Synology DiskStation DS218J review

I’m bringing sexy back-up

28 January 2018
by Mike Priest

Price: US$177

Network Attached Storage is by no means sexy. Its primary purpose is to keep your files safe, secure and easily accessible to computers on (and beyond) your home network.

Kudos to Synology, then, for making the DS218j at least look like it’s making the effort to spice up file management a bit.

DESIGN & SETUP

Synology’s decision to slather the DS218j in shiny white plastic may have been the smartest thing anyone’s done to a NAS. It immediately dispels the dreaded ‘black box syndrome’ that befalls so many tech products and helps draw parallels to the likes of Apple. We’re not saying outright that this is what a NAS designed by Apple might look like, but it probably isn’t far off.

Pop it open and inside you’ll find space for two 3.5in hard disks. You’ll need to break out a screwdriver (and your wallet), as it doesn’t come with disks pre-installed, but the whole process is straightforward and doesn’t take more than a couple of minutes max.

The front of the unit has a power button and a row of LEDs that signal whether the hard disks are currently being accessed and if the unit is connected to the network. On the back sits a sizeable cooling fan, an ethernet port and two USB 3.0 ports to let you add additional external drives if needed.

A QUICK WORD ABOUT HARD DRIVES

Now, the whole point of having a two-bay NAS is the luxury of fault tolerance. Mirroring your data across two drives, in case one fails, makes sure you aren’t left in the lurch and can always recover your files.

The DS218j can handle up to a massive 24TB of raw storage (using two 12TB drives), if you can afford it, but for our testing purposes we ran with a pair of 8TB Western Digital Red drives. These are powerful 7200 RPM drives that are purpose built for NAS use, meaning they last longer than if you were to load up the DS218j with regular old PC disks.

They’ll run you around US$315 a piece from souq.com and come in various sizing configurations up to 10TB.

SOFTWARE & PERFORMANCE

Once your drives are loaded and the NAS is powered on you’ll be prompted to install Synology’s DiskStation Manager OS. This piece of software is the true powerhouse behind Synology’s excellent NAS line-up and it works like a dream, even on this lower-end model.

DSM essentially works by having a Windows-like GUI layered over the NAS. This allows you to operate the DS218j just like you would a desktop computer, only through your web browser. You can access folders or apps (more on that later) from within the OS and Synology also allows you to connect to the NAS remotely using a QuickConnect ID you register during setup. You simply visit quickconnect.to/<your user ID> on any browser and you have access to your entire NAS library from anywhere with an internet connection. It’s fantastically simple.

As noted earlier, this is an entry-level NAS so we weren’t going into this review expecting the DS218j to be a performance powerhouse. However, we were pleasantly surprised by how well it handled our benchmarking.

It runs a dual-core 1.3GHz processor with 512MB of RAM which it turns out is more than enough to give superb read and write times when copying files to and from it. Even playing video locally to a TV worked without any hiccups. What it does struggle with is transcoding video files. In fact, it doesn’t support this at all which means the device receiving the video needs to be able to play it in its original format.

If you’re looking for a NAS to stream and transcode 4K video then we suggest you check out one of Synology’s more powerful models like the DS218play which can handle 4K video streaming. If you want a place to store your video files that can then be served via an HTPC or an Nvidia Shield TV, then the DS218j does the trick.

APPS

While the DS218j shows up as a drive on your local network allowing you to copy files on and off it like you would any regular drive, the most fun comes when you take advantage of the bevy of apps that are available on the Diskstation Manager OS.

A number of these apps already come pre-installed including a photo manager that lets you share pictures stored on the NAS publicly, even without a login. The backup app was easy to use and a great way to ensure that vital files are automatically backed up across devices, both locally and via cloud services like Google Drive and OneDrive.

And while the VideoStation app couldn’t be utilised to its fullest extent due to the DS218j’s inability to transcode video, we found it worked well with what we threw at it, presenting films and TV episodes in a way that reminded us enough of Netflix that we liked what it was doing.

Most of the apps available also have iOS and Android counterparts that you can download to your smartphone for easy access away from home.

SYNOLOGY DISKSTATION DS218J VERDICT

An entry-level affair, the DS218j is aimed more at those looking for a solid backup solution for their data rather than to house and transcode an ill-gotten 4K video collection. Not that we would ever suggest that was your intention!

Its read and write speeds punch significantly above their weight thanks to a great processor and we love the flexibility of the DiskStation Manager OS and the suite of apps that come along with it.

If you’re looking for a solid solution to backup your files and devices without shelling out a fortune, then the DS218j is an excellent starting point.

STUFF SAYS…

Score: ✭✭✭✭

A solid, entry-level storage solution for those looking to break into the NAS game

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