Most of the time, a good network-attached storage (NAS) device isn’t always a pretty one. File storage isn’t a beauty contest, and if it were, the first place crown would usually go to the hefty, less-attractive contestants that emphasized reliability over small, sleek curves. That’s why Synology’s DS710+ is a breath of fresh air—all the function that comes with this NAS device is also packed inside a svelte, eye-catching package.
Unlike other monstrous business-class NAS devices you’ll see from companies like QNAP, NetGear or Thecus, the DS710+ is compact and beautiful, even compared against LaCie’s Jetsons-like lineup. Sporting a solid yet soft metal case around the enclosure, this two-drive model eschews the metallic gray space station aesthetic for sleek black casing. Simply put, the overall feel of the device is just plain stylish.
On the front side of the device, a single column of seven LED lights indicates drive connectivity, with a single USB port for increasing your storage capacity. Six ports line the rear of the DS710+ unit, including VGA, (only) two USB ports, a single Ethernet port, one eSATA port, and the requisite jack for the power supply. While it’s not as robust as other two-bay NAS devices (I’ve seen plenty with at least twice as many ports) it’s the average that you should expect for any two-bay setup.
Setting up the drive is incredibly simple, and should be so for first time users. Upon completing the required installation needed for the Synology Assistant, which took mere seconds, the application instantly recognized the DS710+. Unlike other “assistant” applications that basically just sit in your Finder to let you know that, yes, the device is plugged into your computer, Synology Assistant actually offers up a great deal of information about your network that saves you from having to frequently open up the drive interface in your Internet browser. This was particularly useful in monitoring day-to-day activity in the network; for example, I could see that over the course of a day’s operation, the NAS device maintained a low average temperature without any visible strain or adverse effects.
After clicking on the device’s name in Synology Assistant’s main window, I was instantly taken to the drive interface, Disk Station Manager. Despite the fact that I was working off a simple AirPort Extreme Base Station, I never had any trouble trying to find the device in my Finder, and there were scarcely any connectivity issues present in any of my tests.
Hands down, Disk Station Manager stands head and shoulders above other NAS interfaces that I’ve dealt with. Since there’s no preset file system to dictate where you need to put files of a specific type, the DSM gives you the freedom to structure your network the way you see fit. Moreover, every time you change, add, or delete something in the network, the DSM will instantly update the information in real time. Since that means you don’t have to refresh your navigation window every five seconds, that little implementation turns out to be a real time saver.
As far as user management, the entire operation is straightforward. Creating user groups, setting capacity quotas, and granting access to specific applications and features is a breeze. One interesting facet of this is the ability to lock user passwords, which I imagine would be helpful if someone changes passwords too often to be trusted. Another thing I like the ability to pre-set user profiles for date & time-specific deletion, which is one of several tasks you can automate to the device.
Also impressive is the laundry list of features that the DS710+ supports, with three in particular that should get a ton of mileage out of both hardcore and average consumers. Photo Station 4 can be used to create and share image libraries with varying privacy settings, and it can easily handle dozens of different file types. Audio Station 2 can stream music to devices connected over the network, which I tested wirelessly with my iPhone 3GS. It was pretty cool that I could access a Johnny Cash album from the other side of the office just by finding the DS710+’s playlists and library on iTunes.
Finally, the iTunes Server itself comes with “why isn’t this feature included on every device” Smart Playlist support. Thankfully, the iTunes server also supports M4V, MOV, and MP4 files compatibility, which means that network users can share podcasts, movies, and video clips at will through the application (finally!). So far, the only strange quirk I’ve noticed is that you can’t edit the track information for anything in the DS710+, even if you’re an admin with full access privileges.
Interestingly, my largest gripe with the DS710+ is the one common thing that seems to be wrong with just about every NAS device I’ve tested—the file management tool is just downright archaic, and looks like a relic from 1990s-era Windows systems. Uploading and downloading files is a snap (about 10MB per second on average), but there’s no way to select an entire folder at once. Selecting a group of files at once is the only workaround, but it’s pretty annoying when dealing with hundreds of them.
Macworld’s buying advice
Currently, the going price for Synology’s DS710+ is $499 (without disks), which is pretty steep for a two-drive NAS device. However, the vastly superior drive interface, solid network connection, and stylish design makes this a very attractive set piece for any small office with money to burn. Although it’s not an inexpensive purchase by any means, I have to admit that the DS710+ is certainly every bit as functional as it is pretty.
[McKinley Noble is a Macworld editorial intern.]