NAS Wars 2017: We test the Synology DiskStation DS1817+ RAID

Welcome to the sixth of seven NAS stress tests, where we brutalize NAS devices to failure and then attempt to see if they can be recovered. This week, we dig into the Synology DiskStation DS1817+, a device that sets the bar for future desktop RAID and NAS boxes.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

Let's put this project into context. The whole purpose of a RAID is that if a drive fails, you can recover with no data loss. In this series, I'm pounding on each NAS to see how (or if) it recovers.

Almost all the NAS reviews out there just talk about adding storage, and the various apps that come with the devices. I haven't seen any that stress the machines to the point of failure and back to restoration, which is the whole point of these devices.

I've subjected each candidate machine to a series of torture tests. Beyond that, I look at performance, apps, user interface, and so much more. This time, we're testing the Synology DiskStation DS1817+.

Let's not bury the lede. Unless you want a NAS that's as simple and feature rich as a toaster, or one that can withstand a North Korean nuke (that's next week's review), you're going to want to buy a Synology NAS. The Synology box (and its DiskStation Manager software) is just that good.

The fit and finish of the Synology hardware is solid, but not spectacular. If you want NAS hardware with a fit and finish so beautiful you want to lick it, you'll want a Drobo.

But while the Drobo aces the RAID portion of our tests, it's a very limited machine. The Synology machine is substantially more capable than the Drobo and the elegance and design quality of its software eclipses every other contender we've looked at.

Drive installation is virtually identical to that of the QNAP. Drives slide into trays and don't require any tools to install. The trays have little plastic strips that hold the drives in. They're easy, if a bit fiddly, to use.

I have the same concern with this aspect of the Synology implementation as I do with the QNAP. If you're not super careful, the little plastic pins that go into the screw holes on the drives could easily snap off.

RAID test results

Upon inserting the bad drive, it took approximately 8 minutes for the Synology to boot and begin beeping. It was difficult to tell by looking at the unit which drive failed (other than a slightly more rapid LED blink), but there was an audible alert.

Email notification was easy, and made it clear which drive was the problem. The email message was sent through Gmail's API. The Synology also supports SMS notifications for those who prefer text alerts.

The Synology also easily passed Test 2, rebuilding an array from a mismatched drive. It required a few clicks in the management interface, and then the new drive was up and running.

It also smoothly passed Test 3, growing over time. It allowed the array to reallocate space, providing for a larger capacity as bigger drives were added to the array.

Overall, the Synology got a 4 out of 5 for RAID performance.

Synology's DiskStation Manager

Both Terramaster and QNAP implemented a desktop-style icons-and-windows interface. Both are well done. QNAP's interface is a bit cluttered, and Terramaster's is a bit sparse. By contrast, the implementation of the Synology variant of a desktop-style interface is perfect.

The impression Synology gives is that the company sweated every single pixel and every single design decision to create the clearest, cleanest, and most intuitive interface possible. It is the best and most usable interface I've ever seen on a NAS. Everything works, everything makes sense, and everything is predictable and consistent.

I covered some of this in my cloud storage article on Synology a few months back, but the exceptional design continues through the entire DiskStation Manager interface. In addition to the design, responsiveness of the interface is crisp. There's no sluggishness here at all.

Without at doubt, DiskStation Manager is Synology's greatest asset, but if the rest of the product fell short, good looking software wouldn't be enough. Fortunately, they got the rest right, too.

Synology's selection of apps is comprehensive, falling just slightly short of QNAP. Mac files transfer perfectly. It has a well-designed network recycle bin. Price-per-bay is the second lowest on our list, which means, at least for NASes, the best products are also the least expensive. That turned out to be a pleasant and unexpected surprise.

Even though the aggregate speed benchmark was right in the middle of our seven contenders, everything else about performance and usability for the Synology is top-notch, earning it five out of five stars.

With a four star review in our RAID torture test and a perfect five in performance and usability, the Synology DiskStation DS1817+ leads the pack with an overall five out of five.

For the record, I also looked at the four-bay DS916+ Synology box earlier in the year and it's as good as this eight-bay unit. As long as you're getting DiskStation Manager in your NAS, you're golden.

That said, our NAS story isn't over. In our final 2017 NAS review, I'll show you a box that has taken Synology's DiskStation Manager interface and encased it in what is, essentially, a bank vault. It's much more expensive than the box made by Synology, but it's designed to survive dragons and teenagers. That's next time.

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