Unboxing: Synology DS414 Slim

DS414slimThis morning I unboxed a brand-spanking new Synology DS414 slim NAS device. In the future I’m going to be working on some performance testing parameters in conjunction with other tests I’m running on a Synology DS 1813+ and a Synology DS1511+ (an older, deprecated model), but for now I wanted to write up my first impressions about some of the physical characteristics.

Full Disclosure: Synology sent me this product for review at no cost. No promotional consideration, express or implied, was given except for writing an honest blog at some point (and, well, I’m behind on fulfilling that promise, so…).

For now, I’m going to focus on the physical characteristics about the casing and some of the changes to the earlier model that I had, the DS411 Slim.

The DS41X Slim is pretty much what it sounds like – tiny. Designed to be a home NAS device, the best way to describe the form factor is “cute.” I remember when I first saw it on display at a trade show last year was that people around the show were gushing about it.

“Have you seen the Slim by Synology yet? I want!”

Of course, with enthusiasm like that you must see it for yourself. When I did, I knew that I wanted one as well. This thing would be perfect for a laptop backup device, either direct-attached or network-attached.

Yes, as advertised, it’s tiny. As in, I can hold the entire thing in the palm of my hand easily. It’s got 4 drive bays and can hold up to a maximum of 6TB raw capacity (actual usage varies depending upon RAID  and HDD types)

At the time, Synology sent me a DS 411 Slim for which I had every intention of running tests with 100GB SSDs, but I found myself having difficulty with the device due to power issues (the 414 version they sent is a replacement for that initial chassis). I’m not sure I can place blame on Synology for this, though, as I have a very strong feeling that this may be user error (more on this below).

It does, however, allow me to have the opportunity to compare – side by side (albeit with some terrible quality photos, I’m afraid) – between the 411 and 414 devices. In each of the photos the older 411 is on the left, and the new 414 is on the right.

Front Face

As you can see in the photo below, the older model had a glossy faceplate that is replaced with a matte texture for the 414:

411 (left) and 414 (right)

411 (left) and 414 (right)

This is a welcome improvement. While identical in size and weight the newer model feels more robust, with a much higher investment in quality. I’ve always had an issue with the black gloss, even though I couldn’t really put my finger on what it was. When you see it compared to the 414 Slim live and in person, though, you realize the concern immediately: there is a subconscious worry that the quality isn’t high enough to really hold onto your data securely. How’s that for irrational?

Even so, when sitting next to (or even on) its bigger brothers (like the DS1813+ and DS1511+), the original 411 looked out of place. Visually it didn’t look like it was in the same quality league, but the 414 fits right in. The matte black plastic molding feels more solid and stronger than the 411 version, and feels like much more than a simple external hard drive.

Power Button and Side View

I’m not going to lie. When I saw the power button placement on the original DS411 Slim I hated it.

sideview

The photo sucks, so I apologize, but hopefully you can get the gist if you click to the larger image. The DS411 on the left appears as if it has 3 buttons. In fact, there are only two (the one on the top and the one on the bottom). One is the on/off button and the other is a copy button (used for auto-copying files from another drive, like a camera flash card, without using the device’s web interface).

Trouble is, I don’t keep my drives at a 45-degree angle where I can see where the buttons are, and I use the buttons so rarely that I never remembered which one was which. I never, for example, used the copy button. Ever. I don’t like the idea of “no-look copying” so I would wind up looking at some UI – whether it be on my controlling computer desktop or through the web UI.

The other problem was that those buttons extended out to the front of the chassis, so if you did wind up having to adjust the chassis, or nudge it a little, it was too easy to hit the power button and cause myself some grief. So, when you combine these two points, if you find yourself needing to look for the power button and have to move the chassis to the side in order to find it, you often wound up initiating some command you may not have wanted.

The DS414, though, made me cry out for joy when I saw what they had done. There is no “copy” button any longer, just a straight-forward recessed on/off button that you can find by touch. Additionally, it’s a more reasonable size, so there is less of a chance of accidental triggering. Major, major props for this design improvement.

Rear View

One of the things that’s most obvious here is that Synology must have gotten feedback that eSATA was not nearly as important as robust Ethernet access:

backside

Personally, I don’t use eSATA connectivity. I’ve always found it to be more of a hassle than I was willing to go through. I do, however, use Ethernet – a lot – and the additional ports that can be bonded together (using 802.3ad LACP) make me very, very happy.

I cannot remember if the 411’s USB port was 2.0 or 3.0, but the 414’s is definitely 3.0.

Ultimately, however, I’ve moved everything off of the desktop (meaning, I’ve cleared my actual desktop so that I don’t have to have the laptop pinned to any one particular place in order to connect to the storage). The USB feature isn’t going to be as much use to me now as it once was, especially as I can now get 2Gb/s Ethernet connectivity without any special cables to have to worry about.

Power

With great power comes great flexibility. Wait, that’s not it…

Well, in the case of Synology, it could have been.

Power

New power brick model

The power brick that came with the 414 was about 2/3 the size of the 411, which is nice.

Original 411 power brick, with about 33% more length

Original 411 power brick, with about 33% more length

What’s also nice is the fact that the actual adapter for the power brick can be exchanged, which means that should I ever move back to Europe (or, for some reason, wish to take it with me on holiday back there), all I’d need is a different adapter.

Is this better than before? Erm…. I’m going to have to say no.

The problem is that if you want to place your storage device onto a battery backup and surge protection device – and you should – the additional real-estate by combining the brick and the plug itself takes up far more real estate than the earlier version. This meant that for certain models of battery back-ups, especially ones that have the plugs “vertical,” you’re going to wind up with a wasted slot somewhere at best, or a power brick that could be kicked loose if caught on the edge.

The original version – which also had multi-residency (so to speak) – had a standard cable connector that meant I could use any cable I needed – plus extend the reach.

 

Can't use these any more.

Wither US, UK or EU (not shown), the same adapter connector works.

That reach problem caught me out in a big way. The length of the power supply to the 414’s brick (where you must plug it into an outlet), is only about a meter (~3 ft). Or, to put it another way, 1 meter is about all you get if you want to place the 414 on a tabletop and let the power cord hang straight down. To me, anyway, that’s extremely confining to placing the device. It seems to me that if you’re considering the device for switch-based network connectivity, placement of the device should be a bit more flexible.

This, combined with the restricted orientation of the plug face, meant that I had to do some power-reshuffling under the desk, which took quite a bit of time that I wouldn’t have had to take if the original form-factor had been retained. By way of comparison, I could place the 411 Slim’s plug anywhere in my electrical network, in any available slot (regardless of orientation), or how far away the battery backup was from my desired placement of the Slim.

Why not just use the power brick from the 411 to the 414? Well, that answer should be obvious. In lieu of an okay from the company, it’s never a good idea to mix-and-match power supplies – especially with storage devices! Very Bad Things™ can occur if you do that. There is a delicate relationship between power and storage and you never want to attach an unapproved power supply to a storage device. Ever.

Pro Tips

There are two things that you should know if you are considering a Slim from Synology. Well, one thing, really (the other is a general tip).

First, the Slim comes with a “resting plate” that is key to the Slim’s cooling airflow. This is the part about the “user error” that I mentioned above. I had placed my original 411 on top of, well, other things (varied) but not the plate that came with the device.

Always use the plate!

Always use the plate!

Big mistake. In talking with the Synology engineers, I found that the plate is an integral part of cooling the device. Considering many of the issues I had with my 411 involved overheating (and remember I was using SSDs!) this does make sense. It doesn’t rule out the possibility that there may have been something else going wrong, but I usually default to user error first – especially if that user is me.

Second, and you may have already seen it above, labeling your power supplies and cables is a good practice to get into. Because there is a very sensitive relationship with your storage device and its power supply, the first thing you should do when you open a box is to label it. Eventually you will find yourself rooting through boxes of power bricks and wondering what they went to, or if it will work with your external drive (or fry it up like bacon).

Labeling devices - especially storage devices - is a good habit to get into

Labeling devices – especially storage devices – is a good habit to get into

Personally, I also label the end of a power cable where it is connected into an outlet so that I don’t have to spend time trying to trace through the inevitable snake nest to where the label is, or all the way to the device if it isn’t labeled at all. It saves so much time and worry that a label maker will pay for itself in saved aggravation the very first time you want to make a change in your configuration.

Bottom Line

I like the device. I still think it is “cute as hell.” The hardware form factor has, by and large, been improved to match my own personal needs in my home network. With the exception of the power supply concerns (which are actually more annoyances than concerns), I believe Synology has made a huge positive move with subtle, nuanced changes in their Slim design.

In the future (though to be honest I’m not sure when that will be), I’ll work on writing up some performance tests for the Slim as well as the other Synology devices in my system.

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1 Comment

  • Synology DSM 5.2 Beta Could Be A Big Deal | J Metz's Blog March 12, 2015 at 06:11

    […] promotional consideration was paid to me in exchange for this blog. However, in the past Synology has provided evaluation units, so I thought that it appropriate to disclose this info just in case someone got […]

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