Synology DS1520+ NAS Hardware Review

Synology DS1520+ NAS Review – Does It Deserve Your Data?

Of all the brands that you can choose in network-attached storage, few have managed to crack both the home and business market with the same design and apple-like finesse of Synology. It happens in all areas of technology, a new kind of thing arrives and 100 companies come along to sell it. Then, fast forward, and a handful will end up dominating the market and arguably the biggest name in desktop NAS worldwide is Synology. Today we want to review their new you DS1520+ NAS drive, an example of a NAS that finds itself squarely in the middle of the home and small business user market. This tier of buyer, commonly known as the ‘Prosumer‘ (Professional Consumer – duh!), generally throws around £1000 or so on a good long-term solution and the Synology DS1520+ NAS hopes to be the next device you click into your e-basket. With the odd bit of familiar hardware here and new additions along the way, does this NAS deserve your data Let’s find out.

Read our reviews of the other 2020 / 2021 new-generation Synology NAS Drives:

The Synology DS1621xs+ NAS Drive Review (10/09) – https://nascompares.com/2020/09/10/synology-ds1621xs-nas-review

The Synology DS920+ NAS Drive Review – https://nascompares.com/2020/05/21/synology-ds920-nas-drive-hardware-review

The Synology DS220+ NAS Drive Reviewhttps://nascompares.com/2020/06/01/synology-ds220-nas-hardware-review/

The Synology DS720+ NAS Drive Review – https://nascompares.com/2020/06/18/synology-ds720-nas-drive-hardware-review

The Synology DS420+ NAS Drive Reviewhttps://nascompares.com/2020/06/18/synology-ds420-nas-drive-hardware-review

Synology DS1520+ NAS Review – Quick Conclusion

Although this is not the first 5 drive NAS that Synology has ever produced, you can clearly see that the brand has seen what was popular in previous generations and cherry-picked those areas to build the DS1520+. Arriving perilously close to the DS920+, in both release date and primary architecture, chances are that the benefits of buying the DS1520+ are far more long term. I do think that the DS1520+ is a great example of Synology hardware and certainly merits the additional spend over said four-bay. What complaints I can make about it still echo those of the DS920+ and although the additional memory is a welcome thing indeed, as is double expandability and 4 LAN ports, this system still seemingly prioritises internal performance over external performance. Surely, the DS1520+ may lead to the odd bit of buyers regret those that purchased the Synology DS920+ a couple of months ago, but the DS1520+ is a system that asks you to invest today on long-term benefits down the line and for some, it might seem a touch unwarranted. Overall though, I like it and would happily recommend the Synology DS1520+ NAS to most users, especially those who want a more balanced and 4K ready solution than those before.

Synology DS1520+ PROs Synology DS1520+ CONs
  • Dual NVMe M.2 cache
  • Great RAID Options
  • 4 LAN/1Gbe Ports
  • 8GB DDR4 2666MHz Memory on Day 1
  • Snapshot Replication and Multiple Backup Options
  • BTRFS and SHR
  • Virtualization
  • 4K Video transcoding
  • Plex Playback and Transcoding
  • 10+ Bay Expandable
  • Price is leveraged towards long term, seems high on Day 1
  • Only 1Gbe Ethernet ports
  • No PCIe slots
  • Only a single accessible Memory Bay
If you are thinking of buying a Synology NAS, please use the links below

 

 

Synology DS1520+ NAS Review – Packaging

Much like other Synology NAS released in 2020, the DS1520+ arrives in a familiar brown box packaging with the model-specific sticker on front. Although not exactly breathtaking, it is still very brand-specific and unique to this unit with lots of information on both the recycled packaging and product sticker label relevant to this specific NAS device.

Fair warning, You’re going to hear me use the words ‘brand design‘ quite a lot in this review, because Synology is very conscious of its own aesthetic priorities (both inside and out) with regard to its hardware portfolio. Modelling themselves very much in the profile of Apple, they like to present their solutions as clean, simple and powerfully capable, providing less tech enthusiastic users with a fully-featured and reliable solution.

The retail packaging may seem understated, but you have to give them points for that special Synology slick presentation and almost always sticking the landing!

Upon opening the DS1520+ NAS retail box, we find and a cardboard structure inside, not the hard foam of more enterprise-level units. Everything is well spaced for transit, but this is not a retail package that is designed for a huge amount of stress. Not a massive criticism in the short-term, but these sort of devices are shipped all around the world and when fully populated are extra sensitive to motion damage and shock. So, if you are going to purchase this NAS with drives included, make sure it features plenty of protection (as always, I recommend SPAN.COM).

Along with the Synology DS1520+ itself, the unit also arrives with a small box of accessories to help set the device up for the first time. Short of the storage media that you would need to purchase separately, everything you need to set up the Synology DS1520+ into your home or business environment is included with the device.

The power supplier that this 5-bay NAS arrives with is an external power brick, rather than an internal PSU. An external power supply is quite handy for reducing potential internal temperature spikes from the PSU and also reduces the overall size of the NAS chassis in deployment. Some users favour internal PSU, as they allow larger overall total power, but as a NAS is designed for long-term efficiency over 24 x 7 use, I have to disagree. Additionally, as the power supplier is the second most fragile part of any storage system, an external power brick is considerably easier to replace than an internal one.

The rest of the accessories in the DS1520+ retail kit are fairly standard. The first-time setup guide is a little thin on the ground, pointing you towards online resources which admittedly are more regularly updated, warranty information on the 3 years of cover (hardware support) that Synology provides and allows just enough to keep you moving forward during installation.

Overall you have a pretty standard range of kits here and, although not exactly mind-blowing, still gives you plenty to get you going on day one. Now let’s talk about that oh so familiar Synology design.

Synology DS1520+ NAS Review – Design

The design of the new Synology DS1520+ is remarkably familiar. Of all the brands in storage, you you have stuck so rigidly to the design of their portfolio of desktop devices than Synology. That is not a criticism, as the DS1520+ continues with the sleek compact and modern aesthetic that the brand has brought for more than two decades. Utilising a near-identical chassis to the DS1019+ from mid-2019, the DS1520+ does an excellent job of providing a solid hardware solution in a fantastically compact chassis.

It should come as no surprise that the bulk of the space in the DS1520+ casing is taken up by each of the 5 media bays for storage. Each bay allows you to install a SATA based 2.5 inch or 3.5 inch media drive, as well as each one being individually lockable and featuring its own LED indicator.

The trays themselves are plastic in design and allow installation of hard drive media without a screwdriver. The system also allows the installation of SSD with screws included, but with the exception of reasons of noise, this is a system that is tailor-made for a large hard drive RAID array with optional SSD caching when required.

As this system supports SATA drive media, that means it supports up to the very latest 16TB NAS hard drives, as well as the soon to arrive 18TB and 20TB hard drives thanks to heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) technology towards the end of 2020. That means that the DS1520+ and it’s 5 storage bays provide a staggering amount of storage potential, even in RAID 5 and RAID 6 configs. Alongside the traditional RAID configurations you would expect in a 5 drive NAS system, the DS1520+ also support Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR) which allows a more gradual and scaled storage plan, as well as allowing you to utilise drives of different capacities in a single RAID configuration without losing storage overall. SHR is often one of the key reasons that people buy a Synology NAS system after the DSM software.

The system features several areas of LEDs that can have their brightness adjusted as needed. These lights denote system activity, network access and generally the status of the device. Competitors have been known to utilise LCD panels that provide more information than these lights, but the Synology NAS platform has always been one that is heavily favoured towards remote access and I can understand Synology’s lack of interest in an LCD digital information panel on their devices. Additionally, although I will often refer to front-mounted information panels in my professional life, in my personal life I will really use them so I can understand the logic.

The front of the device also features a single USB 3.0 port that is chiefly placed to allow users to connect USB flash storage to the device for backing up their direct-attached storage regularly. The Synology software includes multiple means with which to regularly backup USB devices to the NAS and vice-a-versa, including synchronised backups, one and two-way backups, differential backups and automated backup triggers factored into the platform. Synology has yet to adopt some of the faster variants of USB (USB 3.2 Gen 2, USB-C, etc) available on the market today, but once again this is more tied towards the brand’s priority towards network and internet level access on their systems.

Along with a degree of ventilation located around the main hard drive bay area, the Synology DS1520+ also features ventilation on either side of the plastic chassis via a mesh ventilated logo. This has always been one of those little things that Synology features on each of their NAS chassis designs and is a subtle means to promote passive ventilation in conjunction with the twin active cooling fans on the rear.

Additional cooling is available on the base of the device along the main controller board area and allows air to flow through the device over the internal storage drives and heatsinks located on the internal PCBs to be dissipated easily.

Also located on the base of the Synology DS1520+ we find the two NVMe SSD bays, each of which allows you to install a PCIe-based SSD for caching support of the large hard drive RAID array with solid-state flash caching. This is a feature that Synology has seemingly introduced into every single one of the 2020/2021 PLUS series NAS hardware portfolio and one that allows users to vastly improve internal performance. Frequently of benefit to accessing large databases of data that contain numerous smaller files, large scale thumbnail generation, shared folder directories and more frequently accessed repositories of data. 

Although many users would prefer they could use these NVMe SSD for raw storage internally, Synology has been pretty adamant on this subject and want to encourage users to leverage the faster and larger IOPS rated PCIe SSD media towards improving access to larger, slower but more affordable RAID array of hard drives. There is an argument that this CPU and it’s chipset could limit the overall performance of solid-state drives in this system, thereby invalidating NVMe in the DS1520+ for raw storage, but it would be nice to have that option available.

The DS1520+ certainly represents the familiar hardware design that we have seen from Synology in previous units, as well as been comparable in many ways to both the DS920+ and DS1019+. However, once we take a look at the ports and connections, you are able to see some distinctions that set the DS1520+ apart from these devices.

Synology DS1520+ NAS Review – Ports and connections

Taking a look at the rear of the Synology DS1520+, we can see a couple of areas that highlight the distinction between in the DS1520+ and other comparable Diskstation NAS released in the last year or so.

First off, we can look at the more familiar elements of the DS1520+ NAS. like any other Synology desktop NAS system, the DS1520+ arrives with two rear-mounted active cooling fans that allow the end-user to adjust the speed as needed, though by default they will automatically increase or decrease their rotations per minute as needed to ensure the system maintains a cool and efficient internal temperature. The core NAS system itself is surprisingly low noise for a 5x drive storage system, but it is worth remembering that the majority of noise that a NAS drive generates comes from the storage media you choose to install inside. So, more enterprise-grade hard drives (as well as all those above 8 TB currently), will feature larger quantities of internal platters and typically a higher RPM than general/smaller drives, which will increase ambient noise noticeably. This is another reason for the DS1520+ arriving in a plastic chassis, as it will reduce that noise considerably more than a metal external casing would.

The DS1520+ also features an additional USB port for further connection of external storage, as well as a small number of supported 3rd Party USB peripherals. The DS1520+ does not arrive with a visual Port (HDMI, VGA, DisplayPort, etc), so a Keyboard, Video Mouse (KVM) setup is impossible here. But there are several wireless dongles supported by the device, as well as UPS failover devices and network monitoring tools. Also, many of you may already be aware are, but it never hurts to remind people, you cannot use these USB port to directly connect to the NAS system. Devices that utilise these USB Type-A ports will be seen as client devices to the NAS host system and therefore do not work utilising USB protocol in the same way a direct-attached storage (DAS) system might.

The network connectivity of the Synology DS1520+ is another area which separates it from a number of other recent NAS, such as the DS920+ and older DS1019+. It arrives with 4x RJ45 1Gbe LAN Port that can be used individually for separate networks and failover, or combined via link aggregation (AKA Port Trunking) to effectively provide just over 400MB per second performance. Many have complained that Synology has still yet to adopt 2.5Gbe into the architecture, favouring 1Gbe as the standard for the majority of their diskstation devices. At this price point, 1 Gigabit does seem a touch underwhelming, but it is certainly an improvement that this Intel-powered 5-bay arrives with 4 network ports, straight out of the box. You will need a managed network switch or client system with multiple network ports in order to take advantage of 4Gbe, but in the right network environment, it can certainly be turned to your advantage.

The other core distinction between the Synology DS1520+ and the 4/5 bay desktop solutions at this level is that it supports 2x DX517 5-Bay expansion devices. That is twice the expandability of practically every other 4 and 5 bay Synology solution on the market. Each expansion device requires its own power and is connected via a screw-locked eSATA/s (6Gb) connection. Because this device supports Synology Hybrid RAID, it is completely feasible in the lifespan of the product to expand your RAID from the original 5 bays of the DS1520+ up to a total combined 15x drives of RAID storage down the line.

The expandability and improved network interface ports make up a large part of the price difference between the DS1520+ and the DS920+ and DS1019+. However, both of these features seemingly ask you to spend more on day one, for benefits that are not immediately apparent or necessary to everyone. I certainly love that they are present and most small-medium business users will likely take advantage of both, but it is a stretch to imagine most home users taking these areas of expandability on board in the product lifespan. Let’s take a look at the internal hardware.

Synology DS1520+ NAS Review – Internal Hardware

When looking at the internal hardware that the majority of NAS systems arrived with, it is important to maintain a sense of perspective. A NAS system is one that is designed for a 24/7 environment, as well as prioritising storage over everything else. All too often, users will compare the hardware architecture of a system with that of a desktop computer, missing the point that this is is a very different beast, designed for a different architecture. Imagine buying a mobile phone, with the mindset of buying a desktop PC? The kind of hardware available in even top-tier mobile phones and tablets is comical when compared with that of mid-range desktop PCs, because mobile hardware runs with a completely different physical and efficient hardware environment, with an all-day utility focus that is higher than that of PCs. NAS devices, such as the Synology DS1520+ are of the same idea and should be viewed likewise. Arriving with an Intel Celeron J4125 processor inside, this quad-core 2.0 GHz CPU that can be burst to 2.7 GHz when needed and is a fantastic middle ground between price point, efficiency, handling of multimedia, multi-user backups and even virtual machines.

Although the CPU lacks a lot of the ‘Umpf’ found in an Intel Core (i3, i5, i7) or Pentium based processor, it also lacks the hefty price tag that those processes arrived with too. The J4125 is fast becoming the flagship CPU of choice for the majority of NAS brands (QNAP, Asustor, TerraMaster) in their respective mid-range desktop solutions, with a great floating-point, UHD 600 embedded graphics for those more visually challenging data types and AES-NI encryption for locking up those files that are the most sensitive while still maintaining high operational performance. Ranked on CPU benchmark at a little over 3000, this is currently the highest-rated CPU you ever featured on a Synology 5-bay solution. This CPU also arrives with support of higher frequency DDR4 memory, up to a maximum supported 8GB.

Synology DS1520+ arrives with the full 8GB of memory available on day one, which will be especially useful to those looking at Virtual Machine deployment and surveillance utilisation. Much like the Synology DS920+, the Synology DS1520+ features 4GB of soldered DDR4 memory on the main controller board and an additional SODIMM slot, which in the case of the DS1520+, is populated by an official Synology 4GB memory module. Arriving with higher frequency memory than the DS1019+ and DDR3L memory before it, the DS1520+ will utilise fewer system resources to get the average task done, as well as being able to do more active tasks overall too. So, when comparing the DS1520+ and the DS1019+ directly in terms of internal performance, there really is no competition, with the newer gen box winning by a landslide. This is especially true both if you are utilising the twin internal NVMe SSD caching bays to further bolster your internal performance, as well as if you are attaching more drives with those expansion options.

However, many will more likely be drawn to compare the DS1520+ more closely with that of the DS920+, as the two utilise the same CPU and memory type, both have NVMe SSD caching bays, same RAID configuration options and both have 3yrs warranty. With around £150-175 price difference between them, there is a lot to question about whether the DS1520+ is worth the extra spend. Ultimately when comparing these two devices, the additional spend covers the following:

  • An additional 4GB of memory on the Synology DS1520+
  • Twice the Expandability – 9x Max on the DS920+ and 15x Max on the DS1520+
  • 4x 1Gbe on the DS1520+ and 2x 1Gbe on the DS920+
  • An additional Storage Bay, so by default,4x HDD/SSD on the DS920+ and 5x HDD/SSD on the DS1520+

That pretty much covered it. In practically every other meaning way, they are identical. So, the DS1520+ is more a case of buying the upgrade options of the DS920+, but on day 1 AND to a larger extent. The Synology 4GB module is currently available to buy on its own, but for a rather surprising £80-90(quite high for a 4GB module, but it is first-party and tested I guess). Both units are of great build quality, so in terms of internal hardware, it really comes to how much you wish to integrate the Synology NAS platform into your environment, both short AND long term.

Synology DS1520+ NAS Review – Software

The Synology range of NAS devices all features the same software, in DSM 6.2. What separates them is the extent to which it can run the software, both in terms of which applications and to what extent. This is often governed by the memory and CPU inside and the DS1520+ NAS is no exception. If you currently only DS1019+ NAS from Synology, then chances are that the Synology DS1520+ NAS will have little or nothing that you have not seen before. Featuring a similar (if admittedly greater gen) CPU in the Intel Celeron J4125, this quad-core 2.0 GHz processor in the DS1520+ does not present a massive upgrade to you if you own the DS1019+ or DS920+ right now. In terms of scaling between the new and older device. However, for those looking for a robust storage NAS with RAID coverage and internal hardware that will stand the test of time, the newer NAS represents a great starting block for your network-attached storage system and in a straight comparison, wins in almost every way.  It unsurprisingly arrives with all the software advantages available on a modern NAS, thanks to the DiskStation Manager (DSM) platform currently in version 6.2.2 and DSM 7.0 soon to be available towards the end of the year. The DS1520+ NAS supports a multitude of first-party applications and third-party apps for home and business use, such as:

Stand Out Apps on the Synology DS1520+

  • Synology Office (Docs, xls, PDF, etc – Alternative to Google Docs)
  • Synology Chat (Alternative to Skype for internal User Conversation/Collaboration + mobile app)
  • Synology Drive (Alternative to DropBox/Google Drive with 1-point access to all file types for Mobile and Desktop, as well as intelligent localized sync)
  • Synology Moments (Photo Sorting and Tagging system with Deep Learning)
  • Synology Calendar (Smart Calendar App, can be used in conjunction with other apps)
  • Synology Active Backup (Manage Multiple Server/PC backups via a single control point)
  • Synology Surveillance Station for a comprehensive, user-friendly and intuitive NVR/CCTV setup
  • Synology Virtual Machine Manager (set up and manage multiple VMs on your NAS)
  • Synology High Availability (for Syncing Synology NAS and having instant failover support to ensure constant connectivity)
  • Synology Multimedia Apps (Video Station, Photo Station, Music Station, File Station, etc)
  • Plex Media Server, supporting 1080p Trancoding and a degree of 4K playback
  • Docker for smaller, container type virtual application environments
  • Applications for Amazon Firestick (DS Video and DS Photo)
The DSM platform has evolved a great deal over the last few years and has become practically an entire reason to buy a Synology NAS on its own. You can, of course, try out the Synology DSM software platform before investing in a NAS, by visiting the link below and trying DSM 6.2 for yourself:

A full software review of the DSM 6.2 platform on the DS1520+ NAS is currently in process and I hope to have this to you here on the blog very soon or on the YouTube channel in due course. Stay tuned.

Synology DS1520+ NAS Review – Conclusion

The DS1520+ NAS is something that Synology should be proud of. It is a great entry into their already impressive range of Diskstation NAS devices. If you are looking for a brand new NAS to consolidate your home media, to support your relative as the ‘IT whizz’ of the family, or move your business away from Google Drives and DropBox’ onto something safer, more scalable and dependable – then the DS920+ has alot to offer you. It gives you a great base to start using the DSM platform, as well as a good means to upgrade your storage internally at a later date (expansions in memory, expansions in storage, expansion in NVMe). If you are an existing DS920+ or DS1019+ owner, this might not seem like the jump you were waiting for.

Although this is not the first 5 drive NAS that Synology has ever produced, you can clearly see that the brand has seen what was popular in previous generations and cherry-picked those areas to build the DS1520+. Arriving perilously close to the DS920+, in both release date and primary architecture, chances are that the benefits of buying the DS1520+ are far more long term. I do think that the DS1520+ is a great example of Synology hardware and certainly merits the additional spend over said four-bay. What complaints I can make about it still echo those of the DS920+ and although the additional memory is a welcome thing indeed, as is double expandability and 4 LAN ports, this system still seemingly prioritises internal performance over external performance. Surely, the DS1520+ may lead to the odd bit of buyers regret those that purchased the Synology DS920+ a couple of months ago, but the DS1520+ is a system that asks you to invest today on long-term benefits down the line and for some, it might seem a touch unwarranted. Overall though, I like it and would happily recommend the Synology DS1520+ NAS to most users, especially those who want a more balanced and 4K ready solution than those before.

Synology DS1520+ PROs Synology D1520+ CONs
  • Dual NVMe M.2 cache
  • Great RAID Options
  • 4 LAN/1Gbe Ports
  • 8GB DDR4 2666MHz Memory on Day 1
  • Snapshot Replication and Multiple Backup Options
  • BTRFS and SHR
  • Virtualization
  • 4K Video transcoding
  • Plex Playback and Transcoding
  • 10+ Bay Expandable
  • Price is leveraged towards long term, seems high on Day 1
  • Only 1Gbe Ethernet ports
  • No PCIe slots
  • Only a single accessible Memory Bay
Hardware for this Review supplied by SPAN.COM – Visit them Here

 

 

 

 

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