Synology DS418play review: Seriously simple multimedia storage

Alex Kidman 14 February 2018

The Synology DS418play offers a NAS solution simple enough for just about anybody to use.

Quick Verdict
Network Attached Storage (NAS) might sound technical and foreboding, but Synology's simple to use multimedia-centric Synology DS418play makes it simple and enticing to use for all your local storage needs.

The Good

  • Easily understood desktop UI
  • Easy transfer from older Synology devices
  • Wide variety of add-on packages
  • Easy to install drives

The bad

  • Fans can be a touch noisy
  • Need to self-update Plex packages
  • Filling all the drive bays will add a lot of cost

While they're mainstay of many businesses, if you simply say "Network Attached Storage" to most consumers, the odds are pretty good that their eyes will glaze over and they'll desperately look across the room for somebody else to talk to, simply because it sounds overly technical.

Synology has been producing more consumer-friendly NAS devices for a while now, and its latest, the Synology DS418play offers a lot of flexibility within an easy to install and configure interface.

If you did glance across the room reading that first paragraph, a NAS (boiled down) is essentially just an enclosure for a bunch of hard drives that you store files on. Sure, that sounds boring, until you realise what you can do with that in a home network.

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Design

There's a certain sameness to most NAS systems irrespective of the manufacturer, because realistically there's only so much you can do with a box that you slot hard drives into. The Synology DS418play certainly isn't going to win too many home decor awards, so you may want to slot it away somewhere inconspicuous if your home network setup allows it.

Given it hooks into your network via ethernet, that's most likely going to be within close proximity of wherever your home broadband connection comes in, because that's where your home router is likely to be.

The Synology DS418play measures in at 166 x 199 x 223 mm with a standalone weight of 2.23kg, but that's without any drives installed, because by default it comes as a standalone package. That gives you the flexibility to fill it as you see fit, but also means that the price you're paying for the system doesn't include the price of up to four storage drives. Depending on your storage needs and whether you opt for solid state or mechanical drives, you could very easily dwarf the purchase price of the Synology DS418play itself.

Installation

Setting up the Synology DS418play involves both a physical and software install process, but thankfully both are quite easy even if you're not technically inclined. Because the Synology DS418play ships without drives, you'll need to acquire storage suitable for your needs.

You can set up the Synology DS418play with as a little as a single drive, but you then lose the advantage of RAID, which in very simplified terms allows you to either group together disks as one big storage unit or use multiple disks to mirror each other's contents so if one disk fails you don't lose all your data. Synology already makes two-disk NAS units, including multimedia-centric ones if your needs are more modest, so the most sensible setup for these drives would be to occupy all four drive bays.

That's a nice and simple matter of popping out each drive caddy, snapping off the side holders and placing your drive within the caddy. If you're using a 3.5 inch drive, all you need to do is snap the holders back in place and reinsert each drive as you go. It's really that simple, with nary a screw to be seen, although users of smaller 2.5 inch drives (including most SSDs) will have to do some additional manual work to install them.

In my case I was jumping from an older Synology 2-bay NAS to the Synology DS418play, so I had to source two fresh drives, but it smartly detected a previous NAS installation and allowed me to seamlessly transfer the entire original setup across, with the only penalty there being that building out fresh (and in my case much larger) drives as well does take a fair chunk of time.

It's also worth pointing out that if you're keen on the Synology DS418play, you should opt for drives specifically built for NAS applications. They tend to be a little more pricey than standard desktop drives, but they're built with 24/7 operation in mind, and that's something that'll pay for itself in less frustration down the track when those desktop drives start to fail.

Even if you're setting up the Synology DS418play for the very first time, the install procedure is a really simple matter of plugging everything in and firing up Synology's web-based interface, which should kick into gear as long as your computer and the Synology DS418play are on the same local network. The process from there is visual and largely obvious. Depending on drive size and configuration, you could be up and running within half an hour or so.

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Performance

Now, if you're wondering what all the fuss about a NAS in a consumer setting might be, consider all the places you've got stored media files, whether they're video, music, photos or even just important digital documents.

They're probably scattered over a handful of individual smartphones, tablets, laptops, maybe a desktop PC or two. If any of those fail, their data goes with them, but it also means finding individual files can be very difficult. That's where a home NAS can be invaluable, providing you with a central storage resource that has a level of fallback across its shared drives.

The Synology DS418play's particular forte is in digital media management, and especially video, with support for 4K transcoding of media files on the fly. Synology handles all of the applications that run on its NAS devices as individual packages, and for media purposes that's the Video Station package, which is easy to install from Synology's Disk Station Manager interface.

Popular media application Plex is also supported, and it's arguably more streamlined, and supported by more platforms in any case. However, there's one minor catch here, as the version of Plex that installs on the Synology DS418play by default is an older iteration of the software. That means that when you launch Plex, it'll constantly nag you to update the software without a clear and obvious way to actually do so. There are workarounds for creating signed Plex installed packages if you're keen to get geeky, but for regular users it's an annoyance that Plex and Synology can't work together to make this more streamlined.

For standard video streaming in my tests, the Synology DS418play performed admirably to a range of devices connected both over gigabit ethernet and 802.11ac wireless, with nary a stutter or problem to be seen during testing. However, network conditions can play a huge role in your overall performance patterns, so this could vary if (for example) you were only ever sending video files over Wi-Fi in an area with a lot of existing wireless congestion. That's not a fault of the Synology DS418play per se, just a reality of this kind of testing.

One factor that might affect your desire to pick up a Synology DS418play is the level of fan noise if you're installing it in a small apartment or plan to have it near your media streaming device of choice. For regular operation the two rear-mounted fans are mostly quiet, but I did notice a few instances where they'd kick in while I was watching something, which was distracting. Dropping the system fan speed down to "quiet mode" did quell the noise at the risk of increased system temperature. Within the context of the Australian environment, that's not always going to be the wisest choice for overall system health, so you may have to put up with noisy fans depending on your ambient situation.

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Verdict

There are plenty of enterprise-grade NAS solutions out there if you're looking more on the small business side of matters, although there's little stopping you using a Synology DS418play in that context either. If you're burdened with a heavy local media library of any type but you've been put off by overly complex NAS installations in the past, or you were simply one of those folks whose eyes glazed over as soon as anyone even mentioned network storage, it could work very well for you.

Pricing and availability

The Synology DS418play retails in Australia for $460 outright with no drives pre-installed. Depending on your merchant of choice, drive packages may be sold at a higher overall price, but again it's wise to check that NAS-certified drives are installed into it.

Specifications

Product Name
Synology DS418play
Drive support
Up to 4 drives
RAID support
JBOD, RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 10, RAID 5, RAID 6
Processor
Intel Celeron J3355 2 GHz
Interfaces
Ethernet, USB 3.0
RAM
2GB, expandable up to 6GB
Dimensions
166 mm x 199 mm x 223mm
Weight
2.23kg
Price
$460

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