HomeReviewNAS at the prosumer level: Synology Diskstation DS418

NAS at the prosumer level: Synology Diskstation DS418

What if you could simply buy a NAS?

There are many reasons to have a NAS (network-attached storage) at home. Some of us will look for redundancy, others for file sharing, media storage and streaming. Whatever your needs are, NAS can be a great device to retain access to your data, while keeping computers asleep. At what point does spending £300+ on a dedicated storage box brings a return on your investment? Synology loaned me Diskstation DS418 to find out if the box can satisfy my rather peculiar needs.

Why Diskstation DS418?

My first NAS – total DIY job!

I asked about this NAS in particular for a couple of reasons. Knowing that the Argon EON case for Raspberry Pi 4 was on the way, I thought, that comparing both together would make a compelling case for choosing a “DIY or buy” path to your data storage needs. Just like Argon EON, Diskstation DS418 comes with 4-bay support and feature-rich software that takes this NAS beyond the typical use cases.

Diskstation DS418 brings enough extra features to bring the box to the “prosumer” level without an outlandish price tag. Yes, spending £370-ish on an empty box is considered reasonable in NAS space. It’s the expense you have to accept before even thinking about the storage! Storage is where it gets really expensive.

To quantify the box, I settled for a mixture of SSH & HDD (3.5″) drives giving me both performance volumes and large storage capacity without draining all my savings. I spent just over £500 on storage alone:

Some of you may question why I haven’t picked the NAS edition of the drives. I decided that for my scenario (1-2 users, mostly long-term data storage with minimal redundancy) NAS graded drives are not worth extra money. I’m sure there is a reason for picking NAS-certified drives, however, for home use, I’m better off almost £100 richer.

Before you dive any deeper, I want to let you know, that I’m not going to subject this NAS drive to performance-specific benchmarks. It has been done before in this article – there is no point in re-invent the wheel – I’m just going to focus on how I think NAS could benefit you – the average tech enthusiast.

Glorified SBC?

What do you get in exchange for your hard-earned money? A hardware spec, which is not even remotely impressive when compared to a typical computer. Some would say, that on paper Diskstation DS418 looks like a typical Raspberry Pi 4. Diskstation DS418 comes with:

Diskstation DS418
CPURealtek RTD1296 Quad-core 1.4GHz  (64-bit)
RAM2GB DDR4
Bays4x 3.5″ HDD/2.5″SSD SATA (16TB max per bay)
NetworkDual 1GbE LAN ports (Link aggregation)
Other2x USB 3.2
Hardware Transcoding Engine (10-bit H.265 (HEVC), MPEG-4 Part 2, MPEG-2)

In reality, the hardware alone barely goes over 15% before saturating a 1Gbit connection with a single file transfer. Creating a NAS drive is about striking an ideal balance between storage performance and low power consumption. Diskstation DS418 has plenty of juice to keep your data safe and offers a long list of services to run in parallel.

Ready in 15 min

If you have drives ready, you can get the Diskstation DS418 ready in a matter of minutes. Toolless assembly is possible thanks to easy-to-remove bays, with the only tool required is a crosshead screwdriver should you wish to mount 2.5″ drives. Embarrassingly, it took me a moment to realise that each bay had screw holes to mount my SSDs, not before I voiced my complaints in the live stream about Synology not supplying appropriate inserts. The moral? Read the Quick Start guides!

A couple of minutes later, I was going through the setup motion of the Synology Web Interface. The complete install (including 3 storage pools, one RAID1) have taken me approx 10 min.

The only thing that is slightly disappointing at this point is the noise level. In a quiet room, I can definitely hear it running with fans constantly on. It’s not loud by any means, but you will know it’s there. I have some spare Noctua fans from my Silent 3D printer project, I’d try these out to see if I could make it near silent.

Diskstation DS418 is more than just a NAS

Welcome to your NAS

I felt very smug 5 years ago, installing my first OMV image on Raspberry Pi, knowing I’ll get access to Plex and other cool plug-ins and features you’d have to pay extra for. Today, I’m simply blown away by the list of features and plugins this small box has to offer. Perhaps I’m out of touch with that market, but I won’t be the only one living in that cave. Spinning your own NAS isn’t something you need an IT degree in anymore, and adding options and features is as simple as installing apps from the Google Play store.

Diskstation DS418 has a web interface which is pleasing to the eye, easy to use thanks to OS alike features and filled with options. Long gone is the era of Googling terminal commands to set up shares, create volumes and add users. All this can be efficiently managed from the interface with a couple of clicks of the mouse. It’s probably the most user-friendly aspect of buying a NAS nowadays.

Companies like Synology figured out a long time ago that your average NAS user isn’t just an enterprise customer, but the average Joe with elevated IT needs. The best part? You don’t have to be an IT guy to figure out what’s what. Everything looks user-friendly, and the options are explained well and located where they are supposed to be.

Package Center

A built-in package manager lists the most popular Synology-approved add-ons and plugins as well as open-source alternatives. If that’s not enough, you can simply sideload your own from a local file. It’s a rich selection of enhancements that will turn your Diskstation DS418 into a specialised server.

Options are not limited to PLEX, WordPress installation, or Apache server. You will find utilities to manage and automatically back up your data, chat services, or online development tools and services. It’s a whole new world out there and it’s not limited to specialists anymore.

Setting your own Plex box is as easy as clicking a button and adding generated Plex user to your share’s users and you are ready to stream the content locally to your heart’s content. In a similar vein, Diskstation DS418 would be enough to host my website, as the hardware specification of the box and storage is way above what I rent from Google Cloud. Considering about £60/m cost of running my WordPress server the box would pay itself in a couple of months.

Storage performance

Diskstation DS418 offers more than I can take advantage of at this time. It comes with dual Ethernet Gigabit ports that could be aggregated to a 2Gigabit/s transfer speed. As the support for anything over 1Gbps is limited in my house, Diskstation DS418 already outperforms my circumstances.

The overall performance of Diskstation DS418 will strongly depend on the drives installed in your machine as well as the RAID configuration used for your Storage Pools.

Internal transfer

In my simple tests of sending a 5GB file from SSD to HDD, I maxed out at 170MB/s of internal transfer speeds, which resulted in the file being moved in less than 30 sec. Moving to an SSD was obviously quicker than reversing the transfer direction, but it shows that the box is fast enough to meet the sustained speeds of the Western Digital WD60EZAZ 6TB BLUE (175MB/s).

It’s a great result as it shows that it’s not the Diskstation DS418 that is the limit here, but my selection of drives and RAID configurations.

External transfers

As I’m not taking the advantage of the aggregated LAN ports, my interactions with the drive are limited to 1Gbps. That’s much slower than what Diskstation DS418 is capable of, and what the drives installed can achieve. I will be maxing out this bandwidth with every transfer (at least for big files).

Both upload and download from the slower drive resulted in an average of 112MB/s transfer speeds which is pretty much what you would expect on a 1Gbps connection. Performance gains will be only visible when transferring smaller files (photos music) and comparing the access times across the storage pools. If you care about these numbers, you are a person who has a much more generous budget for NAS boxes and storage.

My typical use

I care very little about artificial benchmarks. While numbers can give you an idea of what your performance expectations could be, they don’t really answer the question of whether the Diskstation DS418 is the right NAS for you. To test that, I decided to stage how I would like to use the network storage for myself.

I decided to play a movie via Plex in the background while actively working on an Adobe Premiere project where all videos are stored on the drive. It’s probably the most demanding situation Diskstation DS418 will ever come across in my household. With me maxing out all my SATA 3 ports on my editing machine, I can see myself drawing more and more stock footage from the older videos stored on the NAS drive.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. My previous NAS experiments were limited to working with a 100Mbit connection on my DIY Raspberry Pi 3-based NAS and my capabilities of remote editing were very limited.

Turns out, regardless of where my project was stored (SSD vs HDD) I was able to edit the files remotely. The initial load time of the project and getting all thumbnails to populate would take a couple of seconds but that’s a trade-off I can certainly live with. The Plex stream was not affected, however, I noticed that at times it would take a bit longer to jump forward in the movie. For the record’s sake, I was streaming a 1080p file with a 10Mbit bitrate.

It validates the workflow for me and if I as a content creator can rely on Diskstation DS418 to be my workhorse for editing and media streaming, the NAS will be more than sufficient for your home needs.

Final thoughts

Can you build a cheaper NAS solution for your home needs? Probably, but you have to answer a couple of questions: How much trust do you put in your ability to make it right, how much do you trust whatever depreciated, retired hardware that you’ll use to manage your data and will you get similar performance and peace of mind by doing it yourself? These are the questions that you need to answer yourself. If that’s worth whatever savings you’ll be making, then go ahead and don’t buy Diskstation DS418, otherwise, £360-ish can buy you some great NAS-related peace of mind. Let me know what you think in this Reddit thread.

📈 – See the transparency note for details.

REVIEW OVERVIEW

Data Speeds
OS
Noise
Ease of use
As media server

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NAS at the prosumer level: Synology Diskstation DS418 There are many reasons to have a NAS (network-attached storage) at home. Some of us will look for redundancy, others for file sharing, media storage and streaming. Whatever your needs are, NAS can be a great device to retain access to your data, while...