Synology DiskStation DS119j full review

NAS drives can seem very expensive, especially when the price doesn't include any hard drives. That's one reason why Synology offers entry-level models. Its new DS119j  is firmly aimed at first-time buyers and offers a slightly cut-down experience that saves you money but retains the stuff you actually need. For the most part, anyway.

Synology DS119j: Price & availability

You can buy the DS119j from CCL for £97.65 and from Amazon for £99.99.

In the US, you can get it from Amazon for $95.93.

This is considerably cheaper than something like the two-bay DS218 which costs £249.99 / US$249.99. And remember these are disk-less prices.

Synology DS119j: Features & design

With its glossy white finish, the DS119j can live in your lounge another family room without looking too imposing. It's really quiet, too, so it shouldn't annoy you with fan or disk noises.

There's simply a power button on the front along with too many flashing LEDs. On the back is the power connector, two USB ports and a gigabit Ethernet port.

Synology DS119j review

It's best to use a network cable to connect the drive to your router but you can insert a supported USB Wi-Fi dongle if wires are not an option. The other USB port can be used for an external USB hard drive, or even a Bluetooth dongle (the uses of which are pretty limited).

Installing your SATA hard drive is very easy and takes a couple of minutes. Screws are provided in the box, as are more screws to hold the white plastic cover on afterwards.

Setup is much simpler than it used to be. You fire up a web browser and type find.synology.com and your new NAS will appear on screen as if by magic.

The wizard directs you through installing the latest version of DSM (DiskStation Manager) and offers a few other things such as a QuickConnect ID. This is a simple-to-remember URL that allows you to access your DiskStation when you're not at home, but it does require you to sign up for a Synology account. It's well worth it, as it saves a lot of hassle setting up static IP addresses and port forwarding, none of which people who buy £99 NAS boxes will want to bother with.

Synology DS119j review

The process of installing the latest version of DSM (currently 6.2) takes all of 10 minutes, at which point you'll be offered automatic installation of a few core Synology apps, which we recommend you accept as you'll probably use most of them. They include Video Station, Moments, Media Server, Audio Station and Drive.

These are designed to serve up your photos, videos and music library via Synology's mobile and TV apps, called DS Video, DS Photo and DS Audio. You can download them on your iPhone, iPad, Android phone and many streaming boxes including Apple TV, Amazon Firestick and more. Using these you can access your stuff through a reasonably nice interface, though it's not on a par with the native apps on iPhones and Android phones.

You'll also have to get used to a bit of a delay - as you get with cloud services - when browsing through the library and waiting for videos to load.

One reason for this is that the DS119j's processor is pretty slow. It's a dual-core 800MHz Marvel chip and doesn't have any transcoding capabilities. What this means is that your device - be it a media streamer, TV, phone or tablet, will have to support the type of video you have stored on the NAS.

It will serve up 4K video (including the home videos you shot on your iPhone XS) just fine, but if your TV won't play it, then unlike Synology's more expensive models, the DS119j won't transcode it into a different format or a lower resolution.

If you do need transcoding for 4K video, then try the DS218play. This has a more powerful CPU, which also enables other features and faster performance in general.

Synology DS119j review

Also note that Plex is missing from the app store which may be due to the Marvel processor.

You do still get Synology's Surveillance Station which will run two network security cameras, and you'll find a full list of supported models on Synology's website. This means your DiskStation can work just like a CCTV system, recording video constantly and allowing you to watch it remotely.

Annoyingly, if you want to copy files to or from an external USB drive formatted with exFAT you'll have to buy the app for $3.99 as it isn't free.

It's also worth bearing in mind that, unlike a DiskStation with two or more bays for hard drives, the single-bay DS119j doesn't support RAID. Typically, you would choose a 'mirrored' RAID in a two-bay NAS so that both hard drives are an identical copy of each other.

This way, if a disk fails, you don't lose all your precious videos, photos and other documents. With the DS119j, you'll need to set up another form of backup to ensure that doesn't happen. Whether that's using cloud storage or the external hard drive option we've mentioned, it's possible, but not as simple or convenient as using a RAID.

Alternatively, Synology does make two-bay 'j' models such as the DS218j which costs around £180 from Amazon and US$169.99 from Newegg.

Performance

In use, we found the DS119j performed pretty much as expected. That means it's a bit slow to load the interface in a web browser and there's a delay before videos are played back.

Synology DS119j review

However, running our usual CrystalDiskMark tests we found the DS119j was below par. Synology says it can perform sequential reads at over 108MB/sec but we never saw anything much above 64MB/s. Reading small files (the 4K tests) was particularly troublesome, but for the most part you'll be storing much larger files such as videos and photos and accessing small files individually, rather than in bulk as these tests do.

Ultimately, you'll see better performance from a more expensive NAS, but you might well be happy with the DS119j's pace - 64MB/s is still a decent turn of speed.

Verdict

Considering the price, the DS119j is good value. It does offer a cut-down experience compared to Synology's more expensive models, but these do cost twice as much - or more. The biggest decision is whether you are happy with the single-bay nature as it doesn't allow for easy future expansion or any redundancy (such as a mirrored RAID setup). 

So long as you are backing up your data to another drive or the cloud, it's still a good choice.

Specs

Synology DiskStation DS119j: Specs

  • 800MHz dual-core processor (Marvell Armada 3700 88F3720)
  • 256MB DDR3L RAM
  • 1x gigabit ethernet
  • 1x rear USB 2.0 port
  • 1x 60mm fan
  • Max capacity: 1x 14TB 3.5in SATA disk
  • 166 x 71 x 224mm
  • 2-year warranty
  • Power consumption: 10.04W (load), 5W (HDD hibernation)