My very first commercial NAS box that I bought over 13 years ago was the dual-bay Synology DS207+. At the time, it was the cream of the crop. The hardware was great, but Synology’s very rich software suite was what really set it apart from many of its competitors at the time. The unit served me very well for years in my home network.
Once I got my first VMware home lab setup, I moved away from consumer-grade NAS units and toward more powerful custom-built servers running FreeNAS/TrueNAS. Although awesome for home use, the SoC (system on a chip) ARM-based processors on these old units simply couldn’t handle the I/O requirements for VMs on iSCSI or NFS datastores. Unless you were willing to shell out a lot of dough for an enterprise-grade NAS/SAN, you were stuck building your own. A lot has changed in this market over the last few years. NAS units have gotten much quicker and a reasonably priced unit can now be a very feasible solution for a wide variety of applications – including virtualization. Today, Synology makes a number of multi-bay NAS units with powerful processor options. They have everything from high-performance ARM based units to Xeon-Ds and even AMD Ryzen Embedded options as in the 1621+. Although they still command a premium price, you get way more for your dollar today than you did even just a few years back. When Synology asked if I would be interested in trying out one of their business class “plus” NAS units, I jumped on the opportunity.
Synology was kind enough to send me a review sample including a DS1621+ NAS unit, three of their Synology branded 8TB hard drives and their new E10G21-F2 10Gbps SFP+ NIC. Over the next few weeks, I hope to take a look at this latest generation of multi-bay NAS systems and see how feasible they are for a small to mid-sized business network. I’m also very interested in trying out some of Synology’s included software that is catered towards VMware vSphere. For now, I just wanted to share a quick unboxing and hardware setup post.
The Synology DS1621+ specifications are as follows. You can find the full list on Synology’s DS1621+ page.
- CPU Model: AMD Ryzen V1500B (4 cores, 2.2GHz)
- Hardware Encryption: Yes, AES-NI
- Memory: 1x4GB DDR4 ECC SODIMM (Upgradable to 32GB, 2x16GB)
- Drive Bays: 6 (3.5 or 2.5” SATA compatible)
- Maximum Expansion: 16 Bays with 2x DX517
- M.2 NVMe Slots: 2 (80mm 2280 type supported)
- Maximum Volume Size: 108TB each
- Hot Swappable: Yes
- Ethernet Ports: 4x 1GbE, LAG supported.
- USB Ports: 3x USB 3.2 Gen 1
- eSATA: 2
- PCI-e Expansion: 1x Gen3 x8 slot (x4 link speed)
- Dimensions: 166mm x 282mm x 243mm
- Weight: 5.1kg (11.2lbs)
- Power Supply: 250W, 100V-240V AC input
- Power Consumption: 51W (Access), 25W (HDD Hibernation)
- Warranty: 3 Years
The specifications for this NAS unit are quite impressive. The one feature that gets most people excited is the embedded AMD Ryzen processor. With AMD’s hugely successful Zen architecture, this is not surprising. AMD has managed some very impressive performance numbers – especially in their 3rd and 4th generation CPUs. Being an embedded part, the Zen V1500B processor is a little different than their desktop processors. From what I can see, it is based on AMD’s first generation Zen architecture so it won’t be quite as potent clock-for-clock as some of AMD’s recent Ryzen CPUs. None the less, with four cores, eight threads and a 2.2GHz clock speed, this is a very capable CPU for a NAS. Best of all, being an embedded part, the total TDP for this processor is only 16W. Having a potent x86-64 CPU under the hood opens up the possibilities for a number of different use cases. Not only should iSCSI storage performance be up to the task, but you could even run virtual machines and many of the more demanding software packages on the NAS unit.
Another great feature is Synology’s inclusion of NVMe. Three and a half inch mechanical drives do still have their place for affordable raw storage capacity, but flash storage is really necessary for good performance. All six drive bays support 2.5 inch SATA SSDs, which is great, but there are now two NVMe slots intended to be used for drive caching as well. Being able to use multiple storage tiers and caching really gives this NAS a lot of performance potential.
Without further ado, let’s check out the DS1621+ and the other goodies Synology sent over.
Synology moved away from flashy packaging years back. I like the subtle cardboard packaging because it lets the quality of the product speak for itself.
The size of the box makes the NAS unit feel larger than it actually is. There is ample protection from shipping damage with foam protecting the unit from all sides. The NAS itself is wrapped in plastic to keep dust out.
A small cardboard box includes a pair of high quality ethernet cables and a standard power cable. A small bag of screws and the drive bay keys are also contained within. From what I can see, the screws are only needed for mounting 2.5-inch drives.
The unit itself has a heavy, high quality feel to it. The outer shell and back panel are metal and only the front panel and drive bays are constructed of plastic. Six hotswap SATA drive bays are accessible from the front of the unit. Two 92mm fans dominate the back and line up perfectly behind all six drive bays and should provide good directed airflow.
There are two USB3 ports at the rear (and one at the front) as well as four 1GbE NICs and a pair of eSATA connectors. The eSATA ports can be used for Synology’s expansion units. With two DX517s, you could have up to 16 drives in total.
Synology was kind enough to include three of their self-branded 8TB HAT5300 mechanical drives with the NAS unit. From what I can see, these are manufactured by Toshiba and are 7200RPM models. Synology supports a large number of mechanical drives from a variety of manufacturers, but supplying their own removes the guess work that customers need to do and guarantees 100% compatibility.
Since I plan on using this NAS in my VMware home lab, 10GbE networking will be essential. Synology provided me with their brand new E10G21-F2 SFP+ card. Synology supports a pretty long list of 10Gbps NICs on some of their older NAS units, but the list is short for the DS1621+ at this time. I suspect they are still testing cards for compatibility as this NAS is still quite new. Similar to their branded HDDs, going with a Synology branded NIC ensures 100% compatibility. Synology sells 10Gbase-T models as well if you aren’t using SFP+ DACs or optics.
Internals and Hardware Setup
Now that we’ve had a look at the unit, let’s crack it open, take a look and get the hardware installed.
Inside the unit, we can see an internal Delta branded “80-Plus Bronze” power supply unit. Delta is known for making quality OEM power supplies, so this was good to see. It is rated for 250W with dual +12V rails. You can see that it is spaced away from the rear of the unit so the small 40mm fan on it is not exposed to the outside of the case. Although I usually cringe when I see these small PSU fans, this one is very quiet. The main power connector appears to be a standard 24-pin ATX connector but there are two proprietary 8-pin connectors that connect to a vertically mounted daughterboard of some sort.
On the other side of the unit, we can access the half-height PCI Express slot. According to the DS1621+ hardware guide, this is an x8 slot that is electrically wired for four lanes. Since this is a generation 3 slot, it should be plenty for a dual port 10Gbps NIC. Another smaller slot with a riser card in it sits further forward in a non-standard position. From what I can see, this provides the PCI-e lanes to the NVMe slots inside the chassis. Given the size of the connector (looks like an x1 or x2 slot) I would be curious just how many lanes each NVMe slot is allocated and how this may impact performance. Synology does not advertise this slot’s specifications, unfortunately.
The 92mm fans can be easily removed without opening the case. Simply remove four screws and the panel they are mounted on pulls out. These are standard 25mm thick 92mm fans and appear to use the normal 4-pin PWM pinout. In theory it should be possible to replace these with other models if desired.
A small access panel at the bottom of the unit gets you access to the two SODIMM slots. The NAS comes with 4GB of 2666MHz Non-registered ECC DDR4 by default. ECC memory is definitely a great feature if data integrity is important for you. The DS1621+ supports a maximum of 32GB (2x16GB).
Inside the chassis near the first drive bay, you’ll find the NVMe slots. The NAS supports only 80mm length drives, so keep this in mind. Synology advertises these for HDD caching and sells a couple of models under their SNV3400 series of drives for this purpose. If I get some time, I may explore their drive caching features.
Installing 3.5-inch drives is simple and tool-free. Simply remove the plastic strip from each rail, insert the drive into place and then snap the plastic strip back on. Don’t forget to lock the bays using the included keys once you’ve got the drives in place to prevent accidental removal.
Last but not least, I installed Synology’s dual port SFP+ NIC. This was as simple as installing a card in a desktop PC. Although it’s not officially supported, I may try one of my Intel X520 cards in it if I get some time.
It really didn’t take long to get the unit up and running. Here it is sitting in a temporary spot in my lab rack/shelf. From a noise perspective, the fans spin up at full speed for a few seconds when the unit powers up. After the unit settles, the fans spin down and are barely audible. This unit would be no problem at all in an office environment.
With all three drives installed, the unit idles at around 30W. During drive access, I saw it hover between 45-50W. Not bad at all!
As in years past, Synology’s DSM operating system is not installed out of the box. The NAS unit contains only a small deployment system in its internal flash to help get DSM installed. The OS itself needs to be deployed onto the drives in the system. Thankfully, this is a really easy process and can be done from the web UI. Simply navigate to the DHCP obtained address of the unit and follow the simple wizard. It appears the latest version of DSM is 6.2.4 at the time of writing.
Since I had three drives in the unit, I suspect this tool deploys a small partition spanning multiple drives for redundancy. I’ll look more into this later on as I’m curious how this is done. The only problem with this method is that if you pulled all drives out of the system to swap for others, your DSM install would be gone. There are other pros, however, including ample space for future updates and software packages. Plus, DSM and its software packages could perform better on high performance drives or SSDs compared to a small internal flash device.
Within no time, I was up and running. I haven’t used Synology’s DSM for years but it still has a familiar look and feel and is very easy to navigate.
All 24TB of storage is green and ready to go! I plan to add a few SATA SSDs into the unit shortly and get it setup for 10Gbps iSCSI soon.
Stay tuned for more posts as I explore the DS1621+ and many of Synology’s software tools.