NAS: DS213+ & WD20NPVT – 1. Conclusion

Motivation

I have been looking for a Network Attached Storage which sufficient performance but rather low power consumption.

As a NAS needs to be running 24/7, the power consumption is of particular importance. On the other hand, whenever the NAS is in active usage it can’t provide data too fast.

The crucial component for both the power consumption and the data rate is the processor.

The best compromise it could find in October 2012 was the DS213+ NAS. It features a Freescale Dual Core CPU with 2x 1.067GHz, which should provide more performance as the single core CPUs used in most other NAS in medium price range, but consumes less power than the Intel Atom Dual Cores used in NAS in higher price ranges.

As storage device, I decided to purchase two Western Digital Scorpio Green (WD20NPVT), a 2.5″ drive which seems to be designed exactly for this use case: It has low power consumption, but still provides enough space (2 TB). From a economical point of view, it would probably have made more sense to purchase a 3.5″ drive (such as the Western Digital Red (WD20EFRX), which has a higher power consumption (4.4w compared to 1.4w), but is cheaper (about 65 Euros in Germany, as of January 2013).

Still, I thought it’s a kind of statement that we (the consumers) are interested in energy efficient devices, and not only as much GB per quid as possible.

Or maybe I’m just an idealist 🙂

Structure

So, after having used the NAS for over two months now it’s time for a little resume. Just for a change, I’m going to start with the conclusion. My first post (the one you’re reading at the moment) contains the benefits and drawbacks of the device – What I like about my DS213+ and what problems I encountered.

In addition, I measured power consumption of DS213+ and the two WD20NPVT, which I will publish in a second post.

I also measured data rates and encryption performance of DS213+, which will be published in further upcoming posts.

Benefits

Synology’s Operating System, Diskstation Manager (DSM), which is shipped with DS213+ provides a real lot of features. In this post I’m only going to mention the most important ones to me. For more details see Synology.

The device can be set up via an ajax-driven web interface. In fact, it’s one of the best web interfaces I have seen recently. Synology provides a demo here. As an alternative you can configure it via SSH. Synology also included a plugin system which allows you to extend DSM with different packages to be used in your LAN (such as a web interface to the stored files, photographs, music, movies, etc.), but also tools intended to be used on the Internet (like Drupal, wordpress, etc.). In addition Synology provides several free mobile Apps for Android, iOS and Windows Phone that provide those features using interfaces that are optimized for mobile devices.

Another feature which is important to me is encryption. You can set up different folders on the hard drive which are encrypted with different keys and can be accessed by different users. As per DS213’s spec, the encryption is done in a dedicated hardware module, so the NAS performs well, even when encrypting. At least better than ordinary TrueCrypt on my PC 😉

In addition, you can encrypt all communication via HTTPS.

Another neat feature is that images stored on the device are not only indexed so they are quickly accessible via DLNA, but the device also creates thumbnails. This allows for viewing images for example on mobile devices via WiFi very smoothly. Almost feels like viewing local pictures on my mobile. However, it takes what feels like ages to create the thumbs. More precisely, it took about three days to create the 30k images on my NAS. That’s just a one-time expense, though.

As low power consumption was one of my main objectives, I very much appreciate the hibernation mode, offered by DS213+. The disks are spun down after a configurable time period. In addition, you can set up the NAS to hibernate the whole system 60 seconds after the disks are down. For this hibernation mode, you can set up if the system can be switched on again via network – Wake On LAN (WOL). This results in slighly higher power consumption but is a lot more comfortable. Of course, it would be even more comfortable to have the NAS running 24/7, but at the cost of a higher power consumption. As mentioned, I’m going to publish the actual power consumption I measured in the next post.

Drawbacks

Enough words of praise. I have some issues with DS213+.

Most of them seem to be in conjunction with the encryption functionality. The DS offers versioning functionality which is one of the features I am particularly interested in, to use as part of my backup strategy. This feature can be used via a comfortable web interface. Only, that the feature cannot be used with encrypted folders whilst all my important folders are encrypted. That is, I can’t use this feature at all. The same applies to the pictures web interface: Even though you can view pictures stored in encrypted folders via DNLA, they cannot be found via the web interface or picture app. However, encrypted music can be played via the web interface. Not real consistent behaviour, is it?

In addition, I wasted almost a whole precious day off trying to figure out why I could not access encrypted sub folders via SMB. After trying about every possible configuration of DS’s SAMBA server, I found out that it was a bug in DSM relating to case-sensitive file names. Fortunately, it had been fixed just a couple of days before (Version 4.1-2647). So I upgraded to the next DSM version an the problem was gone. The good news is Synology keeps improving the DSM Software and provides the new versions to customers for free. Still, it seems as if DSM has a bit of “banana software” (it “ripes” at the customer) – at least where encryption is concerned.
 
<UPDATE >
22 January, 2013: After updating to DSM 4.1-2668 the bug re-appeared! I filed a bug at Synology and received the following answer one day later:


The developer confirmed that this is a known issue that our developer is currently working on. The issue will be improved in our future official update in the future.

Let’s hope so! If you didn’t update yet, better wait for the next version.
</UPDATE>
 
Another issue that seems to occurr every now an then with Synology devices, is hibernation. See for example here and there. I’m experiencing unexpected behavior myself. Every now and then I’m surprised that the device is not in hibernation, even though there should be no reason for it to be not. For example, I was wondering why it was switched on every now and then when I went to work, early in the morning. On the other hand it seems to ignore some of my WOL packages sent from my PC or my phone. I started debugging, but haven’t quite figured out why it behaves like this.

There’s one more thing (though less important): The DS sparkles like a christmas tree. There are five LEDs in different sizes and colours that are twinkling in different frequencies. Unfortunately, they cannot be deactivated via the web interface. Some of them can be switched off via the command line, but the device keeps switching them on. Still looking for a solution to permanently switch them off.

Conclusion

Despite these issues pointed out above, I don’t regret buying DS213+. It meets most of my expectations, but still, some things could be more elaborate, especially when it comes to encryption. There also are a lot of features that I’m not using yet but might be of good use in the future (like rsync).

So wrapping things up, DS213+ is real good NAS device with lots of features and rather small energy consumption. If you’re interested in using the encryption features, you might have a look at different devices. I can’t say, however, if there are a better ones.