Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/8020/synology-ds214play-intel-evansport-almost-done-right




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

The industrial design of Synology's 2-bay NAS units hasn't really changed since we last reviewed one in the DS211+. We continue to have the detachable face-plate (a fingerprint magnet) and hot-swap bays (with the hard drives kept in place on the caddies with screws on the side). The contents of the DS214play package are as below:

  • Synology DS214play chassis
  • 2M Cat 5E Ethernet cable
  • 65 W external power supply with US power cord
  • Getting Started guide
  • Screws for hard disk installation

In terms of external I/O, we have a SD card slot and a USB 2.0 port in the front panel. On the rear, we have two USB 3.0 slots, an eSATA port and a single RJ-45 GbE port. The eSATA port can be used to attach a DX513 5-bay expansion module to provide a total of 7 bays. An important aspect to remember is that the hard drives in the expansion module can't be used for volume expansion, but additional volumes only.

Platform Analysis

The block diagram below gives the layout of the Intel CE5335 SoC. Typically, x86 NAS units come with dual network ports (capable of port trunking), but units based on Evansport (such as the DS214play) don't have that because of the lack of support in the platform. This is acceptable, considering that the unit is supposed to cater to home consumers who want to use it as a media server.

The other important aspect is the available high-speed I/Os. In a NAS platform based on the CE5335, there are two SATA ports and two PCIe 2.0 lanes. There is no native USB 3.0 support in the SoC. Therefore, the DS214play's USB 3.0 support definitely from a USB 3.0 to PCIe bridge. Since the two SATA ports are already being used for the drive bays, it can be inferred that the eSATA port is enabled using a PCIe to SATA bridge. Considering these inferences, it looks like the platform should be able to support all peripherals at full speed (except for the two USB 3.0 ports which talk to the SoC through a single PCIe lane). One option to determine the components on the board would have been disassembling the unit. Fortunately, Synology provides SSH access. The screenshot below exposes some of the hardware aspects of the DS214play.

As expected, the USB 3.0 ports are enabled by the Etron EJ168A USB 3.0 to PCIe bridge, while the eSATA port is enabled by the Silicon Image SiI 3531 SATA to PCIe bridge. TechPowerUp also has a great teardown of the NAS in their review, where they show these components on the board (in addition to the Realtek RTL8211E GMAC for the GbE port and the Genesys Logic GL836 SDIO to USB 2.0 bridge for the SD card slot). A look back at the CE5335 block diagram shows that we have three USB 2.0 ports in the SoC. Only two get used, one for the SD card slot and the other for the front USB 2.0 port.

Setup & Usage

After connection to the network, the unit obtains a DHCP address (even in diskless mode) and could be setup using the web UI at http://<DS214play-IP>. The setup process is straightforward. At least one of the bays needs to be populated. We chose to use the Synology Assistant tool to initialize the NAS (we have used the web interface before in our previous Synology reviews). The firmware (Synology Disk Station Manager - DSM) can be uploaded from a local file in this process. Basic network settings (DHCP / manual static IP) can also be set up using the tool. After a restart, the rest of the configuration is handled through the web interface.

Upon logging into a freshly installed DSM, the user is provided with various options to aid in setup of external access to the NAS. Synology allows its users to create a MyDS account on their servers. The NAS units themselves are provided with a unique 'QuickConnect' ID. A MyDS account can have multiple QuickConnect IDs associated with it. The combination of this ID and a MyDS account helps Synology operate a relay service for access to the NAS from an external network. Users can opt to not register for these, but still enjoy external access if they forward the appropriate ports on their router. We will cover more on this in a later section.

DSM 5.x, in keeping up with the previous versions, is undoubtedly the gold standard to which all other NAS interfaces must measure up to. The combination of a desktop-style interface and a multi-tasking UI with support for desktop widgets make it a pleasure to use. Backing up the eye-candy is a rock-solid Linux-based storage management system and a wealth of applications (both Synology-created and third-party developed). Exploring all the features of DSM 5.x deserves a separate piece by itself. However, we will take a slightly different approach. In one of the later sections, we will look in detail into the external access and multimedia features of DSM 5.x (an area where the DS214play is supposed to excel). We have some more Synology reviews in the pipeline and those will be used to look at the other features.

Our testing sequence started with the insertion of a single disk and configuring it in Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR). For a single disk, it is effectively a JBOD configuration, but the addition of a second disk triggers a migration to RAID-1. While migrating to the new RAID level on the DS214play, the data remained online (as expected) and the process got done without any hitch. We tested RAID-1 rebuild by yanking out a disk during operation and re-inserting it. The rebuild process was also uneventful. On the whole, we were very satisfied with the unit's handling of storage operations (including handling of disk failures).



Single Client Performance - CIFS On Windows

The single client CIFS and iSCSI performance of the Synology DS214play was evaluated on the Windows platforms using Intel NASPT and our standard robocopy benchmark. This was run from one of the virtual machines in our NAS testbed. All data for the robocopy benchmark on the client side was put in a RAM disk (created using OSFMount) to ensure that the client's storage system shortcomings wouldn't affect the benchmark results. It must be noted that all the shares / iSCSI LUNs are created in a RAID-1 volume.

Synology manages to compare favourably against (and actually beat in most cases) even standard Atom-based 2-bay NAS units. This is quite surprising since we saw that the Thecus N2560, based on the same platform and even more DRAM could only be compared against the ARM-based units.

HD Video Playback - CIFS

2x HD Playback - CIFS

4x HD Playback - CIFS

HD Video Recording - CIFS

HD Playback and Recording - CIFS

Content Creation - CIFS

Office Productivity - CIFS

File Copy to NAS - CIFS

File Copy from NAS - CIFS

Dir Copy to NAS - CIFS

Dir Copy from NAS - CIFS

Photo Album - CIFS

robocopy (Write to NAS) - CIFS

robocopy (Read from NAS) - CIFS



Single Client Performance - iSCSI On Windows

We created a 250 GB iSCSI target and mapped it on the Windows VM. The same benchmarks were run and the results are presented below. The observations we had in the CIFS section hold true here too.

HD Video Playback - iSCSI

2x HD Playback - iSCSI

4x HD Playback - iSCSI

HD Video Recording - iSCSI

HD Playback and Recording - iSCSI

Content Creation - iSCSI

Office Productivity - iSCSI

File Copy to NAS - iSCSI

File Copy from NAS - iSCSI

Dir Copy to NAS - iSCSI

Dir Copy from NAS - iSCSI

Photo Album - iSCSI

robocopy (Write to NAS) - iSCSI

robocopy (Read from NAS) - iSCSI



Encryption Support Evaluation - Single Client CIFS on Windows

Consumers looking for encryption capabilities can opt to encrypt a iSCSI share with TrueCrypt or some in-built encryption mechanism in the client OS. However, if requirements dictate that the data must be shared across multiple users / computers, relying on encryption in the NAS is the best way to move forward. Most NAS vendors use the industry-standard 256-bit AES encryption algorithm. One approach is to encrypt only a particular shared folder while the other approach is to encrypt the full volume. Synology supports only folder-level encryption in DSM.

On the hardware side, encryption support can be in the form of specialized hardware blocks in the SoC (common in ARM / PowerPC based NAS units). In x86-based systems, accelerated encryption support is dependent on whether the AES-NI instruction is available on the host CPU. The Atom CPU in the Evansport SoC doesn't support AES-NI, but the SoC does have a security engine. Unfortunately, Synology's firmware doesn't take advantage of the security engine's APIs. The encryption is done using the host CPU and the performance is hit heavily. We enabled encryption on a a CIFS share to repeat our Intel NASPT / robocopy benchmarks. The results are presented in the graph below.

HD Video Playback - Encrypted CIFS

2x HD Playback - Encrypted CIFS

4x HD Playback - Encrypted CIFS

HD Video Recording - Encrypted CIFS

HD Playback and Recording - Encrypted CIFS

Content Creation - Encrypted CIFS

Office Productivity - Encrypted CIFS

File Copy to NAS - Encrypted CIFS

File Copy from NAS - Encrypted CIFS

Dir Copy to NAS - Encrypted CIFS

Dir Copy from NAS - Encrypted CIFS

Photo Album - Encrypted CIFS

robocopy (Write to NAS) - Encrypted CIFS

robocopy (Read from NAS) - Encrypted CIFS

Enabling encryption pulls down the performance numbers, most times by more than 50%. If encryption is important, it might be better to wait for the next generation of Atom-based NAS units (the new Atom CPUs have AES-NI) or opt for a higher-end unit sporting a CPU with AES-NI capabilities. On the other hand, the hardware-accelerated transcoding capabilities are lost with other platforms.



Single Client Performance - CIFS & NFS on Linux

We have recently revamped our Linux-client testing for NAS units, shifting from IOMeter to IOZone. A CentOS 6.2 virtual machine was used to evaluate NFS and CIFS performance of the NAS when accessed from a Linux client. In order to standardize the testing across multiple NAS units, we mount the CIFS and NFS shares during startup with the following /etc/fstab entries.

//<NAS_IP>/PATH_TO_SMB_SHARE /PATH_TO_LOCAL_MOUNT_FOLDER cifs rw,username=guest,password= 0 0

<NAS_IP>:/PATH_TO_NFS_SHARE /PATH_TO_LOCAL_MOUNT_FOLDER nfs rw,relatime,vers=3,rsize=32768,wsize=32768,namlen=255,hard,proto=tcp,timeo=600,retrans=2, sec=sys,mountaddr <NAS_IP>,mountvers=3,mountproto=udp,local_lock=none,addr=<NAS_IP> 0 0

The following IOZone command was used to benchmark the shares:

IOZone -aczR -g 2097152 -U /PATH_TO_LOCAL_CIFS_MOUNT -f /PATH_TO_LOCAL_CIFS_MOUNT/testfile -b <NAS_NAME>_CIFS_EXCEL_BIN.xls > <NAS_NAME>_CIFS_CSV.csv

IOZone provides benchmark numbers for a multitude of access scenarios with varying file sizes and record lengths. Some of these are very susceptible to caching effects on the client side. This is evident in some of the graphs in the gallery below.

Readers interested in the hard numbers can refer to the CSV program output here. These numbers will gain relevance as we benchmark more NAS units with similar configuration.

The NFS share was also benchmarked in a similar manner with the following command:

IOZone -aczR -g 2097152 -U /nfs_test_mount/ -f /nfs_test_mount/testfile -b <NAS_NAME>_NFS_EXCEL_BIN.xls > <NAS_NAME>_NFS_CSV.csv

The IOZone CSV output can be found here for those interested in the exact numbers.

A summary of the bandwidth numbers for various tests averaged across all file and record sizes is provided in the table below. As noted previously, some of these numbers are skewed by caching effects. A reference to the actual CSV outputs linked above make the entries affected by this effect obvious.

Synology DS214play - Linux Client Performance (MBps)
IOZone Test CIFS NFS
Init Write 72 67
Re-Write 75 70
Read 27 105
Re-Read 27 110
Random Read 15 40
Random Write 57 60
Backward Read 15 33
Record Re-Write 43 803*
Stride Read 24 74
File Write 74 71
File Re-Write 73 72
File Read 19 75
File Re-Read 19 77
*: Performance number skewed by caching effect

 



Multi-Client Performance - CIFS

We put the Synology DS214play through some IOMeter tests with a CIFS share being accessed from up to 25 VMs simultaneously. The following four graphs show the total available bandwidth and the average response time while being subject to different types of workloads through IOMeter. IOMeter also reports various other metrics of interest such as maximum response time, read and write IOPS, separate read and write bandwidth figures etc. Some of the interesting aspects from our IOMeter benchmarking run can be found here.

Synology DS214play 2-Bay Multi-Client CIFS Performance - 100% Sequential Reads

 

Synology DS214play 2-Bay Multi-Client CIFS Performance - Max Throughput - 50% Reads

 

Synology DS214play 2-Bay Multi-Client CIFS Performance - Random 8K - 70% Reads

 

Synology DS214play 2-Bay Multi-Client CIFS Performance - Real Life - 65% Reads

All the units compared with the DS214play in the above graphs come with a single GbE link except for the Netgear ReadyNAS RN312 (which has two). Compared to other units, we find that the Synology DS214play exhibits better consistency in performance as the number of simultaneous connections goes up. In fact, the performance of the unit starts showing some signs of weakness only after 20 simultaneous connections, and that too, only for certain workloads.



DSM 5.0: External Access

As mentioned in an earlier section, going through all the features of DSM 5.0 in detail would be beyond the scope of this review. However, the DS214play's claim to fame is its multimedia capabilities. It is only fair that we have a few sections devoted to the multimedia and external access (for multimedia streaming) features of the firmware. First, we take a look at the external access features of DSM 5.0.

A Synology NAS can be accessed from an external network through two different methods. In the first case (for users who don't want to be bothered with port forwarding on their routers), the connection is made through Synology's relay servers. Each NAS intended to be accessed in this way has to be provided with a unique QuickConnect ID (that is registered with Synology). Synology allows registration only with a valid MyDS account.

The QuickConnect settings can be found in the DSM interface under the Control Panel's Connectivity options. External access can be regulated on a per-service basis (in terms of access to just the mobile apps for multimedia streaming, or even NAS management using the DSM UI itself). Accessing a NAS from an external network through Synology's relay servers results in helpful cautionary messages about possible slowness (when using bandwidth-intensive apps such as DS Video).

Port forwarding settings can be accessed via the 'External Access' section right after the 'QuickConnect' settings in the Control Panel. Synology supports multiple DDNS services and also offers their own. Users who have configured QuickConnect already have a QuickConnect.to DDNS setup and don't need to add another. In order to configure port forwarding, the DSM mandates that the unit must be set to receive a static IP (i.e, DHCP disabled). In case the router supports UPnP, the DSM can automatically create the port forwarding rules and apply it. The sequence of steps is shown in the gallery below.

Home users often have data on their NAS that they might want to share with friends in a quick and easy manner. DSM makes this task very easy, provided QuickConnect (or some other DDNS) is already set up. The gallery below outlines the steps in generating a shareable link for any file on the NAS.

The link can be used to download the file without entering login credentials (that are otherwise necessary when accessing the NAS using QuickConnect) and the validity period can also be customized. The link can also be protected with a password. The only minor point of complaint here is the fact that the generated link has the local IP address in it. Usually, the links are shared with people outside the local network. It would be nice if the hardcoded IP were to be replaced with a link based on the QuickConnect ID (if one exists). Full folders can also be shared through this method. In that case, the web browser presents a File Station interface in the browser. For one or two files, using the relay servers works OK. However, when sharing full folders, it might be a better option to forward port 5000 in the router to the Synology NAS.



DSM 5.0: Video Streaming & Transcoding

DSM's multimedia capabilities are brought out by packages installed on the NAS in conjunction with mobile apps / external access. The DLNA ecosystem is served with the Media Server package.

Evansport's transcoding capabilities are utilized in two packages, Video Station and Media Server. The latter enables the DS214play to act as a DLNA DMS (Digital Media Server). The various options available in the Media Server package are made clear in the gallery below.

The important points to note include the fact that folders can be set up for indexing of particular media types only and that video transcoding can be enabled for certain extensions that DLNA DMRs (Digital Media Renderers) don't commonly support (rm, rmvb, mkv). To prove that hardware transcoding works, we have a screenshot below of the resource usage and running processes on the DS214play taken while playing back a VC1 MKV clip using DLNA on a Sony KDL46EX720 TV.

Interesting aspects are pointed out in the above screen capture. Note that transcoding a 1080p VC-1 clip to 1080p H.264 consumes less than 20% CPU resources. The running processes give more insight into how hardware transcoding is utilized. We find that Synology triggers ffmpeg for this purpose. However, the options (such as -prefer_smd and -vcodec h264_smd) indicate that this is a custom build for the DS214play / Evansport platform. Before digging further, a short detour to understand the various streaming profiles is necessary.

Adaptive Bitrate Streaming

The quality of video streaming depends heavily on the network characteristics. Towards this, various adaptive bitrate streaming schemes are used. The MPEG committee's standard is called DASH (Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP) and it works by dividing the multimedia stream into segments (with each one having a MPD (media presentation description) holding the important data - URL, resolution, bitrate etc.). This scheme doesn't rely on or specify the underlying codecs. There are a number of open source implementations of the standard.

Apple has their own protocol for adaptive bitrate streaming, the HLS (HTTP Live Streaming). It also enjoys widespread software support and is publicly documented, though it is not a standard yet. Operation is similar to DASH in the sense that the stream is divided into multiple chunks, but differences come in the form of how the receiver is made aware of the available underlying streams. In the case of DASH, the MPD holds the URL, but HLS provides the list as a playlist at the start of the streaming session.

Microsoft also has its own solution, Smooth Streaming, for this purpose. High level details are available from Microsoft here. Software support for Smooth Streaming has traditionally come only from Microsoft which provides SDKs for various platforms.

There are other adaptive bitrate streaming techniques, but we chose to talk about the above three because they are amongst the transcoding profiles supported by Synology in the DS214play.

Synology's Transcoding Profiles

Synology stores transcoding aspects in various files under /volume1/@appstore/VideoStation/etc. Interesting contents are brought out in the screenshot below. Depending on the underlying architecture of the NAS, different transcoding profiles may be chosen. DS214play falls under 'evansport_2'. Other profiles (not shown in the screenshot) include x86_1, x86_2, bromolow_2 and cedarview_2.

Roku and AppleTV have special profiles. For the rest, some standard profiles are chosen. Note that anything with the _smd option can be expected to take advantage of Evansport's transcoder engine. Bitrates of the transcoded stream as well as the output audio profile can be gleaned from this data.

All this background information is fine and dandy, but I am sure readers are interested in how well does the transcoding works in practice. We are going to see a sharp polarization in opinions over this aspect. While some people are going to be extremely happy with the transcoding capabilities, others might consider the DS214play to be a disappointment in the same department.

What Works? - iOS Streaming & Compliant Files

iOS users with a library of files from cameras or other sources which don't have any type of DTS audio are most likely to be happy campers. In our tests using the DS Video app on a iPhone 4S, we found that all videos taken with camcorders (AVCHD / MPEG-2) as well as Blu-ray MKV remuxes (H.264 / VC-1) with AC3 / E-AC3 audio played back perfectly. Real Media clips in standard definition were also not a problem (though those used software transcoding). Chromecasting these clips worked without issue too.

What Doesn't? - Inconsistent Android Experience & Chromecasting, No DTS, No Plex

Unfortunately, the situation on the Android side is not that great. Due to the variety of supported formats for hardware-accelerated decode on various platforms, Synology suggests using MX Player as the decoder application for videos played via DS Video. Without the app installed, DS Video tries to play back the stream via the default Android app (Gallery / Photo) and this results in a 'Can't play video' message even on a Nexus 5 with an unaltered factory image. We did cursory testing with a Nexus 5, Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4, Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 and an Asus Transformer TF300T. In-depth testing was done on a Nexus 4.

For our experiments, we chose a 1080p VC-1 clip with E-AC3 audio in a MKV container and DS Video on a Nexus 4. DS Video's settings include an option to select playback quality. Setting it on Auto is expected to provide the best results. However, we observed that within the local network / when external bandwidth is really good, DS Video opts to send out the unmodified VC-1 clip. With MX Player set in H/W+ decoder mode, the clip never starts playing back and we get dumped back to the DS Video interface. With H/W+ mode disabled, MX Player plays back the 1080p VC-1 clip in software mode with plenty of frame drops. In either configuration, casting the clip to a Chromecast simply didn't work. Setting the DS Video quality option to Medium gave better results. We do see transcoding getting activated within the MX Player interface, as shown in the gallery below. Unfortunately, even in this configuration, Chromecasting was a futile exercise.

Chromecasting a remuxed Blu-ray VC1 Clip (MKV) didn't work

Our experience with DS Video on an Android device and Chromecast was a mixed bag. While many media files were 'compliant' enough to be Chromecasted (H.264 (Blu-ray profile) in MKV, SD MPEG-1 / MPEG-2 / Real Media content), others simply failed to cast despite playing back on DS Video / MX Player.

We found that many of our test streams refused to play through DS Video. Synology went through some of those and determined some aspects (such as Real Audio in a HD Real Media stream, or a H.264 video with a 1920x1088 size instead of the standard 1920x1080) that couldn't be supported. We do not have any complaints about these 'difficult files' not playing back, but the bigger issue was that once an attempt to play such a file was made, the transcoder state got messed up. Any further transcoding / video serving became possible only after a restart of the system.

One of the disappointing retrogressions in the multimedia space for DSM 5.0 is the absence of a DTS license. Due to this, streams with DTS audio either don't play back through DS Video at all, or play back without audio. Apparently, Synology has been having some licensing issues with DTS, and there is no resolution in sight.

Another unfortunate aspect of the DS214play is the fact that it currently doesn't support the Plex Media Server package (SPK version 0.9.9.7.429-f80a8d6 downloaded from plex.tv). In any case, Plex has never been one to worry about hardware accelerated transcoding, and the Atom CPUs in the Evansport SoC do not perform as well as dedicated Atom CPUs such as the D270x. Given that Plex releases exist for other Evansport-based NAS units, it is not inconceivable that we will get Plex running on the DS214play in the near future.

Video Transcoding Summary

Since MX Player appears essential for DS Video on Android, it would be better if Synology works with them to make the Pro version available for all Synology NAS users who install DS Video. In addition, DS Video for Android should be smart enough to detect when transcoding is necessary, particularly if the quality settings are set to 'Auto'. In the ideal case, DS Video should be able to check up on the supported hardware codecs (and associated resolutions / bitrates) and ensure that the Video Station package on the NAS transcodes the source stream into the best possible quality in a supported codec.

On the whole, users with 'compliant' files will find the DS214play's transcoder working perfectly (as evidenced in this YouTube video), but those who don't and/or those who use Android devices end up with an inconsistent experience.



DSM 5.0: Miscellaneous Multimedia Aspects

We took a detailed look at the video aspects of DSM 5.0 in relation to the DS214play in the previous section. Pure audio support and organization of photo collections round up the multimedia experience. In this section, we take a look at what Synology's DSM 5.0 has to offer in these areas.

Audio

Synology supplies the Audio Station package that needs to be installed on the NAS. This creates a 'music' folder in the root of the volume. Audio station picks up that folder by default, but also enables addition of other folders on the NAS by enabling media indexing. Audio Station can be launched directly from the DSM interface in the browser. It appears as one of the 'multi-tasking' windows within the DSM desktop interface. Playlists can be created and other DLNA digital media servers as well as online radio sources such as Shoutcast can also be integrated. The package enables audio to be played back on the local computer and also allows playback to DLNA DMRs (digital media renderers) as well as USB speakers. Both WAV and MP3 transcoding are supported. Each of Audio Station's features can be enabled or disabled on a per-user basis.

The DS audio mobile app presents almost all the capabilities of the Audio Station's browser interface on a mobile device. We took the Android version out for a spin, and one of the interesting differences compared to the browser interface is the ability to cast to Chromecast. The browser interface lists only the local computer and DLNA DMRs on the network. We tested out this feature and it worked without a hitch.

Chromecast owners have to jump through various hoops to get the ability to play music from a shared folder on the network on Chromecast. For Synology NAS owners with the device, this app gets the job done without any hassles. DS audio is definitely one of the must-have mobile apps for Synology NAS owners in possession of a Chromecast in their media setup.

Photos

Synology supplies the Photo Station package that needs to be installed on the NAS. This creates a 'photo' folder in the root of the volume. The Photo Station package presents a wealth of configuration options, where user accounts can be managed and permissions set up for view, upload and management. These user accounts can be configured to be the same as those used for access to the DSM or ones specific to Photo Station only. Albums (sub-folders within the photo folder) can be set up for 'public' viewing (accessible through http://<NAS-IP_or_QuickConnectID.quickconnect.to>/photo).

We took out the DS photo+ Android app for  a spin. The app presents a very user-friendly interface to the albums, but the best feature is the ability to automatically upload photos and videos taken on the mobile device to a photo folder on the NAS.

Mobile users typically use the photo backup feature of Google, Microsoft (OneDrive) or Dropbox on their device. For those loath to rely on the public cloud for backup, DS photo+'s auto-upload feature is a 'private-cloud' alternative. Even for users who backup to the public cloud, this provides a local backup opportunity. Yet another scenario would be a family with multiple smartphones who wish to have all photos taken on any of their mobile devices made accessible from a central location.



Miscellaneous Aspects & Concluding Remarks

The DS214play is a 2-bay NAS, and most users are going to use it in a RAID-1 configuration for optimal balance of redundancy and capacity. Hence, we performed all our expansion / rebuild testing as well as power consumption evaluation with the unit configured in RAID-1. The disks used for benchmarking (Western Digital WD4000FYYZ) were also used in this section. The table below presents the average power consumption of the unit as well as time taken for various RAID-related activities

Synology DS214play RAID Expansion and Rebuild / Power Consumption
Activity Duration Avg. Power Consumption
     
Idle   12.01 W
4TB Single Disk Initialization 1h 43m 22s 23.38 W
4TB RAID-0 to 4TB RAID-1 (Expand from 1 to 2 Disks) 10h 16m 17s 32.52 W
4TB RAID-1 Rebuild (Replace 1 of 2 Disks) 10h 31m 15s 32.36 W

Coming to the business end of the review, the performance of the DS214play is more than acceptable given the target market (home consumers / power users) and the single GbE link. DSM 5.0's multimedia capabilities are excellent on paper and in practice too, for the most part. Make no mistake, Synology has boldly ventured into a space (hardware accelerated video transcoding for media serving) which no other serious NAS vendor has done before.

In our opinion, from a NAS perspective, the DS214play's unique feature makes more sense than trying to run XBMC on a unit for hooking up to the TV. A NAS needs to be a NAS first and, in most situations, doesn't need to be tied down to a single display. Synology wins hands down on how to properly architect a solution based on an Evansport SoC.

Unfortunately, with bleeding edge features, we also have plenty of bugs resulting in an inconsistent experience. From our interaction with Synology, it looks like they are showing a commitment to devote resources to perfect the firmware for this SoC platform (and also probably release new units based on it such as the 4-bay DS414play exhibited at the 2014 CeBit). So, it looks like most of our concerns should be addressed in future firmware upgrades and updates to the mobile apps.

While the same SoC can stand in good stead for the next generation unit and/or the DS414play, we also need continued commitment from Intel to release SoCs for this product line. Ideally, Intel could offer QuickSync (for which plenty of software work has already been done in the PC space) instead of a custom transcoding block in the SoC. Marrying QuickSync into this lineup would also enable Synology to port the hardware accelerated transcoding capabilities to high-end NAS units based on the Core i-series processors.

On the pure storage side of things, it is not clear why Synology doesn't take advantage of the security engine to provide better performance for encrypted folders. Additional DRAM capacity might prove helpful if the NAS has multiple simultaneous external connections (each triggers a openvpn process) and multiple simultaneous transcoding sessions. In our limited testing, we didn't run into capacity crunch, but it is not inconceivable given that at least one other Evansport NAS vendor has models equipped with 2 GB of memory.

If one is planning on buying the unit solely for its transcoding and media serving capabilities, restrictions such as the non-availability of DTS audio (probably permanent) must be fully understood. If it is mostly user-generated media (such as camcorder streams or PVR recordings) and not Blu-ray remuxes, the DS214play presents an excellent (and currently, the only) choice at its price point / power consumption profile. For those worried about two bays not being enough for media storage, the DS214play also supports the DX513 expansion module (that attaches to the eSATA port) giving a total of seven disks across at least two volumes (the disks in the DX513 can't be used to expand the existing volume using the two primary drives).

The DS214play is priced at $370 for a diskless configuration. Synology's premium pricing is a well-known fact, but the unique multimedia features of the DS214play make it difficult to actually find a competing unit to compare the price against. All said, the strengths of DSM 5.0 and the well-developed mobile ecosystem combine to create an enjoyable and unique experience for DS214play users once the transcoding limitations are understood.

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