Photography Storage and a Whole Lot More: Synology DS1520+ Review

The Synology DS1520+ is an excellent NAS that boasts loads of additional features.

The Synology DS1520+ is the company’s latest Network-Attached Storage (NAS) device. Designed to mitigate our storage nightmares, it comes at a great time. Photographers are still caught in a megapixel war between manufacturers. Videographers are having 8K video pushed on them, and journalists need to manage a ton of multimedia files. Redundant storage is always an issue. But aside from being centralized storage for all of your data, the DS1520+ has got lots of added functionality too.

Synology DS1520+ Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Simple to set up
  • Very easy to use and manage via the builtin DiskStation Manager (DSM) operating system
  • Can store a huge amount of data (supports up to five 16TB hard drives natively)
  • Supports dual M.2 NVMe SSD cache
  • Four Gigabit Ethernet ports available (supports failover and Link Aggregation)
  • Tons of additional functionality

Cons

  • No 10 GigE ports present
  • No expansion PCIe slots available

Gear Used

We tested the Synology DS1520+ with a custom-built editing PC and a Microsoft Surface Pro 7, both running Windows 10 (Version 2004, May 2020 Update).

Synology DS1520+ Tech Specs

Tech specs for the Synology DS1520+ taken from Synology’s official product page:

Hardware Specs
CPUCPU ModelIntel Celeron J4125
CPU Architecture64-bit
CPU Frequency4-core 2.0 (base) / 2.7 (burst) GHz
Hardware Encryption Engine (AES-NI)
MemorySystem Memory8 GB DDR4 non-ECC
Memory Module Pre-installed8 GB (4 GB + 4 GB)
Total Memory Slots1
Notes• Please select Synology memory modules for optimum compatibility and reliability. Synology will not provide complete product warranty or technical support if non-Synology memory modules are used for memory expansion.
• Synology reserves the right to replace memory modules with the same or higher frequency based on supplier’s product life cycle status. Rest assured that the compatibility and stability have been strictly verified with the same benchmark to ensure identical performance.
StorageDrive Bays5
Maximum Drive Bays with Expansion Unit15 (DX517 x 2)
M.2 Drive Slots2 (NVMe)
Compatible Drive Type• 3.5″ SATA HDD
• 2.5″ SATA HDD
• 2.5″ SATA SSD
• M.2 2280 NVMe SSD
Maximum Single Volume Size108 TB
Hot Swappable Drive
Notes• “Compatible drive type” indicates drives that have been tested to be compatible with Synology products. This term does not indicate the maximum connection speed of each drive bay.
• Each internal volume (may consist of multiple drives) is expandable up to 108TB.
External PortsRJ-45 1GbE LAN Port4 (with Link Aggregation / Failover support)
USB 3.0 Port2
eSATA Port2
File SystemInternal Drives• Btrfs
• EXT4
External Drives• Btrfs
• EXT4
• EXT3
• FAT
• NTFS
• HFS+
• exFAT*
NotesexFAT Access is purchased separately in Package Center.
AppearanceSize (Height x Width x Depth)166 mm x 230 mm x 223 mm
Weight2.62 kg
OthersSystem Fan92 mm x 92 mm x 2 pcs
Fan Speed Mode• Full-Speed Mode
• Cool Mode
• Quiet Mode
Brightness Adjustable Front LED Indicators
Power Recovery
Noise Level*20.8 dB(A)
Scheduled Power On / Off
Wake on LAN / WAN
Power Supply Unit / Adapter120 W
AC Input Power Voltage100 V to 240 V AC
Power Frequency50/60 Hz, Single Phase
Power Consumption*36.67 W (Access)
15.51 W (HDD Hibernation)
British Thermal Unit125.21 BTU/hr (Access)
52.96 BTU/hr (HDD Hibernation)
Notes• Power consumption is measured when it is fully loaded with Western Digital 1TB WD10EFRX hard drive(s).
• Noise Level Testing Environment: Fully loaded with Seagate 2TB ST2000VN000 hard drive(s) in the idle state. Two G.R.A.S. Type 40AE microphones, each set up 1 meter away from the Synology NAS at the front and rear. Background noise: 16.49-17.51 dB(A); Temperature: 24.25-25.75˚C; Humidity: 58.2-61.8%
TemperatureOperating Temperature0°C to 40°C (32°F to 104°F)
Storage Temperature-20°C to 60°C (-5°F to 140°F)
Relative Humidity5% to 95% RH
Certification• EAC
• VCCI
• CCC
• RCM
• KC
• FCC
• CE
• BSMI
Warranty3-year hardware warranty, extendable to 5-year coverage – EW201
NotesThe warranty period starts from the purchase date as stated on your purchase receipt.
EnvironmentRoHS Compliant
Packaging Content• Main Unit X 1
• Accessory Pack X 1
• AC Power Adapter X 1
• AC Power Cord X 1
• RJ-45 LAN Cable X 2
• Quick Installation Guide X 1
Optional Accessories• Expansion Units: DX517
• 2.5″ SATA SSD: SAT5200
• M.2 2280 NVMe SSD: SNV3400
• VisualStation: VS960HD/VS360HD
• Surveillance Device License Pack
DSM Specifications
Storage ManagementMaximum Internal Volume Number64
Maximum iSCSI Target Number128
Maximum iSCSI LUN256
iSCSI LUN Clone/Snapshot, Windows ODX
SSD Read / Write Cache
SSD TRIM
Supported RAID Type• Synology Hybrid RAID
• Basic
• JBOD
• RAID 0
• RAID 1
• RAID 5
• RAID 6
• RAID 10
RAID Migration• Basic to RAID 1
• Basic to RAID 5
• RAID 1 to RAID 5
• RAID 5 to RAID 6
Volume Expansion with Larger HDDs• Synology Hybrid RAID
• RAID 1
• RAID 5
• RAID 6
• RAID 10
Volume Expansion by Adding a HDD• Synology Hybrid RAID
• JBOD
• RAID 5
• RAID 6
Global Hot Spare Supported RAID Type• Synology Hybrid RAID
• RAID 1
• RAID 5
• RAID 6
• RAID 10
File ServicesFile ProtocolCIFS/AFP/NFS/FTP/WebDAV
Maximum Concurrent CIFS/AFP/FTP Connections2,000
Windows Access Control List (ACL) Integration
NFS Kerberos Authentication
Account & Shared FolderMaximum Local User Accounts2,048
Maximum Local Groups256
Maximum Shared Folder512
Maximum Shared Folder Sync Tasks32
High AvailabilitySynology High Availability
Log CenterSyslog Events per Second800
VirtualizationVMware vSphere 6 with VAAI
Windows Server 2016
Windows Server 2019
Citrix Ready
OpenStack
General SpecificationsNetworking ProtocolsSMB1 (CIFS), SMB2, SMB3, NFSv3, NFSv4, NFSv4.1, NFS Kerberized sessions, iSCSI, HTTP, HTTPs, FTP, SNMP, LDAP, CalDAV
Supported Browsers• Google Chrome
• Firefox
• Microsoft Edge
• Internet Explorer 10 onwards
• Safari 10 onwards
• Safari (iOS 10 onwards)
• Google Chrome (Android 6.0 onwards)
Supported LanguageEnglish, Deutsch, Français, Italiano, Español, Dansk, Norsk, Svenska, Nederlands, Русский, Polski, Magyar, Português do Brasil, Português Europeu, Türkçe, Český, ภาษาไทย, 日本語, 한국어, 繁體中文, 简体中文

Synology DS1520+ Ergonomics

The Synology DS1520+ has a functional, minimalist design. It’ll take up a moderate amount of desk space (roughly the same footprint as two full-sized external hard drives placed side by side). It’s reasonably sized for a five-bay NAS. The drive trays are removable, allowing for quick and easy hard drive installation or replacement. You’ll find six LED indicators on the right of the DS1520+. They show the current condition of the NAS along with any hard drives installed. Under normal conditions, the LEDs are green. They’ll turn orange in the event of any issues.

The power button is in the lower right-hand corner of the front. Above it is one of the USB 3.0 Type-A ports. Each of the five drive trays is lockable to prevent accidental or malicious removal.

A pair of 92mm exhaust fans are located in the back. They’re set to quiet mode by default and are nearly inaudible. Photographers working in warmer environments can increase fan speeds to help improve cooling. Just be prepared for the increased fan noise. The rest of the DS1520+’s connectivity options include:

  • 2 × of eSATA ports (used to connect Synology DX517 Expansion Units)
  • 1 × 4-pin power connector for the external AC adapter
  • 4 × RJ-45 Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports
  • 1 × USB 3.0 Type-A port
  • 1 × Kensington security lock

3.5″ HDDs and 2.5″ SSDs can both fit onto the removable drive trays. Each tray has plastic retention clips built into the sides. They keep 3.5″ HDDs securely fastened without requiring screws. To install 2.5″ SSDs, you’ll need to attach them to the trays using the included screws.

The Synology DS1520+ can accommodate a pair of M.2 2280 NVMe SSDs as flash cache. They are worthy investments for photographers who plan to edit images stored directly on the NAS. The SSDs can be easily installed via the popout covers at the bottom of the DS1520+.

Build Quality of the Synology DS1520+

The Synology DS1520+’s enclosure and drive trays all felt well constructed. It’s similar to computer cases you’d find from Dell or HP. The enclosure is made of metal and plastic and the drive trays are almost entirely plastic. The DS1520+ is designed to be used indoors on a desk or shelf. Treat it as you would your computer, and it’ll safeguard your data for years to come. This is much different from a competitor like the Drobo 8D that has a cover over the drive bay area.

Ease of Use

Initial Set Up

Synology DS1520+’s Web Assistant

Setting up the Synology DS1520+ is super easy. Simply install your hard drives and turn the DS1520+ on. The built-in web assistant will guide you through the rest of the setup process.

Synology DS1520+’s Web Assistant installing the DiskStation Manager OS

The entire setup process should take a half-hour at most. Much of that time is used to install the DiskStation Manager (DSM) operating system.

DiskStation Manager’s User Interface

You’ll be presented with the above user interface after the DSM installation is complete. The various setup wizards within DSM will guide you through the rest of the setup process. This includes creating storage arrays, shared folders, and other security features. Everything is icon-driven and clearly labeled. You don’t have to worry about any command-line interfaces. You can even enable the recycle bin feature for each shared folder, which can be super helpful if you’ve ever accidentally deleted the wrong raw file.

Using the Synology DS1520+

For most photographers, the Synology DS1520+ will primarily serve as a storage device. The amount of storage space available depends on how many drives you have installed and how they are configured. You can combine up to five hard drives into one giant storage array. Alternatively, you can set one or two of the drives aside for parity. The latter offers redundancy if one or two of the five drives bite the dust at the expense of maximum storage space. If that’s not enough, you can connect up to two additional DX517 expansion units. This adds up to a total of 15 drives. Talk about a storage solution that’s designed to grow with you.

Some of the packages available for the Synology DS1520+

The Synology DS1520+ supports many additional functions beyond being a network-attached storage device. Many first- and third-party packages are available. They include backup and cloud syncing utilities, multimedia applications, and even alternatives to Dropbox, Google Drive, and G Suite. You can even run virtual machines on the DS1520+ and use it as a security camera server. These packages allow you to turn the DS1520+ into a full fledged server.

Performance

We used the DS1520+ to backup our computers and back catalogs, and to store our Capture One sessions. Culling and editing sessions stored on the DS1520+ felt slightly slower than those stored locally. This wasn’t surprising, though, as both the PC and Surface utilized SSDs for local storage. Alternatively, you can also work on locally stored files then sync them over to the DS1520+ using the Synology Drive utility.

Note that our Synology DS1520+ review unit only came with a pair of Seagate Ironwolf Pro hard drives. We didn’t get to take advantage of a fully saturated storage array. Slight performance deficit aside, we didn’t run into any hiccups working with images stored directly on the DS1520+. Here are the 1 Gigabit, non-aggregated SMB benchmarks measured using CrystalDiskMark and Blackmagic Disk Speed Test:

Getting The Most Out of the Synology DS1520+

There are a few ways to maximize the Synology DS1520+’s performance. The DS1520+’s IOPS (Input/Output Operations Per Second) can be drastically increased using M.2 NVMe SSDs (up to two) as flash cache. Enabling Link Aggregation is helpful as well. This essentially lets you bind up to all four Gigabit connections together into a single, faster one. To take advantage of this, you’ll need a Gigabit Ethernet switch that supports IEEE 802.3ad Dynamic Link Aggregation. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any M.2 NVMe SSDs or a network switch that supports IEEE 802.3ad on hand to test out these features.

Disappointingly, the Synology DS1520+ does not have any 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports. Curiously, the PCIe expansion slot on the outgoing DS1517+ was removed too. This makes installing a 10 Gigabit Ethernet expansion card an impossibility. Combined with Link Aggregation, 10 Gigabit connections would’ve given the DS1520+ truly impressive transfer speeds. Hopefully, it will make a return in the next product refresh.

Synology DS1520+ Review Conclusions

Likes

  • Simple setup process
  • DSM is very easy to use
  • Solid performance
  • Tons of expandability

Dislikes

  • No 10 Gigabit Ethernet connectivity

Photographers that have to manage vast amounts of raw files will love how easy and painless the Synology DS1520+ is to use. The setup process was straightforward and easy to follow. With the DS1520+, all of your data is stored in a central, easily accessible location. You can say goodbye to juggling tons of different external hard drives. The DS1520+ can be customized to suit your specific workflow. The various packages you can install onto the DS1520+ greatly expand its functionality.

You can even connect two additional expansion units if you ever run out of storage on the five native drive bays. This allows you to combine up to 15 hard drives into one massive storage array. An oversight that keeps the DS1520+ from earning five stars is the lack of 10 Gigabit Ethernet built-in. This is compounded by the removal of the optional PCIe expansion slot found in the previous model. This makes adding 10 Gigabit connectivity to the DS1520+ impossible.

The Synology DS1520+ earns four out of five stars. It’s available now from Amazon for US $699.99. Don’t forget to pick up some hard drives too to populate the five drive bays.