Synology DS420+ – Network Attached Storage for the Family

Synology DS420+

Pros

  • Great performance
  • Easy for beginners
  • Great storage capacity
  • Package Center
  • Loads of features
  • Ideal for home and family use
  • Moments
  • Backups

Cons

  • AI in Moments still improving
  • Can't get some apps to share media folders

Network Attached Storage devices can be a little intimidating for the uninitiated. Thankfully, the new Synology DS420+ makes getting started easy for the average home user.

 

What is Network Attached Storage and why do I need it?

Network Attached Storage devices, commonly known as NAS devices, are small boxes containing hard drives that attach to your home network. They come in many different sizes – the Synology DS420+ that I have for review can accommodate up to four hard drives.

NAS drives serve many different purposes for many different people. This is partly why they can seem a little intimidating to first-time buyers. Those who innocently stumble into NAS-related forums can quickly become overwhelmed by the terminology thrown around by experienced users. My head still spins when I come across some (admittedly impressive) projects that some users create.

For the average family user, a good starting point for NAS use is for sharing media, syncing files and as part of a backup solution. Synology sent me the DS420+ to put to the test in this exact usage scenario.

Disclosure: Synology provided Blog of Dad with the DS420+ for the purpose of review and ongoing use. Any thoughts expressed about Synology products in this article are based on my own experiences.

Thankfully, Synology make life easy for first-time NAS users. As I found with the brilliant Synology RT2600ac router, Synology are a brand that appear to take great pride in supporting both novice and advanced users. This approach makes the DS420+ an excellent device for dipping your toes into the world of network storage, as users can start simple, but easily progress to more complicated setups as their knowledge and experience increases.

 

Synology DS420+

 

Initial Setup

As I have said previously, Synology are the king of catering to the needs of the novice and expert alike. Key to this is Synology’s legendary DiskStation Manager (DSM) software.

The DS420+ was the second NAS that I had ever set up, so it’s fair to say I still sit in the novice camp. From this perspective, the DS420+ was simple to set up, and Synology did a great job of guiding me through the various options as I set about getting the device up and running.

The main thing to consider is how you want to use the storage disks available to you. While there are many different configurations available through RAID, the key differences are whether you wish to maximise raw capacity, or build in redundancy to cope with possible disk failures.

Fortunately, you don’t need to take a deep dive into the finer details of setting up arrays. Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR) does all the hard work for you. This newbie-friendly option offers more flexibility than locking into a traditional RAID setup and it makes it very easy to expand your storage in the future. It also works intelligently to maximise your available storage, even if using mismatching disk sizes. To find out more about SHR, I highly recommend reading this very informative article by Synology.

 

 

The Synology DS420+ uses an Intel Celeron J4025 processor paired with 2GB DDR4 System Memory, which makes its performance smooth and responsive. It has dual gigabit ethernet ports, which can be used to either create redundancy or link aggregation. You do, however, need appropriate hardware at the other end. Most home users will be utilising just the single port. The other inclusion that could come in handy for many home users is the USB ports. I will talk more about creating robust backups later, and the USB connection may well become a key part of your backup solution.

The DS420+ runs quietly. I have it located in my living room right under the television and have not noticed any distracting noise beyond the faint whir of the HDD every now and then. There are at least two more devices in the room that are far more obnoxious in the noise they produce (and no, I don’t mean the kids). The power consumption is good too, with 28.30 W used when the device is active and 8.45 W used when HDDs are in hibernation.

 

Bays

The Synology DS420+ is a four bay NAS, which means it can hold up to four hard drives. However, users do not have to begin with four drives. This is great for those who want to enter the world of network attached storage, but perhaps don’t have huge volumes of data. It also means that the costs of the initial setup can be kept down, but that there is still plenty of room for expansion when the time is right. Synology’s excellent RAID Calculator is a great place to start if you are trying to decide how much storage capacity is right for you. One thing is for sure, Synology’s extensive range of NAS equipment has something for everyone!

 

Synology DS420+

 

For my purposes, I have installed two WD Red 4TB hard drives. I would recommend starting with at least two drives, because that enables the use of SHR/RAID.

Synology do make NAS devices with as few as two bays. They also make devices that are expandable well beyond four bays. For the average family NAS setup, I think the four bays of the DS420+ is ideal. With HDDs of up to 16TB available these days, the DS420+ gives your data plenty of room to grow over time.

 

Choosing Hard Drives

The world of hard drives can be incredibly daunting for the uninitiated. Thankfully, Synology simplify the process somewhat with their compatibility checker.

As I said above, I chose to use two 4TB WD Red HDDs for the initial setup of my DS420+. These represented the sweet spot for volume of storage provided and cost. It also gave me enough room for backups now and into the future (I used SHR to create 1-disk redundancy. This means that the same data is stored to both HDDs at the same time.

 

Synology DS420+

 

While it effectively reduces my storage capacity to (just under) 4TB, it means that if one disk fails, I don’t lose any of my data. Be aware that this kind of setup is not, in its self, regarded as a “backup”. This is because it doesn’t protect against risks like theft, fire or virus infection. It is, however, a key part to me safeguarding my important files. This setup also gives me enough room to allocate space to a dedicated “media” folder, which contains all of the pictures and movies that I want to be able to stream around my house.

 

Package Center

I was very impressed by the Package Center on the Synology RT2600ac when I reviewed it, but that pales in comparison to what is on offer with the DS420+. The DSM package Center has a vast selection of 1st and 3rd party applications that can be used to enhance the DS420+ in any number of ways. As with many things NAS-related, a lot of these packages go straight over my head. But as I’ve said before, that is the beauty of Synology products. Those who need them, will know what they do. Those who do not, don’t have to worry about them!

 

Install Plex DS420+

 

Many of the applications in the Package Center are business-focussed, but there are a few key apps that first-time users will want to explore in order to get the NAS up and running the way they want it. If you are using the DS420+ for sharing media, for example, you will want use either something like the 1st party Media Server app, or my preferred third-party option, Plex Media Server. In my testing, Plex played very nicely indeed with the DS420+ and it provides a great user experience when streaming media to my television (via the Telstra TV) or to my phone. Navigation is smooth, playback begins quickly and the images and video display beautifully!

The other application I downloaded immediately was Synology Drive Server. This allowed me (through the Synology Drive Client on my PC and laptop) to set up backup tasks and Sync tasks. More on these below.

 

 

Sharing Media

This is my absolute favourite thing about the Synology DS420+! The ease with which media can be shared throughout the family home is why I am thrilled to have the DS420+ in my setup, and why you should really consider adding one to yours.

I take so many photos and videos. Family holidays, trips to the park or beach, first birthdays, first words, first steps… I have it all and (thanks to the magic of mobile phone cameras) I bet you do too.

Those photos and videos are incredibly precious, yet they are rarely ever seen. That’s because they languish on the mobile phone or desktop hard drive, only to occasionally be stumbled upon. When it comes to home-made media, I often feel like a hoarder – collecting little trinkets to fill my HDDs. The photos pile up, but are never actually seen again.

The DS420+ changes all that. No longer are these memories stored away on a single mobile phone or computer, forgotten and never to actually be enjoyed again. Instead, they are stored on a centrally-accessible storage device and can so easily be streamed to any device in the house. In fact, if I really wanted, I could set it up so that they could be viewed from anywhere in the world! There are multiple options in the Package Center for enabling this streaming of media, but my favourite is Plex (as mentioned above). The experience is consistently smooth, easy and enjoyable.

 

Plex on Synology DS420+

 

Remember the thrill of being a kid and watching the magic of a home video playing through the VCR and onto the telly? As I sat on the couch with Hannah and watched her enjoy watching recordings from our 2017 trip to Japan, those same thrilling feelings came right back. My kids are well-and-truly used to seeing themselves on my mobile phone, but to see themselves on a big screen is just as special as it always was (and far higher definition than back in my day...).

 

Synology Moments

Moments takes organising and accessing those precious photos and videos to the next level. If you are anything like me, you will have taken many, many photos over many years. Also, you will not have bothered to organise those photos in any meaningful way, beyond (perhaps) some vague date-based folder structure on your computer. A quick scan of my pictures folder revealed that it contains 191,589 files…

Synology use a deep learning algorithm on the DS420+ to automatically group photos together according to similar faces, subjects and places. Users of Google or Facebook would be familiar with such algorithms, but the beauty of the Synology solution is the way in which privacy is maintained. The facial recognition is contained to the NAS, rather than uploaded to a remote server. There are also no upload limits (other than the space available on your NAS), so this process can be applied to your whole photo collection, spanning decades!

What this all means is that uploading and organising your photo and video collection is now easier than ever. On top of that, actually accessing the memories you want to see is easier than ever! No more trawling through folders and files to try and find what you are looking for. Brilliant!

The algorithms aren’t perfect. From my test batch of nearly 2000 photos, Moments created about 20 different groups of photos for my 4yo daughter and a similar number for my 1yo son. Factors such as the quality of the photo definitely played a part, as did the direction the person was facing. I also wonder if the rapid facial development of young children caused greater recognition issues than perhaps adults would.

As well as recognising people, Moments recognises and categorises subjects. The DS420+ generated groups such as “Child”, “Infant”, Food & Drink”, “Beach” and (interestingly) “Ribs”. Again, these categories weren’t necessarily perfect. They do, however, save a lot of time when searching through vast photo libraries for specific subjects.

Moments gets even better when you start using multiple terms to narrow down photo results. “mum beach”, for example will return any photos with both subjects identified. You can also search for multiple people, which is absolutely brilliant!

As amazing as Moments is, one little frustration I have is that I can’t seem to make it share folders with Plex. I may just be missing something here, but at the moment I am duplicating files to use both applications.

 

It is fair to say that the Synology DS420+ has unlocked our home media is a way that no other device has. It has enabled extremely easy access to the content and brought the wonderful memories to life again!

 

Syncing Files

Another brilliant feature of the DS420+ is the ability to sync files across devices. It works in a similar way to some cloud storage products such as Dropbox or OneDrive, but it syncs through your own device as opposed to a remote server.

As someone who constantly switches between laptops and desktops, I find this invaluable. I use it for particular documents that I am working on, as well as for photos that I am preparing for blog and social media use.

In my experience so far, syncing has been fast and effective. Documents added from my desktop appear in the sync folder on my laptop in a matter of moments. It is all organised through the Synology Drive Client, with options such as enabling two-way sync and advanced consistency check ensuring that syncing happens exactly as you want it to. You can also limit file sizes and exclude syncing certain file types.

 

Backup solution

Everyone knows they are supposed to back up there data. And you all do it diligently… right?

I was terrible at it. Even after I accidentally formatted a hard drive containing such trivial things as our wedding invitations (just before they were due to be printed), I still struggled to maintain a regular backup routine. Remembering to regularly plug in an external HDD and set the backup to run just never seemed to happen. Even when I did remember, it was an absolute pain in the backside, with the task failing to complete more often than not, for reasons I could never quite understand.

It was this lack of regular backup that pushed me to properly investigate NAS options, and it is one of the most important aspects of the Synology DS420+.

Setting my PC, laptop and Nokia 7.2 to backup to the DS420+ was a very easy process. I used Synology’s backup tools in Synology Drive Client to set it up, choose where on the NAS to backup to and which folders from my devices to backup. Then it was simply a matter of letting the NAS do it’s thing.

 

Backup

 

While the initial backup from my PC in particular took quite a while (with nearly 2TB worth of data to transfer), it all happened in the background and without any need for further meddling beyond the initial setup. I was able to turn my PC off when necessary, and the backup would simply continue on its merry way when the computer was turned on again.

Backups can be tailored to suit the needs of the user. They can run constantly, or be set to run at regular intervals. I set my computer’s to backup once per week.

Keep in mind that this isn’t a total backup solution. While it is an excellent way of guarding against accidental deletion, with essentially three copies of the same document (including two on the NAS thanks to the SHR configuration), a complete backup solution should involve a copy stored in an off-site location. My solution for this is to use Hyper Backup to backup to an external drive every one or two months. I store that drive with a family member who lives close by. This is a simple method and Synology make it extremely easy to use. I have read of many people who store a 2nd Synology NAS at an external location, then use Hyper Backup Vault to create their offsite backup. This is a brilliantly easy solution, but a little outside of my budget constraints.

 

Expansion

When I reviewed the Synology RT2600ac router, one of the things I most admired about it was the way Synology catered for more advanced use through the Package Center and SD/USB ports. In this way, users could highly customise the router according to their individual needs.

Synology take the same approach with their NAS devices. This means that people with minimal requirements can put together a cost-effective NAS setup. Those who require more have the capacity to greatly expand the DS420+’s capability. For those of us who like to start basic, but then tinker and learn, this is ideal. Some of the key expansion features include:

RAM

The Synology DiskStation DS420+ comes with 2GB RAM installed. This is a reasonable amount for regular home use and I haven’t seen it pushed to its limits in my use so far. However, as my use of the DS420+ expands, there may well come a time when I find 2GB not quite enough. Most likely, this will be when 4K-capable devices become more prevalent in my house.

The RAM of the Synology DS420+ is easily expandable via a single, accessible slot to the side of the fourth drive bay. Unlike choosing hard drives, there is only one supported option for upgrading the RAM – Synology’s own D4NESO-2666-4G module. This triples the RAM to a total of 6GB, which should be plenty for most users’ needs.

NVMe cache

This is a really interesting inclusion. It is probably the best example of how the Synology DS420+ straddles both home user and advanced user needs. For users like me, the inclusion of NVMe cache via the two inbuilt M.2 SSD slots in the bottom of the DS420+ is not so relevant. Filling those slots and enabling them as part of my Raid setup won’t do much to enhance the types of media streaming of backups that I am predominantly performing. However, for those users who run systems such as databases and email services through their DS420+, the addition of the cache is a huge advantage.

 

Final Thoughts

Synology have done an amazing job of making the somewhat intimidating world of network attached storage accessible to the masses. The DSM software is incredibly user friendly. It achieves the near-impossible feat of supporting novices while providing advanced users with all the features they require.

The DS420+ is a brilliant entry point for home users. It is also attractive to those dipping their toes into the NAS pond for the first time. The compact and quiet unit blends in to a home office or entertainment unit, yet it is powerful enough to cater for the streaming and backup needs of the whole family. The ability to expand its use by adding more drives, bumping up the RAM or even adding NVMe cache means the DS420+ can grow with you – an approach to hardware that I deeply admire. Package Centre is the icing on the customised cake – the ultimate resource for tailoring the NAS to suit any need.

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