Even though there are dozens of names in the world of pre-built NAS devices, Synology and QNAP stand out as the most popular options. Both brands get the basics right and are relatively close on those fronts, but it’s some of the underlying stuff they handle differently — much like Android and iOS — which is actually the point of contention among buyers. Here, we’ll talk about some key differences in the network storage units from Synology and QNAP to understand which brand can best meet your needs.
Before we proceed, you should know that both companies have a massive presence across consumer (including prosumer) and enterprise markets. But for this story, we’ll focus on the former.
Synology and QNAP go head-to-head in the network storage space with a pretty competitive lineup across categories. However, QNAP has a slight edge here just because it gives you many more configuration options right off the bat, so that you don’t need to scramble for hardware upgrades later on.
On basic consumer products, you can pick the amount of RAM beforehand, but as you move into the prosumer and small business category, these configurations get increasingly complex, with options to mix and match the processor, the LAN port, and more (as shown above). While it’s good news for those who want that kind of flexibility, it sometimes can be quite confusing for anyone not well-versed with all the intricacies of the NAS world.
Synology’s lineup comparatively includes fewer SKUs in any given category (though more models overall), making it a tad more accessible to newbies.
Storage space management
In addition to the EXT4 file system, many recent Synology NAS models also support Btrfs, allowing the company to offer additional data protection and recovery features. That’s the reason Synology often recommends this file system when you’re setting up your NAS. You can go for either Btrfs or EXT4 at this stage, but do note that moving between the two systems later on will require wiping the drives completely, so make up your mind before going ahead.
Another thing that Synology does better is its proprietary automated RAID solution — Synology Hybrid RAID or SHR for short. SHR basically gives you the freedom to add new HDDs with a higher capacity, unlike the conventional RAID arrangement that requires all drives to be of the same capacity for optimal use of the available space for redundancy.
QNAP has its own reasons to stick with the EXT4 system, but what works in its favor is that it allows you to use NVMe drives as additional — and faster — storage space, unlike Synology, which only allows caching on those sticks. And QNAP also lets you encrypt entire volumes instead of just individual folders.
Their distinct approach to user experience becomes pretty evident from their Linux-based proprietary operating systems. Synology’s DiskStation Manager (DSM) takes inspiration from a traditional Windows or Linux interface. Anyone with basic computer literacy won’t take a lot of time to find their way around the software. DSM doesn’t feel cluttered, and the included management apps come with neatly nestled options that help the UI look much cleaner and accessible. And Synology’s excellent software optimization ensures that its own apps and DSM are consistent irrespective of your NAS model.
Left: Synology DSM 7.0, Right: QNAP QTS 5.0.
Meanwhile, QNAP’s QTS leans towards a more smartphone-like interface. It looks modern with all the animations and smooth transitions across the OS and first-party apps. However, the interface comparatively feels busy, which can get a bit confusing to navigate, especially for those using a QNAP system for the first time. From the initial setup process to the control panel (which you’re going to use a lot for managing everything on the NAS) QTS throws a lot of options your way, resulting in a slightly overwhelming experience from the get-go.
Their package centers
Synology has a clear focus on software, which is why its first-party apps not just cover a wide range of use cases but are also robustly designed. This allows you to get started without the need to look for any third-party plugins for basic stuff, though Synology DSM’s package center doesn’t have a lot of third-party apps, except some common ones like Plex and Teamviewer.
Where Synology lags, QNAP shines with a far richer selection of third-party apps and services available through its App Center. You get apps like IFTTT for easy home automation, Google Chrome, productivity apps like Libre Office, and a whole lot more. Then there are third-party (unofficial) app stores like Qnapclub, which has over a thousand packages with far more mainstream and niche apps available. You should, however, keep in mind that QNAP’s own apps and services may not prove to be as feature-rich and well-rounded as Synology’s for more advanced users.
QNAP App Center
Both brands have a suite of apps for Android phones to let you remotely manage your NAS and access the data on it. In our experience, Synology Photos for Android turned out to be an excellent option for anyone looking to switch away from Google Photos, with features like automatic media backup and face tagging/grouping. QNAP’s alternative also has many of those smart features, but its UI looks dated and it can’t even back up your photos on its own in the background.
QNAP vs. Synology apps experience
Other apps from QNAP do a lot better than its Photos app. For instance, the Qfile app looks much cleaner and easy to follow than Synology’s convoluted two-app (DS File and Synology Drive) file management system. QNAP’s NAS management app called Qmanager gives you all the necessary information with just a few taps and it’s also neatly presented, while you have to dig to find the same information on Synology’s DS Finder. Another thing that’s worth noting here is that QNAP’s Android apps are generally much better rated than their Synology counterparts, which says much about their quality and usability from the users’ standpoint.
QNAP earns some extra brownie points for including a direct HDMI out port on many of its NAS units. This is a big deal if you prefer having your NAS stationed on your work desk, connected to the monitor, or near your media console to watch movies straight from the NAS. Furthermore, attach a USB keyboard and mouse, and you now have a mini-computer right in your living room.
Synology, by contrast, is a purely network-based storage device, so none of its models provide any such capability.
Availability and support
Depending on which country you’re in, one of the two companies (if not both) will have a broader presence in your region, affecting the number of readily available models. This also directly translates to the kind of after-sales support you can expect from the brand. In general, Synology takes the lead with three years of standard warranty on most of its NAS devices, while QNAP limits that to two years, with paid options to expand it further. Particularly for businesses, this is something that can make or break the deal.
Other miscellaneous differences
Synology has the upper hand on the software side of things, which shows in the Alexa skill that lets you stream the music stored on your NAS as you would from any other streaming service. In addition to that, it has a bigger community of users on platforms like Reddit than QNAP, which should come in handy if you’re stuck somewhere. I know it helped me quite a bit when setting up my first Synology NAS last year.
Alexa skill for Synology Audio Station
In QNAP’s favor, you get a PCIe slot starting from some low-to-mid-range NAS units, which opens up a whole world of hardware expansion. You can use it to add a better network card, more USB ports, SSD slots, and more. While you can get such expansion units directly from QNAP, there is a rich ecosystem of third-party accessories that allow you to upgrade your QNAP NAS both internally and externally down the line. QNAP is also better at handling the media files that must be transcoded before opening. Instead of having to select individual files each time (like it’s the case on Synology), you can pick an entire folder. This way, any new file added to the folder will be transcoded automatically and will be kept ready for use.
Things they’re both good at
As I earlier said, both Synology and QNAP have got the basics right, and there’s a lot of things that they are equally good at. For instance, their proprietary solutions to access your NAS over the internet and backup your NAS to remote storage get the job done pretty well. And in case you hit a roadblock during setup or anytime later, their online resources do an excellent job of answering even your most intricate questions.
In the future, when you feel the need to add more drives, both companies have plenty of expansion units that connect to your existing NAS to give you several TBs of extra space. If your primary use case is surveillance, either brand can get the job done. Both companies have robust IP camera management software and bundle a couple of free licenses with the option to add paid ones as you go. Do note that QNAP’s new QVR Pro offers eight complimentary licenses, though with some usage and hardware limitations.
Neither brand is faultless, and frankly, none of their shortcomings is something that could be a dealbreaker if you’re a home user, while prosumers and small businesses can weigh their merits to find out what works best for them. And to make the decision process a little easier, I’d suggest going for Synology if you want things to work without any fuss. But if you’re someone who likes to tinker with the hardware and software to derive the most out of it, QNAP should be the way to go. To start your NAS journey, we suggest getting either the Synology DiskStation DS220+ or the QNAP TS-251D.
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