When looking at bulk storage and consequently network storage, the generic blueprint that virtually every vendor follows is a desktop or rackmount system with an even number of drive bays, each with the capacity to hold the largest drives that can be bought on the market today – which come in a 3.5″ format, although we do find a few situations where 2.5″ SSDs are used based on the application of the storage array. Whilst this blueprint is perfectly fine, on the consumer end of the market where we are not always looking at jaw dropping capacities and performance, a typical 4-bay system is not exactly the easiest of things to tuck away under the desk or in the closet and then we have to factor in the cost of getting up and running. 3.52 drives are the only way to go if you want large amounts of storage on hand, but if you want a more modest setup with a system the doesn’t end up acting like a foot rest under your desk, there are barely any options out there to choose from.
2.5″ drives are, for the most part, forgotten about when it comes to mass storage. Unless you are talking about solid state drives, we generally find people taking the 3.5″ route, without even considering 2.5″ spinning platters, which are left for the entry-level notebooks and budget ultra-SFF systems and this is reflected [as highlighted above] in the NAS market from bottom to top. Wanting to break away from this generalised blueprint, Synology have made an ambitious move to shrink down their popular DS414 line of systems into a tiny, baby-NAS like package which runs solely on 2.5″ drives, making the presence of a NAS in the home a lot more subtle than before.
With a top end raw capacity of only 4TB, Synology’s DS414slim is not going to be a storage monster for those who have tons of films, music and photos to store, but for the average Joe who is looking for a tidy, compact system to blend in with their minimalist desktop setup with a nice and reasonable storage capacity of 3TB (when in RAID5), the slim does start to sound like an interesting investment. It’s size is not a sign that we are working on skeleton features either. Whilst we only find a pair of USB3.0 ports and a pair of GbE ports alongside four drive bays, the number of software features that are at your disposal are virtually the same as those found on a full-on NAS such as the DS414 which this is related to. By the time we factor in the lower cost of drives; around £55 / $76 each for one of Western Digital’s 1TB Red drives which are build primarily for the consumer NAS market and what you can have here is a tidy little system that offers just as much as its larger siblings.
Whether or not this move turns out to be a successful move by Synology comes done to the build, features, ease of use and ultimately the performance. After all there is not point in getting such a tiny system if the performance is not worth the cost.
Packed in to the relatively tiny box, Synology provide a power adaptor with regional mains plug, a pair of patch leads, a set of screws, a quick installation guide and something a little bit different – a base on which the unit sits.
A Closer Look
When we talk about a system that rune solely on 2.5″ drives, we naturally expect it to be smaller than a typical 4-bay system, but it’s only when we get it out of the box and on to the base plate that we can understand just how small it is. Measuring in at just 12cm tall, 10cm wide and a shade over 14cm deep, the slim is a tiny cube compared to its big brothers such as the DS414 and the DS414j which we looked at a couple of months ago. The small base plate gives a bit of style to the NAS, which could easily be placed up on a shelf or on top of a desktop system, without worrying about the weight breaking anything; as we would expect from a system that weighs in at a fraction over 1.1kg with drives.
With the drive bays situated around the back of the system, the front panel is rather bare, with a sole USB3.0 port and a line of activity LEDs for each of the drives and network interfaces set towards the left of the system. The power button and system status LEDs are tucked round to the left hand side of the unit, breaking up the otherwise cube-like appearance.
With the front panel no bearing any form of ventilation, the slim has a series of small cut-outs on the top to help vent any heat away from the drives, which on this scale do not typically run as hot as a 3.5″ variant.
The underside brings us a small fan which draws air in from the underside of the body and up through to the vents on the top of the chassis as noted above. Four soft rubber feet sit into equally positioned recesses in the base plate and when running there is near zero vibrations felt through a desktop.
Fans, especially those as small as this 60mm number, are notorious dust magnets so tool free access is welcomed for periodic cleaning.
In with the accessories we find a set of stickers, numbered 1 to 4, for the user to attach to each of the drive trays on the rear of the chassis. Why these are included though baffles me – why not leave the trays blank like we would on any other system.
After placing the numbered stickers on to the drive trays we can take a full glance at the rear of the slim. Each of the four drive pays simply push into place with no locking mechanisms present, whilst down the right hand side we get a second USB3.0 port, dual Gigabit LAN, DC power and below bay 3, a Kensington lock point.
With this system using 2.5″ drives as we know, the enterprise class 3.5″ Se drives that I normally use for NAS reviews are of no assistance to us here. Instead we will be using WD’s 2.5″ 1TB Red drives, which are built for small NAS applications with up to five drives. Compared to say the DS414 which can hold in the region of 20TB of RAW data (when using 5TB drives), the slim is limited to a more modes 4TB of storage, or 3TB in RAID5 – this is still more than enough for the average home user though.
Peeling away the plastic chassis of the DS414slim we can get a view of the also tiny metal frame and motherboard that lies within. With the outer dimensions of the slim somewhat determined by the size of the drives, Synology have tried, where they can, to keep the framework to a minimum.
To bring the fan header round to the underside of the chassis where it can be easily accessed when removing the fan, a small extension cable and tiny PCB with another fan header is positioned on the underside of the drive bay cage.
With space at a premium, getting all the same connectivity options and shiny features that we would see on a full-sized NAS would be a tall order for Synology and whilst the technology is there to do just that, we have to remember that cost is a factor that has to be taken into account. If you’re really that desperate for all the display outputs and extra USB ports then now may be a good time to consider another unit.
With the rear IO and power button mounted on the other side of the motherboard alongside a multitude of minor components, the inner side of the motherboard (as it would be positioned inside the chassis) is where we find everything major.
Working from the front of the system and working back, the second USB3.0 port is mounted at 90° to the board for ease of use, with the six status LEDs for the drives and NICs lined up to the left. Tucked in between the PCIe lane and USB port is the slim’s BIOS package.
Next up we see a trusty EtronTech USB3.0 controller present with a Marvell 88SX7042-BDU1 four port SATA II controller to the right. Although SATA 6Gb/s is the current standard, 3Gb/s controllers are more than man enough of delivering the speeds that we want due to the bandwidth limitations of Gigabit Ethernet.
Sat below a solid CHDS marked heatsink is a Marvell ARMADA 370 SoC clocked at 1.2GHz, with a SKhynix H5TC4G63AFR 512MB DDR3 package sat beside it. As seen on a number of other systems, even though the SoC is capable of driving the two network interfaces; moving this responsibility over to another area of the system lifts some of the load off the SoC, lowering the temperatures inside the NAS.
Tucked at the back of the motherboard are the aforementioned Gigabit Ethernet controllers which take some of the load off the SoC. With the two 88E1512-NNP2 GbE transceivers to hand the slim can offer up network load-balancing, fail-over and link-aggregation features which are starting to become more popular with enthusiasts – even at this level.
DSM5.0, Power Consumption & System Specs
One of the key features that I have to point out with the slim is the presence of an unaltered user interface. Whilst the DS414slim is not really built for a power user, the software features that it has to offer, including the add-on packages is still fundamental to the overall user experience. The layout, colour scheme and ease of use are all what make DSM5.0 one of Synologys best user interfaces to date.
Dropping down to a 2.5″ drive does inherently mean that the overall power consumption is lower as well. WD’s Red drives are also built for just this type of use, so their power consumption and operation is optimised for entry level NAS products such as the slim.
NAS Specifications & Features
When testing a device of this sort, the system that we use to test with is not a major factor in its performance. The performance of the NAS box comes down to the network it’s running on and its own internal hardware. With a device of this sort having so many different applications, Intel’s NASPT software covers all the bases and also gives us a set of results that we will be able to utilise and therefore give a benchmark against other similar systems in the future.
Intel NASPT (Network Attached Storage Performance Toolkit) performs its test by transferring varying sizes and quantities of data to and from the device based on twelve different scenarios.
As part of the testing, the NAS is connected to our core network through a Netgear GS724TPS managed Gigabit switch and then to our test bench to give the best real world setup test that we can. The only alteration to the test setup that we will see today is the aforementioned switch to WD’s 2.5″ Red drives instead of our standard 3.5″ Se’s.
The system that we use to run the Intel NASPT software does require us to drop the memory right down to 2GB as any more than this leads to data caching and therefore skews the results from the NAS box.
Following on from this we test the NAS box performance under each of the RAID options that it has available, to show, depending on the end users needs, the relational differences in speed from the drive and thus one can decide which particular RAID configuration will be best for them.
In addition to measuring the performance of the NAS as it is built to be used, we have noticed that a number of users are using the USB3.0 ports (where available) to connect up secondary storage devices such as external hard drives or flash drives. Consequently I will now be testing the throughput of the USB3.0 port by connecting our high performing Patriot Magnum 256GB flash drive.
HD Video Tests
HD Video Playback
HD Video playback is a read test, where a single 2Gb file is read in 256kB blocks sequentially from the drive. This simulates where a 720p HD video is being watched across the network to a media player on the other end.
2x HD Video Playback
2x HD Video Playback works with exactly the same data set as the first HD Video test, however this time the same content is streamed twice from the NAS box simulating two simultaneous streams being made to external media players.
4x HD Video Playback
In the same way that the 2x Video Playback streams to the equivalent of 2 external media players at the same time, the test here doubles that again up to a simulated 4 media players.
HD Video Record
The HD Video Record test is as the name suggests a write test to the NAS box. A single 2GB file is written to the device in 256kB blocks sequentially to the disk.
HD Playback & Record
The HD playback and record test now put the drive under the same single record and playback tests as before, but now at the same time. This will factor for the quick changes needed to switch between reading and writing two large blocks of data across the network to the device.
For content creation, Intel have simulated access to via video creation applications. This is made up of 98 files with 12MB reads and 14MB writes in varying sizes of blocks. The activity is predominantly non-sequential with the majority of access time made up of writing to the drives. There are quiet periods of read/write activity interrupted with busy periods to present a difficult workload on the drives.
The office productivity simulation is very similar to the content creation, with a total of 607 files written to and read from the drive. A total of 1.4GB of data is written to and read from the drive with a close balance between each made – the majority of write access is made up of 1kB writes.
Last of all is a test based around a photo album. When a photo album is viewed on-screen, only the images that you see are loaded from the drive and so when you scroll through the album, the new images have to be fetched and read. The album here contains 169 photos with varying file sizes based on the size, quality and detail in the image. Reading the files in a photo album puts an unusual read load upon the drive as the metadata is read, a thumbnail constructed and finally the image viewed.
File Transfer Tests
File Copy To NAS
This test quite simply put copies a single large file from the test system to the NAS box to show how well the system can sustain a single write speed. The 1.4GB file is copied to the drive and written in 64kB blocks.
File Copy From NAS
File copy from the NAS works in exactly the same way as the copy test, however it works in the opposite direction. The single 1.4GB file is read off the NAS in 64kB blocks.
Directory Copy To NAS
In the directory copy to NAS test, a directory tree representing that of a typical commercially available office suite is copied to the NAS to trace the bulk copy of a complex directory. A total of 2833 files making up 247MB are moved but the file sizes vary considerably with an average size of 41.4kB. Due to the varying sizes of the files, only around 50% of the writes are sequential.
Directory Copy From NAS
In the same way that the file copy from NAS traces the same file back across to the test system, the directory copy from NAS does exactly the same but to the entire directory that it copied across previously.
Compared to some of the full-sized 4-bay systems such as the DS414 and the DS414j which the DS414slim is directly related to, the price point is slightly more manageable at around £240 in the UK and $310 in the US. When we factor in a set of four WD Red 1TB drives as used in this review, which themselves cost around £220 / $300, a total setup price of around £560 / $600 is to be expected. Based on the performance and features and not the size, it would be nicer to see the slim priced closer to the £200 / $275 mark, giving a setup price which is more suitable for a system of this size and nature, with a RAW capacity of no more than 4TB.
As the NAS market grows and users start looking for ways in which they can integrate these relatively bulky systems in to the home, it is a little surprising to see that there are hardly any dedicated 2.5″ systems to choose from. Bar QNAP’s SS-439Pro and SS-839Pro, both of which are targeted at the SMB market, SOHO users really are left with no choice but to turn to a 3.5″ system for their storage needs.
Feature wise the DS414slim is rather to the point with little more than a couple of USB3.0 ports on offer alongside the dual Gigabit Ethernet ports, and whilst some may argue that it would be nice to see a USB2.0 port or two getting shoehorned into the chassis for a printer – for example, the two ports that we do get should be more than enough for most users needs. We must not forget either that behind the scenes, the DiskStation Manager firmware still gives all the same features that we would see on any other Synology system, so even though it is small, it is still able to cater for many scenarios.
The performance is also similarly impressive. Throughout my testing, the slim with a set of 2.5″ Reds and a single core SoC was able to outperform the DS414j which we tested with enterprise class drives and a dual-core SoC – not bad going for such a tiny unit. I will point out however that these tests are run with the system running its default services and if you are likely to install a few add-on packages to the DSM, you may start to note a slight drop in performance, although this shouldn’t be too obvious in the home.
As for the design, the slim is rather simple and to the point, where some Synology units use gloss and matte panels, we get a monotone exterior set-off by the glossy stand, which in itself is a welcomed break to the norm. Positioning the power button and a couple of LEDs to the side of the system in a cut out also helps to break up the cube like appearance and by the time you sit this unit up on a shelf or on top of your desktop system, it easily blends in and looks the part. I can’t quite get however why Synology have felt the need to include a set of numbered stickers for the drive bays; no other system that I’ve review has these included and the bays are numbered on the rear of the system. They just seem to be a bit pointless if I was to be honest.
Overall though and all things considered, the DS414slim is a ‘cute’ looking unit if i was to say so. It’s like having a little puppy amongst the dogs, but even though it will never grow up, it will still make you happy with what you’ve got. Is this the start of a trend I may ask, will anyone else follow with their own take on the slim for the SOHO market? Will we see a smaller or larger system come to market in the future? These questions I can’t answer, but I can certainly say that I would like to hope so.
- Compact system with a small footprint
- Cool running
- Easy to get setup and running
- Less intrusive than a full-blown 4-bay system
- Better performance than DS414j
- 2.5″ drive capacities do limit the overall raw capacity compared to full-sized systems
- Price could be a little lower based on the feature set and target audience
- No multimedia connectivity options
“Synology’s DS414slim may not be the very first dedicated 2.5″ NAS to come to market, but the way in which it targets the SOHO user directly, giving good levels of performance and all the firmware features that we would see on one of it’s bigger brothers wrapped up in a tiny package is what really makes it shine. This may just be the kick-start that the SOHO market needs for more systems of this type.”
Thanks to Synology UK for providing us with this review sample.