Review: Synology DiskStation DS218j

Do you need a home cloud storage server in your life?

DiskStation
The box includes the DiskStation, power adapter and some screws. Hard drives sold separately

We’ve all been there. The sinking feeling that ensues when you realise the 200GB hard drive you purchased at the 2009 Gitex Shopper is finally bust. With it, a host of content – PDF scans of birth certificates, a cousin’s CV that you painfully edited, digitised videos from the family holiday in ’98 – is lost. Hard drives, particularly older models, are susceptible to all manner of damage by drops, humidity, travel and more. The Synology DiskStation DS218j aims to put consumers’ minds at ease.

We reviewed one of this brand’s routers a couple of years ago. It’s time to see what it’s done outside that space.

Synology DiskStation
We appreciated the modest packaging in use here

The two-bay network-attached storage (NAS) device utilises incremental backup technology to copy data stored on your PC to a private cloud server in an instant.

DiskStation: Installation

If you’re a bit of a luddite, setting up the DiskStation isn’t quite as smooth a process as it should be. It’s easy enough to open the DS218j – one side slides off – to reveal the two HDD ports. Plug a hard drive (either 3.5-inch or 2.5-inch with a dock) into one of the ports, screw it in and close the device.

DiskStation
The box includes the DiskStation, power adapter and some screws. Hard drives sold separately

Next, you need to install Synology’s DiskStation Manager (DSM) software. After powering on your device and plugging in an Ethernet cable, which should be linked to the same router your PC is connected to, you can access the DiskStation via Web Assistant, which you can access via your browser.

DiskStation
The internals of DiskStation. It provides slots for 2.5″ and 3.5″ hard drives, which are sold separately. A cooling fan allows the device to run 24/7

DiskStation: User interface(s)

Long-time Windows and Mac users should have no issues navigating DSM, with simple drag-and-drop functionality allowing you to upload/download files to/from the NAS with ease. If you’ve got files that aren’t for everyone’s eyes, creating individual user profiles allows the device’s admin to hide sensitive files and folders for some users. You can also monitor the health of each drive hooked up to the DiskStation.

DiskStation DSM
A view of the Windows-esque DSM interface

DSM also has its own app store, called Package Centre. Through here, you can download and install a number of applications, most of which are free. They include Cloud Station, various server apps for video, pictures and audio, and even McAcfee Antivirus.

DiskStation: Multimedia Applications

Here’s where you can really start to have fun. Many millennial users are likely to have built up a treasure trove of digital movies and home videos over the years. The same applies to photos, some of which date back to the late Nineties and early Noughties when digital cameras first started becoming prevalent, as well as music. Synology has developed a range of in-house apps to handle this kind of content, all accessible via DSM.

Video Station not only allows you to use your NAS as a full-fledged media server – you can stream to Apple TV, Chromecast, smart TVs, a PS4 or your phone – but is also capable of retrieving metadata from the internet, providing movie posters and film descriptions sourced from the likes of IMDB within the app. Parental controls are useful for families using the DiskStation, where R-rated films can be hidden from younger users.

Photo Station brings together image files from across a swathe of sources, and lets you share them over social media and other platforms, including CMS ones (which will please bloggers). You can also add watermarks to images shared. The Moments app is similar in layout to Google Photos, and also features similar smart algorithms that will automatically sort images according to categories such as objects or location.

Audio Station works much like its video counterpart – you can stream from your sizeable music collection in high quality via AirPlay and pretty much any smart device. It’s a particularly useful feature for those who’d rather not spend the bulk of their limited smartphone storage on songs. You’ve also got the option to store files on your device for, say, a long flight. They can be deleted later.

DiskStation: Cloud stuff

The headline feature of this set-up. Synology’s Cloud Station Suite allows DiskStation owners to sync their data across devices. If you make a change on one – say, deleting sensitive documents – the change will automatically be replicated across others.

The Version Explorer program even lets you restore data to a specific point in time. If you accidentally deleted something important at 3pm yesterday, just drag things back to 2.45 and it’s all good. While Cloud Station is capable of retaining up to 32 historical version of each file, the Intelliversioning feature preserves the most important ones – think of it like bookmarking individuals among a large group of files that look similar.

Cloud Sync lets the DiskStation play with services such as Dropbox and Google Drive – it’s useful having offline backups of files hosted on these services should you lose a password or find an account has been compromised. Privacy-conscious consumers will appreciate the ability to encrypt files before placing them on a service such as Google Drive. It’s something that would be great for salary certificates or other important official documentation.

The above features are what we thought home consumers would appreciate – this device offers functionality far beyond this. A range of secure backup options; website hosting; centralised mail server; a Slack-style project-oriented chat client; a tagged organiser tool called Note Station; document and spreadsheet editing; and even a VPN/proxy server.

It might be easier listing the things the DiskStation can’t do. For the time being, however, we can recommend this device to tech-savvy consumers who want to be able to access large quantities of file – for work or play – from anywhere.