With an excellent user interface, a vast amount of features, and stellar performance, the Synology DS412+ is the best choice for now if you want a four-bay network storage device for your home or small office.
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
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
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
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.
The Download Station enables the server to download files from the Internet by itself, from any FTP and HTTP sites, 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 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 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 for 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 DS412+ server. After that you can sync data from the computer, no matter where it is, as long as it's connected to the Internet and to your DS412+ server.
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 account. The only limit of the Cloud Station is the fact that it won't sync files that are larger than 1GB. However, this, in a way, is a good thing; 1GB is very large for a single file, and we're talking about moving data in real time over the Internet here.
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. The DS412+'s Cloud Station supports up to 32 accounts. If you have a fast Internet connection, you can even start a small online storage service this way. The Cloud Station feature alone makes the DS412+ worth the investment. In fact, it's about as easy to set up as Dropbox, but it offers more online storage space and better control over your data, and doesn't carry a monthly cost.
The Surveillance Station supports 20 IP 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, Vivotek, Y-cam, 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 out of the box. 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 DS412+ a lot more expensive if you wish to use it as a surveillance system.
The Photo Station lets you easily organize photos into albums. Once activated, a share folder called "Photo" will be created. Photos stored in this share 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 iPhone 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. If you want to add fewer than 100 photos at a time, you won't notice the slow thumbnail-building time.
Other than these, there are many other useful and effective applications for the DS412+, such as Time Backup, which makes backups of data on an external hard drive; a VPN server; an Audio Station; a DLNA/UPnP Media Server; and so on. The server can also run applications developed by third parties and comes with mobile apps for both iOS and Android devices.
All in all, I believe there's virtually nothing you could want from a NAS server that the DS412+ doesn't offer.
I tested the DS412+ both with Hybrid RAID and RAID 0 and it offered stellar data rates. In Hybrid RAID, the server scored 105MBps and 104MBps for writing and reading, respectively. In RAID 0, it did slightly better with 110MBps and 107MBps for writing and reading respectively. Note that the server was tested using a single Gigabit Ethernet connection. It potentially can offer higher performance when both of its network ports are used at the same time.
All in all, the DS412+ offered one of the best, if not the best, data rates among NAS servers I've tested. It's in fact faster than many USB 3.0 external hard drives and even comparable to some Thunderbolt drives. The server also performed very quietly; the only mild noise I could hear from it was that of the internal hard drives.
Service and support
Synology backs the DS412+ with a two-year warranty from the date of purchase, which is the same warranty the DS410 gets. 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.
Those with advanced network and storage needs will find the DS412+ the best four-bay NAS server on the market to date, both for small-business and home environments.