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Synology DiskStation DS920+ review
Posted on 22-Jul-2020 20:28 by michaelmurfy | Filed under: Reviews

Synology DiskStation DS920+ review

In the dark, dark dungeon under the stairs of my friend's house sat a lonely Synology DS416play I put there quite a number of years ago to do remote backups and to supply a solution for my friend to store files on and backup his business documents. Back then this was a pretty good NAS, complete with its Celeron N3060 dual-core processor, full hardware video decoding and dual Ethernet ports - what really held it back was its paltry 1 GB of RAM that got more noticeable over the years of software updates. We found despite best efforts transfer rates were rather slow, and we couldn't run anything on the actual NAS itself (like Plex) before it would run out of ram and start swapping - upgrading the memory on this device wasn't that straight forward also requiring a full disassembly (and from experience, a clean-cut on one of my fingers).


Time for an update we thought and literally a number of days later Synology offered me to test out their new range of DiskStation Plus NAS devices. The specs of this NAS are as followed:


  •  Intel Celeron J4125 CPU ( 4-core 2.0 (base) / 2.7 (burst) GHz)
  •  4 GB DDR4 non-ECC RAM
  •  4x Drive Bays (hot-swappable), 2x NVMe Cache Drive Bays.
  •  2x Gigabit Ethernet ports (with Link Aggregation / Failover support)
  •  External eSATA along with 2x USB 3.0 ports

Fast forward a few weeks to when I finally got the new NAS. I found the design of the device itself had some major changes over the previous one we had running. First off, it has a RAM door allowing for easy expansion of the included 4 GB of ram - I simply popped in a 8 GB DDR4 stick of laptop memory I had laying around to bring the NAS up to a total of 12 GB, and this was all done without slicing my finger open again. But the main improvement and by-far the most exciting one I've seen in a home / small-office NAS device was two doors at the bottom of the NAS.


Armed with a Samsung 950 Pro 250gb NVMe drive I found at the bottom of a drawer I popped this into the first slot of the NAS, transferred over the 4x 4tb Western Digital Red (likely shingled) drives from the old NAS and booted it up! However, nothing, didn't see anything on the network even though the NAS had appeared it had booted... I tried removing the NVMe drive, the RAM and still couldn't get the device to show on the network. After around an hour of troubleshooting (and booting up the old NAS to ensure the drives were still fine) I plugged the NAS into the network using only a single Ethernet cable and bingo, it worked. It appears the initial initialization really didn't like bonded Ethernet (I am glad this wasn't a PEBCAK).


Browsing to the web interface I was greeted with a migration wizard - ran through this wizard and within ten minutes I was logged into the NAS web interface and all settings were retained from the previous NAS. Apart from the Ethernet bonding problem this was by-far the smoothest migration I've done of any NAS device.


Poking through the settings, I saw it - the 12 GB of ram (even though, according to the spec sheet it only supports 8 GB):



But moving on from the RAM (which, was exciting for a number of reasons mind you) we had another feature to check out and that was the NVMe cache. As we can see from the below screenshot the hit-rate on the cache was an astounding 78% - I've also noticed rather impressive read speeds from the NAS as a whole and my friend (who stitches / edits a bunch of RAW photos) has now found working directly from the NAS is achievable without any problems - to the point he has offloaded all the photos he once had on his computer directly over to the NAS. This is the main win for me as this means he has everything now backed up.





On the Synology it requires 2 NVMe drives to take full advantage of a read / write cache however with a single NVMe drive inserted the NAS works the cache as a "Read Only" device where common things that are normally read off the NAS are saved onto NVMe storage for quicker access. Not only does this mean that the NAS can potentially spin down its disks to save power, it also means that your read speed is mostly restricted by the Ethernet link itself to these files. As we've got bonded Gigabit Ethernet to this NAS we decided to give this a test with transferring multiple files. Reading files, at Gigabit speeds was an absolute bliss while backing up an entire computers worth of content (the write was happening at the full speed of Gigabit Ethernet also) - with the old NAS we would actually not be able to access it during this time due to bottle-necking. The switch reported both network interfaces were being used for reading / writing files and were able to fully max out both Ethernet interfaces.


Since we have more RAM to work with, I installed Plex and tested a stream of some 4K content using a Plex Pass account with Hardware Acceleration enabled and this all worked without a single hitch.


I've been incredibly impressed with both the feature-set and speeds of this NAS. I am now happily running a few Virtual Machines (using the Synology Virtual Machine Manager) along with Plex, and a bunch of NFS mounts to remote hosts without any speed constraints. The web interface is snappy and you'd never think this NAS was all powered by an ultra low power Celeron processor. It is leaps and bounds better than the old NAS in every aspect and the little changes (such as adding the ability for the user to upgrade the ram without slicing fingers open) along with the NVMe caching really helps make this NAS a future-proof addition to your home / office.


The new Synology DS420+, DS720+ and DS920+ all come complete with 2x NVMe slots to act as a SSD cache and are available now.


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