This review is a very long time coming. Launched in September this past year, Synology’s DiskStation DS418play NAS (network attached storage), is intended for consumers considering delivering high-definition media to multiple devices within their home.

You might ask “why?” In the end, there’s Netflix, Apple Music and a bunch of other online services that render the media-minded NAS less useful in cases like this. But that’s not absolutely all it’s good for.

Burning machines, saving photographs, remote downloading and data access are simply a number of the use cases. And really, that’s also just the end of an extremely deep iceberg for many who like to maintain control of this content they own.

Design
If you’re into utilitarian blocks of metal and plastic, the DS418play will tickle your fancy. It’s similar to miniature ITX computers but won’t watch out of put on your desk alongside your primary PC.

Synology’s done an excellent job so that it is as compact as possible, as the four 3.5 inch drive bays occupy almost all of the NAS’s form. They’re easy to get at too, with front-mounted bays and easy-pull sleds that produce changing drives easy as pie.

Having said that, it still weighs 2.2Kg without the drives, and occupies a location of 17cm by 20cm by 22cm.

The DiskStation’s front-right side is occupied by indicator lights, a USB 3.0 port and a power button which glows blue when the system’s operational.

The left and right flank features an embossed Synology logo, as the rear features two large fan grilles mounted on the upper three-quarters of the NAS. Two Gigabit ethernet ports, another USB 3.0 port, and a power plug gather the easy but ergonomic design.

Of course, all of this doesn’t really matter if you’re likely to shove it into your roof or behind a desk.

Internals
In conditions of hardware, the DS418play runs the Apollo Lake Intel Celeron J3355 dual-core, sufficient for 2.0GHz without burst, and 2.5GHz with.

It’s an exceptionally efficient little CPU, with a TDP of 10W and a lithography of 14nm. Synology claims that without drives, the machine reportedly consumes around 29W typically. For some data serving duties, it performs admirably, but we’ll speak about performance comprehensive later in this review.

The Celeron is mated to 2GB of DDR3L RAM, that can be expanded to 6GB in the event that you actually need. Honestly, 6GB does seem to be a lttle bit much as only file server with the dual-core CPU, but buying yet another 2GB stick also appears rather pointless.

The NAS’s our drive bays may also support 3.5 inch or 2.5 inch drives, SSD or disks. And these is often as large as 14TB each, when you can find drives that big.

Our review unit was included with two 4TB Seagate Ironwolf drives, plenty of for the common home.

Physical setup
The most challenging part of establishing Synology’s NAS gets it from the box. Once it’s out though, grab your drives and slide out those sleds by tugging on the latches.

Manufactured from hardy plastic, the tool-less and screwless drive sleds feel just like the cheapest pieces of the NAS. That’s not at all something you’d want to listen to either, considering they’re the most essential non-hardware components. Mounting the drives required a whole lot of pulling, snapping, and teeth clenching.

The sleds uses tabs that snap in to the loaded drives and hold them set up. But popping these tabs from the sleds aren’t easy, nor do they inspire much confidence. I came near snapping a tab while prying it off a sled.

At least sliding the sled back to the NAS is not hard enough.

The energy brick also presents another issue to South Africans. Synology bundles the NAS with a male UK plug with a lady kettle adapter on its other end. In case you have an extra female kettle input – the connector that a lot of PC power supplies use – this will be considered a game breaker.

It’s worth noting though for many who don’t have an extra female kettle plug lying about.

Software setup
That’s where it gets quite simple. Synology’s software setup process is really as simple as plugging the NAS in to the network, opening your browser, and navigating to find.synology.com.

The service will sweep your network looking for the Synology device, and introduces its admin page.

At this stage, you’ll have to create an account, and download the Synology DSM OS to the NAS. This, for me personally at least, took about a quarter-hour. Installation also took a good little bit of time, but this may also rely upon the drive setup you utilize, RAID or individual volumes.

I was setup and all set within around 30 minutes.

Synology DSM OS
It’s worth the wait though, because Synology’s DSM operating-system may be the real attraction of the DS418play. It’s incredibly smooth, with a windowed process manager similar to Windows and Linux, and a desktop-like layout with frequently accessed shortcuts.

Maintaining modern OSes, there’s a good main menu button and taskbar.

Users navigate the OS by mouse and keyboard, while double and single clicks do accurately what you’d expect. More interestingly, users can install “Packages” which are comparable to software that add more functionality to the NAS itself.

Simply storing data isn’t whatever you can do with the DS418play. As it’s name suggests, it comes bundled with media Packages, including an image manager called Moments, a music manager dubbed Audio Station, and Video Station, which manages your bootleg TV series.

But certainly, my favourite Package may be the Download Station.

You can schedule Linux ISOs to download after hours, and even download YouTube videos directly using just its URL. The Package does the others for you personally. It’s absolute bliss.

Unlike Windows though, some Packages don’t open within DSM, instead prompting a fresh browser tab. This isn’t a significant issue, but did get annoying when I needed to gain access to the Moments Package and Video Station Package from the taskbar. Only the Audio Station Package, File Station and Download Station were visible.

A slew of Packages also arrive preinstalled alongside DSM, plus some might not just like the bloat on the machine. Nonetheless it is incredibly simple for novice users, and has a much gentler learning curve than other NAS OSes like NAS4Free and FreeNAS.

Performance
I couldn’t push the NAS as hard as I would’ve liked. My network was the true bottleneck. However, I could say that it’ll serve a modest household well.

Playing music from the Audio Station package, copying video files to the NAS from Windows, and playing back a 720p documentary via VLC barely budged the RAM consumption to 40% and were all doable on my 100Mbit network. CPU use also remained fairly low, under 20% during this time period, only shooting up to 60% when loading images in its Moments Package.

Additionally, while installing packages and updating the machine was the only time I experienced lag on DSM, with windows not adjusting as quickly to clicks as before.

Transferring 2.6GB of music from my PC to the NAS over my network took about four minutes, while a 13GB video took about 20 minutes. During both instances, transfer speeds topped out at about 12MB/s.

Notably, while transferring that 13GB video from my PC to the NAS, playing another file from the NAS completely bottlenecked the 100Mbit network.

During this period, the info copying speed to the NAS never dipped below 10.5MB/s, not did CPU consumption jump beyond 10%. Actually, even the RAM remained stable at 22%, all of this while downloading another YouTube video from the web. Pretty good for a consumer grade NAS.

So yes, if you’e seeking to play high-definition media, it’s better to upgrade your network too. Obviously expect faster network speeds over Gigabit ethernet, but that’s an extravagance only some are able.

Overall, the performance issues was because of my own network environment rather than the NAS itself.

Value for money
When investing in a NAS it’s vital that you outline and understand the needs you have beforehand. Do you just want a standalone system to save lots of backups? Would you like it to serve and transcode media too? Should you access your files from beyond the house? Are you likely to create, save or playback 4K media soon?

These questions will go quite a distance to deciding the thing you need in a NAS. After that you can narrow down your options.

Notably, you don’t desire a NAS to transcode 4K files if your personal computer is a monster, or if your HTPC or Android media box in your lounge was created to do that. Nor should you access your files beyond the house if the NAS is merely used as a backup machine.

Overall, the Synology DiskStation DS418play is a jack of most trades. Because of DSM, it’ll gratify a slew useful cases and buyers. It’s a trusted, thrifty but feature packed NAS with excellent software and off-site access through your Synology account.

But, for about R8000, the DS418play is a hefty investment, and the one which shouldn’t be produced lightly.

As 4K video fast becomes typical, you could be better off building your own, better rig. But in the event that you don’t want the annoyance and frustration which involves, I can’t say that the DiskStation is a bad choice.

Final thoughts
There’s hardly any the Synology DiskStation DS418play can’t do. It’s energy conserving, runs cool with two drives, and boasts incredibly simple to use software. Nonetheless it may be a lttle bit too much for a few persons regarding price, features, and overall storage capacity. Some could also want more processing threads or RAM.

With that said, assuming you have a major family and a straight bigger content library, those four drive bays and intelligent management software comes into play a lot more than handy. Just ensure that your network will keep up together with your consumption habits.

Positives

Sturdy, unassuming build and aesthetics
Synology’s DSM OS is great
Packages for a bevy useful cases