At its most basic, a Network Attached Storage device (NAS) is a single or multi-bay system that is able to share files among multiple systems, whether over a wired or wireless network connection. While most NAS devices are used largely for storage and sharing files, their capabilities stretch far beyond. A NAS may also be used as a multimedia server via UPnP and DLNA protocols to share and stream audio, video, and photos to gaming consoles, tablets, phones, and other computers, as well as be configured as FTP, web, email, surveillance, and print servers, while some can even handle the workloads of photographers, filmmakers, and graphic designers who focus on 4K and 3D workflows.
The first step in building a NAS is selecting an enclosure. The Synology DiskStation DS116 1-Bay NAS Enclosure is well suited for small office and workgroup environments and is powered using a 1.8 GHz Marvell Armada 385 Dual-Core processor and 1GB of DDR3 RAM. It has one 3.5" SATA III drive bay that can also accommodate 2.5" drives, and connectivity options include two USB 3.0 ports and one Gigabit Ethernet port. The DS116 can fulfill several roles, such as that of a surveillance station, a photo/audio/video station for creating an entertainment hub, and content streaming to your Samsung TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, or Roku through its DLNA-certified status.
For those who need a NAS with a second drive bay, Synology has several offerings. Budget models include the DiskStation DS216se, powered by an 800 MHz Marvell Armada 370 processor and 256MB of DDR3 RAM, while the DiskStation DS216j uses a 1.0 GHz Marvell Armada 385 Dual-Core processor and 512MB of DDR3 RAM. In addition to having a larger storage capacity, a second drive bay also allows these units to support a variety of RAID modes, including Synology Hybrid RAID, Basic, JBOD, RAID 0, and RAID 1. While RAID 0 stripes data across both drives, leading to performance improvements, RAID 1 mirrors data to both drives, creating an identical copy in the case of any drive failures.
In the event that a two-bay system is needed to execute more advanced tasks, such as hardware-based 4K or UHD video transcoding, the DiskStation DS216+II operates using a 1.6 GHz Intel® Celeron™ N3060 Dual-Core processor, while the DiskStation DS216play relies on a 1.5 GHz STM STiH412 Dual-Core processor. Both have 1GB of DDR3 RAM, although the DS216+II also features AES-NI hardware encryption and Btrfs file system support. Also, while the DS216+II is able to hardware transcode resolutions up to DCI 4K (4096 x 2160), the DS216play can only handle resolutions up to Ultra HD (3840 x 2160).
Aside from these differences, these Synology two-bay systems remain the same, at their core. Each of their SATA III drive bays supports 3.5" drives, and with the use of drive holders, 2.5" drives. Connectivity options include a Gigabit Ethernet port, as well as USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports. All of these models are also DLNA-certified for video, audio, and photo streaming.
Synology offers an equally wide range of products for those who need a NAS with four drive bays. The budget model is the DiskStation DS416j, which is well suited for those looking to create a home storage and entertainment center. It is powered by a 1.3 GHz Marvell Armada 388 Dual-Core processor and 512MB of DDR3 RAM, while offering connectivity via its USB 3.0 port, USB 2.0 port, and Gigabit Ethernet port. The DiskStation DS416 is geared more toward SMB and home users who need a more robust NAS and features a hardware encryption engine, in addition to its 1.4 GHz AL-212 Dual-Core processor, 1GB of DDR3 RAM, three USB 3.0 ports, and dual Gigabit Ethernet ports with link aggregation and failover support.
Home users and creative professionals with large photo and video collections will want to look at the DiskStation DS416play, which features a hardware encryption engine and single-channel Cinema 4K or triple-channel 1080p video transcoding on the fly, in addition to a 1.6 GHz Intel Celeron N3060 Dual-Core processor, 1GB of DDR3 RAM, three USB 3.0 ports, and dual Gigabit Ethernet ports with link aggregation and failover support. Professional users won’t want to miss the DiskStation DS916+, which provides support for up to nine drives using a separately sold expansion unit. It is available in configurations of 2GB or 8GB of DDR3 RAM, a 1.6 GHz Intel® Pentium™ N3710 Quad-Core processor, three USB 3.0 ports, an eSATA port, and dual Gigabit Ethernet ports with link aggregation and failover support. All of Synology’s DS416 offerings are also able to accommodate 3.5 and 2.5" drives, in addition to their DLNA-certified capabilities. Having four drive bays also allows for expanded RAID configurations, with each of these units supporting RAID 0, 1, 5, 6, and 10.
For immense amounts of storage, Synology also offers an 8-bay unit, the DiskStation DS1815+. While it doesn’t have any transcoding abilities, it can be connected to two DX513 expansion units for storage capacities up to 180TB, and is powered using a 2.4 GHz Intel Atom™ C2538 Quad-Core processor with 2GB of DDR3 RAM (expandable to 6GB). Connectivity options include four USB 3.0 ports, two eSATA ports, and four Gigabit Ethernet ports with link aggregation and failover support. Its drive bays and RAID support mirror the same specs as the DS416 series.
Now that we’ve discussed a plethora of NAS options, let’s bear in mind that none of these systems come populated with drives. If you prefer to select your own drives to for use, this is a bonus, so let’s take a look at good drives for NAS use. WD's Red drives are designed for NAS use and have a 3.5" form factor; capacities of 2 – 8TB; a SATA III 6 Gb/s interface; 5400 rpm rotational speed; 600,000 load/unload cycles; and an MTBF of 1 million hours. WD's Red Pro drives are similar to the Red drives, but offer a 7200 rpm rotational speed. HGST offers 3.5" 7200 rpm Enterprise drives in capacities of 6TB, 8TB, and 10TB, as well as an 8TB Ultrastar He8 3.5" Helium Platform Enterprise Hard Drive that increases its durability by offering a 2.5-million-hour MTBF; 600,000 load/unload cycles; and being filled with helium instead of air, which helps reduce vibration, power consumption, and temperature. HGST also offers its Deskstar 3.5" SATA Internal Hard Drive series, with capacities from 3 – 6TB.
Switching over to SSDs, the SanDisk Plus SATA III 2.5" Internal SSD series offers capacities of 120, 240, and 480GB, a 7mm form factor, a SATA III 6 Gb/s interface, read speeds up to 535 MB/s, and write speeds up to 445 MB/s, while Samsung’s 850 Evo 2.5" SATA III SSD series offers capacities from 250GB – 4TB, and the 850 PRO series offers capacities of 128GB – 2TB. Both Samsung series also offer a 7mm form factor, a SATA III 6 Gb/s interface, read speeds up to 550 MB/s, and write speeds up to 520 MB/s. While SSDs do not have the larger capacity of a traditional spinning hard drive, they offer faster read and write speeds, while also being more resistant to wear and tear, since they lack any internal moving parts. However, they are also more expensive, so users will need to weigh the cost of using SSDs against the total cost of owning a particular NAS.
No matter what your needs or budget, Synology has a NAS solution for you. Regardless of whether you need to share data, stream photos, videos, and audio, or work with 4K and 3D media, the enclosures and drives listed in this article will get you well on your way.
What sort of NAS have you built for your own needs? Share your experience in the Comments section, below.
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