Synology DS213air

Synology DS213air

Wi-fi network-attached storage

Synology’s network attached storage (NAS) units tend to push the upper limits of ‘home storage’. The DS213air is no exception, with a feature set and price more befitting small businesses. However, it may suit enthusiasts seeking a top-notch NAS.

We received the diskless version of the DS213air, and added two 2TB 3.5-inch Western Digital Red hard drives for testing. Disk installation is simple – open the case, slot two drives into the empty bays and re-seal. Even if you haven’t installed a hard drive before, it will take just minutes.

Software setup is easy via the included Windows app, over a wired network, or over the DS213air’s built-in wireless network. We chose the recommended ‘Synology Hybrid RAID’ volume – with just two drives, this functions much the same as RAID 1 – which gave us 2TB of fault-tolerant storage.

Synology’s NAS units run Synology’s own DiskStation Manager (DSM) operating system, which is accessed using your web browser. It’s like having a remote-desktop connection to a server, and while it offers a lot of control, for those with little NAS experience it’s a steep learning curve.

The payoff is high, though. The DSM interface puts every setting and statistic on the device within easy reach. The browser-based GUI supports multitasking, window resizing and all the usual desktop tricks, no commandline familiarity required. It’s powerful, it’s beautiful, and it’s way more than you’d ever need to centralise your collection of movies, MP3s and family photos.

The sheer amount of functionality has previously meant countless pages of settings that you’ll never use. However, the latest versions of DSM use a ‘package’ system that will be familiar to Linux users. It’s much like the ‘app store’ approach used on smartphones in that you choose the parts you want via the web interface, and they’re automatically downloaded and installed to the DS213air.

At the time of writing, 20 Synology-created packages and a further 27 third-party packages were available, all free and most open source.

Home users will get the most use from packages such as Synology’s ‘Audio Station’, ‘Photo Station’ and ‘Video Station’ for media streaming, DLNA and iTunes servers, ‘Download Station’ for managing direct-to-NAS downloads, backup packages, and Antivirus Essential for on-NAS virus scanning.

Enthusiasts and small-business users will find everything from DHCP, DNS and mail server apps, open-source content management systems like WordPress, MediaWiki, Drupal and Joomla, to full-on ecommerce solutions.

With its built-in wi-fi the DS213air can operate as either a wi-fi hotspot or a full-blown single-band (2.4GHz) wi-fi router.

It can also connect to your existing wireless network, though this will result in reduced performance – however great your wireless network is, it’s unlikely to outperform gigabit Ethernet. We didn’t get to test it, however.

In our standard NAS tests, we saw average sequential read and write speeds of 11.2 and 11.3 MB/sec, respectively, over Ethernet, and over 802.11n wi-fi we saw average of 8MB/sec read and 6.9MB/sec write speed. It’s possible to use both interfaces simultaneously – so you could have your TV and PC hooked up over gigabit Ethernet via a router or switch, while your smartphone and tablet connect to the DS213air via slower, but more convenient, wi-fi.

If you want to set up your own ‘private cloud’ infrastructure at home, with automated backups, your own private webmail server and a test server for your web development projects, you won’t find a simpler ‘out of the box’ way to do it. Really though, the DS213air’s best fit is at the centre of a small business – the sort of operation with four or five PCs, maybe a couple of tablets, and a need for just a little more IT infrastructure than ‘hey, just plug them all into the router’.

Synology products are distributed in New Zealand through PB Technologies and VST.

This review was originally published in the March 2013 issue of New Zealand PC World

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