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Synology NASes offer their users broad functionality that goes beyond just data storage. The firmware gets more and more functional with each update. Updates even cover products released some three years ago, so the manufacturer should be praised for such continued support. There are few companies on the dynamic IT market that offer it.

We’ve had a lot of reviews with descriptions of DSM capabilities and services, so we won't go into details now, especially as beta version 4.2 is ready available and brings about something new. You can visit the manufacturer's website to check out the demo version of the interface, for example.

Synology NASes offer flexible RAID options. Your RAID building opportunities are only limited by the number of the installed HHDs. Migration and expansion are supported without data loss. There is also a simplified setup mode SHR (Synology Hybrid RAID) for inexperienced users. Block- and file-level iSCSI support is available. The VMware VAAI compatibility and Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V certification may be useful for business scenarios but are not available in every NAS model.

The NASes are connected to a network via Gigabit Ethernet with support for Jumbo Frames and WoL. On the software side, they support IPv6 and VLAN and have integrated PPPoE, DDNS, PPTP and OpenVPN clients. A wireless USB adapter can optionally be used to connect the NASes to a Wi-Fi network or create an access point. Automatic router configuring for accessing the NAS's services remotely is available. For enhanced security you can enable an integrated firewall and a system that protects against password guessing.

The NAS can provide access to its data via every popular protocol: SMB/CIFS, AFP, NFS, FTP, WebDAV. Access rights are managed using user accounts and groups, a Windows domain or a LDAP server.

The monitoring features include resource monitoring, multiple status pages in the interface, several event logs, email/Skype/SMS/Windows Live Messenger notifications for the administrator or notifications for mobile devices via the DS finder utility.

The basic firmware offers a handy browser-based file manager. It allows to manage files on the NAS as well as on the local PC (Java is required) and LAN servers. You can work with archives, mount ISO images, and share files using short links.

The NAS can copy data from its shared folders to other folders, external devices, rsync servers or to the Amazon cloud service. You can create iSCSI LUN copies in the same way. Folders can be synchronized with a remote system (the maximum number of concurrent backup jobs depends on the NAS’s processing power).

Additional software modules can be installed to enhance the NAS's functionality. The easiest way to access them is the Package Center online catalogue. It contains over a dozen modules from Synology and over 30 utilities from third-party developers. Software modules can also be installed from a downloaded file or from a different folder.

Thanks to the extra software, the NAS can be used as a media server, file download system, mail server, and video surveillance system, for hosting websites, IP telephony and many other tasks. The three 4-disk NASes we’re discussing today differ somewhat in what software modules they support. Particularly, the junior model can work with digital TV tuners. Plex Media Server is not available on the PPC platform. HASP, Java and Tomcat are only supported on the Intel Atom.

A software module may have a dedicated web-interface that can only be accessed by specific users. An update system is available for extra modules: the administrator is notified about a new version so that he can install it while keeping the module's local data.

As we mentioned above, the web-interface uses rather sophisticated technologies, so it opens on mobile devices in a simplified version, but you can switch to the full-featured version if you want to. However, it is easier to access the NAS from tablets and smartphones via special utilities which are available in Android, iOS and WP stores. Such mobile apps can help you monitor the status of your NAS, receive push notifications, provide access to files and multimedia services, to the video surveillance and file download systems, and use a network printer connected to the NAS via Google Cloud Print and AirPrint.

When accessed from a PC, not only printing but also scanning is supported with network all-in-ones. External HDDs can be plugged into the NAS’s USB port. They may have any of the following file systems: FAT32, NTFS, EXT2, EXT3 and EXT4. External disks are used for backup copying or expanding the available storage space.

The USB interface may also be used for UPSes, digital TV-tuners, sound cards and speaker systems. You can find compatibility information in the tech support section of the manufacturer's website.

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