Is the New Budget Synology DS120j NAS Worth your Data?
With the release of the new DS120j NAS, when it comes to buying your first network-attached storage device there are several reasons why the Synology range appeals to many. With a diverse range of hardware and storage options across a wide series of uses, as well as an impressive range of first-party applications, Synology has fast become one of the biggest names in the NAS. However, so many users have one tiny problem with most Synology devices, namely the price tag. In terms of overall price, you will find that a Synology NAS typically is around 15 to 20% more expensive than most other brands with the same hardware (we will leave software out of the equation for a bit). Added to this is the fact that most buyers looking to buy their first unit are nervous in spending large sums of money on a largely unexplored area of technology.
Luckily Synology has already addressed this problem before with the inclusion of a budget range of devices that serves as a fantastic introduction point to network-attached storage and the Synology Diskstation Manager (DSM) system software. The latest entry into this series, known as the Synology J range, is the brand new Synology DS120j, a single hard drive cost-effective network-attached storage device for desktop use. With a price point at just around £85-90 without VAT or hard drive media, you are looking at an impressive solution for those wanting their first NAS, yet not wanting to spend too much. Today we want to review this device and let you know if this surprisingly low price Synology drive can still deliver the promises of Synology and DSM 6.2. Ultimately, we want to work out if this device worth your money and your data.
The Synology DS120j NAS – Design
Unsurprisingly, the external packaging of the Synology DS120j one bay NAS is very understated and Synology cannot really be judged for this. In a marketplace where the majority of NAS are purchased online, attractive and outspoken retail packaging is rendered somewhat redundant. The DS120j retail box is functional, maintains safety for the Synology NAS and provides information on your purchase. Once we opened up the DS120j retail box, we find a remarkably petite NAS, alongside several accessories. accessories included a tiny external power supplier, a 1Gbe RJ45 CAT 5e LAN cable, first time setup guide, installation screws and warranty information.
The chassis of the DS120j from Synology is incredibly compact even for a one by nice and measures a mere SIZE.
The chassis itself is plastic in design, which should not come as a huge surprise given the overall cost of this unit and in fact, the external chassis is identical to that of its predecessor the DS119j NAS.
The front of the Synology DS120j features several LEDs that denote system activity, drive media access and network traffic.
Again, these are fairly standard for any storage device but nevertheless are discrete and the brightness of the LEDs can be controlled via the Synology diskstation manager 6.2 software.
Unsurprisingly, the Synology DS120j does not feature a hard drive tray and requires you to install your hard drive internal. This is a one-bay media NAS, so features such as hot-swapping and replacing drives to rebuild a RAID are not relevant. Additionally, if you did in fact attempt to remove a hard drive from the DS120j, it would result in the system crashing. The need for a hot swap bay and tray is unnecessary.
Another feature missing on the DS120j device that you would find in a larger more expensive nice is a front-mounted USB port. This device features USB connectivity on the rear as we will discuss a little further along, but it is worth stating that front mounted USB connection of external media or compatible devices is not possible on this NAS. All that remains on the front of the DS120j is the power button.
The sides of this plastic chassis do however feature the always impressive and neatly designed Synology logo that doubles as passive cooling, the panel being completely ventilated.
Likewise, the base of these DS120j plastic small compact chassis features a little more ventilation to assist low temperatures on your NAS media
The Synology DS120j NAS – Ports and Connections
If we turn the DS120j NAS drive around, what we find though not exactly breathtaking, is still more than enough for those looking for their first NAS or looking for a network backup drive to support an existing larger NAS device.
The rear fan, though small, maintains active air flow throughout the DS120j NAS and can be automatically adjusted for higher or lower RPM, or you can manually make these adjustments as you need. Although, of course, you would want to keep temperatures as low as possible, many users will manually change the fan on a NAS to reduce noise. The DS120j Synology NAS itself is remarkably quiet and this combined with the compact plastic chassis and the single bay of storage result in a remarkably quiet NAS. Just be sure to use less industrial HDD media
As previously mentioned, the DS120j arrives with two USB 2.0 slots and these ports can be utilised primarily for adding additional USB storage devices, but can also be used for wireless USB dongles, connecting smart UPS devices and more. The necessity for connecting external storage drives is higher than most RAID assisted NAS devices, as without redundant storage backup available to the DS120j NAS, you will need to use network backup, third-party cloud backups or a USB backup as the means of ensuring you do not put all your eggs in one basket with the DS120j drive. Synology DSM 6.2 arrives with several handy means of backup, which we will explain later in the software section.
Besides the USB port, the last feature of the DS120j that is a simple 1Gbe LAN port for network and internet connectivity. One gigabit ethernet is considered standard for NAS devices and unsurprisingly is found on the DS120j. This will limit you from such output improvements as link aggregation or 10Gbe, but at less than £100, there was no way you were going to get these features at this price. For DLNA playback, network backups, file management and surveillance on the DS120j NAS, a single LAN port is more than enough.
All in all, the DS120j arrives with a standard range of both network and direct connectivity, and apart from the sad lack of a USB 3.0 Port or one-touch copy button, but I cannot fault Synology with their design choices on the DS120j NAS.
The Synology DS120j NAS – Hardware and Software
Ok, so let’s discuss the elephant in the room – let’s talk about the internal hardware of the Synology DS120j NAS. Because of the remarkably affordable price tag of this device, the internal hardware is pretty low and although it is 100% better than the DS119j in memory, it is still the same low power CPU in general terms compared with other Synology NAS.
The DS120j arrives with a Marvell Armada 3700 88F3720 – and a mere 512MB of memory which, although double that of the DS119j, is still pretty low by modern standards. So not to put a final point of it this, NAS only supports a more streamlined version of the DSM 6.2 software from Synology and it’s applications. That said, I was still very surprised at the number of apps that is did arrive with:
Support RAID disk array type
Maximum number of local user accounts
Maximum number of local groups
Maximum shared folder
Maximum shared folder synchronization task
Cloud Station Server
Maximum number of simultaneous devices
Maximum number of download tasks
Maximum number of files carried
Maximum number of simultaneous desktop clients
It will certainly support features and functionality such as DLNA media playback too network devices, multiple backups from PC/Mac systems, multi-user file access and sharing folders. It even supports desirable Synology first-party apps such as Synology Drive, Synology Moments (particularly impressed by that one) and even surveillance station.
In the popular surveillance and CCTV application, it only supports up to 5 total IP cameras in use at once and arrives with two camera licences like any Synology NAS.
However, those hoping to use this Synology DS120j as a Plex media server, accessing and enjoying 4K Media, or even the lightest virtual Machine or docker applications will definitely have to look elsewhere at devices like the DS918+ and DS1019+ as a starting point. That said, it is still pretty impressive for a Synology NAS to feature these applications, especially for a 1 bay quiet and discreet network attached storage device.
When installing your hard drive or solid-state drive, you will be required to dismantle the chassis side panel by the removal of two screws and from there installing the drive via a further 4 screws in the bay provided. Due to the Architecture of Synology NAS and the latest SATA revision on this device, you will be able to use the very latest and biggest hard drives all the way you currently up to 16TB Ironwolf from Seagate. Do bear in mind that more enterprise-level hard drives will create additional noise which the DS120j NAS chassis cannot prevent. I am pleased to confirm though that despite the modest specifications of the Synology DS120j, the Seagate Ironwolf unique health management software still appears on the DSM 6.2 Storage manager – very handy!
Synology DS120j NAS Review – Conclusion 3/5
Although this device will only cost you less than £175 including TAX and a 2TB hard drive, it can still perform the bulk of the standard tasks that are available in modern NAS and if you are looking for a universally supported DLNA or backup device, this is the one for you. Though definitely not aimed at the NAS experienced or 2nd time buyers, or those looking for a solid foundation to build a business around, if you are looking for a network-attached storage device to act as a network backup or just want a simple nice to do basic tasks such as media and protecting the data on your other devices, I recommend the Synology DS120j NAS. Just make sure you have an off-site backup in place (such as a study external USB drive or a third-party cloud space with which to back up your data to periodically via cloud synchronization). Lastly, as much as I recommend the DS120j, it is worth remembering that it does not multitask especially well (due to that more modest CPU and memory), so sometimes you will need to be patient.
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