So having shared so much with the DS414 can its little brother keep up? No, but it gives it a good go. Running a combination of files across our test network we found the DS214play's read and write speeds maxed out at 80.9MBps (647.2Mbps) and 73.56MBps (588.8Mbps).
These peaks fall some way short of the DS414's benchmark 112MBps (896Mbps) read and 97.3MBps (778.4Mbps) write speeds. The switch from the 1.33GHz clocked ARM-based Marvell to Intel's Evansport clearly hasn't paid off here, though it remains one of the fastest dual bay NAS we've tested. The trouble is this does mean the much cheaper WD My Cloud gives it a good run for its money with better reads of 92.4MBps (739.2Mbps) and it is just pipped on writes with 71.9MBps (575.2MBps).
Still given the DS214play's speeds far outstrip even the fastest 802.11ac wireless network (and wireless is going to be far and away the access medium of choice for a consumer oriented product) we doubt anyone will think the NAS is slow.
Furthermore, in isolation, these speeds are up there with some of the fastest pro Gigabit NAS systems in recent years which shows their advancement. Equally important is the NAS stayed quiet throughout our tests and idles under 20dBa, though this will vary depending on the acoustics performance of the drives you add.
Despite the drop off in performance, the reason Synology went for the Intel Evansport in the DS214play is its native hardware transcoding. Synology claims real time 1080p video transcoding is possible and we found this to be the case. It isn't going to compete with a powerful desktop or laptop GPU, but the transcoding process is smooth and doesn't stutter.
For many this will be a key feature, particularly for those with iPhones, iPads and Apple TVs which have limited native codec support. That said if you use kit with wider codec support, like Android devices or WD TVs, it isn't vital and we did encounter a couple of transcoded videos which refused to play - though these were few and far between.
Synology also hypes the DS214play's ability to quickly generate photo thumbnails through Photo Station for snappy viewing. Again we are happy to report this is the case, though we didn't find it any better than the Marvell-based DS414. When NAS are this quick there performance in this area is pretty much a given. As ever the DS range of mobile apps also remains overwhelming and, while we maintain many could be consolidated into simple 'media' and 'productivity' apps, no other NAS maker can match them.
With its smart looks, excellent software and strong performance we still have one caveat: price. The DS214play retails for £289.99 unpopulated and while retailers initially sold the Synology DS414 for a surprising premium (£374.99) it is now available at the £349.99 RRP.
In this scenario, unless SD and eSATA ports are vital to you, we'd save a little more for the DS414's extra bays and faster performance. In all honesty much of the DS214play's media friendliness is also provided by software which is available on the DS414.
On the flip side those looking for just a basic media streaming device will be sorely tempted by the £129.99, £159.99 and £199.99 RRPs of the 2TB, 3TB and 4TB WD My Cloud. Crucially though the My Cloud is a single drive device so there is no data redundancy without external backup and it can't match the advanced functionality of the DS214play. When dual drive My Clouds arrive that may change.
Until then the Synology DS214play is the best dual drive NAS we've seen, but we would still spend a little more for the DS414.
There is no denying the DS214play is an extremely impressive device. It continues Synology's tradition of smart designs, seamless setups, bags of performance and stacks of functionality. Against it is a price tag which could push well past £500 with a pair of 4TB HDDs. With this in mind we think the four bay DS414 offers greater value and while WD's My Cloud range will give you the basics for half the price. Ultimately the DS214play is an exceptional device just be sure it is the device you need.