The Luddite reviews the Synology DS120J

InternetLuddite

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This is my review of the Synology DS120J that MyBB and Synology provided for testing and review. These are my own opinions.

My Background:-
  • I had a 4 bay NAS, that supported me for 10 years (nearly non-stop) until it failed in December 2020.
    • This was replaced by a HP SFF PC with an external drive to provide me with a Virtualisation platform for my HASS and Plex Server, plus becoming the single backup repository for all my family’s OneDrive and iCloud backups.
  • Have a 1 Bay NAS used for ‘backup’ of some critical data
  • Professionally, I have been using top end NAS for ISCSI targets and Fibre Channel SANS.
  • I hate losing things, so I have backups of backups – all automated as much as possible. For example, my existing 1 Bay NAS turns on automatically once a week, just for a backup of some core data to take place to it.

Previously, I kept everything ‘on premise’ in my personal life, with encrypted backups being sent to my OneDrive storage and other locations.

Early last year, I switched my methodology : Cloud became the primary source with backups then being made / kept locally, in case my cloud storage ever got hacked. So I/we store our files and photos in OneDrive, Google Photos, iCloud as in our house we use literally every device type (iOS/Android/Windows/Mac/Linux) and it’s my job to keep it all running, secure and backed up. It's about 700GB in total. This does not include any media files!

As my background is IT security, you can imagine security is always at the forefront of all my decisions in implementing tech.

When the opportunity to review the Synology DS120J was presented, I was thankful to finally experience the Synology DSM software first-hand, which I had heard about through my friend who has a Synology NAS which has been running for about 8 years now. I was always jealous of the things that he could do with Synology, that my NAS could not.


My approach to testing reviewing the DS120J
  • The DS120J is a starter NAS, and as such would be predominantly reviewed as such.
  • If I was in the market for a NAS, my NAS (would be a Synology!) would have at least minimum 2 drives for RAID. However, with the PIVOT I made last year, where the local storage is actually a backup of my cloud date, this particular NAS is very interesting.
  • Testing the DSM software would give me the opportunity to re-assess my decision to host everything on cloud, and to reconsider making the NAS the primary device and for the family to access remotely without incurring long standing cloud subscription fees as paying for cloud services is becoming expensive.
  • With Google Photos reverting to becoming paid for in a few months, it’s a new subscription that I don’t want to pay for even though it’s awesome. So DS Moments would be interesting to evaluate. If it works, I will buy a new dual or 4 bay Synology to become my personal cloud server.
  • As we live in a mobile only world now, I thought I would make this review interesting by only trying to set it up using my mobile phone. This worked for the initial setup of the device but sadly, for the more complicated bits, I had to revert back to my PC web browser ☹

Setup and unboxing
IMG_20210427_144816.jpg

Everything you need. 2 Pin plug. Nice LAN cable

IMG_20210427_144935.jpg

Drive installed. Note: Be careful when putting it back together. The HDD makes it a bit unstable, while it is in two pieces and I nearly dropped it, thinking the feet would be keeping it up right.
IMG_20210427_145613.jpg


The DS120J next to the old 4 bay NAS. The Synology is a looker!
IMG_20210427_150200.jpg


It’s Alive!
IMG_20210427_150351.jpg

Setup of the NAS
I chose to try to setup this NAS only using my mobile phone!
I was definitely successful for the initial bits. I managed to setup the NAS, configure a static IP (using my Ubiquiti network) and start the process to install some packages. But PC was required in the end.


First app, I had to download on PlayStore was DS Finder
Screenshot_20210427-150019.jpg

There are lots of privacy notices across all the apps. I guess that's good. I read them - was ok with it!
Screenshot_20210427-150501.jpg


Let's setup a new NAS
Screenshot_20210427-150541.jpg

But create an account first! I created one, and used LastPass to generate a secure password to save it.
This account is for the master Synology account and it allows you to connect to your device remotely, etc.
Top Tip: Set a complex password!
Screenshot_20210427-150549.jpg

Screenshot_20210427-150809.jpg

There is a nice guided setup via the app- but it felt a bit redundant for me, as I had already installed the drive, etc. Perhaps there people who install the app first before trying to install drives, etc in their NAS :D

Edit: Clean up grammar, etc. Oops!
 
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InternetLuddite

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NAS found - What a pleasure it was to see it just work so nicely out of the box
Screenshot_20210427-150933.png

Your Drive will be formatted so be sure you are ok with it

Screenshot_20210427-150949.jpg

Installation Proceeding
Screenshot_20210427-151009.png

Only issue I had was it said , 10 minutes left, but then nothing happened. I had to reboot/restart the app. It could be because during the time, I set a static IP on my router for the NAS so it got the new IP after rebooting - so it's my fault!

Screenshot_20210427-151442.jpg

Once found, have to create an account to login to the NAS - like the root account. You can't call it Admin! I used the Admin account name we use at work. Another secure password courtesy of LastPass
Screenshot_20210427-153042.jpg

I setup a static IP while the NAS was sorting itself out
Screenshot_20210427-151118.jpg

The basic setup was all done through the mobile phone. It was pretty impressive. Won't share every screenshot I had, but I only ran into a problem at the package management stage. I just couldn't use it easily on my phone (maybe it's an Android thing). I was forced to switch to my PC.

Screenshot_20210427-153841.png

Edit: Fixing poor grammar
 
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InternetLuddite

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Mobile Setup continued:

You are recommended to install a few mobile apps such as Drive, Moments, DS Audio
Screenshot_20210427-165939.jpg

DS Finder good for giving you stats on the NAS and stuff. Push Notifications work :D
Screenshot_20210428-044831.jpg
 

InternetLuddite

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Cloud Sync Setup - Synology Package Notes

1619728468865.png



My first test was to see if the NAS could automatically keep a clone of my OneDrive folder and the setup was quite easy. You can setup a one way sync (so cloud to NAS in my use case). OneDrive authenticated the NAS/Synology account and i felt sync setup process was easy.

There is one provider not supported : iCloud (Thanks Apple!!)

1619728574811.png

What was interesting is that the CPU was pegged at 100% during this cloud sync. To be clear, I had indefinitely paused, the Moments App and indexing to conserve CPU. I think this could pose a problem if the NAS is trying to do a few things at the same time in the future

1619728432689.png

The key takeaway was that even though the NAS was at 100% utilisation for 1.5 days solid, the NAS itself was cool to touch - so not overheating at all. Kudos' Synology.

1619728664833.png

1619728727354.png

As you see, I had 580GB to download. It took the NAS over 1.5 days to download on my 100Mbps link. But something is going wrong. The NAS is using now 900GB of space but has not finished syncing. No other content was added to the NAS . I had to stop cloud sync.


FWIW: Fan Speed is also user controllable if required
1619728499642.png

Edit: Grammar cleanup
 
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InternetLuddite

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Other cool Features:
  1. Ability to set startup/shutdown times - so the NAS is available when you want it. As a media server, you may only want the NAS to be running when you are at home, so in the evenings and all weekend long. This saved electricity if required.
  2. HDD Health monitoring
  3. Push Notifications on nearly anything. You don't have to setup mail to get this to work
  4. Apple Time-Machine Backup Target. I can finally fully backup my partner's MacBook again.

Summary/ Takeaways

Positives:

  • The Synology OS called DSM is really great. The high end Synology devices with faster CPUs must be so brilliant to use. I can see myself getting one in the future. Synology has nailed this.
  • Setup was easy. Installing 3.25 drive was simple but note that 2.5 drives require an adaptor that is not provided with the device.
  • You can connect an external drive to this device which helps to make backups or increase space.
  • Beautiful device. It’s a shame that most of us would hide it in a cupboard but if you don't, it's very quiet.
  • Cool Customer. Considering the NAS was running at 99% util for over 1.5 days, it was still cool to touch
  • User Management and permissions seem to be easy to set as an experienced IT guy. Unsure if the lay person could understand it with regards to groups, etc. But for me, it was up my alley!

Negatives:
  • Sadly , no raid possible with DS120J. This is a nitpick to be very honest as this is a starter NAS. Higher models with multiple bays offer it.
  • Full Drive Encryption is not possible. While Folder encryption is available , full disk encryption is always my personal preference. Synology is the one vendor that has never offered full drive encryption as far as I know. As physical theft is a high possibility in South Africa, full encryption at least gives me some piece of mind should that eventuality ever occur.
  • Cloud Sync software seems to be buggy. Needed to do a one way sync of 580GB but it never seems to finish and more strangely eats up even more space on the NAS. Wonder why?
  • This is probably only a reflection of the CPU in the DS120J, and not the Synology DSM software itself. The DS120J was running at 99% for 1.5 days just doing a cloud sync. The CPU seems to get bogged down doing most tasks, e.g. processing videos/photos for DS moments. I think if this particular NAS was asked to do three things simultaneously, e.g. Plex, File Server and Photo Server, the performance would be not so great. Of course, it’s a starter NAS so expectations should be managed.
  • Still haven't managed to figure out how to remotely access my NAS. There isn't an easy guide for Ubiquiti Hardware. What doesn't make it easy for me is that some of the port forwarding the NAS requires is already sent to some other devices in my network so I will investigate this.
  • I think there are too many mobile apps provided by Synology (if you look at the Play / App Store) to use the services presented by DSM. In my very humble opinion, Synology should really consolidate them into three headline apps to make it easier for their less technical customers to fully utilise these apps and services provided by the NAS
In conclusion
The Synology DS120J is a perfect device for someone who is dipping their toes in building a storage solution for their home or very small office. It is more than capable of meeting needs to store documents, media and video. It is actually very fast for on-network transfers and I got 100Mb/s copying files to the NAS (while the CPU was pegged at 100% doing the cloud sync!) .

Manage your expections: As an entry level device, it does the job but don't expect the world from it by tax it too hard by loading every package - it will struggle. Be judicious. I believe as a file server - it is more than up to the task.

If I am allowed to keep it, I will be making it my Plex Server (no transcoding required) and families photo repository.

Edit: Cleanup of grammar.
 
Last edited:

swim

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Nov 16, 2006
Messages
1,168
Other cool Features:
  1. Ability to set startup/shutdown times - so the NAS is available when you want it. With my old NAS before it started running 24/7. As a media server, the NAS would only turn on when we would be at home - so in the evenings and all weekend long. This saved electricity if required.
  2. HDD Health monitoring
  3. Push Notifications on nearly anything. You don't have to setup mail to get this to work
  4. Apple TimeMachine Backup Target. I can finally fully backup my partner's MacBook again.

Summary/ Takeways

Positives:

  • The Synology OS called DSM is really great. The high end Synology devices with faster CPUs must be so brilliant to use. I can see myself getting one in the future.
  • Setup was easy. Installing 3.25 drive was simple but note that 2.5 drives require an adaptor that is not provided with the device.
  • You can connect an external drive to this device which helps to make backups or increase space.
  • Beautiful device. It’s a shame that most of us would hide it in a cupboard but if you don't, it's very quiet.
  • Cool Customer. Considering the NAS was running at 99% util for over 1.5 days, it was still cool to touch
  • User Management and permissions seem to be easy to set as an experience IT guy. Unsure what the lay person could understand it.

Negatives:
  • Sadly , no raid possible with DS120J. Higher models offer it.
  • Full Drive Encryption is not possible. While Folder encryption is available , full disk encryption is always my personal preference. Synology is the one vendor that has never done offered full drive encryption as far as I know. As physical theft is a high possibility in South Africa, full encryption at least gives me some piece of mind should that eventuality ever occur.
  • Cloud Sync software seems to be buggy. Needed to do a one way sync of 580GB but it never seems to finish and more strangely eats up even more space on the NAS. Wonder why?
  • This is probably only a reflection of the CPU in the DS120J, and not the Synology DSM software itself. The DS120J was running at 99% for 1.5 days just doing a cloud sync. The CPU seems to get bogged down doing most tasks, e.g. processing videos/photos for DS moments. I think if this particular NAS was asked to do three things simultaneously, e.g. Plex, File Server and Photo Server, the performance would be not so great. Of course, it’s a starter NAS so expectations should be managed.
  • Still haven't managed to figure out how to remotely access my NAS. There isn't an easy guide for UBNT software and what is not helping is that some of the port forwarding the NAS requires is already sent to some other devices in my network
  • I think there are too many mobile apps to use the services presented by DSM. Synology should really consolidate them into three headline apps IMHO to make it easier for their less technical customers to fully utilise these apps.

The Synology DS120J is a perfect device for someone who is dipping their toes in building a storage solution for their home or very small office. It is more than capable of meeting needs to store documents, media and video. As an entry level device, it does the job but don't tax it too hard by loading every package - it will struggle. Be judicious. I believe as a file server - it is more than up to the task.

If I am allowed to keep it, I will be making it my Plex Server (no transcoding required) and families photo respository.
Great review. I really need to get one of these for home, got all my pics, files and videos all over the place.
 

InternetLuddite

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Joined
Feb 23, 2016
Messages
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Update:

Today I got a push notification from the NAS: "Security risks found on NAS-DS120j" ... can't wait to get home to see what dodgy thing I have done :D - I think this alert was generated by the security software running on the NAS -
 
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