A network-attached storage unit (NAS) is basically a mini-PC that’s meant to store multiple hard drives of data with intranet access for other devices to tap into those contents remotely. While a NAS can be treated as a PC all on its own, it’s specifically designed to be wired into a network to allow video, image and music transcoding, and distribution to phones, tablets, PCs and smart TVs inside your home or office space. Of course, choosing a brand for this is about as important as deciding between Apple and Android, Mac and Windows — it’s a similar battle here.
Most NAS devices are used in tandem with Plex to create network-accessible media servers that allow anyone on the network to play content for a variety of reasons. This could be useful in a corporate setting where employees may need to watch training videos, reference PDF files and more from a collective, read-only directory. However, home environments are where these devices can be most commonly found, and you can even tie in your IPTV recordings to a NAS Plex machine for everyone to watch their fill on their own screens.
Here, we’re going to walk you through the two most popular brands of NAS to determine which suits your requirements best.
Why We Compare QNAP and Synology
These are the two most spoken-of brands in the vein of NAS technology. These manufacturers have distinct differences in how they handle hard- and software on their devices, which in turn affects compatibility, performance, and overall convenience depending on the scenario. In a dichotomy that isn’t too far from the ones that you might already be familiar with, one brand is associated with boundless customization and tech savviness while the other prefers to keep things buckled down and simplified. Both are designed with completely different users in mind.
Between the two, QNAP — the Android-esque of the two — is the more popular seller. Synology, which does things the Apple way, is often set aside here because anyone who knows what a NAS is and happens to set one up will more likely have the savviness needed to make the most of a QNAP VS Synology machine. In this way, Synology’s line of thinking is better suited for vanilla computing devices in the way that Macs are, but people still find their features and “it just works” ethos to be incredibly useful in specific cases such as their proprietary Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR) offering, superior surveillance consistency, and incredible smoothness despite inferior hardware.
You’re probably wondering, “What about Western Digital, Netgear, Buffalo and the others? Are you covering those here?”
Don’t get us wrong: Those brands have their merits. However, it’s like comparing a ZTE smartphone to a Samsung one; the latter is a better-known brand that more people will look to for flagship-level power and features. This isn’t a mistake, and the tech field usually speaks for its brands in the followings that are gathered around the names that offer the most. If you asked anybody about NAS boxes, you’re more than likely going to hear QNAP and Synology brought up at some point as brands that are dedicated to quality NAS designs.
As such, we’re here to answer one of the most popular questions among those who are investigating NAS offerings: QNAP or Synology? We don’t have a bias here; it’s all up to your needs and how you like your interface to be laid out. Kick back, relax and watch us dissect the basics of both brands to streamline the decision-making process.
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Synology VS QNAP: Hardware Specifications
NAS boxes were never known for their power — at least not when compared to conventional PCs. It’s not uncommon to find Celerons, 8GB of RAM and tons of hard drive bays included, and out of those three specifications, only the RAM would be considered normal for an ordinary desktop computer. As such, temper your expectations when you’re looking for the right NAS to conduct the multimedia environment in your home or office space. You’d be surprised how much RAM and storage is actually needed for a QNAP and Synology machine in contrast to the CPU power.
“But you just said that CPU doesn’t matter as much!” Well, this is partly true. The important distinction to make here is whether you’re in the game of transcoding high bit-rates, finely pixelated resolutions and HDR on top. The more demanding your needs are and the more devices you’re transcoding for on the network, the more the CPU is going to struggle.
Still, CPU isn’t the only way that QNAP usually takes the helm. They also offer a higher RAM cap, more feature-rich motherboards and a greater number of input slots for a wider variety of devices in their units. Drive compatibility is basically identical between the two brands, and bay offerings are nothing to skimp out on here, so a Synology box will offer comparable prowess in this regard. Ultimately, you’re getting what you’d expect from an Apple-like device: inferior specs at a higher price.
So, this means that QNAP has the hands-down superior performance, right? Actually, that’s not quite the case. While the advanced hardware can give QNAP’s machines an edge in some applications, Synology’s DSM OS is more fluid and graceful in its presentation, transitioning and overall functionality. Transcoding and I/O is smooth as butter on these machines thanks to the highly restricted operating ecosystem that their NAS offerings are built around. Because of this, Synology doesn’t need all that fancy hardware to match or exceed QNAP’s technology blow-for-blow in the grand scheme.
Take for example the Synology DS218+ as compared to the QNAP TS-251. While the Synology starts off with 2GB of RAM compared to the QNAP’s 1GB, RAM is incredibly cheap and easy to install or replace, which is something that you’ll invariably do with either device since 1-2GB isn’t exactly sparking when you’re trying to transcode HD content. The numbers that matter are the more difficult aspects of the hardware like the CPU. In this case, both machines are using Celerons, but the QNAP entry is clocked higher. The motherboard on the QNAP is also capable of accommodating an extra 2GB ahead of Synology’s offering. QNAP’s box also features more USB ports and two gigabit NICs for improved networking.
Synology VS QNAP: HDD and SSD Compatibility
Generally speaking, both brands will support HDD and SSD storage devices equally if you’re just discussing the basic “can I use this drive” with each one. In more recent years, the proliferation of M.2 storage has become the new focus for those who need compact storage that’s insanely fast and slides in on a reasonable price tag. For this, you can find mid-range NAS machines that support it on both sides of the fence. QNAP is considered better in this respect because its SSD caching is more refined and offers far greater gains to performance on the whole, but not everybody needs this kind of power.
The long and short of it is, in this day and age, just about every NAS and PC device alike will support HDDs and SSDs of every kind other than M.2, and even that is gaining ground quickly. There are no limits to speak of except what’s mentioned with the NAS devices themselves, and that’s contingent upon the motherboard that comes preinstalled.
OS Comparison: Diskstation Manager (DSM) VS QNAP Turbo (QTS)
Can you guess which OS goes with which NAS? If you guessed that QNAP Turbo runs on Synology, you absolutely need some caffeine right now. Yes, QTS is QNAP’s operating environment that matches Synology’s DSM blow-for-blow in its own special way, and it’s another classic argument of Mac versus PC: Do you prefer customization and technicality, or would you rather keep things easy and simple? If the OS is important to you, you need not look further than the very smartphone in your hand to determine which NAS might be more convenient.
QNAP is the Android of NAS operating environments, and fittingly enough, it runs Linux at the heart of QTS. Its design is sleek, polished and contemporary, but it also adds Windows- and Android-like elements of monitoring resource usage while displaying a plethora of knobs, dials, tabs, and buttons on its interface much to the joy of savvier users. If you feel like you’d benefit from knowing everything about what’s going on inside your NAS — where the bottleneck is, what you can afford to transcode, how much RAM is being sucked down or why the I/O is crapping out — you’ve got it all with QTS.
As such, there’s probably not much we can tell you about the also Linux-based DSM now since it follows that Synology’s OS will generally lack these features in lieu of a secure, boxed-in environment that keeps things simple, streamlined and clean-suited. This does, of course, have the drawback of being frustrating at times when the technical features are needed but stowed a little too far out of the user’s immediate reach. However, DSM is able to do more with less, which is one reason for the inferior hardware that’s often included in a Synology NAS compared to QNAP counterparts.
Concerning first-party apps, Synology’s DSM features a smaller pool to pick from but offers a more stable experience within those apps. QTS grants a wider range of choice, but you may experience some issues with integration and getting files to play nicely from one app to the next, especially when those apps are spread out across multiple client devices that run on various operating environments. Once more, Synology’s buckled-down approach offers a more solid experience, but you’re not going to have as much power overall as you will with QNAP’s system.
QNAP QTS — Best OS for Android and Windows Lovers
Synology DSM — Best OS for Mac and iOS Lovers
File System Comparison: BTRFS, ZFS and EXT 4
File systems are a way of writing and arranging data on a disk to make reading and caching easier, less resource-intensive and — most importantly — possible in the first place. A file system requires support from the OS for the user to interact with the stored data properly, and you’ve probably already heard about at least one of them:
- FAT (Windows)
- EXT (Linux)
- HFS+ (Mac)
- Between those two, BTRFS gets special attention because it’s been around longer and is more well known. This is available only on premium Synology units, and it’s designed to play nicely with DSM’s background checks that form the spine of the Apple-like ecosystem. With this file system, the OS can run monitoring processes, checks and modifications behind the scenes without affecting the foreground operation thanks to the efficiency of BTRFS that isn’t otherwise found in EXT 4 when used in a similar situation.
- ZFS is QNAP’s response to BTRFS and offers extremely rigid self-monitoring and -correcting procedures inside the OS. One of the most noteworthy features here is the power to identify missing or corrupted checksums and fill or replace them with the expected values, keeping the system running with little or no downtime when things go awry. This file system requires a substantial amount of RAM to work properly, but in this day and age, 16-32GB isn’t that uncommon to see in mid- or high-end systems. Since ZFS is supposed to run on premium QNAP machines, there’s no reason you won’t have the hardware for it filled in.
QNAP VS Synology: Mobile Accessibility
There’s very little that we can say here to surprise you by now! Both Synology and QNAP bring their own arrangement of mobile apps to the table that allow your smartphone or tablet to connect to the NAS through the local network and interact with the OS and storage contents therein. As explained earlier, there are more apps available to QNAP users, but they’re also a touch more complex and lack that buttery seamlessness that you’ll get with Synology’s apps. We can’t say that one is any better than the other; it really just comes down to personal preference at the end of the day.
QNAP brings the likes of Qfile, Qvideo, Qmusic and group-based note-taking functions in addition to Internet of Things (IoT) and IFTTT applications that help you bring your home’s smart appliances together where a centralized terminal can handle things. This is where tools like Google Home and Alexa were supposed to reign, and they do that job in their own minimalistic way, but there’s a compelling argument to make for having a storage-dense Linux-based mini-PC that forms the heart of your sanctuary’s entertainment, productivity, and household maintenance schedule. This is all possible with QNAP’s mobile applications, and it’s a beautiful piece of work to behold.
On the other hand, more functionality means that more can go wrong. Not everybody invests in IoT appliances or cares about IFTTT; some folks just want to click video app and, well, get video playback. As expected, Synology’s mobile apps will do this better than QNAP with a few dials and knobs on the side to enrich the experience, but you’re not going to have the complicated doodads buried in the settings that allow for the extra technical bits. As such, reliability runs high and smooth with Synology’s apps, and there are never any questions of how to make it work the way you like; it’s already been prepared for you from the start.
RAID Configuration Options
Leave it to Synology to make up in software what they lack in hardware. As far as RAID configurations are concerned, both companies would be similar if not for DSM’s Synology Hydrid RAID (SHR) feature, which offers dynamic flexibility over the RAID conditions of the installed drives. It’s certainly not a required feature, and it does require a little technical knowledge to swing it inside its full range of motion, but being able to set how many redundant drives you have and seamlessly define storage volumes from inside the OS is certainly a plus.
On the other hand, not everyone cares about SHR, and since QNAP and Synology both support standard RAID setups, that’s probably where many Synology users will go simply out of custom more than anything. Still, that doesn’t detract from the point that Synology makes it simpler for those who are willing to put some trust in their proprietary RAID layout.
Synology VS QNAP: DLNA Media Servers
Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) is a standard that allows devices of different technologies to talk together over a network and interact with each other’s contents. Naturally, just about any network-enabled device is going to be DLNA-compliant whether it’s your laptop, tablet, smartphone, TV or NAS. NAS boxes are exceptionally important in the context of having DLNA because the entire premise of a NAS is storing data on it for network access by other devices at a later point in time. Here, QNAP is far more feature-rich, but Synology will be more locked-down and secure.
Deciding between QNAP and Synology here is dependent upon whether you want your system to be sealed away from others modifying the contents of your Plex server or to have a collaborative experience between all the family members or coworkers on the network. QNAP will give those with password access the power to delete or change the contents of the NAS — well, assuming QTS has given the administrative power to do so, that is. The network admin can set which accounts have the power to do what with the machine’s contents, and from there, a whole world of get-together goodness is possible with a QNAP server that’s running Plex multimedia software.
Synology is, as you’d expect, a little more tight-lipped about it. Their apps and network access functions are limited to read-only, and the only people who can actually muck around with the location or condition of the stored contents are those who have access to the NAS itself. This is a great solution for those who are sharing their NAS content on a public network where anybody might attempt to gain unauthorized access or otherwise abuse their power to damage data. On the other hand, QNAP’s devices can offer the same protect by adjusting the settings accordingly.
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One of the great features of a NAS that many people take advantage of is the surveillance aspect, which allows you to hook up security cameras via USB or the network and save footage of sensitive areas in and around your home or work space. Thanks to the massive drive space that’s made possible with a NAS, your surveillance system can push HD content without overfilling. RAID configurations can also help improve the storage bandwidth and create backups in case of emergency. Of course, you also have the power to control cameras with tilt, zoom and pan functions among other features with your NAS.
QNAP and Synology are quite similar here, and we’d say that for the most part, it comes down to whether the user wants to stick to a brand for other reasons with the surveillance aspect tossed into the middle. However, QNAP does have a bit of an edge with its included camera licenses and HDMI support, both of which are less frequent on Synology’s variants alongside mouse and keyboard support. Still, this is a minor issue that can be overcome with adapters, and you should otherwise find that both brands handle security monitoring and CCTV systems with feature-packed efficiency.
USB Access on NAS: Host Versus Client Access
You’re probably wondering why in the world anybody would want USB ports on a NAS when you have so many drive bays to hold all your storage with. The answer is: peripherals. While you can use external storage and USB drives with those ports to beef up your storage and enable transfers from portable drives, you might also find yourself wanting to print content or hook up surveillance systems. “Why don’t I just use the network instead? Isn’t that what a NAS is for?” Networks are slower, less reliable and might already be in use by other clients. It’s better to plug in and send your data the physical way unless you’re transmitting small amounts at a time.
However, if you’re wondering whether those USB ports can be used to connect an actual PC to your NAS, that’s where we have to check you at the door. See, it wouldn’t be a NAS — a network-attached storage system — if it allowed people to just plug their OS-driven devices into the NAS to gain access in the way that you might between two PCs or phones. In this way, clients are only able to gain access over the network, and the host will command the NAS as a centralized PC station. From here, administrative measures are enforced on users to determine who gains access to what and with what power.
That’s to say that the USB ports are strictly an admin feature on both QNAP and Synology devices, and unauthorized users will be unable to tap into the NAS with a USB cable and any computing device of their own. Likewise, the NAS is unable to communicate with another device in this fashion except possibly — with administrative privilege of course — the storage contents of said device. There are a handful of exceptions floating around out there such as the TS-251+ and TVS-473, and these devices allow outside devices to connect to the NAS through USB to gain access to the contents. However, these options are often more expensive.
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