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My Take

If you're considering Synology or QNAP products, let's face it, you're not looking for the cheapest NAS. Your personal decision tree has brought you to weigh premium-priced NASes that pack a lot of features into a NAS OS that is available in a wide array of hardware platforms with different combinations of CPU, RAM, internal storage bays and external storage ports.

The good news is that with either vendor, you generally don't have to choose a specific model to get a specific feature. Model choice can be made on the basis of how much performance you want, how many bays you need, how many LAN ports you want and whether you want eSATA or USB 3.0 ports for external drive attachment.

Many of the "which NAS" forum posts ask whether Synology or QNAP NASes are better for streaming and remote multimedia access. Synology didn't mention this topic at all in its response, but QNAP provided some specifics and I have my own observations.

Updated 9/29/2011

Both companies use PacketVideo's TwonkyMedia server as the heart of their UPnP/ DLNA media serving. QNAP uses PacketVideo's TwonkyMedia server as the heart of its UPnP/ DLNA media serving, while Synology has written its own custom media server. Both also support iTunes serving.

QNAP lets you directly access the TwonkyMedia server admin, while Synology does not. But only a few features are exposed in the direct TwonkyMedia interface and transcoding isn't among them. Video transcoding is not supported by either company, but Synology exposes enables for FLAC/APE, AAC, OGG and AIFF audio transcoding.

To find out how well either company supports specific media players, you'll need to dig into its forum to see how others have fared. In all, I don't get the sense that either QNAP or Synology have an edge in media streaming / serving. And given both companies' focus on capturing more small-to-medium business buyers, I don't think this is a priority for either.

For remote / mobile media access, both companies have browser-based access for files, audio and photos and iOS and Android apps available for remote file, music and photo access. QNAP's browser-based player and iOS and Android apps also support video playback, but do not transcode. Synology supports video playback through its DS photo+ feature.

If you need on-the-fly transcoding, you might want to look at NETGEAR ReadyNASes, which offer Orb and Skifta to support remote media playback. But NASes generally don't have the horsepower for real-time high-def transcoding. So don't be fooled into thinking that anyone's product is going to make any video format you have playable on every device.

The two competitors take different approaches to storage expansion. QNAP supports the more traditional manual online RAID capacity expansion and RAID level migration while Synology takes an approach more similar to NETGEAR's X-RAID2 with some shades of Drobo mixed in.

Synology's Hybrid RAID (SHR) is an automatic RAID management system "designed to meet the needs for those users who do not care or do not want to know what are the finer aspects of the various RAID-levels". The diagam below shows that SHR can provide more usable storage than standard RAID when different drive sizes are used.

Synology Hybrid RAID vs. standard RAID
Synology Hybrid RAID vs. standard RAID

For expanding storage beyond the box, QNAP's products support an iSCSI initiator to build simple SANs by attaching to iSCSI targets. Synology takes a different approach by offering some models with expansion cabinets connected by either eSATA or Infiniband cables. Synology's approach appeals to those who aren't quite sure of their future storage needs and don't mind paying more now for the flexibility to add (a lot) more drives later.

One of the reasons you pay more for QNAP and Synology products is that you get more features. And in addition to stock features, both products also let you add more bells and whistles via installable apps. QNAP makes this a bit easier than Synology by providing a pop-up pick list of "QPKG" apps that can be downloaded to your computer with a click, then installed via the QNAP GUI. But on the downside, QNAP doesn't differentiate between apps it has tested and untested third-party apps. You can also go to QNAP's QPKG page to download apps.

Updated 9/29/2011

Synology doesn't provide a link to its DSM Packages download page from its GUI Package Management screen. But it does separate its apps into "quick install" apps that are "packed and tested by Synology" and 3rd party apps that are just "selected and tested".

Synology added its Package Center in DSM 3.2 that provides app browsing and installation directly from the DSM desktop.

Synology Package Center
Synology Package Center

Synology also groups apps by type on its DSM Packages download page, i.e. Blog System, Bulletin Board, Content Management, Customer Relationship Management, Database Management, E-Commerce, E-Learning, Gallery, Ticket System and Wiki & Groupware. The full list of "verified" Synology DSM packages totals 46 vs. QNAP's total list of 28.

Synology DSM Quick Install Packages
Synology DSM Quick Install Packages

Both vendors support the biggies like Squeezebox Server, Wordpress, phpMyAdmin, Joomla and Drupal. But Synology has apps adding Syslog, VPN and LDAP servers as well as phpBB and SugarCRM. In contrast, QNAP's offerings lean more toward downloaders including MLDonkey, SABnzbdplus, Transmission and pyLoad.

And so that I don't forget, both QNAP and Synology products allow full root access via Telnet and SSH and can support full LAMP webserving.

The last key difference is in backup, where QNAP maintains an edge. QNAP is about 3X faster than Synology when backing up to an NTFS-formatted eSATA drive due to its use of Paragon's NTFS driver. QNAP also has three models with USB 3.0 ports as I write this, while Synology has none.

Updated 9/29/2011: USB 3.0 info

Synology recently added two models with USB 3.0 ports: the DS212 and DS212+.

Both vendors support scheduled and immediate backups to attached or networked rsync targets, cloud backup to Amazon S3 and Apple Time Machine backups (including Mac OS Lion). But QNAP has recently added a Real Time Remote Replication feature that also works with attached drives and FTP servers in addition to other QNAP NASes. I also like that QNAP logs both start and stop of network backup sessions in its web interface while Synology logs only the start.

Neither company, however, yet has the flexibility of NETGEAR ReadyNASes, which support backup to and from SMB shares, FTP servers as well as rsync servers.

Closing Thoughts

In the end, both QNAP and Synology have broad product lines with many features that can be expanded in storage and function. QNAP definitely has more models than Synology, but I don't necessarily view that as an advantage. Buyers can spend more time than they should trying to figure out whether an extra $20 to $50 is worth it for a bit more performance. I'd like to see QNAP be more aggressive in retiring previous-generation products when it introduces models that are, for all intents and purposes, replacements for them.

As I said earlier, if you must have a specific feature, you still need to dig into spec tables and troll forums to be really, really sure that it's there and works. But I hope this higher-level view has helped clear at least some of the general Synology / QNAP, QNAP / Synology fog from your brain.

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