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Yesterday, we looked at the Drobo FS. While that network-attached storage (NAS) looked easy to upgrade and practically future-proof, it didn’t come with an intuitive GUI.
Synology’s DiskStation 411j (DS411j) NAS is a whole different beast and what it lacks in style, it makes up with functionality. If you were planning to buy a NAS for your home, I’ll tell you whether or not the DS411j is the right choice for you. Plus, we’ll be giving this review unit away, bundled with 4 TB of storage.
Jumping right in.
The most attractive feature about the DS411j is its price. At $359.99 for a diskless system, while the version with 4 x 1 TB drives preinstalled goes for $769.99, it’s significantly cheaper than most of its competitors. If you’re a techy DIY-er, you would instinctively opt for the diskless system, buy your own hard drives and come up with a 10 TB NAS for about $759.99. And that would be the option I’d choose, I’ll tell you why in a minute.
The DS411j is shorter but wider than the Drobo FS. It’s got a plastic front panel, fitted with a large, round power button, and indicators for network connectivity and hard disk activity. It also has a couple of cooling vents at the top and bottom.
The styling sort of falls short at the back and you’ll find two honeycomb fan grills, a power inlet, a gigabit ethernet interface and two USB 2.0 ports. Interestingly, the NAS accepts USB wireless dongles — so you won’t need to physically connect it to a router. Here’s a full list of wireless dongles that it is compatible with.
As you can see from the image below, there are 4 protruding thumbscrews which attaches the rear panel to the body. Unscrew them and the panel, along with the fans flip downwards; allowing you to remove the top enclosure and reveal its innards. It’s powered by a 1.2 GHz processor and has 128 MB of DDR2 memory which is not upgradeable — however, these stats won’t mean much if you’re just a casual user.
Inside, you’ll find a 4-drive array. Each drive is attached to a plastic drive tray and screwed to the chassis. The drive tray is able to hold both 2.5″ and 3.5″ SATA drives. So here’s where you ask yourself if you are capable enough to perform an upgrade on this system, if necessary. Not to mention, if a drive fails, it won’t be an easy task replacing it if you’re not fond of screws. Personally, I didn’t have an easy time screwing one of the thumbscrews back on.
Before you can start enjoying the DS411j, it needs to be initialised. Synology provides a startup disk and some quick start instructions that are very easy to follow. A desktop client (Win/Mac) detects the unconfigured DS411j on the network and guides you to format the drives and install the operating system dubbed DSM.
Depending on the when you purchase the NAS, you may have to download the latest version of DSM from Synology, which is slightly over 100 MB.
The system takes about 10 minutes to initialise so you may want to make some coffee.
Once that is done, the Synology Assistant will detect the NAS and provide you with its IP address so that you are able to log in from any browser. Or just double click on the device on the list.
And you’ll be greeted by the login screen. The default username is ‘admin’ and the password was set during initialisation (which was not pictured).
As you can see, the DSM is pretty cool and looks like a Web OS. It’s truly the highlight of the product and in all honesty, blows every other GUI away with its multitasking capabilities. It’s that good. But at this point, we’re not out of the woods yet. There is still some configuration to perform.
Firstly, the drives have to be combined using RAID. The easy way to go about this is to choose Synology Hybrid RAID, which natively provides 1 disk redundancy, allows up to 12 GB of storage and the flexibility of expanding to a larger total volume size when a new hard disk is inserted into the array. Otherwise, you could manually configure the drives by selecting any RAID-protected volume types (2-4 way RAID 1, RAID 10, RAID 5, RAID 5+Spare, and RAID 6) as well as volume types without data protection (Basic, JBOD, and RAID 0).
As you can clearly see, the process isn’t very difficult and even someone without any computing knowledge will be able to set this system up in no time, thanks to the intuitive DSM.
When that is done, a new network share will be available. Using the DSM, you’re able to set the share’s access privileges and add new shares easily.
These network shares are completely cross platform and you have the option of enabling/disabling Windows or Mac support at any time by accessing the control panel.
Depending on the RAID configuration selected, expanding the system can be a breeze or slightly more tricky. If you went the Synology Hybrid RAID route, then expanding is a mere disk exchange — swap out the lowest capacity disk for a larger one. Unfortunately, the disks are not hot-swappable, which means that you’ll need to power down the NAS before attempting to perform the upgrade — that’s mostly attributed to the fact that the body needs to be unscrewed before you’re able to reach the drives.
Going back to the highlight of the device, DSM provides a simple, one-click solution for just about everything. Need a torrent client? Click and you’re set. Need a DLNA media server? Click and you’re set. Need an iTunes server? Yes, just click and you’re set. This is what I love most about the DS411j and all Synology NAS products.
The DSM also provides you with a convenient way of monitoring the system’s disk usage, operating temperature, memory usage and other finer details via the Resource Monitor and Storage Manager.
Other great features include a power schedule which allows you to set power on/off times, a file browser with archiving/unarchiving capabilities, remote backup, Time Machine support and remote internet access to the NAS so that you can connect to it from just about anywhere and control your torrent downloads.
Although the DS411j doesn’t look the part, it is in every way quite capable. If you can get past the fact that inserting drives into the array isn’t a piece of cake, the DS411j is a full-featured, brilliant product that’s well worth your money.
Purchase it online from any authorised reseller.