Synology DS119J DiskStation NAS Drive Review
I was toying with the idea of getting a NAS drive for a while before the Synology DS119J landed on my lap. I wanted one for a few reasons. The first; to back up any work files, specifically my TechNuovo archives as well as any freelance projects I’ve worked on like a wedding I shot not too long ago. I also wanted somewhere to store some movies to stream around the house. And the final reason, I need remote access to work related documents for when I’m away from home. Synology has given us the chance to put the DS119J to the test, so I did just that.
Synology is aiming their new NAS drive at the budget conscious, average consumer, AKA someone who wants somewhere to store their holiday snaps and home movies, as well as music files. There’s no bells and whistles in their objective here. It’s a one-bay chassis which means it can only house one hard drive. In our case, we’re using a bundled 3.5″ 4TB IronWolf drive from Seagate who are an official partner of Synology. The IronWolf is a NAS specific hard drive which is different from a desktop hard drive. Basically, it means it’s built to withstand constant 24/7 use as well as some other gubbins. It is also compatible with 2.5″ drives too. Both sizes need to be connected via SATA connection.
Retail packaging is fairly basic. It’s a plain cardboard box with a small image on the front showing off what the Synology DS119J looks like. There’s also some specification information on the front too so you can see the sort of functionality of the drive itself. There’s no real need for a beautiful looking box, because most people will probably purchase one of these online, so there’s no need to show off too much inside a brick and mortar store.
The unit itself is rather small and actually looks quite stylish. Something you could easily have on display rather than hiding it behind your monitor or under your desk. It’s completely white apart from a small strip down the front which houses various status lights. They’ll flash and stay static depending on what the Synology DS119J is doing. When transferring files, you’ll see the LAN and DISK lights constantly flash. A static blue light at the bottom indicates that the NAS drive is on and working. Installation is very much a manual process as you have to physically screw down a HDD to the inside of the box. There is no hard drive cage that is common on some of the bigger NAS setups. Screws are included though.
Specifications for the Synology DS119J NAS Drive are as follows:
- Marvel A3720 Dual-core 800 MHz processor
- 256MB memory
- 1GB RJ-45 LAN Port
- 2x USB 2.0 ports
Setup was fairly simple. In fact, I was surprised at how easy it all was to get going. The unit requires power which is included and there is a Cat-5E cable included in the box too to plug it into your network. I ran a couple of tests on the drive from two different places in the house. At first I plugged the NAS into my homeplug, the same place my desktop is plugged into, and the second was plugging it into a gigabit port on my network switch so it could be shared by the majority of the PCs in my office. Results to follow, but below is a small diagram of how my network setups looked.
The first step was to download the Synology Assistant software from the Synology website and run it. It found the NAS drive within seconds and prompted me to continue with the installation of DSM and the setup of an admin account within the Diskstation Manager software which is situated inside your browser window. I entered my credentials like a username, email address and password and was then greeted with what I can only describe as a virtual desktop with a few apps and access to settings. There’s one thing at this stage that I would recommend. And that’s to set up user profiles. This is for multi-user households like mine for example where I, as well as my Mum and Dad need access to back up their files. You can set their permissions too so you can hide your files from one another. Great for privacy. You can also give different profiles a storage allowance. Being a 4TB HDD I gave them 500GB each for photos and files. Setting up personal accounts also means both my Mum and Dad can access the NAS drive remotely if they’re away for work too. The admin account will have access to everyone’s files, just to give you an idea. Prompts on-screen for each step are easy to understand and follow.
It’s only when you get to the more intricate menu options that things began to get complex. There are a large number of menus here that you can easily get lost in. Things like enabling DHCP Servers, creating reverse proxies under the application portal, enabling SNMP to monitor the servers and using terminal services *mimics mind explosion*. As I said, complex right? But of course there will be people out there that want these kinds of services with this NAS drive. I just think that for your every day consumer, these sections of the settings menu aren’t going to be touched. There are simpler menus available like controlling fan speed which in turn controls temperatures of your hard drive inside and also choosing times when the NAS Drive goes into hibernation. Overnight kind of thing.
Going back to my setups, I can safely say that setup two was way more effective than setup one, purely because of the access to the network switch. My computer which is upstairs is very much limited to the speed of the homeplug I have in between the PC and DS119J. Even using my homeplug as a network switch as I’ve got Ethernet ports on it was capped at the speed the plug was able to transfer at. Uploading files to your online area is extremely simple too. You can either click the upload button on your folder area on the browser, or just drag and drop like you would a memory stick. It’s a great concept and very easy to get to grips with.
Now most people are probably going to want to view their content once uploaded. I know Nick, one of the writers who actually reviewed the DS118J a little while ago uses his for his movie collection to stream to his television. I wanted to set up the same kind of thing, which couldn’t have been simpler. I entered in the wireless network credentials into the TV to connect it to the network and hey presto, the DS119J as well as the other PCs on the network showed up with very little effort. It only displayed the three shared media folders being Music, Images and Video but it’s what I want to be able to stream around the house. One thing that did stand out, is when streaming 4K content from the NAS drive directly to the television. You need a good throughput connection to make it work, otherwise you’re going to be met with dropped frames and even some stutter while the video buffers. I found this when I was using Setup One above.
Another cool standout feature is the Surveillance Station app. This is for anyone who has a wireless CCTV setup in their home. The NAS drive acts as a storage unit for your security footage. You can set the allocated amount of storage the security cameras will take up. Nick, who uses his DS118J for his system gives his cameras 1TB worth of space to use which equates to about four days of film. Once that 1TB worth of film is used up, it begins to overwrite itself so there’s no chance of it going over your allocated space. So, if you don’t need four days worth of footage, lower its allocation to say something like 250GB to get a day’s worth out of your cameras. The software gives you by default two cameras. If you need more, there is a subscription service of up to five cameras recording at once.
Okay, so are there any negatives to this impressive device? Sure, not everything is perfect. The biggest thing you’re missing out on when it comes to network storage solutions is RAID. RAID is a way of mirroring content stored on your NAS drive. A typical RAID setup will consist of two or more drives. Let’s say you got a two-bay NAS drive. One 4TB drive will be the main backup folder, while the second 4TB drive will mirror the first so your files are backed up in two separate locations. This is a popular solution incase one drive fails, you haven’t lost your files. The Synology DS119J has only one drive, so there’s no chance of using this device in RAID.
There are ways you can backup your data though. There are two USB ports on the back that can be used for physical external hard drives. Not the most ideal solution, but a solution none the less. You can also use cloud backup too from 3rd party applications which is another route you can go down.
The second is the fact that this will not be able to handle things like a Plex Media Server. Think of it as a fancy media server. It’s a way of categorising your movies. So for people who buy DVDs or Blu-ray disks from the shops, go home and rip them to your server, you will have to make do with just a generic file icon. Basically Plex makes everything look super pro and nice looking, and because of the internal specification of the Synology DS119J, you will not be able to run it. Sorry everyone. However, saying this you do have access to something called DS Video, which is a simplified application for your mobile phone which still retains some level of information for each movie on your NAS drive.
So, to conclude. The Synology DS119J does everything a NAS drive should do with limitations. It can still be used as a form of media server although you lose things like Plex, it can be used as a cloud storage solution so you can access your files from wherever you are in the world and setup is super simple. It’s a shame you lose out on RAID, but what more can you want from a NAS drive at this price point am I right? For more information, check out the Synology website.