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NAS and SAN

Synology DS414j NAS drive review

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Synology DS414j NAS review

For hsmall businesses that need a decent amount of network storage on tap, it’s possible to build a network-attached storage (NAS) box around a simple two-bay device. In fact, with single hard disks now running up to 6 TB capacity, you might be able to accomodate all your data needs with a single huge disk – and 6000 GB means that may be for some time to come. 

A four-bay NAS drive like the Synology DS414j may seem a superfluous luxury then. But there are good reasons why four disks is the sweet spot between capacity, security and performance. 

With just two disks on-board, you get the first options of a RAID configuration – either striping them together to get maximum capacity and performance (RAID 0), or mirroring the two disks for safety (RAID 1).

Stretch up to four disks though, and you get the benefit of decent size, performance and some leeway of safety if one disk should fail. This would be with a RAID 5 setup, where you get around three-quarters the sum of equal-sized disks. 

The alternative for this NAS is what Synology calls Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR). This uses a Linux mdadm utility to allow disks of different sizes to be used without sacrificing so much total space – otherwise, with different-sized disks you’d only get an overall capacity based on the sum of the smallest of the array.

Synology DS414j: Design

Synology’s DS414j is the entry-level four-bay unit from the NAS specialist. As such it’s made some economies in its specification to keep the price down, principally in the all-important processor. 

Where the next model up – the DS414 without the j – has an ARM dual-core system-on-a-chip (SoC) from Marvell, namely the 1.33 GHz Armada XP, this junior version of the NAS has an even cheaper chip in the form of the improbably named 1.2 GHz MindSpeed Comcerto 2200.

This processor from lesser-known fabless firm MindSpeed is also a dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 design with built-in crypto engine to allow hardware encryption. MindSpeed is now owned by Motorola’s spun-off semiconductor company Freescale.

The DS414j has a minimal amount of memory to run the system, 512 MB of DDR3 RAM, and a single gigabit ethernet port for joining your wired network. For connecting outboard storage drives it includes two USB ports, one each of USB 2.0 and 3.0; both at the back.

The outward industrial design of the DS414j follows the desktop bread-maker shape introduced with the DS408, then redesigned into the form we see today with the DS409 facelift in 2009. Unlike the rest of Synology’s current range, this chassis is not made for hot-swapping disk drives. 

In fact, for intial setup, or just to replace a disk, you must go through a three-stage disassembly and build process.

First you remove four thumbscrews at the back, to allow the back panel with its two cooling fans to fold down. You can then lift the main cowling from the NAS drive. This reveals the disks, mounted on rails in the chassis, which must be slide in then screwed in place.

Synology DS414j NAS review

Synology DS414j: Software

The Synology DS414j runs the same operating system as all other Synology NAS drives, currently DiskStation Manager 5.0. This is a welcoming interface, modelled on the flatter, squarer look of Windows 8 and iOS 7/8, with most elements for configuring and maintaining the DiskStation accessible from a central control panel.

All the usual functions of a NAS drive can be engaged here, such as Windows and Mac file serving, FTP server, and a plethora of optional apps to further extend functionality. 

With the help of the Package Center you can install added Synology applications such as Media Server, Cloud Station, Surveillance Station. There’s also a growing ecosystem of third-party apps, like WordPress and Drupal for hosting a website, CRM database modules and RADIUS server.

Synology DS414j: Performance

We set up the Synology DS414j with four 2 TB WD Red disks, and configured these into a RAID 5 array for that useful balance between performance, capacity and limited redundancy.

Tested in Windows 7 first, we assigned our test volume with a drive letter so that it could be treated like an attached volume. We saw read speeds up to 118 MB/s and write speeds up to 98 MB/s, when measured by the somewhat flattering ATTO Disk Benchmark speed test.

Stepping back to the more realistic CrystalDiskMark benchmark test, sequential reads extended to 76 MB/s while sequential write reached 88 MB/s. Importantly, when confronted with a stream of smaller 0.5 MB data files, the speed changed little from CDM’s headline speed, maintaining 74 and 68 MB/s respectively.

At the smallest file level of 4 kB random read/writes, the Synology with its WD disk payload measured 4.7 and 7.0 MB/s. Stacking up the threads, the QD=32 result was a useful 29 and 12 MB/s for 4 kB random I/O.

Turning to the Mac platform, the DS414j performed well for its specification using the AFP network protocol, averaging 108 MB/s reads and 85 MB/s writes, using a 2-10 MB dataset in Intuit QuickBench. These figures strangely fell to 76 and 45 MB/s with 20-100 MB data files, which usually measure as well or better.

At the small-file level, 4 kB random reads and writes measured 7.3 and 3.8 MB/s, which are pleasing numbers compared to many NAS drives which underperform with small data chunks shared over AFP.

Using the Mac’s SMB2 network capability, quite similar results were found – 107 and 90 MB/s reads and writes for 2-10 MB data; falling to 98 and 49 MB/s averages with larger 2-100 MB data.

And again at the small file level, random 4 kB reads and writes transferred at 7.7 and 3.8 MB/s. When averaged from 4 to 1024 kB, the random read/write results were uncannily similar for the two network protocols: 48.2 and 32.6 MB/s for AFP; and 49.0 and 32.5 MB/s for SMB2. Historically these alternative networking systems have performed quite differently from each other.

Power consumption for this low-power NAS was suitably low, peaking at 24 W with its four WD Red disks spinning and under load, falling to just 7 W with the disks spun down and the system idle.



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