It is a typical feature of low-end NASes that they do not support hot swapping of HDDs. We don't have anything against this. Infrequently used features should be discarded to reduce the price. You can actually try to replace your HDDs without shutting the NAS down, but that’s not recommended. Another good point about the closed design of these NASes is the lower noise from the HDDs.
As opposed to Synology's earlier products, the DS210j and DS410j do not use cables to connect HDDs. The back-plane design is handier and more robust. With the senior model, you first install your HDDs onto plastic frames and then into the NAS.
The frames support 2.5-inch HDDs. The junior model does not have any frames (HDDs are fastened to specific spots in its chassis) and does not easily support 2.5-inch drives. The tight contact between the HDD case and the chassis facilitates heat dissipation.
Synology’s products store their firmware on a dedicated partition created on the hard disk. Thus, the flash chip only contains a bootloader and you have to install the main OS using the DSAssistant tool. For firmware version 9xx and earlier, DSAssistant can run under Windows, Mac OS and Linux without being installed. Starting from beta version 1118, it has to be installed on your computer. This is due to the enhanced functionality of the program as we will describe below.
When launched, DSAssistant will find the NAS on the network and get it ready to work in a few simple steps during which you should choose the name of the system, change the administrator password, and specify some network settings and system time. There is also an automatic configuration mode that takes only one step to complete. You will need a firmware image (from the included CD or downloaded from the manufacturer’s website). After the first installation, the firmware can be updated via the NAS's web-interface. In some cases, if the HDDs have been used in a computer, it is desirable to clean the partition table prior to installing them into the NAS. If you have used them in another Synology NAS, you can install the HDDs without losing any data. The specifics of this process are described on the manufacturer’s wiki pages. The whole initial configuration process takes less than 10 minutes.
The OS takes about 2.5 gigabytes on each HDD, creating a mirror. Thus, the NAS remains operational even when one HDD fails. Besides, the swap file takes about 0.5 gigabytes. The rest of disk capacity is for user data. The disk is formatted in EXT3.
During the second step you have to use the NAS’s web-interface to choose the RAID array type for your HDDs, create disk volumes, users and shared folders. Just before our publishing this review, Synology released its new DSM 2.3 series firmware. We will take a closer look at it in an upcoming article (it is going to be one of the top-end products of the 2010 model year). Here, we will be using firmware 959 for the performance tests and 1118 beta for the description of functionality.
Let’s first take a look at the new DSAssistant. The program sports a brand-new interface. It can now do something more besides the initial installation of firmware. Particularly, it can be used to monitor the status of NASes including such information as CPU load, network and memory usage. You can monitor multiple NASes simultaneously.
The NAS’s web-interface has not changed much. It still works at ports 5000/5001 (the latter one is for encrypted connections) and has an integrated Help system. The language of the interface is determined automatically according to your web-browser settings or specified manually. The interface is based on Ajax and looks very pretty.