It is time to compare the Drobo 5N and the Synology DS415+ NAS Devices. Through an awkward process I’ve managed to end up with both NAS devices without having to fork out a lot of cash.
When I first started my hunt for a new NAS last September I was looking for two features.
The first is I wanted the option to be able to mix disk size and still be able to use the most amount. Both the Drobo and the Synology have the option to use dynamically expanding partitioning. Drobo calls it BeyondRaid, Synology calls it Synology Hybrid Raid (SHR). Essentially you can put any combination of any sized disks into the device and it will partition each drive to get the maximum amount of storage space out of it while still being able to survive a disk failure. Both systems also offer dual disk redundancy too.
Second feature that was a big decider was the ability to serve media. My old setup had a FreeNAS box storing the media but it was all served from my computer via iTunes to the AppleTV. I did have Plex running but only I had forked out any coin for the Mobile App and it didn’t have multiuser options at the time.
The Drobo website advertised an iTunes server and the Plex App and they could both be installed on the Drobo B800FS NAS, an 8 bay storage machine. It was a pricy purchase but I figured this one outlay would allow me to keep upgrading my home storage without much fuss for a long time. When I received the B800FS I quickly found out that it could not actually have Apps installed on it. A few emails back and forth with Drobo Support lead to me returning it for a full refund and they then sent me a Drobo 5N for free.
The Drobo 5N is a good machine if all you want is storage. You can install Plex on it and assuming that your media is encoded in a format that the device you are watching it on can play natively you won’t have any troubles. Unfortunately this is where it all fell down. I often watch my media on the go, either at work or on my tablet. Given the appalling upload bandwidth that Australian ISP connections have, I need to transcode all media to a lower rate so that it won’t stop and buffer every 15 seconds. And this is where the Drobo fell down. Even on the same network the Drobo just could not transcode my media to play on my Phone without a significant delay.
I did a comparison between the Drobo and my FreeNAS Plex servers. The same media file would start playing on my phone in just 5 seconds from the FreeNAS box, the Drobo would take almost 60 seconds before playing.
Further investigation also revealed that the Drobo presents itself in an odd way to the Operating System that you are using to mount shares. It seems that a quirk in the BeyondRaid system results in all shares presenting with a little over 17 TB available. The available space will decrease as you put data on it but if you currently only have five 1 TB drives in it, your operating system will still think there is plenty of free space even when the device is full. The only way to see the accurate usage is via the Drobo App.
It took me another five months before I finally decided on and purchased the Synology DS415+. After my experience with the dashed expectations of the Drobo I tried to not let my hopes get the best of me but once I got the Synology home, plugged it in, and fired up the web-based Control Panel I was hooked. Everything just worked and it worked well. I had the DS Video Station App installed, the free apps installed on an old iPad and I was streaming media to my Chromecast in now time.
Since that first night I’ve got the system configured to run as a DNS server so that I can give fancy names to the IP Addresses internal on my network, I’ve got a small webserver running on it, Plex is going with smooth transcoding, Sickbeard and Couchpotato were a breeze to install. Basically everything about the Synology was perfect.
Why the Difference?
The devices are essentially the same in how they are advertised. The DS415+ is a 4 bay NAS, 2 Network ports, a couple of USB ports and an eSATA port. The 5N is a 5 bay NAS, a single Network port, and nothing else. Their expandable partitioning systems allow you to use any sized drives in them. They essentially perform the same task. And the big difference comes down to the base hardware.
As far as I have been able to determine, the 5N has an underpowered ARM Processor with very limited RAM. The DS415+ has a Quad Core INTEL Atom C2538 running at 2.6Ghz with 2 GB of RAM. It is that simple difference that results in one NAS being able to run multiple services while the other is only good for storing data.
When I was researching which NAS to get there wasn’t very much information regarding my specific requirements, namely: which NAS handles Plex the best. So here is the answer to anyone else out there wondering. The Synology DS415+ is the best NAS for media-centric users who want to be able to stream their media on to multiple devices.