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Synology DiskStation DS118 Review

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If you are reading this review, chances are you already know who Synology are and what they do. For those that don’t, Synology are a Taiwanese company that specialises in Network Attached Storage devices (NAS for short) for both home and business use. They were founded in 2000 and have since become big players in the NAS market. They continue to improved and release new devices, the DS118 being one of them and I wanted to dip my toes into the world of NAS, so I bought one.

The DS118 is a 1 bay NAS, which is part of the companies value range, its got a quad core processor, DDR4 memory and is capable of 10-bit 4K H.265 video transcoding. Lets open the box and set this beauty up! Disclaimer, this is my first NAS device, so I may not have all the technical aspects nailed yet!

Tech Spec

Processor: Realtek RTD1296 quad core 1.4GHz.
Memory: 1 GB DDR4.
Ports: 1 RJ45 gigabit + 2 USB 3.0
Drive Bays Supported: 1 (2.5″ or 3.5″)
Maximum hard drive size supported: 12TB (HARD DRIVE SOLD SEPARATELY)
Cooling: Dedicated fan
Video transcoding: 1 channel, 60 FPS @ 4K (4096 x 2160), H.265 (HEVC), 10-bit or
1 channel, 30 FPS @ 1080p (1920 × 1080), H.264 (AVC)/MPEG-4 Part 2
(XVID, DIVX5)/MPEG-2/VC-1

The box the DS118 comes in is very basic, so basic in fact its not covered, its just bare brown cardboard, with a sticker and some detailing printed on it. Bothered? Nope! Inside the box is the unit itself, an accessory pack, AC power adapter, RJ45 cable and an installation guide. The unit is relatively light and there isn’t that much to it really. On the front of the unit is the power on button & 3 indicator lights, and to the rear is the RJ45 port, two USB ports, power port, reset button, kensington lock and a small fan. Unscrew a couple of screws to the rear and you can slide the side panel off, this will then give you access to the internals and allow you to install your hard drive. The unit itself looks very smart, its a mixture of blacks, it sits on four feet and its very small considering. You will easily find a spot for this next to your router.

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Setting up the DS118 was very simple and a lot easier than I thought it would be. Initially, you need to install your hard drive of choice. You want a decent hard drive, with a warranty, so I’d recommend purchasing from one of the more known providers, WD or Seagate and get a NAS specific hard drive. A NAS specific hard drive is built differently to your standard PC hard drive, as its built to run 24/7, plus some other technical reasons I’m sure. I went for a 3.5″ SATA drive, as 2.5″ drives require a separate bracket, which isn’t include. There are metal guides inside the unit, to allow you to slide the drive into place and once fully in, will connect into the port. Don’t forget to screw down the hard drive when you’re finished.

The second stage is to plug the unit into your router and give it power. Once that’s done, turn it on and go to the Synology website, which will then run through the set up. It will get you to format the hard drive, set up an admin account and get it set up on the network. The URL and details are include in the instructions.

You may be thinking, what does the DS118 or any NAS for that matter, actually do? It’s essentially a mini server, for your home, which can store your music, movies & photos, so they can be accessed from your home or anywhere in the world, remotely.

Once you are set up, you will be left with Synologies own operating system, Diskstation Manager or DSM. It resembles most other operating systems, with icons and buttons, and its actually very easy to navigate and rather quick. I haven’t tried other NAS operating systems before but everybody says DSM is one of the best and Synology keep it regularly updated & in tip top condition. On the home screen, you get shortcuts to four apps, Package Center, Control Panel, File Station & Help, and you can probably guess what they do. The Package Center gives access to a number of different apps, but also gives the ability to manually install 3rd party apps as well. The Control Panel gives you access to all your settings, from setting up new users, control permissions, allowing access, network settings, security settings etc etc. The File Station gives you access to your files, in the same way Windows explorer would, you can add files, delete, copy & paste items etc.

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I wanted the DS118 for three things, to store all my family photos, store & allow me to stream my movie collection from DS118 to TV and to record two home security cameras I had. I can say it does all of that and very well too! It was easy to transfer my photos from an existing external hard drive to the DS118, via the USB 3 port and similarly with the movie files. Transfer speeds were good but unfortunately my old drive was only USB 2.0, so was unable to see if it would do the quoted ‘113 MB/s and 112 MB/s sequential reading and writing’ speeds.

An absolute gem of a feature with the DSM is the video station app. Once installed and set up to find your movie folder, it will index all your movies for you, with all the meta data you could possibly want, including movie covers/posters. It makes watching/browsing your movie database so easy and look so professional. Sometimes the metadata can be incorrect or you may want a different image, so there is an inbuilt feature to search the web for your movie, using keywords and you can manually adapt the data to suit. Initially it takes some time for this indexing to finish but once it does, boy does it look great!

So how do you access your content? Well Synology offer a number of their own apps, that are available on iOS, Android, Amazon fire stick etc, which allow you to view your photos, listen to your music or watch your movies. These apps work both when you’re on your local network and remotely. If you also have a smart TV that has DNLA, you will be able to access your folders that way too. As mentioned earlier, you can set up a number of different users and give them permission to only a select number of files/folders, each with their own login details.

I was interested to see how a 4K movie would work when streaming to my TV and as long as I did it in the morning, it worked a dream. I tried Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (40gb file, 4K HDR + DTS) and it stream perfectly fine, the little 4k HDR image came up on my TV when it started to stream and my AV receiver was picking up the DTS signals. It was magical! My only problem was, in the evenings when the rest of the world wanted to Netflix & chill, my usually OK 89mb speed would cut in half due to demand, which meant I was no longer able to stream 4k without it buffering. I will be installing a hard wired connection asap!

I also wanted to use the Surveillance app that the DSM offers, I set up both cameras to the network and was able to set the cameras to record 24/7, onto the hard drive. The software allows you to watch a live feed and watch recorded footage, as well as fully control and set up your cameras. I was able to either set a limit on the recording size i.e. 20gb or by days, i.e. 7 day loop. It’s a great bonus feature if you have or think about getting any security cameras.

One problem and potential deal breaker for some, the Realtek (ARM) processor is very new, meaning a number of apps are unsupported thus far. For example, Plex will not run on the DS118 because no one has developed a version of Plex to work with this processor. Synology/Plex say they WILL develop an app that will work with this processor, but no time scale has been given. Plex is just one example, there are a number of other apps that wont work either (docker, heard of that?). However, Emby works on it, which is similar to Plex and there are a few programming god’s out there that have modified certain apps, so you can manually install them at your own risk. This is not just a problem for the DS118, but also a number of new larger Synology NAS too! Something to keep in mind.

This is my first experience with a NAS and I’m blown away with its performance, interface and capabilities. Now knowing how good it is, I would next time invest in a 4 bay NAS, so I can run my drives in RAID and have everything fully backed up. The DS118 currently retails for about £160 in the UK and I would highly recommend it!

P.S I have an external hard drive plugged in to run/store my back ups!

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