Software setup is similarly straightforward. Like all modern Synology NAS, the DS712 uses the DiskStaton Manager (DSM) user interface. Unlike the menu driven systems of most NAS, DSM (currently at v3.2) runs a Mac OS X-style desktop with clickable icons, pop up windows and a drag and drop interface. It also supports multitasking so you can set one command in motion, leave its window open, and move onto another task. Setting up a NAS is never child's play, but this is certainly the easiest and most intuitive system we have seen to date. A live demo of DSM can be tried here.
Once up and running the first thing to do was examine Synology's performance claims. Test the DS712 without Link Aggregation (we suspect the most common arrangement) and results are similar to many NAS we have tested with large file (4GB) read/write times averaging 57.2MB/s and 43.2MB/s. FTP speeds, as always, were better hitting 106.1MB/s download and 93.2MB/s upload which push the boundaries of the one gigabit (128MB/s) port. Naturally this drops off substantially copying small files to the NAS, which averaged 27.1MB/s read and 23MB/s write, but this is more the limitation of an HDD than that of the NAS itself. With Link Aggregation the picture changes again, the NAS is noticeably more responsive, and while this has little impact on the maximum speed of small file transfers, FTP transfers briefly hit 171MB/s before settling at 122MB/s which indicates we are enjoying the burst speed of our drives before being restricted by their maximum sustained performance.
All of which indicates that a) the DS712 is very fast, but not excessively faster than other NAS in everyday usage and b) with Link Aggregation enabled you are limited primarily by your hard drives. The consequence of this is you are future proofed, but unless you require extreme performance in niche situations and are prepared to splash out for high end hard drives or even SSDs you won't see a significant benefit.
Then again with a £399 RRP (backed up by a three year warranty) Synology isn't charging the earth for this added functionality and a Link Aggregation compatible network switch such as the ProCurve 1700-8 doesn't cost much more than £50. The DS712 also provides you with a super fast core system which can add another five drives in time using Synology's DX510 five bay expansion unit (RRP £389). This gives you a potential 21TB setup with blazing performance for around £800. Given Netgear's (still excellent) midrange, four bay ReadyNAS NVX retailed for £960 just two years ago it shows the leaps and bounds the industry has come on.
Furthermore all Synology drives enjoy extensive software support with Apple Time Machine, iTunes and WMWare compatibility and smartphone apps. There is even remote monitoring capability through a compatible camera" IP camera connected to the network. The flexibility is tremendous.
Few will take advantage of the Link Aggregation technology which gives the Synology DS712 its primary advantage. Despite this the speed benefits for those who do are extremely impressive while the build quality, DiskStation Manager user interface and wide ranging software support are first class. Ultimately casual users should stick to the company's budget friendly DS211j, but speed freaks looking to future proof their NAS without spending a small fortune will be well rewarded.