Tech review: Synology DiskStation can keep your digital life organized and safe

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I need to tell you up front that this week’s review is not for beginners.

I’m reviewing the Synology DiskStation DS1520+, ($699.99 from Amazon) which is a NAS (network attached storage).

As you can see from the photo, the DS1520+ is an enclosure that houses five hard drives.

Synology NAS boxes for home or small business use come in varying sizes, from enclosures for one hard drive up to eight drives.

The NAS boxes attach to your home’s network via ethernet cable, and you control them through a web browser.

Synology also makes NAS boxes for midsize and enterprise businesses that are designed to live in data center racks with up to 24 drives.

What can you do with a Synology NAS? More than you think.

Let’s talk about NAS boxes and why you’d want one.

What can it do?

You might think these NAS boxes are just big storage drives — and they are — but you don’t just plug the box into your PC and start using it like an external hard drive.

Synology NAS boxes run an operating system called Disk Station, which means they are also servers that can run software to do a variety of tasks.

Synology calls them intelligent storage devices that connect to your home or office network.

I’ve set up the DS1520+ to store files, save Time Machine backups from my MacBook Pro and serve up my music and videos via Plex for playback on my TV and Sonos audio system.

The Disk Station operating system can also serve up your website or blog, run a personal or business email server, automatically save your photos from your iOS or Android phone and serve up your files with your own private cloud server.

Back when I worked in the IT department at The Dallas Morning News, we used Synology NAS boxes to store and organize the photos created by the photo staff.

You can also set up the NAS as a server to store video from your home surveillance cameras.

How much storage?

Synology NAS boxes ship without drives, so you can choose how many drives and how much storage on each drive.

When you insert one or more drives, you can set them up in several different configurations to allow for faster access or redundant secure storage.

These configurations are called RAID, which stands for redundant array of independent disks.

Here are a few common RAID configurations:

RAID 0 is two or more hard drives set up to combine all the space on the drives into one big storage pool designed for the fastest access, but if any of the drives fail, you lose all the data.

RAID 1 is two drives where the data is mirrored to both drives at the same time, which means either drive can fail, and your data is still protected.

RAID 5 provides fault tolerance and increased read performance. A minimum of three drives is required. RAID 5 can sustain the loss of a single drive. In the event of a drive failure, data from the failed drive is reconstructed from parity striped across the remaining drives.

RAID 6 is similar to RAID 5, except it provides another layer of striping and can sustain two drive failures. A minimum of four drives is required. The performance of RAID 6 is lower than that of RAID 5 due to this additional fault tolerance.

Synology also has its own RAID option called Synology Hybrid RAID, which uses two or more drives. SHR allows for one drive failure with data protection plus it allows the user to mix and match hard drive sizes and to increase the size of the storage pool by swapping a larger drive for a smaller one.

For instance, if I have three 8 terabyte drives in my SHR, the NAS uses one drive for fault tolerance (data protection) and two drives for storage (16 TB).

If I add two more 4 TB drives, I’d have 24 TB of storage with one 8 TB drive for data protection.

Don’t presume that you can’t get a Synology up and running by yourself — you can. The instructions are not hard to follow.

Once it’s set up, you get to look over all the software packages available and figure out what you want the system to do for you.

The hardware

The DS1520+ has five drive bays, which can hold a total of 80 TB (if you use 16 TB drives). It also can accommodate two five-bay expansion boxes, which bring the total up to 15 drives.

The system runs on an Intel Celeron J4125 4-core CPU with 8 gigabytes of RAM.

There are two slots to hold NVMe SSD drives that act to cache data in and out to speed things up.

The DS1520+ has four ethernet ports, which can be combined to allow for faster data transfers.

There is a USB port on the front to allow the user to connect a USB hard drive or a flash drive for data transfers.

If you have your photo library stored on an external drive, you can attach it to the Synology and quickly transfer all the files to it.

There are two eSata ports on the back to connect the expansion chassis, which look just like the DS1520+, but they don’t have the CPU or RAM. This allows the user to add more storage when the original five bays are full.

Please note that with five spinning drives and two fans, the DS1520+ does not operate silently.

I have it set up in my TV cabinet, as it needs to connect to the network via ethernet and that’s where my modem lives. Even with the cabinet doors closed, the unit makes enough noise that I can hear it when the room is quiet.

My favorite use

Synology makes it extremely easy to set up the box for remote access, which means you can control it from any computer (or even your phone) when you are away from home.

I have the Synology at my house running a Plex server, which is a media organizer that allows me to play my stored movies on my Roku TV and my stored music on my Sonos whole-home audio system.

Because the Synology is accessible outside my home network, I can also watch those movies and listen to my music on my phone when I’m away from home.

Plex also allows library sharing, so I can let my friends watch movies from my library and I can watch content from their Plex servers.

There is so much to do with Synology that I’m just scratching the surface. If you are serious about data, adding a NAS to handle all your data storage and backup needs is really nice.

Synology has a personal cloud package that allows users to set up their own cloud storage. I have it set up and can access my files from any computer, tablet or phone at home or away, and it works flawlessly.

Pros: Easy to set up, expandable, protects your data, too many uses to count.

Cons: Filling it with large hard drives can get expensive.

Bottom line: So much to learn, so little time. Figuring out new tasks for it to do is one of my obsessions.



Jim Rossman writes for The Dallas Morning News. He may be reached at


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