Synology DiskStation DS1513+ review: A new level for NAS excellence

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MSRP: $1,999.99

The Good The Synology DiskStation DS1513+ offers massive dynamically scalable storage space, stellar performance, a robust Web interface, and it supports a vast quantity of useful features for both home and small and medium business applications.

The Bad Novice users might have a tough time setting up the server's advanced features.

The Bottom Line The Synology DiskStation DS1513+ is easily one of the best multiple-bay NAS servers to date, performing superbly both as an advanced storage server and as the central host for a long list of home entertainment and business uses.

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9.1 Overall
  • Setup 9
  • Features 10
  • Performance 9
  • Support 7

The five-bay Synology DiskStation DS1513+ might seem like overkill, and it's in fact a very advanced storage system, but the server turns out to be a system built for both general consumers and small and medium-size businesses. It's the prime example of how a NAS server can be so much more than just storage attached to your network.

For the home, it easily fulfills all data backup and sharing needs and offers new, well-conceived, exciting ways to access and manage digital entertainment. For an office, it even provides capabilities that were once cost-prohibitive for many small business owners. In my testing the server delivered, for the most part, well beyond even my highest expectations.

The only downside of the new NAS is, like its predecessors and peers, the server is not user-friendly enough for novices to do the initial setup, especially if they want to use its advanced features. Once configured, however, you won't have a problem using it.

At the current street price of $870 -- no storage included, you'll need to add your own hard drives, which cost between $50 to $300 each, depending on the capacity -- the DS1513+ is by far the best investment for those looking for a central storage server that has it all, including massive storage support, stellar performance, and vast amount of helpful features and applications. For more options in terms of storage space and cost, check out this list.

The DiskStation DS1513+ has five front-facing drive bays, each of which can handle a standard hard drive of up to 4TB.
The DiskStation DS1513 has five front-facing drive bays, each of which can handle a standard hard drive of up to 4TB. Dong Ngo/CNET

New tool-free design, massive storage space
The DiskStation DS1513+, the replacement for the DiskStation DS1511+ which has been discontinued, has the same front-facing drive-bay design as its predecessor and many of its peers. However, unlike the others, the DS1513+ offers a completely "tool-free" design. Each of the drive bays has a mechanism that holds the hard drives in place in its tray without the need of screws.

Each drive bay also has a lock that holds the tray in place to avoid accidental pull-out. A set of two keys for these locks is included, so make sure you don't misplace them should you decide to lock the drive bays.

Similar to other five-bay NAS servers, the DiskStation DS1513+ can host five standard hard drives. With individual hard drives currently capping at 4TB, the server can offer the total raw storage space of 20TB. But that's not all: you can also use up to two Synology DX510 extension units with the server, to add another 20TB per unit to the server. With two DX510 units, the server can host a massive amount of storage space -- a total of 60TB. With high-def movie files averaging 10GB in size (many are actually smaller), you can use the server to host some 6,100 of them. That's enough content for two years of continuous viewing.

Synology's Hybrid RAID is a robust way to manage the NAS server's internal hard drives.
Synology's Hybrid RAID is an excellent way to manage the NAS server's internal hard drives. Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

And if for some reason that's still not enough storage space, you can also add more via the server's USB ports. There are two USB 3.0 ports and four USB 2.0 ports on the back of the unit. You can also use these ports to add printers, Wi-Fi dongles, or even TV tuner adapters to the server. The server also comes with two eSATA ports to host more external storage devices, or two DX510 extension units. Synology says these two eSATA ports are designed to allow the hard drives housed in extension units to have the same throughput as those residing in the server itself.

Note that the server's price doesn't include storage, which can be expensive if you buy drives of top capacities. However, you can start out with five modest hard drives, such as 500GB or even 250GB, and upgrade to larger ones later when your need for storage space increases. The DiskStation DS1513+ supports all standard RAID configurations, and most importantly, it supports Synology Hybrid RAID, which allows for dynamically scaling up the server's storage space without rebuilding the RAID from scratch. (Read more about RAIDs here.)

Hybrid RAID also allows for using hard drives of different capacities in the same RAID setup. The special RAID configuration automatically balances the performance, storage space, and data protection depending on the number of hard drives being used. You can choose to protect data against the case where one or even two drives fail at the same time. In addition, Hybrid RAID takes a very short time to build or rebuild a RAID setup, just a matter of minutes instead of hours needed for standard RAIDs.

Four Gigabit network ports, smart power management
The DS1513+ is the first multiple-bay server I've seen that comes with four Gigabit Ethernet ports -- most high-end servers come with just two. You need just one port for the server to work well, but the extra ports mean better load balancing, more redundancy, and -- when used with a support switch -- significantly faster performance.

The hard drives can be easily installed or replaced entirely without tools.
The hard drives can be easily installed or replaced completely without tools. Dong Ngo/CNET

The extra network ports also mean that the server now better supports high availability and multipath I/O. In doing so, Synology says, the DS1513+ brings high-end functionality, once available only at an enterprise level, down to desktop-dimension devices, and at a cost that both homes and small businesses can afford.

Similar to the previous model, the DS1513+ comes with a built-in power supply. This means you can use just a standard power cord, like one used with a desktop computer, to power the server. This power supply, as well as the server's stock 2GB of DDR3 RAM (upgradable to 4GB using standard laptop system memory) and its two large ventilation fans on the back; are all user-replaceable.

The two standard ventilation fans, similar to those found in desktop computers, are also designed to work together in a smart way. When one of them stops working or is removed, the other one will automatically run faster to compensate if needs dictate. Synology says only one fan is needed to cool the internal hard drives in most cases, and the second is there simply for redundancy. I noticed that both fans worked very slowly in my testing, even during heavy loads. They were also very quiet.

The new server offers lots of peripheral connections and is the first five-bay server on the market with four Gigabit network ports.
The new server offers lots of peripheral connections and is the first five-bay server on the market with four Gigabit network ports. Dong Ngo/CNET

Robust Web interface
Like the rest of Synology's servers, the DS1513+ comes with Synology Assistant (for Mac and Windows), which, along with the rest of the server's available desktop software, can also be downloaded from the company's Web site. Once installed, Synology Assistant detects the server within the network and offers a few quick way to manage it, including mapping network drives, waking up other devices via LAN, and helping launch the server's Web interface. After installation, you can also get to this interface by pointing a browser to the server's IP address.

And the Web interface is where everything starts.

The DS1513+ ships with the latest version of Synology's DiskStation Manager operating system, version 4.2.. Most other NAS servers, including the DS1511+, can be easily upgraded to this version for free. In my opinion, DSM has always been the best firmware for NAS servers and version 4.2 bring its functionality to a new level.