NAS servers have become more common among home users over the past few years, providing a quick, easy and secure means of backing up important data. They are power efficient, allowing even home users to run them 24/7, while configuring them is easier than ever thanks to companies such as Synology and QNAP refining their software over the years.
Compared to a dedicated server that requires a monitor, keyboard, mouse and of course a PC case, a desktop NAS is considerably more compact, especially two-bay and four-bay models, which are typically smaller than a shoe box.
Models such as the four-bay Synology DS415+ have less of a footprint than a standard ATX motherboard so we don't imagine there are many users who demand something smaller.
Nonetheless, back in mid-2009 NAS specialist Synology released the DS409slim, a tiny four-bay NAS outfitted with 2.5" bays and a 1.2GHz Marvel processor with 128MB of RAM.
Around the same time QNAP came out with the SS-439 Pro Turbo, a 1.6GHz Intel Atom-powered NAS with 1GB of RAM, which naturally cost quite a bit more than the DS409slim.
QNAP has since released an extensive range of 2.5" NAS products and by 2014 it was really pushing the idea of SSD-equipped NAS boxes. The company's current 2.5" models include the $400 TS-451S, the $600 TS-453S Pro (formerly the SS-453 Pro), and the TS-453mini, which comes in a $530 package with 2GB of RAM and one with 8GB for $670.
Both versions of the TS-453mini are much more expensive than Synology's latest compact NAS, the DS414slim, which can be had for $300.
Given that difference in price, it seems the Synology DS414slim and QNAP TS-453mini and aren't direct competitors. The DS414slim also has a tiny 1.78L capacity whereas the TS-453mini is a relative behemoth at 6.3L, so this isn't a straight up Synology vs. QNAP battle, but rather a look at each company's approach to developing compact NAS solutions.
For lack of a better word, the Synology DS414slim is cute. It's hard to imagine this tiny box as a NAS considering it's only roughly twice the size of an Intel NUC and yet it can accommodate four 2.5" storage devices while also managing to fit all the gubbins that make it work.
The unit measures just 120mm tall, 105mm wide and just 142mm deep, giving it a total capacity of just 1.78L, while it weighs just 0.66kg.
Synology has always targeted the affordable home market with its mini NAS creations and the DS414slim is no different. Inside you will find a Marvell Armada 370 SoC at its heart, which features a 1.2GHz dual-core processor. There is just 512MB of DDR3 memory, though Synology says this is the perfect amount for this processor and for what the DS414slim is designed to do.
Apart from being incredibly small, the DS414slim is an impressive looking unit offering a creative yet functional design.
From the front we spot a single USB 3.0 port for quickly hooking up external devices such as a hard drive. Above that are six status LEDs which indicate individual drive activity, as well as LAN1 and LAN2 activity -- that's right, this little box sports dual Gigabit LAN.
Off to the left side we find more LEDs and the power button. The status light is green when all is well, while the power indicator is constantly blue. The power button is tucked away down the bottom of the left side panel and it has to be held down for 10 seconds to initiate shutdown.
After the status LED/power button panel the left side of the case protrudes out by about 10mm which creates more room inside but also gives the DS414slim a more interesting look.
The opposite side is much the same, though it doesn’t feature the indentation for the status LED and power button.
Underneath the DS414slim you will find a fan vent for a 60mm fan which features a number of different operating profiles. Synology has also designed a detachable fan module that makes fan replacement/cleaning quick and easy.
The fan itself isn't always active and features cool, quiet and low-power modes, and Synology cites a maximum operating volume of 21.8 dBA. It also notes that when fully loaded with Seagate 500GB ST9500325AS hard drives, the DS414slim generates just 17.2 dBA when left at idle.
Along with the fan are four rectangular feet that raise the unit roughly 10mm off the ground, which is important as the DS414slim draws in all of its cool air from underneath. For those who have to place the unit on an uneven surface Synology has included a base plate, which they say allows for better ventilation and prevents foreign objects from entering.
Around the back we find dual Gigabit LAN ports, a single USB 3.0 port, a DC power input, factory reset button and a Kensington lock. It's interesting that Synology decided to include dual Gigabit LAN on this budget model as we wouldn't have thought there was a need for failover and Link Aggregation support. Still, it's nice to see that they were able to include these features at such a competitive price.