Synology DS720+ Review: Small But Powerful NAS
Synology is dominating the NAS market in a way that might not be healthy, but it is hard to deny that it is delivering the small storage solutions that its customers want.
The majority of its products are locked to a 24-month refresh cycle, and the time has come for the DS718+ to give way to the new DS720+. The niche it fills is one for home and small business users that want something small and powerful that can start with one or two drives and be expanded as needs evolve.
The Synology DS720+ isn’t cheap for a bare solution. Yet, it has some features that make it uniquely placed to attract many small businesses that want a fast, reliable and full-featured NAS solution from a reputable brand.
Design & Build
This is normally the part of the review where we mention that this Synology design looks identical to the previous generation from the outside at least. But, in a change to our regular programming, the DS720+ has experienced a visual revamp into a slimmer and more elegant enclosure.
This overhaul is nothing radical, and the general placement of the buttons, ports and LEDs is much the same, but differentiating the older model from the new one isn’t difficult.
It features the similar front-accessible drive slots with removable and lockable plastic drive trays that can take two 3.5- or 2.5in SATA hard drives or SSD. And, there are two 1GbE Ethernet ports on the back, alongside an e-SATA port and USB 3.0 (USB 3.1 Gen 1) ports on the front and back.
These ports and slots are functionally identical to the DS718+, but there are some significant changes on the underside of the enclosure, and on the internal platform that drives everything.
On the case belly are two elongated removable panels that accept M.2 2280 NVMe SSD drives for caching conventional drives installed in the internal bays. That you can’t use them as pure storage is somewhat irritating, but that’s how it is.
What is especially nice about these M.2 slots is that they use a flexible clip at one end instead of the tiny screw that is so easy to drop when installing. Having one of those floating around inside the NAS could be potentially disastrous, so avoiding that possibility is a smart move on the designer’s part.
Installing NVMe drives only makes sense if you are using conventional hard drives. Since a bay-mounted SATA SSD is unlikely to be enhanced much when it is already more than double the maximum performance of the available network interfaces.
For those that run applications on a NAS, the DS720+ can have the internal memory boosted from the pre-installed 2GB up to 6GB with the addition of a 4GB DDR4 SODIMM. As with the NVMe drive, the installation of this card doesn’t require the NAS to be disassembled, as the edge connector is accessible when both drive bays are empty.
With the possibility of NVMe caching, extra RAM and the ability to connect the external DX517 box for an additional five drive slots, the DS720+ provides a very flexible solution for those that expect their circumstances to change.
Specs & Features
When I accessed the DSM interface on the DS720+, it immediately struck me how responsive this machine is, and accessing the specifications explained how significantly it had changed from the DS718+ that preceded it.
That machine used the Intel Celeron J3455, Apollo Lake quad-core CPU linked to DDR3L RAM with a base frequency of 1.5GHz and turbo-boosting to 2.3GHz. The new DS720+ has a later Intel Celeron J4125, a Gemini Lake design that is also quad-core, but with a base 2.0 GHz clock and a 2.7GHz turbo option. This chip has double the internal cache (4MB vs 2MB) and can use LPDDR4 memory up to 2400MT/s.
This newer CPU gets more performance out of its modest 10W power envelope, making it more suitable for intensive tasks and exploiting the NVMe slots this model includes. If you can feel a ‘but’ coming, then congratulate your intuition, because there is a reasonably substantial one that stops the DS720+ being genuinely spectacular.
Because the DS720+ is a bottle of angry pixies that have limited options to express themselves, being bottlenecked by dual 1GbE LAN ports restricting the flow of data in and out of the NAS.
Where the cached NVMe storage provides read and write speeds of more than 500MB/s, when combined the best bandwidth possible with both LAN ports amalgamated can only shift 225MB/s. What this design desperately needs is a 10GbE port, or as a cheaper alternative a 2.5GbE option, but has neither.
Where the NVMe, or SATA SSD caching can help is when the processing of data is internal to the NAS, but once the LAN is part of the chain, the impact is substantially reduced.
The real villain of this story is Synology’s new DS1520+. It has four 1GgE ports and the ability to take a 10GbE card, allowing it to handle a much greater network bandwidth, and by definition more simultaneous users with an identical processor to the DS720+.
The dance that Synology performs to avoid treading on the toes of other products has become something of a tradition by now. But in this case, justifying the DS720+ and DS920+ is much more difficult since of the appearance of the DS1520+.
Another pointed question is why this machine only has USB 3.0 (USB 3.1 Gen 1) and not USB 3.2 Gen 2? It’s about time the DX517 extension box became the DX520, connected by USB 3.2 Gen 2, or ideally Thunderbolt 3.
Two of these ports on the back would allow that box to support either fast external drives, like the G-Technology G-RAID, or dual extension boxes for an additional ten drives. But alas, that path leads to more high-end product overlaps.
The problem for Synology is that while it’s bound in a straightjacket of its own making, other large brands like QNAP and Netgear aren’t as restricted. And, they are rapidly adding Thunderbolt 3 and 2.5GbE LAN to their ranges to lure customers away from Synology.
The US price is $399, and that cost includes no storage whatsoever.
In the UK, that is £28 more than the previous generation DS718+ on Amazon. That difference reflected a small drop in the price of the DS718+ when the DS720+ was launched, but based on relatively low stock levels we’ve seen, we don’t expect the previous design to get much cheaper.
That’s slightly more expensive than the new four-bay QNAP TS-431P3-4G (£411.97/US$399), but cheaper than the TerraMaster F4-422. However, the £439.99 TerraMaster is a four-bay NAS drive, and comes with one 10GbE and two 1GbE network ports.
And, for those that just need basic network storage, the WD My Cloud Expert Series EX2 Ultra costs less, and comes with 8TB of drives pre-installed.
Along with the NAS box, Synology also provided an SNV3400-400G 400GB NVMe SSD, an M.2 NVMe drive designed specifically for NAS cache use. The cost of this item is £188.53 in the UK, and a more realistic $150.99 in the US.
However, in our testing, we determined that it is possible to use NVMe drives from other more affordable brands, even if they are not tuned for this purpose.
Check our chart of the best NAS drives to see our top 10.
The DS720+ is a fine NAS box that’s a delight to use.
It has plenty of power, and Synology DSM is still the most sophisticated and best supported NAS operating systems available. But, the multiple personality disorder of offering NVMe drive caching on a NAS box with only dual 1GbE LAN ports to send and receive data is patently perverse.
While the DS720+ is undoubtedly better than the DS718+, compared to the cheaper four-bay QNAP TS-431P3 that includes a 2.5GbE port, choosing this is a struggle unless you intend to ultimately extend using the DX517 box.
And, if you have that plan in mind, then you might as well go with the DS1520+, get more internal drives and much greater network bandwidth when it is required.
I fear that in an attempt to refresh this line without disturbing the existing product balance that Synology might have outmanoeuvred itself, and not for the first time.
But, if you want a small two-bay NAS with plenty of internal power and expansion possibilities, the DS720+ is an exciting option.
Synology DS720+: Specs
- Processor: Intel Celeron J4125 4-core 2.0 GHz, burst up to 2.7 GHz
- Memory: 2GB DDR4 onboard (expandable to 6GB)
- Drives: 2 x 3.5″ or 2.5″ SATA HDD/SSD (drives not included), and 2 x M.2 2280 NVMe SSD
- Raid Modes: Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR), Basic, JBOD, RAID 0, RAID 1
- Networking: 2x 1GbE LAN port
- Networking Protocols: SMB, AFP, NFS, FTP, WebDAV, CalDAV, iSCSI, Telnet, SSH, SNMP, VPN (PPTP, OpenVPN ™, L2TP)
- USB ports: 2x USB 3.0 Type A, 1 x eSATA port
OS: Synology DSM 6.2.3
- OS Languages: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Magyar, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Polish, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Turkish and Czech
- Maximum capacity: 32TB (2x 16TB) or 108TB with DX517 extension box
- Maximum Single Volume: 108TB
- Internal drive formats: ext4
- External drive formats: ext4, ext3, FAT, NTFS, HFS+, exFAT
- Size (HxWxD): 166 x 106 x 223mm
- Warranty: 3 years