Hardware Platform & Usage Impressions

The industrial design of almost all Synology NAS models strike the perfect balance between form and function. The hot-swap bays are easily accessible, the drive bay mechanism works great and the cooling system ensures adequate ventilation for the hard drives. Synology's j-series, however, doesn't support hot-swapping the disks in the specifications (mainly as a feature to cut down and a way to differentiate between the j- and the non-j models). In order to 'enforce' this, the disks had to be placed in a manner such that the user wouldn't accidentally remove / replace / hot-swap one of the disks. This is one of the primary reasons for the chassis design of the j-series being quite different.

The contents of the DS414j package are provided below:

  • Synology DS414j chassis
  • 2M Cat 5E Ethernet cable
  • 90 W (12V @ 7.5A) external power supply with US power cord
  • Getting Started guide
  • Screws for hard disk installation

The main chassis looks like an antique box. While some tend to like the design, others prefer the simple and elegant traditional box with easily accessible drive bays on the front side. On the rear side of the unit, we have four screws which can be easily removed to bring down the hinged plate on which the fan is mounted. This exposes the motherboard at the bottom and the metal housing for the drives. Synology makes hot-swap virtually impossible by having mounting screws on the metal housing in addition to the screws for the plastic drive trays.

Platform Analysis

On the motherboard side of things, we can see the Mindspeed Comcerto 2000 SoC right in the middle with no heat sink. Towards the bottom left, we have a Marvell 88SX7042 SATA controller.

We already looked at the block diagram of the SoC in our launch piece on the 414j. The available high-speed I/Os include 2x SATA2, 2x PCIe 2, 1x USB 3.0 and 1x USB 2.0. Three GMACs are present, but the 414j uses only one of them for its sole RJ-45 port (with the help of a Realtek RTL8211E GbE PHY connecting through the RGMII interface). The Marvell 88SX7042 is present in almost all 4-bay NAS units of this generation and the DS414j is no exception. It is a 4x SATA II to 1x PCIe bridge that connects the drives in all the four bays to the SoC. The rest of the ports on the unit (1x USB 2.0 and 1x USB 3.0) come directly off the SoC.

Setup and Usage

After connection to the network, the unit obtains a DHCP address (even in diskless mode) and could be setup using the web UI at http://<DS414j-IP>. The determination of the IP itself could be done through Synology's helper site, find.synology.com. This service occasionally finds existing Synology units in the network too.

The setup process is straightforward. At least one of the bays needs to be populated. We chose to use the web interface (rather than the Synology Assistant tool) to initialize the NAS. The firmware (Synology Disk Station Manager - DSM) can be uploaded from a local file in this process. Basic administration settings are also configured. After a restart, the rest of the configuration is handled through the DSM web UI.

Upon logging into a freshly installed DSM, the user is provided with various options to aid in setup of external access to the NAS. Synology allows its users to create a MyDS account on their servers. The NAS units themselves are provided with a unique 'QuickConnect' ID. A MyDS account can have multiple QuickConnect IDs associated with it. The combination of this ID and a MyDS account helps Synology operate a relay service for access to the NAS from an external network. Users can opt to not register for these, but still enjoy external access if they forward the appropriate ports on their router.

The combination of a desktop-style interface and a multi-tasking UI with support for desktop widgets makes DSM a pleasure to use. Backing up the eye-candy is a rock-solid Linux-based storage management system and a wealth of applications (both Synology-created and third-party developed). Exploring all the features of DSM 5.x deserves a separate piece by itself. However, we will take a slightly different approach. In the DS214play review, we focused on the external access and multimedia features. In this, we will talk about the cloud / NAS backup and synchronization capabilities after discussing the benchmark results.

Our testing sequence started with the insertion of a single disk and configuring it in Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR). For a single disk, it is effectively a JBOD configuration, but the addition of a second disk triggers a migration to RAID-1. Even though the unit officially doesn't hot-swap, we were able to add and replace disks with the unit powered on. While migrating to the new RAID level on the DS414j, the data remained online and the process got done without any hitch. We tested RAID-5 rebuild by yanking out a disk during operation and re-inserting it (after externally formatting the drive). The rebuild process was also uneventful. On the whole, we were very satisfied with the unit's handling of storage operations (including handling of disk failures)

Introduction Single Client Performance - CIFS on Windows
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  • imaheadcase - Thursday, July 10, 2014 - link

    How fast they are is not very important, most reading/write is on the NAS itself. You are always limited more by network speed than anything with these setups. However that is not a problem since most people are pulling from drives and will saturate at 1gig NIC anyways.
  • bebimbap - Thursday, July 10, 2014 - link

    When viewing the small NAS market as a whole, it seems they are neither performance/cost effective compared to building your own system, or future proof, as expansion is very expensive or time consuming. The point of small NAS seems to be "I want a new working NAS NOW"

    If the case were that a small business owner or home owner who did not want to ever invest in tinkering with his network or computers would gladly invest in this kind of device. Especially ones who frequent the Apple/Dell store or another boutique to buy their latest best in class computer.
  • jabber - Saturday, July 12, 2014 - link

    Indeed I'll have bought my off the shelf NAS, configured it, set it up and making it earn its keep while you were still wondering which hard drives and RAID card to put in your PC box.

    Plus I'll never have to touch it again till I replace it.
  • uhuznaa - Thursday, July 10, 2014 - link

    I'm always surprised that these things don't offer more than just plain storage. If you have a networked Linux platform anyway, why not offer things like at least CalDAV/CardDAV for your own "private cloud" for contact and calendar syncing? Or SMTP/IMAP (with a configurable smarthost if you don't have a static IP address)? Add encryption and some key management features and you could use it to replace most of the "Cloud" with a secure solution sitting right in your living room.
  • AJRobins - Thursday, July 10, 2014 - link

    Uh, many Synology products do, including the DS414j mentioned in this article. While lower-end products don't support these, products like the DS414j and above can use various addons such as wikis (mediawiki, docuwiki), CMS (drupal, joomla), databases (mariadb/mysql), mail servers, revision control (git, svn), languages (java, python, perl), various backup solutions (amazon glacier and other cloud services), and a number of other services.
  • bernstein - Thursday, July 10, 2014 - link

    @Ganesh: I really don't understand why i as a home user should avoid a NAS without hotswap! i mean whats the hassle of shutting a nas down, exchanging disk & starting it again? what's the problem of those 5mins of downtime? not quite the same, but home user's neither need redundant PSUs, routers, laptops, internet connections, etc.
  • DanNeely - Thursday, July 10, 2014 - link

    Even beyond the few minutes needed to swap the drive itself, to minimize the risk of a 2nd drive failure resulting in data loss, it's safest to do the raid rebuild with the server offline. At that point you're looking at several hours to several days of effective downtime. From that standpoint a few minutes to power the box off becomes a rounding error.
  • samsp99 - Sunday, July 20, 2014 - link

    That's assuming that you have a drive spare that matches the ones already in the NAS. I would suspect for most home users a new drive will need to be ordered, so the extra time to power down the unit is minor in the grand scheme of things.
  • asendra - Thursday, July 10, 2014 - link

    I think you should not only compare to similarly priced NAS but to other Synology devices like the step up DS414, at least to compare if the extra price is worth it or not.
    I'm actually looking to buy a 4 drive NAS, and I was almost decided to get the DS414, but maybe the performance difference is not enough to justify the +100$ it would cost me.
    Main thing that has made me reconsider is the lack of plex server support in al this Synologys...

    Other option I've considered is buying a HP Microserver G7, install XPenology, and save 200$, but I don't mind paying for simplicity and less headaches.
  • alanh - Thursday, July 10, 2014 - link

    Echoing ascenda's comment, it would also be nice to see a comparison with the previous generation Synology products. I've been using a DS413j for about 2 years now and it would be interesting to see how it compares.

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