Review: Synology DiskStation DS212

The amount of storage we are using on the planet is growing at an exponential rate and people want to keep every shred of data that they create. While in the past a photographer would only keep the photos that looked good, now people save all of photos on their drives “just in case,” and take hundreds of pictures at a time. Nobody wants to delete anything.

So how do you save all of these files? There are two options: cloud based solutions, like Google Docs or Apple iCloud; or big hard drives in your house. It’s the latter that companies like Synology are targeting with different network attached storage (NAS) offerings that can act as the central hub in your home. We reviewed the Synology DS411 a couple of months ago and gave the product a 9 out of 10. Today we are looking at the latest offering from the company, the DS212.

Unlike some companies, the way Synology names their products makes it easy for customers to know what they’re looking at. The first two letters (DS) stand for “DiskStation,” and refers to the entire product line.  The next number (2) refers to the number of hard drives that the device supports and the last two numbers (12) tell you the model year of the product. Therefore, the DS212 is a DiskStation with two hard drives and is the latest model for 2012.

When taking the server out of the box, you realize how small the device is, even compared to the DS411. Its dimensions, in millimeters, are 165(H) x 108(W) x 233(D), which translates in inches to roughly 6.5 x 4.25 x 9.1. For reference, the DS411 is 184(H) x 168(W) x 230(D), so this device takes up nearly half as much space. That makes sense since it has half as many drives.

The front of the device has a power button, a reset button, a USB port, and an SD slot. There are also LED lights that display the status of the two drives, the LAN, and the health of the box. A smooth black door covers the opening where the hard drives live. This is the biggest improvement of the DS212 over the DS411: the door can be removed and the drives pulled out without the need for tools. While replacing a drive is not a common event, it’s nice that Synology finally made the process simple. Note that you will still need a screwdriver to remove the drives from their trays, but this is still much easier than having to pull the entire case apart in order to get to the drives.

A single large fan, a couple of USB ports, and a single gigabit Ethernet port dominate the back of the DS212. There is also a spot to connect a security lock to if you are worried about someone walking off with the server. Although minor, one thing we would’ve liked to have seen is an LED on the Ethernet port to indicate when you have a good link. While there is a LAN light on the front of the NAS server, it’s very common for devices to have a link light on the port itself. Prior DiskStations also did not have this light, and it’s only a minor quip. The device is headless and in fact has no video output at all. While some may be turned off by this, it’s a common trend in the “server as an appliance” space and there are several Windows Home Server offerings that operate the same way.

After plugging in the power and connecting the device to the network (note: DHCP required for the initial install), you have to install software from the included CD onto your workstation. The tool, called the Synology Assistant, is a program that scans your network and finds all Synology devices that you have. The only other real feature of this tool is the ability to “Connect” to your device, which simply launches a browser and plugs in the IP address and port number of the DS212

The DS212 came preinstalled with DSM 3.2, the latest version of Synology’s operating system. The main difference between this version and the one that came preinstalled on the DS411 is the fact that you can now authenticate your users against an LDAP server. While most home users will probably not need this, it makes plugging the device into a small company much easier because administrators will not have to manually create users.

Since the DS212 only supports two drives, the only options for creating a volume are RAID-0 (striped for better performance), RAID-1 (mirrored for better redundancy), or JBOD. If you want the redundancy of RAID-1, you’ll have a lot less storage space at a much higher price than the larger DiskStations available.

As with the DS411, the real power of the solution is with the applications that are pre-built into the operating system. The ability to spin up a web server, configure backups between two Synology devices (or any host that accepts rsync), or share your iTunes library on your LAN is wonderful. The fact that this can be done with only a few clicks of a mouse is even better. Synology has a site that allows customers to play around with the interface in a non-destructive setting for those who are interested in trying it out.

The only major issue with the DS212 is the price: at $300 without drives, it’s a bit on the expensive side. In addition, since the device can only hold two disks, you are limiting your storage capabilities, especially if you want to have redundancy in the case of a drive failure. From a performance and utilization perspective, the DS411 is nearly identical and has four drives, allowing a RAID-5 setup. That said, we still really like the Synology DS212 and absolutely love the DSM system. If you want something that “just works,” then identify what your storage requirements are and pick the device that best suits your needs. You can’t go wrong with either one.

Images courtesy of Synology

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