I’ve been wondering how exactly the $799 5 Drive Bay Synology DS1512+ compared with the new $569 5 Drive Bay Drobo 5N. And since no one else has done the comparison, I decided to pony up the cash and test them myself!
I purchased the exact same drives for both of these 5 bay systems (3TB Seagate Barracuda), and one of each of the devices. After that I installed them in my home network, duplicated a variety of data including several terabytes of media files, photos and documents, and began to interchangeably use each of them at home for a period of several weeks to ensure there were no immediate failures, etc.
Take a look at the video, and keep reading below for the full review…
After the burn in period I brought both units back to the Geek Beat Studio and set them up in a very specific lab environment to run the battery of tests which you see below.
In order to remove as many variables as possible, the test system was deployed as follows:
- An Asus RT-N66U router served as the Gigabit switch and LAN for all devices. There is NOTHING else on the LAN.
- A Windows 7 based Razer Blade notebook is included for testing, connected via Ethernet.
- A MacBook Air is included for testing, connected via Thunderbolt to Ethernet adapter.
- The Drobo 5N using current firmware, connected via single ethernet.
- Synology DS1512+ using current firmware, connected via single ethernet.
- All Ethernet cables from identical manufacturer, CAT6, same length, opened and first used for this test.
One other very important point to cover. The Synology 1512+ offers dual ethernet ports, which does indeed have at least two specific advantages:
- Redundancy in case of the failure of one port.
- The potential to serve two connected machines each using a GigE port.
The third advantage which Synology claims, and which may be true, can only be achieved in very, very limited situations and as a result I’m discounting it altogether.
Synology claims that their link aggregation feature will turn the dual Ethernet ports into essentially one big fat double sized port. But what they fail to mention are a few things:
- The network switch must be configured specifically for aggregating the exact ethernet ports the Synology 1512+ is plugged into – which is NEVER going to happen on any consumer router, only a big ass pro switch like a Cisco (and then you aren’t going to be using this NAS device).
- The single ethernet connection on whatever machine is accessing the Synology 1512+ through the network is going to still be limited to single Gig-E speed.
- Even if you set up and bond ports on the Synology, the switch, and a dual NIC desktop machine, it would be a huge pain to ever change things.
So we’re ignoring that feature completely. In the rare case that it benefits you, you’ll know for certain…
Ok, lets get down to brass tacks. First of all, I broke out the laser thermostat, noise meter, and current meters and did some baseline data gathering so we could once and for all figure out how much noise, heat and power these things are generating and consuming. Here’s how my measurements stacked up.
|Drobo 5N||Synology DS1512+|
|Power when Off||1 watt||1 watt||Power consumption when off is negligible.|
|Power when On||46-52 watts||55-62 watts||Drobo consumes ~15% less power.|
|Boot time||2:10||1:45||Synology boots somewhat faster.|
|Shutdown time||:10||2:00||Drobo shuts down almost instantly.|
|Loudness||48db @ 1in.||50db @ 1in.||The Synology is slightly louder.|
|Temperature||79 degrees||79 degrees||Desk surface was 75 degrees.|
|Dimensions||7.5″h x 6″w x 10.5″d||6.2″h x 9.75″w x 9.25″d||Synology takes up 16% more space.|
|Weight||16 pounds (loaded)||16 pounds (loaded)||Identical weights.|
The relative sizes and measures on these units are unlikely to make much of a difference in the selection criteria, with one noticeable difference – rack mounting.
Although neither unit is designed for rack mounting, they are often deployed in small enterprises by being mounted on a shelf within the telco or networking rack. In this case you should note the following:
- The Drobo 5N requires over 4U of height if standing, or 3.5 on its side. Either way, there is room to fit 2 units to a single shelf, with several inches of extra room between.
- The Synology 1512+ requires over 3U of height, and due to its width only one unit can be placed on a shelf.
- In 10U of rack space you could only fit two Synology 1512+ units, vs. four Drobo 5N units.
Speed is always one of the biggest things we want to test when it comes to storage. In my testing, the Synology edged out the Drobo by 10-20% in various speed tests.
BlackMagic Disk Speedtest
BlackMagic makes a standard speedtest for Mac which you can download here. Each time the application cycles it comes up with a different result, so I allowed it to run for many cycles and then stopped it after a while and took a screen capture where it seemed to be fairly average for that device.
The Synology 1512+ was routinely clocking in around 95-100MBps in both the read and write cycles.
The Drobo 5N was clocking in around the 80-90MBps sustained ranges, after a notible burst well into the 120+Mbps initial period where the SSD Accelerator was obviously doing its thing.
File Transfer Testing
Disk tests are always interesting, but what I really notice is the amount of time it takes to transfer files to and from a machine. So I used a stopwatch and grabbed a batch of 5 videos weighing in at 4.23GB and moved them around. Here’s what I saw:
- Synology 1512+ to MacBook Air – 39 seconds
- MacBook Air to Synology 1512+ – 49 seconds
- Drobo 5N to MacBook Air – 55 seconds
- MacBook Air to Drobo 5N – 63 seconds
So, based on both automated test data and my own first hand observations, the Synology 1512+ is speedier when it comes to data transfer than the Drobo 5N. Probably averaging in around 20% faster at moving data around.
Applications on the Synology 1512+
When it comes to comparing what the Drobo and Synology can actually do in terms of running applications, there is no comparison.
If you are looking for a machine to essentially act like a server on your network and take over a number of tasks, that is exactly what the Synology is designed for – and why you pay the extra 40% price premium.
The Synology 1512+ will allow you to:
- Install a Plex media server app! The best thing since sliced bread if you want to watch your own media collection on your TVs or even on the go.
- Support Active Directory and LDAP for user authentication services.
- Serve files on the network, or via FTP on the Internet.
- Network backups with free Windows app as well as Mac support.
- Apple and Android apps to remotely access various types of media.
- iSCSI support for mapping virtual drives and use with virtualization platforms such as Citrix.
- High Availability mirroring with identical units. In case one fails, the copy takes over.
The Devil’s in the Details
The big thing to keep in mind is that every single one of these features is going to involve several steps to enable, some of which can be extremely complex or literally impossible for the average users. So, its important to consider how many of these things you need, and whether you have the ability to actually deploy and support each feature.
Also of note, certain features will not run while others are installed. For example, for High Availability you can’t be running the DHCP Server, Zarafa, or Symform. So if you are comfortable with doing a lot of app installation, tweaking and experimentation the Synology is going to give you plenty of things to play with – much, much more than the Drobo.
How to Install Synology Apps
In order to install or update applications on the Synology 1512+ you log into the Web-based control panel and navigate to the Package Center. That can be a real problem if you forget how to actually access the control panel! So here’s a pro tip:
There is a free app called FING for iOS that will scan every device on your network and tell you the IP address and a description. Get it, run it, and look for the Synology. Access the control panel by typing in the IP address into your Web browser.
When I log into the interface for some reason I always look for it in the Control Panel, but its not there! Its right on the desktop. Here’s how to install or update packages.
Application Support on the Drobo 5N
Although Synology has a very significant lead on Drobo in the Applications space, Drobo has also begun releasing apps that run on the Drobo 5N. Most importantly (in my opinion) they have a Plex app available!
In case I didn’t mention it earlier, I love Plex. You can get Plex for smart TVs like Samsung which will let you play any media on your network that is cataloged in a Plex Media Server – which is what runs on the Drobo now (and the Synology). So what I mean is – get a Samsung TV, put your movies on one of these storage drives, and play them on your TV directly through your network!
On top of that, you can download Plex apps for your iOS or Android devices and access all of your media from anywhere you have an internet connection. How cool is that?
Anyway, Drobo has also released a second application which allows for direct integration with the Copy.com cloud storage service. This app lets you select which data you want to have mirrored to the Copy.com cloud so you can keep your most valuable data in multiple places.
Drobo is unlikely to ever release apps allowing you to run a mail server, DHCP server, FTP server or other hard core services. But I’m hopeful that in the future there is a complete replication option that would allow a second Drobo 5N at an offsite location to keep a continual disaster recovery copy. They have also promised a number of other apps, but we do not know what is coming just yet.
How to Install Drobo Apps
There might not be many apps to install for Drobo, but the ones they do have are a breeze to install. This is partly due to the fact that there is no Web based configuration system. You pull up the Drobo Dashboard app, and once it locates your Drobo you simply need to put a checkmark by the apps you want to install.
Although the Copy app is currently the only application available for install, I have personally used the soon to be released Plex app, and it is going to work identically to how it works on every other platform.
Applications Bottom Line
If you are a network administrator looking to consolidate several machines into a single do-it-all unit to support a small business, the Synology wins hands down.
If you’re a home user, or just looking for simplicity, and media serving and basic backup capability are all you really need, you can’t beat the Drobo’s simplicity.
Installation and Configuration
Where the Synology shines on application support and advanced configurations, the Drobo steals the show when it comes to setup and deployment.
Starting at the very process of setting up the unit, the Drobo by far makes it simpler to get things going. Initial setup involves simply plugging drives into the Drobo 5N the same way you would insert a CompactFlash or SD media card into a card reader. Take the drive, slide it into the bay, and you’re done.
The Synology on the other hand uses a tray for each drive. (This isn’t unusual since Drobo has a patent on their mechanism. Every other storage vendor uses a tray.) In order to set up the unit each tray must be removed by pushing in the bottom lid on the tray so that it pops out, then sliding the tray out of its bay.
At this point, each drive should be mounted using four mounting screws. A simple process, that takes a few minutes to complete along with some manual dexterity for the very small screws.
Expandability and Redundancy
Synology 1512+ Expansion
If you find that you are running out of capacity on the Synology 1512+, its possible to add another unit via a physical eSATA connection and expand the number of drives the unit can hold. The Synology DX513 sells for $499 and will allow another 5 drives to be installed.
When an addition DX513 is added to the 1512+, the 1512+ takes over control via the single Web interface. This is an excellent feature so that users don’t have to manage them as multiple devices. Drawback to this method of expansion are as follows:
- Drives in RAID sets must always match. So if you are full of 3TB drives, you must continue adding 3TB drives. No larger, and no smaller.
- It’s also always recommended to stick to identical drives whenever possible when using traditional RAID sets. Meaning you should buy all the drives you need at one time, in one batch.
- Every additional drive added requires a manual expansion of the storage.
The steps for expanding capacity could be safely performed by someone with medium technical competence who is alert and paying attention. My mother, however, could never dream of doing it. Also, an over worked, under slept, network administrator needs to pay close attention when managing the RAID sets.
Drobo 5N Expansion
The Drobo 5N uses a different type of RAID technology that allows for some very unique features. Two of the most important are demonstrated in this video. Namely:
- The ability for a Drobo to automatically sense and repair failures or expansions without human intervention.
- The ability to install mis-matched drives at any time, including the ability to expand future capacity without upgrading the physical machine.
Bottom Line on Expansion
Because of the core technology differences between these machines, it is much easier to physically link additional storage using the Synology 1512+ by purchasing additional hardware – but it is much easier to upgrade storage within the Drobo 5N with no new infrastructure required.
For example, lets say we’re in a future where 6TB drives exists (we have 4TB available as of this comparison) and we have a Synology 1512+ filled with 3TB drives with storage running low. In order to expand, we would purchase a DX513 for $499 (or the going rate, or the updated version of machine assuming there still is one) as well as a few more 3TB drives to add to our RAID set. We could buy bigger drives, but it would be a waste because only 3TB would be used. As we plug in each drive we would add it to our RAID set manually, allowing it to ingest the additional capacity and expand. We will do this sequentially at a rate of around 1 every 24 hours until reaching the new capacity.
By comparison, if using the Drobo 5N we could purchase new 6TB drives and then eject the old 3TB drives from the 5N one at a time, replacing each with the new 6TB drive. Each replacement will also need about a 24 hour rebuilding period, but upon completion the available storage will increase automatically within the same individual chassis.
For this reason, the Drobo 5N has a perpetual aggregate storage advantage over the Synology 1512+.
UPDATE: Several of you guys pointed out to me that Synology offers another method of configuration using their Synology Hybrid RAID feature which will allow for similar expansion like Drobo. Although its a painful manual process, you CAN add different drives.
BUT YOU MUST SELECT SYNOLOGY HYBRID RAID UP FRONT OR ELSE YOU CAN NEVER CHANGE IT!!!
So, the fact that I didn’t know about needing to do that in advance is why my 1512+ can’t be upgraded now. If you choose one please pay attention to this detail when you are setting it up initially!
When Disaster Strikes!
As you can see from the accompanying video review I did for this test, at the end I yanked a drive out of each of the Synology 1512+ and Drobo 5N units, with extremely varied results.
Synology 1512+ Hard Drive Failure
After removing a good drive from the Synology 1512+ to simulate a failure we had to wait about half a minute in order to get some notification from the device about the error. The first indication came with a notification in the Web based interface that the unit was operating in a degraded state, followed immediately by a blinking status light on the unit as well as an intermittent beeping.
Reinserting the drive did not remedy the problem, although all of the data was still present on the fully functional drive. The Synology Storage Manager does not automatically rediscover and ingest the drive. Instead, manual intervention is required by first finding the Storage manager application in the Web interface, and then selecting the degraded Volume to Manage.
I found it unintuitive to do, especially when after choosing to Manage the drive it prompted me to erase the data on the drive I ejected. This seems counter-intuitive when what I’m attempting to do is add that drive back into the volume. The entire process left me very nervous – or at least it would have had this been my only copy of all of that data.
Two things Synology could do to improve this process would be:
- Change the ATTENTION message into a clickable link directly to the Storage Manager so users don’t have to find it.
- Offer a Wizard to walk users through common issues, such as a simple drive swap or reinsertion into a volume.
Once the drive had been erased and reclaimed into the Volume, the Synology began the process of rebuilding the data on the drive. This process occurred at a recovery rate of about 3% per hour, so each ejection of a perfectly working drive would require a full day to recover after the drive was manually added back to the RAID Volume it came from. I have no idea why that is the case…
Drobo 5N Hard Drive Failure
The simulated drive failure on the Drobo 5N was an entirely different experience. In fact, maybe it was even TOO easy. I could see people wanting to show this off to their friends, which probably isn’t the best thing to be doing…
Upon ejection of one of the installed drives, the Drobo immediately began flashing all lights yellow on the device to warn of the degraded state. A message also appeared on the Drobo Dashboard alerting the user of the situation, and visually demonstrating where the problem drive was located. It prompted the user to reinsert a drive, and after a few minutes the Drobo must have recognized that everything was OK again and just went back to an entirely normal state.
The REAL Bottom Line!
The world would be so beautiful and orderly if I could simply point to ONE of these machines and tell you its the clear cut winner – but I can’t. And anyone else who does so without understanding your exact needs and desires is an idiot and should not be listened to!!!
The Synology 1512+ holds several distinct advantages over the Drobo 5N.
- Its faster.
- It has a LOT of apps.
- It allows for extreme customization.
Meanwhile the Drobo 5N has several distinct advantages over the Synology 1512+.
- It’s completely automated.
- Its far easier to expand and repair.
- It costs less, uses less power and takes up less space.
Now it’s up to you to determine what kind of user you are and which will best fit YOUR needs. The Drobo 5N offers about 80% the speed at 60% of the cost of the Synology 1512+. It sacrifices a lot of app functionality, but exchanges it for ease of use and expandability. Which one do you prefer?
(PS – I MAY have missed a detail or gotten something wrong. If so, just let me know below and I’ll add or append to the review. Hope you guys enjoyed it. Let me know what you think for sure!)