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Review: Synology DS414j

by Parm Mann on 2 May 2014, 15:30

Tags: Synology

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If there's one thing that most, if not all, technology users have in common, it's that our storage needs are evolving. Many of us have more data than ever before, and whether it's on our smartphones, our PCs, our tablets or somewhere in the cloud, we often run the risk of losing the data we've spent so much time in gathering. And be honest, how many of us actually take the time to perform regular backups?

Each individual's data is becoming increasingly important, and the proliferation of mobile devices is such that a network-attached storage (NAS) device now makes a whole lot of sense in the web-connected home. Data servers have been commonplace in small business or office environments for some time, but in response to market trends, manufacturers who have been successful in the workplace are now redoubling their efforts on home NAS solutions.

Synology is one such brand and the firm's latest effort, the DS414j, is a new addition to the entry-level j-series range that's described as a "budget-friendly" NAS specifically for home users looking to manage, protect and share data. Introduced with an MSRP of Ā£258 and promising the ease of use of Synology's award-winning DSM operating system, the four-bay DS414j seems the ideal unit for users looking to take their first steps into network storage.

Same box, new tricks?

Measuring 184mm (H) x 168mm (W) x 230mm (D) in size, Synology's box has an all-too-familiar look and feel. There's a good reason for that as the company has been repurposing the same chassis for a number of years.

That's not necessarily a bad thing - a NAS should arguably sit in a cupboard and go unnoticed - but if you like the gadgets in your home to be seen, the DS414j isn't the snazziest box on the market. The unit's front face is lined with half-a-dozen green status LEDs, including one for each drive bay, and a central power button that's backlit in blue.

Construction quality is good, but there are very few frills as far as the hardware is concerned. Synology offers no easy-access I/O ports at the front, with just the four available connections tucked neatly around the back. These include a connector for the bundled external power supply, a single Gigabit Ethernet jack and two USB ports - one of which is of the SuperSpeed USB 3.0 variety.

Keep it simple and make it affordable is perhaps the right idea for a NAS aimed at home users, so it's no surprise to find that Synology hasn't changed or upgraded its drive-mounting mechanism.

Undoing four thumbscrews opens up the back cover, revealing access to four plastic drive trays, each of which can be used to house either a 2.5/3.5in drive. Neither offers a tool-free mechanism, so you will need to fasten the drive to the tray using the supplied fixings, and the trays then attach to the internal cage using another set of screws.

Installation isn't the most elegant, but tool-free would be a luxury for the target audience, and you could argue that the DS414j is unlikely to undergo frequent drive changes. Drive capacities of up to 5TB are currently supported via the SATA 3Gbps backplate, and choose to install four of those for a large 20TB pool and we suspect you won't need to venture back inside the chassis for a good number of years.

Two small fans are attached to the back panel - both are connected to three-pin headers - and the cooling configuration isn't particularly noisy. Rubber feet help absorb drive vibration, and though the unit can be heard when in use, it isn't too obtrusive. A single, large fan might have helped lower noise levels further, but it's interesting to note that the pre-installed duo are the only fans used by the NAS, as the onboard processor is passively cooled.

Though, that isn't to say that the CPU is a lightweight. On the contrary, the DS414j is Synology's first j-series solution to feature a dual-core CPU, and one with a floating-point unit at that. The chip in question is a 1.2GHz Mindspeed Comcerto C2200 that features two ARM Cortex-A9 processors and Synology has it partnered to 512MB of DDR3 memory. Not Earth-shattering hardware by any means, but modern NAS solutions are capable of squeezing solid performance out of low-power components, and Synology reckons the DS414j will manage read and write speeds of 112MB/s and 80MB/s, respectively.