Introduction

NAS units targeting home consumers have traditionally been underpowered in terms of hardware as well as firmware features. Low power, reduced cost and media-centric features are primary requirements in this area. Intel has traditionally been loath to participate in this market segment, probably due to the obvious lack of high margins. However, the explosive growth potential in the consumer / SOHO NAS market has made Intel rethink its strategy.

The Atom CE5300 series was initially introduced as the Berryville set-top-box platform in March 2012. Almost a year later, the CE5300 series was re-launched in its Evansport avatar as a storage solution targeting home consumers (in particular, as a media server platform). Asustor, Synology and Thecus were touted as partners building NAS units based on this platform. We have already looked at the 2-bay Evansport model from Thecus, the N2560 and the Asustor AS-304T. Today, we will look into what Synology's Evansport offering, the DS214play, brings to the table. The DS214play is currently the only Evansport NAS from Synology available to the general public. The specifications of the DS214play are summarized in the table below.

Synology DS214play Specifications
Processor Intel Evansport CE5335 (2C/4T Atom (Bonnell) CPU @ 1.6 GHz)
RAM 1 GB DDR3 RAM
Drive Bays 2x 3.5"/2.5" SATA 6 Gbps HDD / SSD (Hot-swappable)
Network Links 1x 1 GbE
External I/O Peripherals 2x USB 3.0 / 1x USB 2.0 / 1x eSATA
Expansion Slots None
VGA / Display Out None
Full Specifications Link Synology DS214play Full Specifications
Price $370

NAS vendors designing products based on Evansport have hugely been influenced by the platform's STB background. Both the Thecus N2560 and Asustor AS-304T sport HDMI video output, implying a usage model with the device connected to a television or entertainment display. It is a matter of personal preference as to whether one wants a NAS connected to the TV in the living room, but Synology felt otherwise. Instead of equipping the DS214play with a HDMI port, they decided to retain the core functionality of the NAS and put the media-centric features of the SoC to use elsewhere.

The DS214play is targeted heavily towards media enthusiasts. Synology's landing page heavily trumpets the presence of a hardware transcoder engine. Transcoding (in the process of acting as a media server / DLNA DMS (Digital Media Server)) is one of the often requested features from a NAS targeting home consumers. The DS214play's uniqueness within the Synology lineup is brought out in this FAQ.

In the rest of the review, we will cover the hardware aspects of the DS214play and provide some setup and usage impressions. This will be followed by benchmarks in single and multi-client modes. For single client scenarios, we have both Windows and Linux benchmarks with CIFS and NFS shares. We will also have some performance numbers with encryption enabled. There will be a few sections dedicated to the DSM features relevant to multimedia enthusiasts. In the final section, power consumption numbers as well as RAID rebuild times will be covered along with some closing notes. Prior to all that, we have a summary of our testbed setup and testing methodology.

Testbed Setup and Testing Methodology

The Synology DS214play is a 2-bay unit. Users can opt for automatic SHR (Synology Hybrid RAID) protection or manually set the RAID level to 0 or 1. We benchmarked the unit with SHR (which is effectively RAID-1). We used two Western Digital WD4000FYYZ RE drives as the test disks. Our testbed configuration is outlined below.

AnandTech NAS Testbed Configuration
Motherboard Asus Z9PE-D8 WS Dual LGA2011 SSI-EEB
CPU 2 x Intel Xeon E5-2630L
Coolers 2 x Dynatron R17
Memory G.Skill RipjawsZ F3-12800CL10Q2-64GBZL (8x8GB) CAS 10-10-10-30
OS Drive OCZ Technology Vertex 4 128GB
Secondary Drive OCZ Technology Vertex 4 128GB
Tertiary Drive OCZ Z-Drive R4 CM88 (1.6TB PCIe SSD)
Other Drives 12 x OCZ Technology Vertex 4 64GB (Offline in the Host OS)
Network Cards 6 x Intel ESA I-340 Quad-GbE Port Network Adapter
Chassis SilverStoneTek Raven RV03
PSU SilverStoneTek Strider Plus Gold Evoluion 850W
OS Windows Server 2008 R2
Network Switch Netgear ProSafe GSM7352S-200

Thank You!

We thank the following companies for helping us out with our NAS testbed:

Hardware Aspects & Usage Impressions
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  • bznotins - Tuesday, May 20, 2014 - link

    Maybe I'm just not the target market for this kind of device, but I am always left scratching my head on the value proposition of something like this.

    For roughly the same price, I could build a micro-ATX rig with twice (or more) the SATA ports, a higher-power CPU, optical drive capability, and more USB/USB3 ports. Plus, the custom build could also be an additional home PC, from which you could run a Plex server, and/or host your mySQL database for XBMC.

    I always find myself reading AT reviews on NAS boxes with the idea that I might want one. Then I look at the price and compare to the functionality of my current W8.1-based home server and the two aren't even in the same league.

    Power consumption can't be it (my W8.1-based home server consumes 31W at long idle).

    Network throughput can't be it (I get 900Mbps over my home network moving files between PCs).

    Redundancy, perhaps?

    /shrug
    Reply
  • ZeDestructor - Tuesday, May 20, 2014 - link

    Don't worry, you're not alone.

    I'm at the other end of the spectrum myself: I have a pile more data, well into the 6/12disk segment, and at the price, dropping a microATX Rangeley (Avoton with more extensive crypto engine) into a backblaze pod looks like a much nicer proposition.
    Reply
  • owan - Tuesday, May 20, 2014 - link

    Completely agreed. $370 for a 2 disk setup seems absolutely absurd unless you are absolutely positive you won't need more than 3 or 4TB of space over the life of the device, and even then its hard to fathom. You can build a custom PC for that much, put a 4-in-3 hotswap bay in, and have double the hot swap space, plus future expansion options. These devices just seem so limited I cant comprehend why you'd bother Reply
  • Spoony - Tuesday, May 20, 2014 - link

    I also don't understand. I want something other than ext4 as well. If I'm going to store lots of data long-term I want reliability to be the name of the game. I ended up building a server around a Xeon E3 with ECC memory and 6x drives. Then installing FreeBSD on it with the storage drives running ZFS. It cost similar to a midrange Synology box, but it is better in every way.

    I think these are for people for which the hassle of setting up and building is significant. They just want to plug it in, flick some switches on the web interface, and easily store data on the network. For that I can certainly see value, it just isn't for me.
    Reply
  • Impulses - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    The number of people that want that idiot proof NAS experience might outnumber the amount of enthusiasts that will roll their own. I don't have either, still seems unnecessary with just two PC in the house, but I know plenty of non enthusiasts and family guys that have bought a NAS like this and would never or could never go DIY. Seems like beating a dead horse to argue the value if you're an enthusiast, it's there for those that aren't or don't wanna bother just like HP & DELL desktops were for ages... Reply
  • robinthakur - Friday, May 23, 2014 - link

    I bought one because it is easy to setup and near silent in operation and has been designed for its purpose. I previously had another NAS made by Zxyel which was a total hassle to setup and use by comparison. I struggled to justify the cost of this box initially, but I have been blown away by how user friendly Synology's DSM OS and mobile apps are and being able to easily run Drupal sites on it for internal testing is great, as is being able to backup all the Macs in the house to the time machine function. Naturally, you could build your own box, but I've done that before and it costs alot more for decent components, the case will likely be bigger and it will be noisier and it takes ages to configure just right. I actually don't use the media features I just bought it to play with them as I have a mac mini hooked up to the TV for XBMC duties but I've ended up using far more of the features than I'd anticipated, not just for file shares. The only reason I might build a physical server would be to also run AD, Exchange and SharePoint VMs for development and while it would be more capable, it would also be more hassle to maintain and more costly to build (RAM and processing requirements) and most of that can be done in Azure now. The box is really user friendly and to be honest these days, that's what I want rather than spending days of my expensive time assembling a server. Reply
  • DanNeely - Tuesday, May 20, 2014 - link

    The main advantage of small soho NASes is size and idiot proofing. You might not care about having another tower case sitting in your network closet, geek cave; but Joe Mundane would much rather have a really small box than a big one and these sort of systems can offer much better performance than a USB drive hung off a router. They also require much less skill to configure and operate than a full fledged server PC. Reply
  • Solandri - Tuesday, May 20, 2014 - link

    This. These things look bad from a financial aspect if you're thinking of purchasing one as an individual where you undervalue your time.. But in terms of a business, you can burn through $370 in an hour, if not a few minutes. You can spend 5 minutes to buy this and 10 minutes to set it up when it arrives and get it up and running. Or you can spend an hour picking out and ordering the parts for a custom box, then spend an hour assembling it, then 2 more hours installing software, setting it up, and testing it. Usually at that point a business has burned more money on labor than it would've spent on this one-stop solution.

    Case in point, one example where it makes sense as an individual is if I want to set up my parents with a NAS. I don't want to remotely troubleshoot it and have to babysit them through fixes every time something goes wrong. I want it to be dirt simple to set up, and have a proven track record of reliability without continuous monitoring and management. The time it saves me from having to fix or tweak it at my parents' house can easily be worth $370 to me.

    The custom box solution is only cheaper if you put little or no value on your time. (Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. I <i>enjoy</i> tweaking with and trying out new things on my custom NAS. I just wouldn't enjoy it if I had to do it remotely at my parents' house every time they have a weird problem they can't fully explain to me, or if I were paying someone $30/hr to do it.)
    Reply
  • Beany2013 - Tuesday, May 20, 2014 - link

    On a related, and wider note....

    I have the ability to build a seriously nice HP Microserver with encryption, trascoding streaming, and all that good stuff, too - and it'd cost the same, more or less, as one of these devices, if you don't include my time at chargable rates. I'm a multidisciplanary IT admin/troubleshooter - I'm the sort of person who can singlehandedly build an entire office infrastructure including GPO'd domain (or Puppet'd Linux environment) from scratch given the funding and a few days of time. So I'm not niave about this.

    But after a ten hour day of fixing servers and workstations, I wasn't in the mood to build one on any given night of the week or weekend, so just bought the DS214+

    Admittadly, no transcoding (the Play wasn't available at the time, and the DS713+ was a bit much for my needs and budget), but handily, Chromecast and VideoStream do that nicely using my laptop as a proxy.

    Does everything I need to, very nicely, with absolutely sod all maintenance or tweeking required, it'll happily WOL and sleep, can talk to UPS/Wireless/Bluetooth dongles if you get the right ones, and has enough commonality with ARM Linux (it's Debian on ARM) to have a good developer pool for unapproved apps. My next project is to set up Asterix on it and practise with VOIP, too see if I can help reduce the office phone bill.

    You're paying for the convenience, the simplicity and the support (that you'll rarely need with this class of device); I'm finding more and more cases where these devices are 'good enough' for a lot of SOHO and small SMB clients, and also power users such as ourselves. The nice thing about Synos range is that they scale up to monster, gazillion disk, 10GBe rackmount devices, too - all with the same interface; very handy for support purposes.

    Consumer NAS devices are at the stage where they can, in many cases, replace a light use Windows/Linux whitebox/OEM server for a lot of people. Simple as that. They aren't suitable for everything, but they are suitable for a hell of a lot.

    I'm not paid by Synology (or anyone in that respect) but when I find a device or service I think is worth kudos, I'll wax on about it happily. The Syno gear is worth investigating IMHO, it's a cut above the Netgear/WD/QNAP stuff, and unless you require device specific functionality (realtime replication between boxes like what the netgears do) I'd go for Syno stuff every time these days.
    Reply
  • lyeoh - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    I set up a custom RAID10 NAS at work and it's configured to run SMART tests on the drives, monitor temperatures of the drives etc and send email alerts if there are problems. Took some time to set up but doesn't need any babysitting. Why would it? It's been running year after year. Earlier this year it sent email alerts when the server room air conditioner broke down and the drives started to get warm. Probably the only machine in the entire server room that sends out such alerts ;), I set it up because the crappy WD NASes others set up were slow and kept dying or hanging. Reply

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