For those who don’t want to pay for bells and whistles, this cost-effective little box covers all the basics
- Good performance for basic file-sharing
- Great companion apps for iOS and Android
- Not fast enough for video transcoding
- Only one Gigabit Ethernet port
- No front-facing USB port
Even if you’ve long since moved your files into cloud services such as Google Drive and Dropbox, there’s still a lot to be said for network attached storage. Plug the likes of Synology’s DS216j into your Wi-Fi router, and you can use it to store local backups of a whole household full of devices, while retaining access to those files from whichever PC, laptop or smartphone is closest to hand.
And if you’re a home worker or small business owner who simply can’t afford to lose access to your files in the event of an internet outage, then a NAS device is an almost essential investment.
Synology DS216j review: Design and features
The Synology DS216j is a very cheap two-bay NAS appliance which – it must be said – scores low on glamour. The enclosure isn’t exactly ugly, but the shiny white plastic is a little tacky, and there’s no easy access to the drive bays: to install or replace disks, you’ll have to dig out a screwdriver and slide the side off.
Functionally, though, this dinky drive ticks a lot of boxes. Despite its diminutive size, it runs the full version of Synology’s latest DSM 6.1 operating system, which means you get all the same features as Synology’s much chunkier – and much pricier – models. That starts with a rich, window-based web interface, and an extensive set of companion apps for Android and iOS. There’s integration with every major cloud storage service plus easy remote access, either through Synology’s QuickConnect website or via dynamic DNS.
DSM also offers a comprehensive suite of network services. For home users, the DS216j works with iTunes and Time Machine, and includes Synology’s Photo Station image server, too. At work, it can integrate with Active Directory, and Synology’s free Surveillance Station app can control and capture video from two IP cameras. (Additional cameras can be added for a modest fee.)
There’s also an impressive range of techie add-ons available. You can host an email server, a web server, a wiki and a WordPress blog on the DS216j, as well as developer tools such as Drupal, Joomla and Ruby.
Synology DS216j review: Performance
If all this sounds too good to be true, there are a few caveats. At the heart of the DS216j sits a modest 1GHz dual-core 32-bit Marvell processor. This is fine for basic networking demands: the DS216j easily kept up with much more expensive rivals for everyday file-copy operations. Even so, it’s far from a powerful CPU – most modern smartphones have more grunt.
RAM is another potential issue: the DS216j’s 512MB of DDR3 is quite low and it can’t be upgraded. So while the various apps and tools mentioned above are all available to you, the DS216j will start to struggle if you try to use them all at once. If you were hoping to run virtual machines on your NAS drive, this certainly isn’t the one to go for.
The DS216j’s lightweight internals also make it an iffy choice for a video server. Plex will install, but streaming requires a smart client that can decode H.264 and H.265 video locally; if you try to stream these formats to a dumb receiver that expects the server to do the work (such as the Plex Web Player), you’ll just see a notification that the DS216j isn’t powerful enough. Happily, there is another option: Synology’s Video Station app is optimised for the hardware, and was happily able to serve up 1080p H.265 video, over either DLNA or through a Synology client app. Still, we’d have preferred to use the more popular, cross-platform Plex server.
Another minor limitation is that the DS216j has only a single Gigabit Ethernet port; the usefulness of a second port is questionable in a home setting, but you’ll need it if you ever want to use load balancing or failover for more business-focused applications.
Finally, there’s also no convenient one-click USB copy button at the front – nor, indeed, a front-facing USB connector. If you frequently need to slurp up the contents of an external drive then this may be an annoyance, but if you just have a few disks to copy then it’s no great hardship to plug them into one of the two rear-facing ports and drag and drop the relevant files by hand.
Synology DS216j review: Verdict
Clearly, the DS216j isn’t what you’d call a do-it-all appliance. If you want a fully-featured Plex server that won’t break the bank, check out the Qnap TS-251A instead. However, for a small office that’s focused on file-sharing basics, there’s no need to pay for an all-singing, all-dancing NAS unit. The Synology DS216j does everything you need at an excellent price.