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Synology Disk Station 111 Review

Martin gets technical with network attached storage as he takes a look at this one disk wonder from Synology.

This week, the Synology Disk Station 111 landed in my lap to review from CCL. I am sure most of you know what a NAS (Network Attach Storage) is and therefore will know about Synology, as their products in the past have been the best on the market for home and small business products. I have to say that I have always like Synology products as they have offered not just a fantastic unit, but also a great interface through their software.

As you can see, the product is nicely presented and comes with the unit (of course) a plastic bag with all in the information including a quick start guide, licensing information and CD which contains the full user manual and the operating system for the NAS.

For people that don’t know, the Synology does not come with a hard drive, so if you are looking at buying one of these I recommend that you purchase a hard drive at the same time and in my opinion, you cannot do better than the recently released Western Digital Red drives which they have catered for NAS devices such as the one on review today.

As you can see from the above picture, side by side you can tell which is the later version of the two units, one being the DS111 (left) and the other being the DS106j (right). The DS111, to me, looks like a much more professional and refined unit and when switched on, it is a lot quieter.  My old DS106j was very loud for such a small unit. One issue I have with the DS111, is the placement of the eSATA port which I would have preferred at the back of the unit, I like the fact that there is a USB port at the front for quick access for a flash drive but I have always thought of eSATA for a more permanent solution, such as additional storage for the NAS.

The Hard drive is very easy to install into the unit, I had a 250Gb Seagate knocking around the office, I had wanted a 2Tb WD Red but I am only allowed one toy at a time, so CCL-Tech's editor Steve tells me (spoil sport). It took me around 4 minutes to install the HDD and get the system to a state where it was seen on my network, which includes screwing everything in and finding a power point (which are in very short supply in the office).

After the Synology booted up, I popped in the CD and installed the Synology Assistant software which you will need for installing the Synology OS on the unit. The Assistant will pick up the unit and then all you have to do is right click the NAS you want to install the software on and away you go. I do however recommend that you download the latest DiskStation Manager (the Operating System) from the Synology website as it will contain a good few updates over the one supplied on the CD. At time of writing the version number was DSM 4.1-2661.

After the installation of the operating system onto the device, which took about 5 minutes to install and then about a minute to reboot but then it's ready to be used. If you enter the name of the Synology into your web browser, which you might have specified if you took the right option on install, you will be presented with the following screen which will ask you to log in. The username and password you would have entered while installing and configuring the Synology through the Synology Assistant.

The web user interface presented by the Synology is fantastic, great quality, easy to use and fast. I would say easily the best interface on the market when it comes to home and small business NAS offerings. The Synology’s hardware is a nice spec. for a NAS of its price range as can be seen below:

  CPU Frequency : 1.6GHz
  Hardware Encryption Engine
  Memory : DDR3 256MB
  Internal HDD/SSD : 3.5" or 2.5" SATA(II) X1 (with 2.5" Disk Holder) (Hard drive not included)
  Max Internal Capacity : 3TB (1X 3TB HDD) (See All Supported HDD)
  External HDD Interface : USB 2.0 Port X 3, eSATA Port X 1
  Size (HxWxD) : 161 X 63 X 218 mm
  Weight : 0.81Kg
  LAN : Gigabit X1

As you can see the Synology comes with a 1.6Ghz CPU which powers the whole unit, but it also comes with SSD support which is important to remember as some other NAS devices do not support SSDs without special firmware to correct issues. The Gigabit Ethernet port makes uploading and downloading of data to the NAS super quick.

You will need to use the File Station software from the web interface to create new shares and folders, you will also use this to assign permissions to users and/or allow everyone to have access to the shares you create. It is very easy to use for anyone that has used Windows Explorer, which is anyone that has extensively used Windows.

If you really want to get the best out of the Synology, you will need to install software (called packages) onto the device. These packages can be accessed through the Package Center which can be found on the ‘home screen´ in the web interface.

As you can see from the above screenshot the Synology will go off to the internet and download and install the latest version of the software that you have selected for install, in this instance it is downloading Audio Station so that I can listen to audio files over my network from the NAS. Here are some of my favourite packages that you can install.

Download Station

This is one of my favourite programs; it is called Download Station and is a great utility for downloading torrents and NZBs (news groups). I normally download my legal material overnight so that I do not take up too much bandwidth during the day. This means that I do not have to leave my computer on and also since the Synology’s power usage is on average about 18.7 watts when being used it is a lot less compared to my i7 based computer. The Synology will also go into hibernation after the download has finished which means that it uses an even less 7.7 watts in total, fantastic!

Audio Station

The Audio Station is a fantastic way of listening to your music and sharing it with the whole household without having to put it on all the computers. Think about it, I purchase a CD, back it up to mp3, I have my laptop, computer and tablet, I have to copy the album to all three of my devices if I want access to the album on all three but with the Audio Station I can just store the album in one location on the NAS and access it anywhere in my house, great idea.

The functionality of the player used is great. As you can see from the above picture you can pretty much have the same functionality that you see within the main stream audio player such as WMP (Windows Media Player) iTunes and Win Amp. I also found that the sound is superb without any issues with streaming at all, it didn’t miss a beat.

iTunes Server

For you that like to use iTunes for all your media needs. iTunes server  can directly stream and play all music stored on Synology. The NAS can work as an iTunes streaming server so that everyone within a local network can share their respective personal collections. Once you have iTunes ready on your computer, just enable the iTunes service in DSM, and iTunes will recognize the DiskStation under the shared list.

The iTunes service allows you to create Smart Playlists. You can assign various rules and criteria to a particular Smart Playlist so it will always automatically update itself as new songs fit in. iTunes can then play the songs within the list that’s always up-to-date as you change the rules in DSM.

Photo Station

Photo station is great for storing pictures and share them with the family. If you have a web enabled TV you should be able to view any photo on it which is great if you want to view those great high definition pictures on your 40 inch 1080i TV to all you’re relatives after the holiday or the new baby pictures to people that don’t live so close. Access can be controlled through assigning users permissions to photos or folders to keep access to folders that you might want only certain people to see.

As for small business use the Synology has a fantastic multitude of server applications to help with your online presence such as:
Surveillance Station – Allows you to control and record over LAN from an IP camera, great for security.

VPN Server – Allows you to create a VPN server and connect to your network from a remote location if you need to access files.
Web Server – You can host your own website if you want, you can also install word press,  Mono, Drupal, phpBB and many more web content management systems, some really impressive solutions in there.

In conclusion the DS111 is a fantastic NAS offering from Synology and keeps them on top of the pile when looking for a home or small business solution, for me, there is no alternative to Synology as their attention to the consumer puts them above most other companies. Its is not just the hardware itself but also the software the Disk Station Manager is a well thought out and complete Operating System for the DS111 and both the hardware and software coupled together makes Synology a must buy for anyone wanting a NAS device.