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Synology DiskStation DS223j review: New NAS, same appealing story

Synology DiskStation DS223j front viewImage: Mark Pickavance

At a glance

Expert’s Rating

Pros

A better CPU1GB RAMDSM 7.2Docker support

Cons

Minimal upgradesAccessory needed to fit 2.5in drivesOnly 1GbE LAN

Our Verdict

As an entry-level NAS, the DS223j has plenty going for it, but Synology needs to accept that buyers want 2.5GbE LAN.

Price When Reviewed

$189.99

Best Prices Today: Synology DiskStation DS223j

RetailerPriceAmazon$185.99View DealB&H$189.99View DealWalmart$193.99View DealPrice comparison from over 24,000 stores worldwideProductPricePrice comparison from Backmarket

Synology releases new NAS infrequently these days, leaving over 2.5 years from when the DS220j appeared to the new DS223j.

Using an identical enclosure, the new DS223j has all the hallmarks of the painfully incremental nature of Synology NAS. Therefore, this design has a marginally better CPU than the model before it. And, more memory but the same 1GbE LAN port and many of the familiar restrictions on drive sizes and using SSDs. Its ability to run the latest 7.2 DSM operating system, along with many of the high-quality apps from the Synology stable, is slightly more enticing.

Is this enough to keep customers from getting more concurrent features from TerraMaster, Asustor, and QNAP, or is the DS223j designed to interest only those already invested in the Synology infrastructure?

Design & Build

No new stylingNo drive traysDisassembly required

It wasn’t a huge surprise, but the DS223j offers no new styling and appears identical to the DS220j, with the obvious exception of a tiny printed logo on the front.

In my TerraMaster F2-212 review, I only took that machine apart out of curiosity because it has drive trays. But the Synology DS223j must be disassembled to fit any drives as it comes with no drive trays or bay accessibility from the outside. Inside is a simple metal frame that you can mount two 3.5-inch SATA drives, and Synology doesn’t provide a means to use 2.5-inch drives without an additional accessory that isn’t included.

Mark Pickavance

As most owners won’t be changing drives regularly, this exercise isn’t a huge annoyance. What is less acceptable is that those wanting to use 2.5in drives do face an extra outlay for the official Synology 2.5in Disk Holder Type C, whereas most other 2-bay NAS can take both form factors inherently. Other than mounting drives, there is no other purpose for going inside. Because the RAM in this machine is soldered to the mainboard, there are no SODIMM expansion options or other internal upgrades.

What’s important to realise is that Synology doesn’t want the DS223j to become an inexpensive option for small business users to avoid spending on higher specification NAS, so it can’t offer anything too useful. But, as this review discusses later, it may have been forced to give the DS223j more potential than probably intended.

Specs & Features

Realtek 1619B SoCTwo 3.0 USB portsOnly Gigabit LANLacks official SSD support

The Realtek 1619B in the DS223j is an ARM-based SoC (System on a Chip), the same one that the TerraMaster F2-212 uses, and it was designed specifically for TV boxes. This is a basic but effective quad-core chip built around the Cortex-A55 microarchitecture, with each core capable of 1.3GHz.

On paper, the maximum memory capacity on that SoC is 4GB, but it is only supplied with 1GB of RAM in this configuration. That said, the DS220j only had 512GB and a much less impressive SoC, making this the first entry-level dual-bay NAS from Synology with this much RAM. While more memory is generally a good thing, and 1GB isn’t a huge amount, it is enough to run the latest DSM 7.2 release and many of the essential apps supported by that platform.

The SoC also provides two USB ports, and on this NAS, they are both USB 3.2 Gen 1 specification, allowing for external storage to transfer to and from the NAS at up to 1,000MB/s. Or that would be possible if the internal drives or the LAN port could sustain that level of performance, which conventional hard drives can’t.

Both ports are on the rear of the NAS, and there is no button to transfer the contents from an external drive to the NAS.

This is a basic but effective quad-core chip built around the Cortex-A55 microarchitecture

Mark Pickavance

Synology is one of those NAS makers that provides approved drive lists for each NAS, and the DS223j is no exception. Its compatibility lists include Synology branded mechanisms up to 12TB, the biggest capacity they offer, and up to 16TB drives made by Seagate, Western Digital and Toshiba.

While no 18-, 20- or 22TB are listed currently, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect they might or will do once the compatibility lists are updated. Officially, that limits the total capacity to 32TB, assuming a configuration with no resilience or 16TB for those who like to shrug off drive failures.

Even used in striped performance mode, the throughput of two 16TB drives will only amount to about 340MB/s, but that’s not an issue because the DS223j only has a single gigabit Ethernet port. That’s a practical maximum of around 115MB/s, less than the performance of most 3.5in HDDs. Synology’s rather dogged insistence on not offering 2.5GbE is becoming increasingly problematic.

Many cheaper Desktop NASs now come with a 2.5GbE LAN port or the ability to use a USB adapter to add it, whereas Synology refuses to provide better than 1GbE on most consumer-focused products.

A related fact is that Synology doesn’t support SSDs in this unit for storage or caching. I found that SATA SSDs will work on this platform as storage, even if they come with plenty of compatibility warnings, should you wish to make this NAS almost silent.

But then, with only a 1GbE LAN port, using SATA SSD drives that can achieve 500MB/s, four times the network speed, is probably pointless for file serving. For those jobs where local processing is important, using SSDs might have value, even if they’re not approved by Synology.

It is worth noting that the TerraMaster F2-212, a competing device, also comes with a 1GbE LAN port by default, but it is possible to buy an official USB 3.2 Gen 1 to 2.5GbE LAN adapter for around $30. Using that device and with support for SSD caching, the F2-212 can deliver files at twice the best speed of the DS223j.

Synology has tied the DS223j down effectively to avoid treading on the toes of its more feature-rich NAS options, but the card up Synology’s sleeve is DSM 7.2.

DSM 7.2 OS

The latest OSOpens up new possibilities

For those unfamiliar with Synology DSM, this is easily the most mature Linux-based distribution built explicitly for NAS. It has the best applications and, up to this point, has a successful track record of offering protection against malware.

In 2021, Synology released DSM 7.0, the latest point release of its NAS operating system, and at the same point, condemned many older NAS designs to run DSM 6.2 forever. Its launch resulted from a three-year development project to overhaul the DSM structures and make it better able to exploit the power of newer processor technologies that the Synology NAS product lines now use.

Compared with previous Synology entry-level NASs, that one aspect is a revelation

Mark Pickavance

But one of the issues that came with DSM 7.0 was that it needed more memory to deliver its full experience, and even if some of the Entry-level models could technically run this release, with 512GB of RAM, the selection of apps available to them were curtailed from what Synology NAS with 1- or 2GB could use.

Since then, Synology has worked tirelessly to fix several issues that DSM 7.0 arrived with and recently brought the current release up to 7.2. That’s the version that the DS223j can run, and combined with the 1GB of RAM, it suddenly opens a whole new world of functionality that wasn’t available to the DS220j or any of its prior 2-bay NAS incarnations.

There are plenty of tools that either aren’t available to Synology NAS with less than 1GB of RAM or don’t run well that the DS223j can access with its expanded memory. One of the most important for developers is the Container Manager app by Docker Inc.

Being able to run containers massively extends the capabilities of this NAS, converting a basic file server into the sharp end of a software development system. And, for those wanting to use this NAS as a workable system, you can also run Beta versions of Synology Drive Server, Synology Office and Universal Viewer.

Compared with previous Synology entry-level NASs, that one aspect is a revelation. It elevates the user experience to be closer to higher specification options and provides a logical pathway for customers to see what advantages more expensive machines might offer them.

Performance

Single Gigabit LAN1GB of memorySSD use

The bottleneck of this system is the 1GbE LAN port, and Synology does not offer any way around these bandwidth limits, capping the maximum file transfer speeds to around 115MB/s. Multiple simultaneous users will end up with a portion of that speed, and the more users, the less each one gets.

Being the first tier of 2-bay NAS for Synology, those limitations come with this price point.

The DS223j diverges from previous 2-bay models because the four-core SoC and 1GB of RAM combination make for a more resilient system where a single rogue task can’t knee-cap the NAS to the point where it becomes unusable.

the performance of the DS223j is excellent and substantially better than the DS220j or DS218j that came before it

Mark Pickavance

Where using tools like Plex or Video Station previously restricted what the other applications could be run alongside, on this machine, it’s possible to have more than one application installed and keep things moving smoothly.

There are limits to what the RAM can achieve, but these issues are often tied to multiple apps trying to use the drive resources concurrently and thrashing the SATA drives. This problem can be negated somewhat by using SATA SSDs, even if Synology disapproves. The ideal solution would have been to have one large hard drive and a single SATA SSD for caching, but Synology doesn’t offer that option on DSM 7.2 in this NAS.

That would have accelerated indexing or post-upload processing tasks on this NAS, but that probably made the DS223j more useful than Synology wanted.

Whatever storage used in this NAS won’t massively impact the file serving performance (unless the drive has an error), but faster drives and SSDs could have a much more significant impact on data processing that happens on the NAS directly to the file system.

Overall, the performance of the DS223j is excellent and substantially better than the DS220j or DS218j that came before it.

Price & Availability

The official price of the DS223j is just $189.99 in the USA and £189.99 in the UK, making it better value in America than in Europe. However, it can be found for less on Amazon in the UK, making for a closer parity in price.

That’s $20/£20 more than the similarly specified TerraMaster F2-212, a NAS that has both proper drive trays and can upgrade its networking to 2.5GbE speeds. But to balance things somewhat, the DS223j does have better USB ports and a superior operating system with DSM.

The asking price is also $10/£10 more than the Asustor AS1102T 2 Bay Drivestor 2 Desktop NAS, a machine that comes with 2.5GbE as standard but uses the same RTD1296 Quad-Core 1.4GHz SoC that was in the DS220j.

This NAS makes perfect sense for those invested in Synology technology and, like that company, ignoring the attractions of a 2.5GbE LAN, the DS223j makes perfect sense. Conversely, this might not be the best choice if you want to upgrade the network for greater performance.

Mark Pickavance

Should you buy the Synology DiskStation DS223j?

For those already using Synology NAS, the DS223j is a perfect small addition that gets the user onboard with DSM 7.2 and many of the OS’s excellent features.

However, its choice might be more problematic for users who want a NAS to dump large video files and have computers that support 2.5GbE or better network protocols. For those needs, Asustor and TerraMaster have similarly priced machines that can more than double the speed of a file transfer, and most of them also support SSDs for both storage and cache.

As a reviewer of NAS boxes, I hope this is the last 2-bay NAS from Synology that arrives with a 1GbE LAN port and no means to upgrade it. But given the stubbornness exhibited on this point so far, I wouldn’t take any bets on that.

Despite that omission and the extra expenditure needed to use 2.5in drives, the DS223j has everything else that a home or small business user might want from a NAS, and this specification makes for a significantly better user experience running multiple apps.

Specs

CPU: Realtek 1619BGPU: ARM Mali-G51 MP3RAM: 1GB DDR4 (not upgradable)Drive Bays: 2x 3.5/2.5 SATAM.2 Drive Slots: N/AMaximum Drives with Expansion: 2USB: 2x USB 3.2 Gen 1Video Outputs: N/ARaid Types: Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR), Basic.RAID 0, RAID 1, JBODWeight: 0.88 KgDimensions: 165 x 100 x 225.5 mmNetworking: 1x 1GbE Ethernet (100/1000)OS: DSM 7.2Internal File Systems: Btrfs, ext4External File Systems: Btrfs, ext4, ext3, FAT32, NTFS, HFS+, exFATOS Languages: Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese Brazil, Portuguese European, Russian, Simplified Chinese, Spanish, Swedish, Traditional Chinese, Turkish, Thai

This review was originally published on techadvisor.com.

Best Prices Today: Synology DiskStation DS223j

RetailerPriceAmazon$185.99View DealB&H$189.99View DealWalmart$193.99View DealPrice comparison from over 24,000 stores worldwideProductPricePrice comparison from Backmarket

Mark is an expert on displays, reviewing monitors and TVs. He also covers storage including SSDs, NAS drives and portable hard drives. He started writing in 1986 and had contributed to MicroMart, PC Format, 3D World among others.

Recent stories by Mark Pickavance:

TerraMaster F2-212 review: Entry-level NAS with optionsAsustor Flashstor 6 FS6706T review: A NAS for NVMe drivesAsustor Nimbustor 2 Gen2 AS5402T review: The ultimate small NAS

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