When is a NAS drive not a NAS drive? Perhaps when it doesn’t include any onboard storage. In every other respect though, the Synology USB Station 2 ticks all the boxes for a regular NAS drive — and plenty more too, with so many facilities — even though all its storage sits outside the box on USB flash sticks or USB hard disks.
With two USB ports on the rear of the Synology USB Station 2, you can either connect two separate storage drives, or optionally connect USB printers.
It’s a compact white and grey plastic box about the size of a hamburger, but somewhat squarer. Inside the Synology USB Station 2 is a small 800MHz processor with 128MB RAM, which runs Synology’s latest operating system, DiskStation Manager 3.0 (also known as DSM 3.0).
With the help of DSM 3.0’s comprehensive OS-like graphical interface, accessed through a web browser, you can set up a multitude of access possibilites for your storage.
Setup is quite straightforward. For Windows, a program on the supplied CD helps you find the device on your network the first time, after which you configure through your web browser. For Macintosh, there’s a similar app, or you can find the NAS in Safari with the help of the NAS’ Bonjour zero-configuration broadcasting.
Folder shares can be set for individuals, or you can simply allow universal read/write access for any guest you cares to connect to the server over the network.
Music stored on any connected drive can be streamed to iTunes player in Windows or on a Mac. Several iPhone apps are also available, such as DS audio, DS photo and DS cam, which allow you to access music, pictures and security cameras, through your home network.
Streaming content outside that local network is trickier — you’ll have to manually open ports in your firewall and set up port forwarding.
The USB Station 2 itself runs cool without need for any fans, and if you only attach flash storage you’ll have a totally silent network storage solution that you can put in any room in the house.
Any attached storage must be formatted for Linux (EXT3 or 4) or Windows (FAT or NTFS) file systems; but thanks to cross-platform networking support, it can be accessed by all Mac, Windows or Linux PCs.
And DLNA support means it’ll also be recognised by other home electronics devices like audio systems and Sony PS3 or Microsoft Xbox360 games consoles.
Power consumption is very low. With one flash drive and a bus-powered hard drive connected, we saw just 6-7W power consumption.
File transfers were suitably fast, and in line with expectations for the USB 2.0 interface. We tested the unit over the office gigabit ethernet network using various desktop and notebooks PCs, and also with a direct connection from PC to NAS.
We initially had problems with file copies to the unit using Apple’s standard networking protocol (AFP - Apple Filing Protocol), under Mac OS X 10.6.4. This was remedied by the simple expedient of upgrading to 10.6.5.
Using a 872MB test file we tried transfers over AFP to a Mac, and using SMB connections to a Windows PC. We saw a top speed of 199Mbit/sec for read and writes; the same performance was found whether the attached USB storage media was flash- or hard disk-based.
That’s almost 30MB/s, or in other words about the top practical speed of USB 2.0. So very large file transfers will take some time, but it’s still plenty fast enough to enjoy several full 1080p high-definition video streams.