As vendors find new ways to outdo each other with their desktop NAS appliances we've watched their products get bigger, faster and heavier with more with more and more disk bays. Synology's latest DS409slim shows size isn't everything as this new four-drive appliance sits in the palm of your hand making is probably the smallest of its type in the world.
Measuring a miniscule 106 x 120 x 142mm (W x H x D), the DS409slim takes advantage of the benefits of 2.5in small form factor (SFF) hard disks and has room for a quartet of them in hot-swap carriers located at the rear. The smaller drives use less power than their 3.5in counterparts and, in turn, generate less heat so cooling requirements can be reduced.
Remarkably, there is a 6cm fan located underneath the unit and this is thermally controlled. We tested using a pair of 250GB WD Scorpio Blue SATA drives and over a two-week period, we didn't notice the fan ever being switched on. In fact, the unit always remained cool to the touch so it's fair to say the DS409slim is virtually silent.
Even though the appliance's controller board is tiny it still packs in a decent specification and sports a 1.2GHz Marvell 6281 processor teamed up with 128MB of DDR2 memory. Networking looks good as you get a Gigabit Ethernet port at the rear and there are eSATA and USB 2.0 ports above with another USB 2.0 port located at the front.
The power button is found on the left side and this has a bright blue status LED. Below this is a copy button and pressing it will send the contents of a storage device connected to the front USB port to a predefined folder on the appliance.
Installation is handled smoothly by the bundled Assistant utility, which locates the appliance on the network and offers to set up a system partition on the drives and download the Linux kernel from the CD-ROM. You then move over to browser management where you'll be greeted by the slick Ajax-based Disk Station Manager which we think is one of the best designed NAS interfaces - yes, it's even better than that offered by Netgear's ReadyNAS appliances.
Your first job is to create a RAID array and you can pick from JBODs, mirrors, stripes, RAID5 with or without hot-spare, and even dual drive redundant RAID6. For performance testing, we opted for a high-speed RAID0 stripe, which only took a few minutes to create.
Where you go from here is up to you and there's a huge choice of options as the DS409slim is endowed with all the features offered by Synology's larger appliances. Windows, Linux and Mac clients are on the guest list and access can be secured using a local user and group database or AD authentication. You can restrict the amount of space they can use by applying quotas, and for FTP services you can use encrypted transmissions and set bandwidth usage limits on uploads and downloads.