Review: Building a Multimedia Hub with Synology DiskStation DS 420+

I’ve always wanted a network-attached storage unit but never had one until recently. Moving from a Seagate BackUp Plus to network-attached storage was not exactly seamless as a first-timer, but I was able to get my data on the NAS much easier than I imagined. Synology DS420+ is generally considered by lots of NAS enthusiasts as the successor to the DS418play which was released earlier in 2017. With 4 bays capable of taking 16GB hard disks each, the DiskStation DS 420+ gives you 64GB of space to play or work with.

Below is a quick look at the hardware specifications:

CPU Intel Celeron J4025 2-core 2.0 GHz, burst up to 2.9 GHz
Hardware encryption engine Yes (AES-NI)
Memory 2 GB DDR4 onboard (expandable up to 6 GB)
Compatible drive type •   4 x 3.5″ or 2.5″ SATA HDD/SSD

•   2 x M.2 2280 NVMe SSD

Hot-swappable drive Yes
External port 2 x USB 3.0 port
Size (HxWxD) 166 x 199 x 223 mm
Weight 2.18 kg
LAN 2 x Gigabit (RJ-45)

I’ve had this unit for almost two weeks already, and I’ve had enough time to see what it’s capable of doing for a regular home user. Before diving fully into the review, let’s take a look at the unboxing and setup.

Unboxing and Setup

Apart from the DS420+ unit, other items found in the box include:

  • 2x RJ-45 LAN cables
  • a power brick
  • a power cord
  • 18x harddrive screws
  • Quick installation guide
  • 2x hard disk bay key

Setting up the unit was easy even as a first-timer; the quick installation guide was quite enough. Each of the bay has the capability to take in a 2.5″ or a 3.5″ SATA hard drive with each having a capacity up to 16GB. Since I have just a 2.5″ HDD at the moment, I engaged only the first slot.

There are two slots at the bottom that take in M.2 2280 NVMe SSDs. These permit cache acceleration without using the storage drive bays. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to try this out to see a difference in the I/O response time and speed as I have no SSD at the time of this review.

Synology DiskStation DS420+ does not come with inbuilt WiFi capability but you have two 1Gbe LAN ports at the back of the device. With the home wireless router in a separate room for optimal signal, I had to connect the unit to a Netgear EX2700 network extender to get it working. This solution is probably the easiest way to connect the NAS to your WiFi network in case your router is basically wireless. This will limit the transfer speed though and you might be able to make full use of the 1GBe port.

First time setup can be done on a PC or mobile. Downloading the DS Finder app on the iPad and running it presented a mandatory DSM firmware upgrade when it detected the DS 420+ on the network. This went on for some minutes and restarted the unit. If you intend to use an existing hard disk with existing data, it is advised to back it up somewhere else as the installation needs to format the disk.

However, after completing this process, I found out soon enough that the DS Finder app has some limitations. You need to use the web interface to access all the features offered by DiskStation Manager. DSM is intuitive, straightforward, and really easy to use, at least from my experience. Before proceeding, a volume needs to be created on the hard drive before it’s usable. Based on my needs, I chose the Btrfs file system since it supports shared folder snapshots, advanced data integrity protection, and other features.

Depending on what you intend to use the network-attached storage for, you need to install several packages to fully utilize it. For a home user who intends to use this as a personal cloud drive, multimedia storage, and backup, only a few of these packages are necessary. For starters, Synology Drive Server, Cloud Sync, File Station, Photo Station, Audio Station, Download Station, and Synology Office are some of those I consider must-have.

The huge catalog of available packages lets you do more with the DS420+. Whether you’re trying to build a multimedia server, a personal cloud storage, or a mini web server, there are native packages from Synology and a myriad of third-party packages to get you started.

Performance

DS420+ has the new-generation Intel Celeron J4025 released just last year. With a clock speed of 2.0GHz on its two cores, working with this unit offers a fluid experience as the turbo speed even goes up to 2.9GHz. The DS420+ comes with 2GB RAM which is more than enough for a regular user. It’s expandable up to 6GB, but I doubt if I’ll be needing this. If you intend to run resource-intensive packages, this might be a necessity.

Based on my experience, everything runs smooth and applications respond fast. The resource monitor widget lets you know when you’re using too much RAM or CPU. The only time I noticed a spike in CPU usage, I tracked it down to Indexing Service process. This can happen during synchronization when the system is trying to index files for better accessibility, or creating thumbnails for uploaded images. There are two fans at the back to dissipate heat and surprisingly, they are quieter than I expected. I actually only seem to hear the fan running in the dead of the night when every little sound seems amplified. This unit runs for hours without overheating. The control panel lets you set the fan speed with the default being “Quiet mode”.

DiskStation Manager 6 operating system makes it easy to manage the NAS. Navigating through the dashboard should be straightforward even if you’ve never worked with DSM before.

Performance-wise, the DS420+ offers enough power to keep things running smoothly.

A centralized backup for home computers

Although I’ve always used an external hard drive for Time Machine backups on the two computers in the household running macOS, there are times a full month goes by without performing a single backup. The easier option would’ve been an automated backup to the cloud via iCloud, but this isn’t cost-effective. It’s not always ideal to add another monthly billing on top of the countless subscriptions one has to deal with.

Getting the DS420+ solved this as a personal cloud server now sits on my desk. Setting up automated backups with the DS420+ was as easy as downloading Synology Drive Client for Mac on both machines. However, Synology Drive Server package must be installed and running on the NAS before this works.

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The client for Mac gives you the option to either set up continuous file synchronization between the computer and your NAS or a scheduled synchronization based on the desired frequency. To be on the safer side, continuous synchronization might be the best option, but this is up to the user to decide.

Synology Drive Client doesn’t just work when you’re on the same local connection as the NAS, keying in your QuickConnect ID also lets you sync changes in files on the go. If you’re dealing with a busy or slow network connection, the client lets you pause and resume synchronization with the click of a button.

Clicking the share button generates a QuickConnect link you can share with anyone. For your security, there’s an options panel that lets you customize who is allowed to view the file. By default, share links are not public. Without the right permissions, a viewer would see an error page.

Advanced protection link settings allow you to set permissions, password protection, and link expiration. With support for various file protocols like SAMBA, AFP, NTS, FTP, WebDAV enabled, the DiskStation DS420+ gives you several ways to access your files. Personally, the DS File apps for Android and iOS are my preferred ways of accessing files on the go. Logging into the web interface via QuickConnect ID is another easy way to access files remotely. For users who understand how it works, setting up DDNS or port-forwarding is also viable.

The client doesn’t just back up files for safekeeping and sharing, it also lets you restore your computer to an earlier state.

Photo backups made easy

Although I’ve always had my photos on Google Photos, it doesn’t hurt to have them backed up to one more destination. One of the first Synology apps I installed on my mobile devices was DS Photo, but I found out soon enough that DS Moments looked more like what I really wanted.

These apps offer different solutions for automatic photo backup to your NAS. While DS Photo backs up photos to Photo Station on the NAS, Moments takes it a step further and organizes them for easier management. You need to have the packages installed to use the mobile apps though.

After using both solutions, Moments seem to be the clear winner as it works more like Google Photos. Photos are organized by dates, places, and even faces. There is a search functionality that helps you find what you need. The app also selects some of your best photos and automatically enhances the colors through artificial intelligence.

Backup settings can be customized as you can save your mobile data and backup only when on WiFi. You can also choose to exclude videos or even add folders outside the default camera folder. To free up space on your device, there’s an option to delete from the phone photos that are already on the NAS.

For DSLR cameras, popping out the memory card and inserting into a card reader plugged into the USB port on the DS420+ worked. Of course, a small package called USB Copy has to be installed before this works.

Generating share links is as easy as tapping the share button. Again, permissions can be customized to protect your privacy.

Building an entertainment hub with the Video Station

From Synology’s own Video Station to third-party packages like Plex Server, DSM offers you several tools to build a multimedia hub. Video Station doesn’t just play videos on the NAS, it allows streaming video content to all your devices. Apart from this, it helps in organizing your media library. Video Station automatically fetches videos’ metadata from the internet and also synchronizes changes made to the video folder. Whether you’re trying to watch content on the TV screen or on your mobile device, this is supported.

The DS Video app for Android and iOS lets you connect your mobile devices to the DS420+ and stream videos. You can do this locally if you are on the same network as the NAS. If you’re on the go, your QuickConnect ID will get you connected while you stream. There is an online video conversion feature that ensures compatibility with all your devices, but I never got to use this since all my downloaded videos are compatible with my mobile devices. Also, there’s also offline video conversion which allows you to convert videos in advance instead of doing it on-the-fly online.

Video Station gives you the option to play videos on Apple TV, Samsung Smart TV, Google Chromecast, or any other compatible media player. DS Video mobile app also offers this same functionality.

With features such as DTV support, online subtitle, parental control, hardware-accelerated conversion, and more, Video Station proves to be all you need to turn your Synology NAS to a capable hub that caters to your entertainment needs.

Download Station

Exploring useful packages, another one that should enhance your experience is Download Station. This lets you download files directly to the NAS. I was able to pull down a number of movies using this. The search bar also lets you search for and download torrents. However, it is advised you should be careful with this as torrent downloads may be illegal in some countries.

Audio Station

This is an audio player that organizes your songs and lets you access your playlist across your devices.

Final notes

The DiskStation DS420+ brings the best that Synology has to offer at a mid-range price ($500). Apart from the lack of in-built WiFi which shouldn’t be a problem for many, it’s hard to find a fault with this hardware and the software it runs. DSM puts total control of your network-attached storage in your hands with useful packages targeted at both home users and businesses. Support for different transfer protocols also makes it accessible from any device. With the capable Intel Celeron J4025 and 2GBs of random access memory, this unit should run whatever you throw at it. At least, it did judging with my own experience.

In the near future, I plan to go beyond using the DS420+ just as an entertainment hub and personal storage. I might experiment with it and install Web Station just to see how it holds up running a WordPress website.

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This post was last modified on June 24, 2020 1:39 PM

Don Caprio: Husband, superdad, ubergeek, lazy writer, serious gamer, gadget collector, amateur photographer, web designer. I'm on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.