In short: something of a hybrid. The DS415play combines the four-bay functionality and looks of mid-range class leader the DS414 with the multimedia expertise of the DS214play. Consequently this may just be the ultimate media-centric consumer NAS for those who want stacks of storage.
While the internals take a big detour, the DS415play’s design is virtually identical to the DS414. This is a good thing. It means the two share the same dust and fingerprint resistant matt black chassis, easy tool-less drive fitting and simple, readable drive status indicators.
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The result is a stylish, if somewhat sparse, look with Synology determined to keep access to core functionality in the browser. This makes sense given its consumer-focused, living room friendly aspirations and at just 165 mm X 203 mm X 233.2 mm it is compact and (unpopulated) weighs just 2.03Kg.
In future Synology may want to think about different colour options, but the DS415play is likely to spend most of its life hidden away and the sturdiness of its construction means you are buying a NAS which should last.
The DS415play may look the double of the DS414, but internally it has virtually nothing in common. Instead its stable mate is the DS214play and this results in several pros and cons.
Consequently out goes the DS414’s powerful ARM-based dual core Marvell Armada XP 1.33GHz CPU in favour of a dual core Intel Atom processor running at 1.6GHz. The upside is the Atom offers a dedicated instruction set for on the fly media transcoding compatible with H.264 (AVC), MPEG-4 Part 2, MPEG-2 and VC-1 video formats. The downside is we have found the Atom’s performance moving files across a network to be inferior to that of the Marvell chip.
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As a result it is no surprise to see Synology equipping the DS415play with just a single Gigabit Ethernet port instead of the two found on the DS414. The Atom struggles to reach the maximum speed of Gigabit Ethernet so expense has been saved and there is no need for the Gigabit surpassing performance of Link Aggregation that two ports can bring.
Being consumer focused the DS415play also skips eSATA in favour of 3x USB 2.0 ports and 2x USB 3.0. It is frustrating that Synology keeps using USB 2.0 in its single front mounted port though and we’d like to see that change before long. On the plus side the play is equipped with the whisper quiet dual 120mm fans seen on the DS414. Only one fan works at a time, but the latter offers redundancy should one fail.
Arguably Synology’s greatest redundancy feature, however, is SHR (Synology Hybrid RAID) which allows a storage volume to be dynamically expanded should larger disks be added (potentially totalling 24TB via 4x 6TB HDDs). It is functionality that Netgear (X-RAID) and Drobo (Beyond RAID) match but a powerful differentiator to the rest who can only expand a volume if disks of the same size are added.
Synology’s other big weapon is DiskStation Manager (DSM). Now up to version 5.0 it offers a desktop-like user experience with dynamic search, well stocked app store and slick Android and iOS apps for remote access. The setup process is also exceptional.
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Despite its media pretensions, setting up the DS415play is no different to any other Synology NAS – namely, it's a breeze. The tool-less drive bays allow you to slot in drives in seconds and on first boot you simply type ‘find.synology.com’ into your web browser and let the DSM setup wizard take over. Goodbye CDs.
During the setup DSM checks for the latest firmware and lets you specify your username, password and RAID type. It will also automatically configure ‘QuickConnect’ for remote access to your NAS’s content and offers a tutorial once you hit the desktop. For newbies and advanced users it remains the best user experience currently available.