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

Supporting massive dynamically scalable storage, and offering a vast amount of well-thought-out features, the Synology DiskStation DS1513+ will transform the way you enjoy digital entertainment and manage your business, both locally and over the Internet.

Dong Ngo
Dong Ngo SF Labs Manager, Editor / Reviews
CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.
10 min read

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.


Synology DiskStation DS1513+

The Good

The <b>Synology DiskStation DS1513+</b> 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.

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.

The DS1513+'s Web interface resembles a native operating system and functions like one, all within the Web page.
The DS1513 's robust Web interface resembles a native operating system and functions like one, all within the Web page. Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

Once logged in (the server comes with a default admin account that has no password), the Web interface -- which works with any browser, be it Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Chrome -- looks just like the graphic user interface (GUI) of a native operating system.

If you have experience with Microsoft Windows or Linux operating systems, it's quite easy to figure out how the interface is organized and how it functions. There are familiar items such as the Start button, the task bar, control panel, and so on, that are used to access the settings and features of the server. You can also open multiple windows at a time for different tasks, and resize and minimize them to the task bar to call them back later. The interface is also very responsive, with smooth animated transitions. In all, it's very impressive.

Vast amount of features for both home and business
It would be an understatement to say the DS1513+ offers a lot of features. It offers everything storage- and server-related for a home or a small or medium businesses.

For one, the server can handle Time Machine backup natively, provides all type of hosting services such as SQL, FPT, VPN, and DHCP; supports popular vitalization technology (VMware vSphere 5.1 with VAAI Support, Microsoft Hyper-V, and Citrix XenCenter) and up to 2,048 user accounts. Beyond that, you can add a lot more to its repertoire via the Package Center.

The Package Center is similar to the Apple's App Store. Here you can browse for and add, remove, or update applications (called packages) that run within the server. Each package offers a new feature, and most of them are free. The server supports packages developed by Synology itself, which are always free, and those from third parties. There is a large selection of packages currently available, divided in five categories, which include Backup, Multimedia, Business, Security, and Utilities.

Multimedia contains apps for entertainment, such as Audio Station, iTunes Server, Photo Station, Video Station, Plex Media Server, and so on. And the Business category contains apps for small and medium-size businesses.

The Package Center enables access to hundreds of applications that add more function and features to the NAS server.
The Package Center enables access to hundreds of applications that add more function and features to the NAS server. Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

Note that while I had no problem figuring the server out and setting most of its features, setting up the server is not for novice users to undertake. While DSM 4.2 comes with many improvements and enhancements in terms of making the initial setup straightforward, especially for features that can be accessed remotely via the Internet, by nature, these require a fair amount of networking know-how. On the other hand, I believe most savvy users won't have a hard time getting the server up and running.

I tried just a few of the apps that are available, and those that I tried out worked very well. My favorites are Surveillance Station, Download Station, Cloud Station, and Plex Media Server.

The DS1513+'s Surveillance Station supports up to 20 IP cameras (only one camera license is included, and additional camera licenses cost $49 each) and could be a very comprehensive surveillance system. This feature worked extremely well in my trial. Synology also offers an app called DS Cam for both the iPhone and Android devices, allowing for monitoring your home or business via your mobile device even when you're out and about.

The Download Station is arguably the most comprehensive download application; it allows the server to download files from the Internet by itself and is able to download files from Web sites that require authentication (such as RapidShare). It also supports BitTorrent file-sharing services. You can search for desired content and double-click on the result to start the download. You can also manage the downloads remotely from a mobile device via the DS Download mobile app for Android and iOS. The server can handle up to 80 concurrent downloads at a time.

The Cloud Station works similarly to the Dropbox service, but much better. There's no limit to how many computers you can use for syncing and how much data can be synced, as long as it doesn't take up more than the available space on the server or the quota of the user account. The only limit of the Cloud Station is the fact that it won't sync files that are larger than 10GB. With support for more than 2,000 user accounts, if you have a fast connection to the Internet, you could start your own cloud storage service with this feature.

The Plex Media Server package allows the server to access and stream a large selection of online content, both free and subscription-based.
The Plex Media Server package allows the server to access and stream a large selection of online content, both free and subscription-based. Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

If you're a fan of media streaming, you might already know about the Plex Media Server. The DS1513+ comes with a Plex Media Server package that allows for streaming content stored on the server to not just local devices, but also to remote and mobile devices. With this app installed and a mobile Plex app, you can watch many of your favorite shows any time, anywhere. In addition, there's also a DS Video package that works with the DS Video mobile app to offers similar media streaming experience. The DS Video package also works with a USB or networked TV tuner (such as the SiliconDust HDHomeRun Dual) to record and stream TV programs.

In all, the DS1513+ offers very impressive features. Those mentioned here are just the tip of the iceberg of what you can expect from the server.

I tested the DS1513+ both with Hybrid RAID and RAID 0, and it offered stellar data rates. Note that I tested the server with just one network port. This is consistent with how all NAS servers have been tested for CNET reviews.

In Hybrid RAID, which was similar to RAID 5 in this case, the server scored 109MBps and 112MBps for writing and reading, respectively. In RAID 0, it did slightly better with 115MBps and 117MBps for writing and reading respectively. These numbers consistently topped the charts and were close to the maximum speed of a single Gigabit connection. Synology says when used with a supported switch and all four of its network ports being utilized, the DS1513+ can offers the speeds of up to 200MBps for writing and 350MBps for reading.

Performance-wise, the DS1513+ proved to be the fastest NAS server I've tested and a formidable upgrade to the already-excellent DS1511+. The server also performed very quietly; the only sound I could hear from it was that of the internal hard drives.

CNET Labs NAS performance scores
(Via wired Gigabit Ethernet connection, measured in megabytes per second;
longer bars indicate better performance)

The Synology DiskStation DS1513+ brings enterprise-grade features and performance down to a budget that general consumers can feasibly afford. Among other things, the server excelled at being a flexible and capable entertainment hub that can support a large amount of concurrent devices and users. Business users will also appreciate its vast amount of business-related applications.


Synology DiskStation DS1513+

Score Breakdown

Setup 9Features 10Performance 9Support 7
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