NAS units targeting home consumers have traditionally been underpowered in terms of hardware as well as firmware features. Low power, reduced cost and media-centric features are primary requirements in this area. Intel has traditionally been loath to participate in this market segment, probably due to the obvious lack of high margins. However, the explosive growth potential in the consumer / SOHO NAS market has made Intel rethink its strategy.

The Atom CE5300 series was initially introduced as the Berryville set-top-box platform in March 2012. Almost a year later, the CE5300 series was re-launched in its Evansport avatar as a storage solution targeting home consumers (in particular, as a media server platform). Asustor, Synology and Thecus were touted as partners building NAS units based on this platform. We have already looked at the 2-bay Evansport model from Thecus, the N2560 and the Asustor AS-304T. Today, we will look into what Synology's Evansport offering, the DS214play, brings to the table. The DS214play is currently the only Evansport NAS from Synology available to the general public. The specifications of the DS214play are summarized in the table below.

Synology DS214play Specifications
Processor Intel Evansport CE5335 (2C/4T Atom (Bonnell) CPU @ 1.6 GHz)
Drive Bays 2x 3.5"/2.5" SATA 6 Gbps HDD / SSD (Hot-swappable)
Network Links 1x 1 GbE
External I/O Peripherals 2x USB 3.0 / 1x USB 2.0 / 1x eSATA
Expansion Slots None
VGA / Display Out None
Full Specifications Link Synology DS214play Full Specifications
Price $370

NAS vendors designing products based on Evansport have hugely been influenced by the platform's STB background. Both the Thecus N2560 and Asustor AS-304T sport HDMI video output, implying a usage model with the device connected to a television or entertainment display. It is a matter of personal preference as to whether one wants a NAS connected to the TV in the living room, but Synology felt otherwise. Instead of equipping the DS214play with a HDMI port, they decided to retain the core functionality of the NAS and put the media-centric features of the SoC to use elsewhere.

The DS214play is targeted heavily towards media enthusiasts. Synology's landing page heavily trumpets the presence of a hardware transcoder engine. Transcoding (in the process of acting as a media server / DLNA DMS (Digital Media Server)) is one of the often requested features from a NAS targeting home consumers. The DS214play's uniqueness within the Synology lineup is brought out in this FAQ.

In the rest of the review, we will cover the hardware aspects of the DS214play and provide some setup and usage impressions. This will be followed by benchmarks in single and multi-client modes. For single client scenarios, we have both Windows and Linux benchmarks with CIFS and NFS shares. We will also have some performance numbers with encryption enabled. There will be a few sections dedicated to the DSM features relevant to multimedia enthusiasts. In the final section, power consumption numbers as well as RAID rebuild times will be covered along with some closing notes. Prior to all that, we have a summary of our testbed setup and testing methodology.

Testbed Setup and Testing Methodology

The Synology DS214play is a 2-bay unit. Users can opt for automatic SHR (Synology Hybrid RAID) protection or manually set the RAID level to 0 or 1. We benchmarked the unit with SHR (which is effectively RAID-1). We used two Western Digital WD4000FYYZ RE drives as the test disks. Our testbed configuration is outlined below.

AnandTech NAS Testbed Configuration
Motherboard Asus Z9PE-D8 WS Dual LGA2011 SSI-EEB
CPU 2 x Intel Xeon E5-2630L
Coolers 2 x Dynatron R17
Memory G.Skill RipjawsZ F3-12800CL10Q2-64GBZL (8x8GB) CAS 10-10-10-30
OS Drive OCZ Technology Vertex 4 128GB
Secondary Drive OCZ Technology Vertex 4 128GB
Tertiary Drive OCZ Z-Drive R4 CM88 (1.6TB PCIe SSD)
Other Drives 12 x OCZ Technology Vertex 4 64GB (Offline in the Host OS)
Network Cards 6 x Intel ESA I-340 Quad-GbE Port Network Adapter
Chassis SilverStoneTek Raven RV03
PSU SilverStoneTek Strider Plus Gold Evoluion 850W
OS Windows Server 2008 R2
Network Switch Netgear ProSafe GSM7352S-200

Thank You!

We thank the following companies for helping us out with our NAS testbed:

Hardware Aspects & Usage Impressions
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  • toonvl - Tuesday, May 20, 2014 - link

    For me it's hardware RAID and RAID expansion options. FreeNAS OS can help you build a custom NAS yourself, but cannot provide RAID expansion sadly enough.That's if you want RAID 5, 6 and the likes and have the option to add/exchange disks with different capacity etc.. But if you just want RAID 1 and stick to it, then you're probably better off with a micro-ATX rig and software RAID like you suggest.
  • ZeDestructor - Tuesday, May 20, 2014 - link

    All in all, I have been completely sold on ZFS, and have no plans to use anything else for a NAS or any other form of critical storage until btrfs (a GPL-compliant and even more powerful successor to ZFS) gets a stable release. Oh, and personally I wouldn't run FreeNAS: I'd run bare FreeBSD and set it up manually.

    PS: A nice article from arstechnica on ZFS (and CoW FS in general):
  • ZeDestructor - Tuesday, May 20, 2014 - link

    Gah... most of my comment about ZFS got nuked.... And I can't be bothered to retype in all out, so here's the tl;dr edition (read the arstechnica article I linked for more detailed info):

    Compared to HW RAID controllers:
    - RAID5/6: ZFS has RAIDZ1/2/3, for 1, 2 or 3 disks worth of redundancy, equivalent to RAID5/6/there is no equivalent to RAIDZ3 to my knowledge

    - Add/exchange disks with different capacity: Done in ZFS by swapping each disk in a vdev (ZFS term more or less equivalent to arrays), then "resilvering" once all is done to increase it's size.

    Features no HW RAID controller has (to my knowledge):
    - Copy-on-Write (CoW): each update to a file is written as the difference to the original file. This allows for self-healing (damaged blocks are recovered using checksums and old data to regenerate current data) and snapshots (snapshots of the FS is a a state a a point in time). Snapshots make incremental backups trivial. In fact, quite a lot of people use snapshots to back up production databases instead of doing a traditional dump the DB to disk method.

    All in all, I have been completely sold on ZFS, and have no plans to use anything else for a NAS or any other form of critical storage until btrfs (a GPL-compliant and even more powerful successor to ZFS) gets a stable release. Oh, and personally I wouldn't run FreeNAS: I'd run bare FreeBSD and set it up manually.

    PS: A nice article from arstechnica on ZFS (and CoW FS in general):
  • toonvl - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    thanks! I'll check this out. When I have a need for a next expansion I'm probably going to use this :)
  • JeffS - Tuesday, May 20, 2014 - link

    I've been using 2-drive NAS appliances (first Netgear and then Synology) for probably 6 or 7 years now. I've got above-average technical acumen, but with two little kids and a busy job, I don't have enough hours in the day right now to worry about reliable storage. These things are small enough to sit on a bookshelf, they run quietly with low power, and a red light starts flashing and a buzzer sounds when there's a problem. About a year ago, one of the drives in my RAID-1 died. I swapped in a spare and never missed a beat. It would have been divorce court for me if our 20,000 family photos went down the drain. Yes, I still run regular backups (again, one push of a button on the front panel with an external drive plugged in), but it's a huge relief knowing that the odds are low of drive failure taking down our storage system. I never get support calls from home asking why the storage system is offline.

    Having said all that, I just bought a $250 Dell mini tower server, and I plan to move to it as our storage array. I'll probably keep the Synology and set up automated backup. I'm now trying to find space in the wiring closet for the Dell, and it's not an 'appliance' like these NAS units are.

    Basically, the NAS took away all of the thinking with regard to redundant, networked storage, and that allowed me to stop procrastinating and get everything centralized with RAID and backup. I've got a lot of hobbies, but our primary storage array shouldn't be one of them.

    We do only need about 2 TB of storage, so we're probably the ideal customer for a unit like this.
  • bill.rookard - Tuesday, May 20, 2014 - link

    Couldn't agree more. I picked up a very nice rackable case a while back, dropped a Gigabyte mATX board in with a dual core Phenom processor, a few GB of ram, and 5 WD drives with FreeNAS. With the exception of one RMA'd drive which failed after about 6 months, it's been absolutely rock solid for about 7 years now. Total cost on the entire build, including drives (5 x 2TB drives) was right around $800 (the drives alone were $600 at the time).

    While I certainly do appreciate having an easy setup for this type of unit (plug, configure, play), the limitations are just too restrictive (ie: either 4TB with redundancy or 8TB without - which is simply NOT a real choice). Yes, I'm certainly an edge case when it comes to this type of thing, but looking at any 5-bay devices (which would be my personal minimum), you're easily into near four digit costs and that's NOT including a drive.
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, May 20, 2014 - link

    I used to think like you guys till very recently. However, in addition to some of the points mentioned by other readers, there are certain aspects that only these NAS vendors provide:

    1. Mobile app ecosystem - Creation of a mobile app (iOS / Android) which presents an easy and intuitive interface to your NAS's contents
    2. Operation of relay service to access your NAS content from an external network without port forwarding
    3. Automatic backup of data from mobile devices to the NAS
    4. In the case of DS214play, a hardware accelerated transcode engine behind the media server feature.

    For a non-tech savvy consumer, or even for a person who knows the internal details, but doesn't want to spend time configuring or building a NAS, the units supplied by these NAS vendors make a good choice.
  • ZeDestructor - Tuesday, May 20, 2014 - link

    I'll consider buying them when they use Copy-on-Write filesystems, and come in sizes greater than 16bays for under 6k (a fully-built backblaze pod for 45 drives comes in around the 3k mark). I value data integrity more than any convenience, and as of now (to my knowledge), a CoW FS is the best thing you can get.

    If you are in contact with said companies, it would be nice if you could mention that to them... anyone who has encountered bit rot knows that RAID just isn't enough these days...
  • jamyryals - Tuesday, May 20, 2014 - link

    Couldn't agree with you more Ganesh. I have a home built set up right now on an old tower. I've been running Plex/Cloud-backups for a while now, and the fact these standalone NAS boxes have native integration with little hassle is very attractive. In the future I will be buying a solution like this.
  • Aikouka - Tuesday, May 20, 2014 - link

    Does Plex (read: Plex's modified version of FFMPEG) work with Evansport yet? Last I checked a month or so ago, it doesn't, which means you do not get hardware transcoding with this device (or any other Evansport-based NAS).

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