, which make even complicated features easy to use. In order to use the more advanced features, a basic understanding of networking is helpful, especially if you want to make your data available over the Internet.
The Synology DS107+ support users with different access levels (or privileges). The User Creation Wizard will walk you through this process, which is similar to that of Windows XP's User Account function. You can assign the newly created user account to a group and further specify the account's privileges to existing folders on the NAS including writeable, read only, or no access.
The DS107+ is compatible with Windows SMB system so, apart from using the Synology Assistant utility to create network drives, you can access the drive the way you would access another computer on the network via Windows' Explorer. This way, all shared folders on the drive are available as they are shared from a networked computer. This means any computer in the network can easily access the drive without having to use the utility.
The Synology comes with a few default shared folders including "public" and "Web," and as you start using other features, a shared folder for each is created. These folders can't be used interchangeably between features. For example, when you start the iTunes service for sharing music from the NAS directly to iTunes application running on your network computers, a new folder called "music" is created for storing your to-be-shared music. Music you may have in other folders cannot be accessed by this iTunes service. This goes the same for other features including FTP Server, Web Station, Photo Stations, and Surveillance Station. Each of them can only access data within their own designated folder.
This rigidity in folder names and locations might be a bit of a nuisance but once you've gotten used to it, it actually makes sense and helps organize your content better. Also each time you plug in a storage device, either to the eSATA or one of the USB ports, a shared folder will be created for that device automatically.
The Synology DS107+ has an almost embarrassingly long list of features. We can't touch on all of them in the space of this review, so we'll focus on a few we found interesting and potentially useful to the largest audience: Surveillance Station, Photo Station, and Download Station.
The Surveillance Station allows you to connect up to six network cameras to the Synology and is able to make recordings based on either schedules or motion detection. We tested this with the Panasonic BL-C1 camera, and the setup was a snap. The motion detection worked very well, and the quality of the recorded video clips was comparable with, if not better than, most conventional surveillance systems we've seen. Of course, this also depends on the cameras you want to use. The DS107+ has built-in settings for a long list of cameras it supports. Unfortunately, the DS107+ comes with only one camera license, meaning it only supports one camera out of the box. If you want to use more, you'll need to buy additional licenses from Synology, which cost $50 each. Still, this feature lets you create a decent, easy-to-manage surveillance system that costs less than other solutions on the market.
The Photo Station might be the most welcome feature of the DS107+. Each folder stored here can be viewed as a photo album, with thumbnails generated and organized automatically. In order to view this Web album, you need a user account for the DS107+, which lets you also rename the photos, edit captions, and write an introduction for it. The album can also be made available over the Internet. The Photo Station also has a blog function that allows for adding more contexts to the photos and or album. The Web albums it generates looked professional and well organized.
The DS107+ isn't the only network device that can download files on its own. We reviewed the Asus WL-700gE Storage Router that supports BitTorrent. While the Asus' self-download function is very cumbersome to work with, the DS107+'s Download Station brings this feature to the next level. The DS107+ can download multiple files by itself, and it's very easy to add or manage the download URLs within the Web interface. To make matters even more convenient, Synology includes a utility called Download Redirector that you can run on your PC. The app helps you add, organize, and control the download processes that take place at the DS107+. We really like this feature because it allows for downloading large files from the Internet without having to leave a PC on. Unfortunately, the DS107+ can't download files from sites that require authentication, which means it can't be used to download your purchased movie or music files from vendor sites that require you to log in before accessing the downloadable materials. In this case, you will need to download them with a PC and save them on the DS107+ later.
Another original feature of the DS107+ worth noticing is its capability to play music directly to USB speakers, and you can purchase a remote control for this function (another $39.95). The sound quality was decent and should suffice for small rooms and apartments. The DS107+ also supports both Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360 as digital media adapter devices. You can browse and stream multimedia contents stored on the Synology Disk Stations to your stereo system and TV set using Sony PS3 or Microsoft Xbox 360.
The DS107+ did well in CNET Labs testing. It was among our top three on our write test with a score of 45.7Mbps. On our read test, it's our current champion at 52.8Mbps. The DS107+ also performed very smoothly throughout our testing process. It worked very quietly and didn't produce a lot of heat like most NAS devices.
|NAS read test||NAS write test|
Service and support Synology backs the DS107+ with a two-year warranty. Its phone technical support is available Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PST. At its Web site, you can find user forums, a Wiki page, product manuals, and firmware downloads.