INFORMATION and IMPLEMENTATION
When I started researching the DS710+ I found more information on the Synology website than I could possibly digest. I wanted to know exactly how the DS710+ could be expanded, what hard drives were supported, and what the user interface offered, among other items. I found all this information out in the open. That sounds like something all manufacturers should offer, but in reality this information is usually out of date or hidden deep within unsupported user forums and old dead-end conversations from frustrated users. My Synology experience was off to a good start.
The Synology DS710+ Network Attached Storage unit ($479.99 diskless) is a two drive enclosure capable of storing a maximum of four terabytes unprotected or two terabytes when RAID1 drive mirroring is employed. Despite audiophile dreams of a ten terabyte library most people can easily fit their entire music collection on a two drive NAS unit like the DS710+. Those fortunate enough to have larger libraries or those who want to plan for future expansion beyond a few terabytes are still in luck with the DS710+. This NAS unit has an eSATA expansion port in the rear that can be connected to the Synology DX510 ($499.99) five drive expansion unit for a combined total of 14 terabytes. One important tip about using the eSATA expansion port on the DS710+. When using the Synology DX510 eSATA expansion unit the original volume on the DS710+ can be expanded to the entire size of both units combined. Thus, if drive D: was two terabytes using only the DS710+, the same drive D: can now be increased with the DS510. This is very nice because iTunes can only monitor one Music Folder location and the Synology expansion unit allows volume expansion without reformatting the NAS drives. During the review I connected a non-Synology eSATA external drive to the DS710+. I was unable to expand a volume or even include the eSATA disk in a newly created volume. Continuing with the same example of an iTunes library on drive D:, adding the non-Synology eSATA expansion disk would force me to create another drive such as E: and split my music library on both drives D: and E:. Anyone who has used iTunes in this manner is well aware of the potential disasters that lie around every corner. I don't recommend it. Fortunately I had a lot of success using my non-Synology eSATA disk as a backup drive. eSATA connections at 3 Gbit/s are considerably faster than USB 2.0 (480 Mbit/s) and FireWire 400 (400 Mbit/s) or 800 (800 Mbit/s). With a one terabyte Hitachi eSATA drive connected to the DS710+ I scheduled a data backup to run daily at 3:00AM. As a test I ran the backup a few times manually and was very impressed at how little time it took to complete. A nice feature built into the Synology backup program is the ability to never erase previously backed up files. I'm a firm believer in using this feature and here's why. A major percentage of all data loss is due to user error. I have accidentally deleted an album or two over the years and not realized I'd made the mistake until I wanted to hear the deleted tunes. Using the never delete feature of the Synology NAS one can accidentally delete a few albums and the backup drive will still keep a copy of those albums. In other words the backup copy of the main drive is not a mirror. Using RAID1 the main drive is already mirrored. Another mirror doesn't make much sense.
DiskStation Manager 3.0 (DSM) is the operating system used by the DS710+. DSM isn't like most NAS drive user interfaces (see video 1, video 2). It's actually a desktop presented to the user within a web browser. When connecting to the DS710+ using Safari, Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Chrome the user sees a regular looking desktop with icons for Control Panel, Disk Management, etc… It's just like using a regular Windows computer with a start button except the Synology button isn't labeled. As an example of the excellent information provided by Synology on its website it's now possible for potential customers to test drive a Synology NAS using DSM 3.0. From any computer in the world users simply access this Link with the user name admin and password synology. Users can performa almost every function (no rebooting or upgrading allowed) and browse the documentation or help files if they get stuck. How's that for an in home demo?
Initial setup of the DS710+ is really easy and wizard driven. The provided Synology Assistant program automatically locates the NAS on the network and guides the user through setup. Upon first connecting to DSM running on the DS710+ a nice wizard is presented to the user and suggests basics tasks like creating a shared folder, creating users, and browsing more of the unit's capabilities. Users who just want a place to store their music so iTunes or J River Media Center can access it don't need to do anything after the initial creation of a volume and a shared folder. The DS710+ was plenty fast over my Gigabit Ethernet Cisco based home network. Despite its small size the unit has more than enough power to serve up music.
Additional capabilities of the DS710+ that I found useful or fun to use include support for Apple's Time Machine backup, UPnP/DLNA Media Server, Logitech® SqueezeCenter, iTunes Server, Audio Station, and the DS Audio iPhone application. I won't go into extensive detail about each of these capabilities but I will mention a couple surprises I found. The coolest surprise I found was when using the built-in application called Audio Station. This application presents the user with a music playback interface to browse their collection of music and Internet radio. The standard way to play this audio is to stream it back to the user via a web browser. This isn't groundbreaking nor is the fact that users can access this content from their office or anywhere in the world with an Internet connection. The surprising piece to me was when I connected my dCS Debussy directly to the DS710+ rear USB port. I was able to send audio straight from the NAS to the Debussy's asynchronous USB interface and out through my audio system. I played both 16 and 24 bit music at sample rates of 44.1, 88.2, and 96 kHz without any problems. I tried to verify the bit transparency of the audio output but I was unable to complete the test. I used the Wavelength Audio WaveLink USB to coaxial S/PDIF converter in an attempt to send audio to my Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC. I want to see if the HDCD indicator illuminated when HDCD encoded tracks were played view the DS710+ Audio Station application. Unfortunately the DS710+ did not recognize the WaveLink although it did power the unit successfully.
The second cool surprise I found was also within the Audio Station application. The DS710+ supports UPnP/DLNA and is itself a Media Server. Within the Audio Station interface is the option to select a Media Renderer. A Media Renderer is a device that accepts music from the Media Server and outputs the audio. Using Audio Station I was able to select the PlugPlayer app on my iPhone 4 as the Media Renderer. I sent audio directly from the NAS to my iPhone with only one minor glitch that was likely my fault. OK not the coolest thing in the world. There are other ways to get music from the NAS to an iPhone, namely the DS Audio iPhone application available through the iTunes app store for free. However, using the Audio Station app to select my J River Media Center music server as the Media Renderer offered an unexpected experience. I successfully sent audio using the NAS user interface to the J River machine bit transparently at all sample rates from 16/44.1 through 24/192. When and why would someone ever do such a thing? I don't know, but the fact that it's possible to stream high resolution audio from this $479 NAS unit via Ethernet opens up possibilities for use with an X Box, PS 3, Blu-ray player, etc… as long as they support UPnP/DLNA.
Many companies offer NAS units with all kinds of capabilities. For example the QNAP TS-559 NAS I reviewed back in June 2010. The QNAP unit has a plethora of options and capabilities but I had a heck of a time getting them to function as promised. Synology's implementation of the capabilities on its DS710+ is outstanding. Everything I tried just worked. There's something to be said for promising a lot and delivering a lot.
USING THE DS710+
The DS710+ supports connections to Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux based computers. Enabling Windows File Service on the NAS allows both Windows and Mac to connect. Mac File Service must only be enabled if the built-in Time Machine capability is to be used. On other NAS units Windows File Service is frequently referred to as SMB while Mac File Service is called AFP. I enabled both services only because I used Time Machine. In my testing I've never found a consistent benefit from using Mac File Service or AFP. Since I need my Windows computer to connect to my NAS units as well I simply go with Windows File Service or SMB as it supports both OS X and Windows.
On my Windows computers I simply mapped a drive to the Music shared folder on the NAS and check the box to reconnect every time I login to the computer. After mapping the drive letter M: I directed J River Media Center to import music from the M: drive and watch this drive for changes. That's it. No additional tech geek configuration needed. On my Macs I selected the DiskStation in Finder (on the left pane) to connect to the DS710+. A major gripe I have with OS X is its inability to automatically mount a network drive at login. I've used the AutoMountMaker application in the past and created my own script to get around this shortcoming.
According to Synology the noise level attributed to the DS710+ is around 22 db(A) or that of a buzzing insect [Link]. Synology conducted noise tests using a DS710+ loaded with Seagate one terabyte drives (Model ST31000520AS), two G.R.A.S. type 40E microphones setup one meter from the NAS front and back, with background noise of 17.2 db(A), temperature of 23.6°C/74.48°F, and humidity of 58.2%. I found the DS710+ to be fairly quiet unless I backed it into a corner where the walls reflected its fan noise straight back to me.
The Synology DS710+ Network Attached Storage unit is a comforting device. There is much more information available from Synology about this unit than one can consume. Synology isn't hiding any critical details deep within a user forum. It's all out in the open. Want to test drive the DMS 3.0 operating system? Go ahead, it can be done on the Synology website. In addition to well implemented software the DS710+ has a great hardware design. It's physically scalable to seven total disks and 14 total terabytes with the Synology DX510. Audiophiles with an eye on the future of high resolution audio know a single album can eat up four gigabytes or more. Purchasing a two disk DS710+ now doesn't lock one out from expanding disk space as their music collection expands. From the day the DS710+ arrived until the completion of this review it's really been a pleasure using this NAS. In a way it's like using a Mac computer. As the old saying goes, "It just works." I'm happy to place the DS710+ on the C.A.S.H. List as the first two drive NAS to earn a place next to the four and five drive behemoths.
- Price: DS710+ Diskless = $479.99
- Price: DS710+ & DX510 Expansion Unit = $939.99
- DS710+ Product Page - Link
- DS710+ User Giude - Link [PDF]
- DS710+ Quick Install Guide - Link [PDF]
- DS710+ Datasheet - Link [PDF]