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Synology DS218j Entry Level NAS

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Introduction

Although I’ve been setting up NAS boxes for years, those have been solely for friends and family members. So far my personal storage needs were well served by standalone HTPCs. Around Christmas 2017, I finally decided to move my storage to a dedicated NAS. Not only did I want a server for my music collection but also for family photos, Time Machine Backups and private documents. Getting rid off public clouds simply feels safer – even with file encryption. And I hate clutter because it’s so easy to forget where you store your stuff. All of the content would have to be accessible from my home LAN and externally using Smartphone apps. Personally, I have a hugely positive bias towards Synology products simply because their software is rock-solid and extremely easy to use. Please note that I’m not affiliated with Synology in any way and yes – there might be even better alternatives out there from Qnap, WD or Buffalo but this is what I use and prefer. And with their latest entry-level NAS, the DS218j for under $200(advertisement), I reckoned this to be great value. Initially I was torn between the j model and their pricier DS218+ (advertisement) which apparently offers more CPU horsepower but given my simple filesharing needs, I trust Synology to deliver a usable product and went with the DS218j instead. And hey, the 218j comes in pure white and looks exactly like my WIFI router – a huge plus at least for my wife given the fact that my NAS will have to reside in our living room ;)

Initial Impressions and Set Up

My Amazon order shipped with a 3TB WD Red drive (advertisement) which has been praised by other customers. The Synology DS218j offers two drive bays, so there’s still room for growth if I ever need more space. Backup duties are handled by an external 3TB drive hooked up via USB 3 on the rear port of my Diskstation. With a maximum of 24TB, you shouldn’t ever run out of space :)

There wasn’t really much to unbox after receiving my DS218j – it’s just the product itself, a power supply along with a quick start guide. All the finer details are explained on Synology’s website. If you need full details, you can download the complete manual.

From a technical perspective, the DS218j won’t wow you. It features a dual-core 1.3 GHz processor and an underwhelming 512MB RAM. That means you won’t be able to smoothly run all of Synology’s packages with dozens of users connected at the same time. What’s more important however in this price-range is the read/write speed. At about 113MB/s it’s roughly the equivalent of the more expensive Synology boxes. And I love its eco-friendliness – about 17W power draw is really easy on the wallet for 24/7 operation.

Each Diskstation comes loaded with dozens of optional Synology packages covering virtually every scenario imagineable. From basic file sharing up to remote camera surveillance or mail servers – the DS218j is the swiss army knife of NAS products. If you wanted, you could host your own website or set up your own Google Drive alternative. I personally use DS File, Synology Drive, Video Station and Hyper Backup on a daily basis. More on my backup strategy below.

Ahh…Finally No dynDNS
I hate modifying router configurations and the hassles of making a NAS accessible from outside of my home. Fortunately, Synology now offers a feature called QuickConnect which acts like a tunnel to your NAS.

For audiophiles, I believe the following packages are the most appealing:

FileStation
This is the basic filesharing component which supports SMB and AFP protocols. I personally share my music library as an SMB share with Roon Server.

MinimServer
Provides a lightweight UPnP audio server that can be remote controlled with a tablet and supports Tidal and Qobuz streaming out of the box. Just add a UPnP client such as the Raspberry PI and you are done. Perfect if you are going to be using the NAS as the standalone central hub of your music collection.

Plex Media Server
Plex is a very complex and feature-rich media streaming solution that covers not only audio but photos, movies, TV shows and even live streaming capabilities. Although the basic version is essentially free, stuff like cloud syncing, parental controls and multi user capabilities are reserved for paying subscribers.

Logitech(TM) Media Server
For dedicated fans of the Squeezebox, this is the server backend to install. Since the Squeezebox is no longer made, many audiophiles (including myself) swear by piCorePlayer, an open-source replacement that turns a Raspberry PI into a modern Squeezebox equivalent. I’ve tried it and it works fantastic. Slim Devices and Logitech were so far ahead of their time when the SB3 came out in 2005. It’s amazing to see a product in its 13th year to still receive upgrades and work with the latest streaming services.

How To Use Roon Server with the DS218j
After moving your music collection over to the NAS, you basically want to create an SMB share along with a user account that has access to it. I personally keep my music within the \music share. I also created a limited user account named “musicserver” that has only access to the music. Roon Server would then connect to that fileshare. Check out my pics below to see how I have configured Roon.

My main account screen in DSM

Setting user and group permissions

Backing Up Your NAS
Just because you store your stuff on a NAS doesn’t mean you won’t need backups. Disk arrays were never intended for backup purposes. Even if you install a second hard drive to mirror the first one and something fries your DS218j, both disks could be destroyed in an instant. Thus you need either an external USB drive having the same capacity or some sort of remote storage location. I personally use Synology’s Hyper Backup to periodically move my files over to a USB drive. I also use disk rotation and keep those backups in a different physical location. So if our house burns down, we can still restore our precious family memories. As an additional layer of security, I’m a paying subscriber of Synology’s C2 cloud backup service (if you live in the U.S., you might want to try Amazon Drive which offers massive amounts of storage for peanuts). Here’s how I have scheduled my backup jobs:

Hyper Backup and Synology C2 in action

Summary
Would I buy the Synology DS218j again? Hmm…kind of. At the current price point of about $170 on Amazon.com (advertisement) I have zero complaints and I’m fine with the performance. Everything just works. But depending on your needs, you may desire a faster CPU. If I ever buy another Synology product in the future, I’m probably going to go for a higher-end model. Once you discover what the software packages are capable of, you will probably want to run more services than you originally intended. And this is when decent CPU horsepower comes in handy.

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  • PETER JASZ January 29, 2018, 20:09

    Fantastic write-up that just so happens to coincide with my current audiophile “streaming” need/desires.
    Thanks for sharing.

    pj