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Synology DiskStation DS920+ Review

Home and small businesses users were spoilt for choice when Synology launched its latest desktop NAS appliances as these offer a wide choice of hardware features and prices to match. You can choose from 2 and 4-bay models, decide on a dual-core or quad-core Celeron CPU and pick an eSATA port to expand outside the box.

Stepping up as the successor to Synology’s popular 4-bay DS918+ desktop appliance, the new DS920+ simplifies these choices as it takes the best features from them all, amalgamates them in a single appliance and adds a few extra touches of its own.

As the 4-bay version of the DS720+, it sports the same 2GHz quad-core Intel Celeron J4125 which has a burst speed up to 2.7GHz and incorporates an Intel UHD 600 Graphics chip for smooth 4K video streaming. The DS920+ has the highest memory capacity of them all as it comes with 4GB of embedded DDR4 which can be doubled by using the spare SO-DIMM slot located behind the right-hand drive bay

Flip it over and you’ll find a pair of NVMe SSD slots which are well worth using if you’re running very demanding apps. As with the DS918+, the single eSATA port at the rear can be used to connect Synology’s 5-bay DX517 expansion unit – hence the ‘9’ in its model name.

Design and installation

The DS920+ uses the same charcoal-black chassis as the DS918+ and DS420+ and presents four drive bays with hot-swap, tool-free carriers. Dual 9cms cooling fans take up much of the rear panel and during testing we found them to be exceedingly quiet.

Network connections are handled by dual Gigabit ports but it’s about time Synology looked at upgrading at least one to a 2.5GbE multi-Gigabit port. This would double available network bandwidth without having to faff around with port aggregation.

For testing, we installed three 16TB Seagate IronWolf NAS drives, allowed the web browser quick start routine to load the latest DSM software and used the Storage Manager app to create a RAID5 array. The cache bays are easy to access and we fitted a pair of 480GB Kingston DC1000B enterprise-class NVMe SSDs.

One NVMe SSD can be used if you want a read-only cache while for a read/write cache, you’ll need two as they are mirrored by Storage Manager for essential data protection. Note that NVMe SSDs can only be used as caches and not to create a separate high-performance storage pool.

Performance and caching

A mirrored NVMe SSD cache can be applied to selected volumes for a big boost to random write operations

To see what improvements caching may make, we ran a full set of NAS and IP SAN tests before and after applying the cache to our volume. Creating a cache is a swift process as you choose the type you want, add the NVMe SSDs and decide which volumes to apply it to.

With a NAS share mapped over a Gigabit connection to our Dell PowerEdge T640 Windows host server, we recorded Iometer sequential read and write rates of 113MB/sec and 112MB/sec while random rates dropped to 96MB/sec and 45MB/sec. Sequential read and write I/O throughput settled at 28,200 and 27,800 IOPS with random speeds dropping significantly to 2,800 and 1,150 IOPS.

After applying the cache, we saw no significant improvement to sequential read and write operations so tasks such as data backup and media streaming will see no benefits. You will, however, see a significant boost to random operations.so performance for apps such as databases and email servers plus file and photo indexing tasks will improve.

The cache boosted random speeds on our NAS share to 113MB/sec and 94MB/sec. The increase for I/O throughput was even greater as Iometer recorded random read and write rates of 28,100 IOPS and 22,500 IOPS.

For IP SANs, we increased the pressure by using a dual Gigabit MPIO link to present a 1TB target to the test server. As with our NAS tests, there were no worthwhile performance improvements to be had for sequential read and write operations but also for random reads.

Random writes saw a big boost though, with the cache lifting raw speeds for the target from 44MB/sec to 165MB/sec. I/O throughput was another winner with the non-cached iSCSI target returning 1,350 IOPS which the cache turned into an impressive 28,500 IOPS.

App choices and limitations

The DS920+ offers an impressive range of snapshot, replication and data protection apps

The DS920+ has enough horsepower to handle the vast majority of DSM’s apps and you’ll find plenty of backup and data protection tools to play with. Along with NAS volume and iSCSI LUN snapshots, you have Hyper Backup for managing all backups and replications of appliance data with the Drive app providing facilities for creating your own private backup cloud.

You must try the free Active Backup for Business (ABB) app as it provides a complete on-appliance solution for protecting Windows servers and workstations along with Hyper-V, VMware vCentre and ESXi hypervisors. The Active Backup suite also provides separate apps for protecting G Suite and Office 365.

To run the DSM Virtual Machine Manage the DS920+ will probably need a memory upgrade

If you want to use the Virtual Machine Manager app to host other operating systems, you will need to upgrade the memory to the maximum. We found the base 4GB was barely enough to host just one Windows Server virtual machine (VM). On a more positive note, you get plenty of multimedia apps including Synology’s Video, Audio and Photo Stations along with the smart Moments app and the DS920+ will have no problems running Synology’s class-leading Surveillance Station.

Conclusion

The DS920+ is a versatile little desktop appliance that offers a good turn of speed with the option of increasing random operations with an NVMe SSD cache. As with Synology’s other new entry-level models, it gets marked down for its lack of multi-Gigabit ports but otherwise, it’s a solid network storage choice made all the more appealing by Synology’s feature-rich DSM software.

8.3 Total Score

The DS920+ is a versatile little desktop appliance that offers a good turn of speed with the option of increasing random operations with an NVMe SSD cache. As with Synology’s other new entry-level models, it gets marked down for its lack of multi-Gigabit ports but otherwise, it’s a solid network storage choice made all the more appealing by Synology’s feature-rich DSM software.

Performance
8.5
Features
8
Build quality
9
Usability
8
Value
8
PROS
  • Good value
  • Decent performance
  • Excellent data protection features
  • Expansion port
  • Dual M.2 NVMe SSD slots
CONS
  • Should have multi-Gigabit ports
  • NVMe SSDs can only be used for caching
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