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[Review] Synology DS216play NAS and DiskStation Manager 6.1

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When NAS (Network Attached Storage) devices are mentioned, Synology, QNAP come to mind. Today we have a Synology DS216play NAS device to play with, running Synology’s widely-acclaimed operating system, the DiskStation Manager 6.1. This NAS is considered to be one of Synology’s Value series: Home/Workgroup products, and is rated above the J series, which are more for personal/home use. They also have two higher up series for the more demanding workplace/office, the Plus series and the FS/XS+ Series, which are rated for large scale businesses. Synology are also considered to be one of the leaders in the NAS industry.

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The Synology DS216play 2-bay NAS is marketed by its company as being multimedia-oriented, with its main feature being its hardware transcoding engine with the ability to transcode 4K Ultra HD video on the fly. It is limited to transcode one 4K video at a time, and because of its ARM architecture, media servers such as Plex aren’t able to utilise the transcoding engine from the DS216play. This could however change in the future if Plex decides to support ARM architectures.

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The Synology NAS is a very compact unit, despite being a grunty workhorse too. Its 165 x 100 x 225 mm (HWD) size means it can be carried in one hand, and weighs only 0.88kg without the HDDs. The HDDs did not come with the NAS, and so I ordered some 3TB WD Reds to slot them in to the NAS. The NAS supports up to a maximum single volume size of 16TB, and can fit 3.5″/2.5″ SATA HDDs, and 2.5″ SATA SSDs. 2.5″ drives require an optional 2.5″ Disk Holder to be installed along with the drives. There is only one 1GbE LAN port (so no failover redundancy nor link aggregation) and also has 1 USB 2.0 and 1 USB 3.0 ports for connecting up additional portable HDDS, Memory Sticks or even connecting up a printer to use as a Printer Server.

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Installing the HDDs into the bays was also pretty straight forward. Simply slide out the scratch-resistant case and mount the HDD into its place using the provided screws.

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For the power-conscious users, the NAS consumes 15.08 watts when in use, and about half of that (6.83 watts) when in HDD hibernation. I was very pleasantly surprised that there was virtually no noise from the fan at all, unless you put your ear right up against the device. Its neighbour, the UniFi 16-port Switch is a lot more louder than it! According to Synology it produces just 18.5dB of noise when in use. Noise setting has both Cool Mode and Quiet Mode. I find it rarely gets warm to touch (let alone hot) even with the resource monitor going up to red levels for both CPU and Memory.

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For more specs such as maximum local user accounts, maximum concurrent download tasks on the Download Station etc. please visit https://www.synology.com/en-global/products/DS216play#spec.

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The Synology DS216play has a STiH412 ‘Monaco’ CPU chip by ST Microelectronics and is only a 1.5GHz dual core 32-bit processor. Because of this spec, there were many applications such as Docker (a virtualization application) which doesn’t support this type of CPU. Nevertheless, browsing through the NAS, running multiple applications from it at the same time, and transferring large files back and forth from the NAS to a PC presented no lag or a slackness in speed. Both ethernet and WiFi file transfer speeds were okay, with ethernet being the faster out of the two obviously. While the memory was constantly running at over 60% with about 16 applications downloaded and running on the NAS, I have still yet to experience a slowness in the operation of its operating system. From the Package center I have Plex Media Server, RADIUS Server, Video Station, VPN Server, Photo Station, openHAB2, Java, Hyper Backup, File Station, Download Station, Directory Server, Cloud Sync, Audio Station and a few more running. All have been running smoothly ever since I got the NAS about a month ago.

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Synology are known for their user-friendliness when accessing its operating system, the DiskStation Manager. Current version is DSM 6.1 and the 6.1 version has a lot of new goodies baked in to its operating system. Such new goody features can be found here.

One of the new key features in DSM 6.1 is its shared folder encryption. Synology now enables its users to encrypt pre-existing shared folders, including the homes folder, for additional security measures if you need it. In a home environment, this may sound unnecessary and a bit over the top, but for SMEs and home offices, this may be a good precautionary step to take for the privacy of your files.

Another feature in DSM 6.1 is the alternative solution to Windows Active Directory. Synology’s Active Directory claims to do most of what Windows Active Directory can do but in a more convenient solution, directly from the NAS box.

Moreover, the DiskStation Manager applications I have been using the most are the four main multimedia applications: Photo Station, Audio Station, Video Station and Download Station.

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Photo Station is basically like your own ‘Dropbox’ for photos. With the ability to share links directly to social media accounts, create smart albums to automatically group photos and videos according to specific criteria, add watermarks to your shared photos, labels and comments, plus many more features including the ability to stream to tvOS and Android TV. I found that I could even create read/write permissions for certain folders in my photo library to share to users on my NAS. Photos already on your PC/Mac can be bulk uploaded to Photo Station on your NAS via the Photo Station uploader. There is also a DS Photo app for iOS, Android and even Windows Phone!

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Audio Station is very similar to Windows Media Player which most of you are probably accustomed to. It lets you do all the basics as well as let you stream music from your NAS with your computer, smartphones, tablets, DLNA and AirPlay devices and even the Apple Watch. If you were to go travelling, you can even download them for offline listening on the DS Audio app which is also available for iOS, Android and Windows Phone.

Video Station is also an app that I like to use when browsing movies, TV shows, home videos and even TV recordings. By using Synology’s Video Station, you can utilise the dedicated hardware transcoding engine on the Synology DS216play to transcode videos into a playable format your device can view. This reduces the stress on the main CPU of the NAS. Video Station also allows you to stream videos to many different devices including but not limited to Apple TV, Android TV, Chromecast, Roku, Xbox, PlayStation devices etc.

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Download Station lets you download your torrents without having to keep a separate PC running 24/7, plus add/start/stop/pause downloads on-the-go through the DS Get mobile app!

Overall, the native multimedia apps provided by Synology are certainly top-of-the-line quality stuff. There are so many features that one can possibly take advantage of, and their apps certainly make managing and organizing your multimedia library a lot easier. Therefore it results in a lot more efficiency when trying to sort out what TV show or movie you want to watch. For more information on Synology’s Multimedia apps, please visit: https://www.synology.com/en-global/dsm/6.1/multimedia.

Speaking of apps, there are a lot of cool additional apps such as DS Note, DS Get (view/start/stop/pause your downloads in Download Station on the go) MailPlus mobile app that you can take advantage of through a Synology NAS. If I were to cover every single bit of information on Synology NAS, we will be here all day and all night. You can check out their mobile applications here: https://www.synology.com/en-global/dsm/6.1/mobile.

I also set up the Cloud Sync app on my Synology DS216play to link to my Google Photos account. By syncing the account I virtually have a “back-up” of my Google Photos account on my NAS. The reason I quoted back-up is because this is not a true backup service because it is a two-way sync. However, you can also set it to sync one-way only too.

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Plex Media Server on my Synology NAS.

In conclusion, Synology make some pretty good NAS appliances, as well as user-friendly software too. While the Synology DS216play did not have the specs I was looking for, there are definitely many other Synology models out there too. Just depends on the price. If you are looking to run a few third-party applications on your NAS such as Plex Media Server for multimedia files, I would suggest getting a slightly more high-end model if you want to stick with Synology models. Those models will most certainly be able to handle the additional transcoding grunt that this model NAS doesn’t have for Plex etc. Nevertheless the Synology DS216play is a very capable NAS for home offices/home wishing to store a lot of data in one central location for ease of use and accessibility.

The Synology DS216play costs around $500 barebone (no HDDS) and is available from leading technology retailers in NZ such as MightyApe, PB Tech and more. Or you can purchase from Amazon and ship it to NZ here.

For more information on the Synology DS216play, please visit: https://www.synology.com/en-global/products/DS216play.