A cloud in every home: Synology DS214 review

Synology delivers a versatile and speedy home server solution with the DS214

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What to do with all this data?

These days people have a lot of virtual stuff: music, movie and game collections can take up a lot of space on one’s computer. Cloud services are popular, but with recent revelations on NSA spying many do not want to risk putting documents in the cloud where they could be mined for data.

So why not bring the cloud to your network at home?

Enter the Synology DS214. The DS214 is Synology’s Network Attached Storage (NAS) consumer device for 2014, and contains a handful of improvements of 2013’s model. Essentially, it’s a mini-server that plugs into your network which you can treat like another drive. While the constraints of Ethernet mean you shouldn’t install software on this drive, it’s a very effective tool for backups or to free up space on your computer.

The DS214 comes with easy to use hardware that makes installation a breeze. Synology has also developed an iPhone app which can be used to play media files on the device, a helpful addition that makes the DS214 very competitive against other entries in the NAS space.

Hardware

Synology has packed the DS214 with a powerful hardware that keeps transfers speedy. It comes with ARM-based 1.06 GHz dual-core processor (which includes an encryption processor), 512 MB of RAM, two USB 3.0 ports, Gigabit ethernet, and two slots for disk drives (no hard drive is included). It supports SATA II and III as well as RAID 0, RAID 1 and Synology’s proprietary RAID  with a maximum capacity of 8 TB.

Although a NAS isn’t really an accessory where industrial design is important, Synology has put a concerted effort into making the device look appealing. The front of the device has four LED status lights, power and reset buttons, and a black plastic facade to cover the drives.

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Trying to remove the drive mounts brings up one of the only flaws in the device. The drives are mounted by a very flimsy plastic structure and sometimes takes a concerted pull to get the drives out. Pull to hard, it feels like, and it might break.

The back of the DS214 has the exhaust fan. Usually the fan only spins up during a heavy load, and when it does it’s no more audible than a quiet laptop fan. During testing no heat issues were encountered.

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During file tests the DS214 was fairly speedy. Using gigabit Ethernet in the office we were able to transfer 1 and 2 GB files over in a manner of seconds. It’s hard to report an exact benchmark, as speeds will vary depending on the hardware used.

Software

Synology’s software package is where the  DS214 truly shines.

Synology includes a variety of software packages that should meet everyone’s needs. For Mac users, one particularly useful feature is a package that synchronizes to Apple’s Time Machine backup app ensuring that the computer’s hard disk is mirrored to the NAS on a regular basis.

timebackup A cloud in every home: Synology DS214 reviewOther apps that users may find useful are video station, cloud station and download station.

Video station turns the DS214 into a home media server allowing content to be shared with any device that supports DLNA. Combine this with the remote control app available for iOS and Android, and you’ve got a pretty convenient setup.

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Next up, the cloud station allows for the user to keep key files in a local cloud on their home network. Files can be accessed by multiple users, and saved copies will be synced to the NAS automatically. This could be particularly useful in a home office, where multiple users need to access a set of files that need to be backed up regularly.

The download station app allows the DS214 to download torrents and other files to the NAS and make them available to the network after they have completed downloading. While this style of app may be standard in the NAS sector, it certainly is useful and its inclusion adds to an already stellar app library.

Synology has also made a number of apps for the iOS and Android platforms that allow users to use different functions of the NAS device. While there is no comprehensive do-all app, everything from streaming videos and music, to accessing files in the cloud can be done with one of the available apps.

Conclusion

With the DS214, Synology has made a device that’s effective and scalable meaning it will be able to offer something for everyone. For SOHO users, it’s a way to backup files for redundancy; for home users it’s a way to serve media to devices or to offload files from a laptop to reduce the burden on its hard drive.

The DS214 gets top marks for its comprehensive software set and sleek industrial design. But at the same time, both these things also detract from its overall score as well. There is no comprehensive app for iOS (Android was not reviewed) as you need to download an app for every specific feature. As far as industrial design goes, the trays holding the drives are slightly flimsy and can be tough to remove.

But these are both minor distractions. Overall the DS214 is a great device and is more useful than you think on a home or small office network. The DS214 has an MSRP of $329.

9 0 A cloud in every home: Synology DS214 review

Pros:

  • Comprehensive feature set
  • Good industrial design
  • More useful than you’d expect
  • Dual-core processor means speedy transfers

Cons:

  • Separate mobile apps for each function
  • Some parts feel flimsy
Sam Reynolds is a Canadian technology journalist based in Taipei. His interest is the intersection between politics, business and technology.