At the CeBIT tradeshow earlier this year, Synology exhibited quite a few new models, among which the Disk Station DS409slim drew most of the attention. The compact DS409slim is a NAS (networked attached storage) appliance with a difference. Instead of supporting the usual 3.5-inch hard disk drives found in most desktop computers, the Disk Station DS409slim is the world’s first NAS for 2.5-inch SATA and SSD drives. The DS409slim provides a user-friendly solution for easy file sharing and backup among Windows, Mac, and Linux clients, and the snap-in design brings low power consumption, quiet operation, reliability and easy disk replacement in a compact design. Compactness, however, comes at a price and maximum storage capacity of just 500GB.

Equipped with a 1.2GHz Marvell 6281 processor, 128MB DDR2 memory and capable of accommodating up to four 2.5-inch SATA hard drives, the DS409slim (from £310/$438) is a compact (106×120×142mm, 660g) and speedy solution for those short on space. Connectivity to your computer is made easy thanks to a USB 2.0 port (there’s another on the front), one eSATA port, along with Gigabit Ethernet (no PoE support). Sadly there’s no optional wireless connectivity.

The DS409slim’s 60mm fan remains off under normal operations and spins up at a very low speed only when needed, thus helping to keep the noise level at an absolute minimum – almost virtually silent in fact. In addition, 2.5-inch hard drives have reduced vibration compared to their larger counterparts, along with increased MTBF (mean time before failure) and shock tolerance. SSDs up the performance and reliability stakes even further but cost the earth.

The DS409slim is supplied with the stupendous Ajax-based Disk Station Manager 2.1 management software, although Synology plans to ship version 2.2 beta next month and the official release in September. Version 2.2 adds iSCSI target support, iPhone support (photos, music and files), and Apple Time Machine support. It also boasts a built-in firewall, system resource monitor, and allows the DS409slim to act as a DLNA-compliant media server. Sweet!

Disk Station Manager 2.1 is one of the most intuitive NAS utilities going. Not only does it provide a huge array of features – including BitTorrent/FTP/HTTP/eMule/NZB downloads without a PC – but it’s a snap to use. The new Windows-style login desktop only displays authorised applications after login (admin can determine what applications each user can access), all users are given a Home folder in which they can store or access their data that no other users can access (users also have an individual Home folder which has a unique URL to publish their personal Web site or blog), and the new Quick Search Box allows ’search while you type’ for faster access to a setup page.

Windows users can access the server via Samba and FTP, Mac users via Samba, FTP, and AFP, while the built-in NFS service provides Linux users a quick step to access the server via NFS protocol. With the support of UTF-8, you no longer have to deal with file name encoding issue and sharing files in different languages is smooth as silk. Supporting Windows ADS authentication, the administrator can manage numerous user accounts. After simple configurations using Disk Station Manager 2.1, Windows domain users will be able to directly make use of their existing user accounts and passwords to access the Synology server as they could access any network file.

Synology File Station 2 is a simple Web-based file management interface to remotely access and manage files online. You can upload, download, copy, move, delete and rename files or directories in the shared folders on the DS409slim through a Web browser. Moving files among different shared folders with File Station 2 is particularly useful as this does not require data to be routed through your desktop. Assuming FTP service is enabled, the administrator can create user accounts and set up levelled privileges, assign specific port numbers, limit maximum connections from each IP, permit anonymous account logins, control file transfer bandwidth, allow SSL/TLS connections only, auto-block uninvited IP addresses, and view log particulars.

Adding to RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, and RAID 6 volume types, Disk Station Manager 2.1 supports JBOD and RAID 5+Space. By using the JBOD type, users can connect a bunch of disks as one disk. RAID 5+Spare, on the other hand, provides another management mechanism to secure data. It requires at least four drives to establish a RAID 5+Spare volume, and one will act as a hot spare drive to rebuild the failed drive of the volume automatically. For budget-sensitive users, the DS409slim has the flexibility to assemble smaller hard drives first and later expand to RAID 1, RAID 5 or RAID 6 volume by replacing existing hard drives with those larger in size one by one. Or, you can expand a RAID 5 or RAID 6 volume by adding an extra disk with the same capacity when the budget is allowed. For example, if RAID 5 has been created, you could add a new drive then change the volume into RAID 5+Spare.

Data backup is critical these days. Thankfully the DS409slim offers four backup choices. Disk Manager 2.1 has an integrated Network Backup page and Local Backup page to simplify the backup process. Network Backup allows you to back up files from one Synology server to another Synology server or any other rsync-compatible server over the network either immediately or on a fixed schedule. The Local Backup provides the ability to back up data to a shared folder or to external USB or eSATA hard drives. USB copy is available for backing up your data from an external USB storage device, such as a USB flash or card reader, to the server. With just one touch on the front-panel button, all the files on the external USB storage device will be uploaded to the user-defined shared folder on the DS409slim. Finally, you can run your own Web site from the appliance as it comes with an Apache Web server along with PHP and the latest MySQL. Disk Station Manager 2.1 even adds a new function allowing users to backup MySQL data.

Synology’s Disk Station DS409slim might be small but it’s big on features and performance. One of the most innovative and easy-to-use NAS boxes on the market, the DS409slim is ideal for those looking for a compact and quiet solution for sharing data across a wired network or the Internet. The only issue is that you’re paying a premium for the miniaturisation when cheaper and higher capacity 3.5-inch drives are more readily available. If you’re not sold on 2.5-inch technology (think noise and reliability), the Synology DS409 costs just £50 or so more and supports both 2.5- and 3.5-inch drives, making it a more practical option. Expensive, but the DS409slim is an interesting alternative