A Technology Pickle: a New Small Form Factor PC or an Upgraded Synology NAS?

I’m in a bit of a technology pickle and I’d like some opinions from my geeky readers. For the past several years, I’ve had a small computer (a Gigabyte BRIX, Core i7 CPU) running as my 24/7 server. It runs Plex for streaming movies, runs CrashPlan for backing up all my data (as well as serving as the data location host for family member CrashPlan backups), Resilio Sync for always-on syncing with my other computers, and a few other apps. Connected to it is a 4 TB external hard drive, which is where I store copies of all my data (pushed and pulled there by a combination of Resilio Sync and SyncBackSE) and the CrashPlan backups from other people.
 
I also have a Synology NAS (a 1512+) from five years ago, stuffed with five hard drives and a DX513 expansion unit stuffed with another four more. I have about 32 TB of total storage and it’s where I keep my MKV rips from our movie collection – and this is what Plex uses for a data source (but the Plex server is on the Gigabyte BRIX). For the most part this works fairly well, though Plex (used via a Roku) routinely takes two tries to start playing movies – I think because the first attempt to pull the MKV from the mapped network drive fails – and it’s not uncommon for us to have a few moments of buffering in some movies. It’s very random though and I’ve never been able to pin down the source of these Plex glitches.

 
The problem is, a few months after setting up the BRIX, the rear USB ports didn’t work – drives would randomly disconnect from them. Gigabyte has horrible customer service and I was never able to get the issue addressed under warranty. So I just used the front USB ports for the 4 TB hard drive – those are now both failing. I thought it might have been the 4 TB drive, but a sector-level scan resulted in no errors, and the intermittent ejecting of the drive is consistent with what I saw on the rear ports years ago. Windows system logs are inconclusive as to what’s going on. I believe the heat has killed some of the internals on the BRIX – transcoding a 1080p MKV spins up the fans to maximum and the unit gets quite warm. Three years of this was probably enough to fry it.
 
Here’s the decision I’m facing: do I replace the BRIX with another small form factor computer, re-using the SSD, RAM, and hard drive? An Asus VIVO Mini PC with a Core i5 CPU runs about $400. Fundamentally I have the same heat risk factors.
 
Or do I spend $600 on a Synology DS916+ (with a 2.6 Ghz quad-core Intel Pentium N3710) and run Plex, CrashPlan, Resilio Sync and whatever else I can manage on it? The former is cheaper, but I may end up with the same Plex issues I have today. The latter is more expensive, and may not run Plex as well as I’d want, but if it works it would simplify my overall tech infrastructure. I’m gambling a bit though, as it would be a hassle to get it set up and find it can’t handle running Plex as well as I’d like. And there are some things – such as the Google Photos uploader, and SyncBackSE – that there are no Synology options for, so I’d lose some of the functionality that I have.
 
Opinions welcome from anyone who has read all this.
MAY 2017 UPDATE: Before I replaced any hardware, I knew I should at least try to wipe the OS on the BRIX and start over. I remember telling my wife “I’m 97% sure this will do nothing, but I should at least try”. Well, I’m glad I tried – after using the Windows 10 refresh function, when it nukes everything and starts over, everything is working fine. Not the back USB ports – those are definitely defective hardware – but the front ones work fine now! This ended up being a driver/software issue, which stuns me, because none of the telltale signs of software problems were present in a visible way. I am very pleased, however, not to have to spend money buying new hardware to run PLEX on – someday I will I’m sure, but not today…
  • Jeff Cameron

    Do you think that buying/setting up/maintaining all that data is the way to go? I used to be a “data hoarder” but I found that it was costing me a lot of money to purchase the storage and keep it all running (I used a Synology DS1813+). I ended up just simplifying things…

    Photos – I backed up my photos to both Flickr and Google Photos (as I am sure you know Flickr gives you 1 TB of free storage and Google offers unlimited photo storage if you allow them to compress them….I am not a professional photographer so it works fine for me).

    Backups – I am not a big backup fan of the entire system. After I install an OS and my normal applications I will create a full image backup as a baseline but in the last 20 years I have never ended up using it. If I had an issue I would just reinstall from scratch…..I know this goes against common computer best practises but my system installs Windows in 10-15 min and I enjoy the snap of a fresh OS install so once a year or so I reinstall it. I find that I often end up with way to many “try it once or twice apps” that end up hogging up disk space so I don’t bother backing them up.

    Documents – I use the Windows File History/Volume Shadow copies to maintain some level of document protection locally. I don’t have many documents that I need to save (a few hundred) but I do archive them to my free Box online storage…..If you have more as a professional writer then perhaps a paid cloud storage account would work.

    Movies – I gave up ripping and saving movies a long time ago. Now I just stream via Netflix….If I live in the US then I would also use Prime/Hulu etc

    Music – I gave up spending hundreds of hours organizing my music collection ….it was around 30 thousand songs that I had been packing around for the last 20 years. Many songs were of low bit rate quality, missing album art, poorly labeled with incorrect meta data and honestly many were downloaded back in the old Napster days etc. I replaced all that with a family Spotify account. Now I get a great music with everything looked after for me. I do use the download to device option for carrying around 400 songs on my phone for use in my vehicle.

    These solutions may not work for you but for me I find they meet my needs and have greatly simplified my home infrastructure.

  • Chris Yarland-Price

    If it was me I would go for building your own mini pc I did that and it is simply wonderful it’ll be bigger than a brix or the like but if you have an external drive as well it could look cleaner and neater to just throw it into the chassis. The whole reason I did this is cos my buffalo nas started randomly dropping packets and running slow as hell so I just transferred those drives to a fractal nano case with the guts of my old gaming pc that I had stopped using it now sits under my TV looking slick as shit. If that is not possible for you go for the mini pc just cos you can do so much more with it.

    Tldr always go for the pc so many things can be done with it.

  • I’d go with the SFF PC. Reason being that the more you ask a NAS to do, the more the demands approach PC workloads anyway. You can get a Drobo DAS to go with anyway.

  • Hey Jeff! Thanks for spending a few minutes to go into detail about how you manage things. It’s always helpful to see how other people do this. I’ll tackle this by the numbers:

    1) I’m pretty serious about my photos, and having all my photos locally on my desktop and laptop is important to me (and I use Reslio Sync to keep them in sync between my iMac, MacBook, and the BRIX). It’s really helpful for me to be able to add photos (after my Lightroom workflow) to my Pictures folder and have it automatically push it back to the BRIX, then automatically upload to Google Photos, my Synology NAS, *and* CrashPlan. I also have them in Google Photos, but Google’s “it’s all just one big timeline man!” approach could never me my only location for my photos. There’s just not enough organization options – having a local folder structure to keep them organized is important to me.

    2) Like you, I used to keep regular “bare metal” backups (via Acronis TrueImage), but modern operating systems are pretty robust and Windows 10’s “software reset” is pretty slick. I gave up re-installing Windows once a year after Windows 7 came out – I don’t have time for that nonsense anymore. ?

    3) Using Resilio Sync, all my documents are in three locations – iMac, MacBook, BRIX – which then cascades over to the 4 TB external drive as a local backup, which in turn is sucked up into CrashPlan’s cloud storage and my Synology NAS.

    4) I have over 1000 movies and TV shows on disc, which is what the bulk of my 32 TB of storage is full of: BIG MKV FILES! ? We have Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, and rent from Redbox, but there’s just no substitute for having our favourite movies available at a moment’s notice. The big MKV files are not backed up – they’re just too massive – but they are in the Synology NAS with one drive-level tolerance, so I can lose a drive and not lose any data.

    5) I organized my music collection years ago, so that’s not an issue. I am a Type A person so all 30K or so songs I have are perfectly tagged, with album art (here’s the lengths I went to: http://www.jasondunn.com/albumart/). Since I subscribed to Google Music a couple of years ago though, I hardly buy any music any more. So the music sits on the Synology NAS and is backed up to my 4 TB drive as well as CrashPlan (all 115 GB of it).

    I hope this helps explain why I need both a 24/7 computer and a Synology NAS. ?

  • Hey Chris, thanks for chiming in. You’re right, dollar for dollar, building a PC gets me the most bang for the buck. I’m certainly leaning that way now after having conversations with a few people and reading comments like yours. And I’d very likely go with a microATX build – maybe a Rizen platform if I can make that work – vs. an enclosed unit like the Brix.

  • Thanks for the input, I appreciate it! I’m leaning that way…

  • Chris Yarland-Price

    If you don’t mind having less drives you might want to try a M-ITX they aren’t actually that hard to build in, they’re not easy mind just not as hard as they seem. With the new 6tb drives or larger you can really cram them with space even with only 2 drives. An SSD can be stuck practically anywhere with double sided tape.
    I went M-ATX with a itx motherboard because i wanted 6 Drives plus SSD’s but i sort of regret it now. It all depends on whether you are going to keep it in your lounge attatched to a TV or if it can be hidden away. If it can be hidden go MATX the bigger amount of drives and the fact you can easily add a AIO watercooler will be better if it is on show Go for ITX and a fancy case especially if you care at all about how your areas look.

  • Nah, I don’t want to stop using my Synology and try to cram nine hard drives into a single case. ? My Synology has been rock solid and the OS is just great. The Synology, and the SFF computer I currently have, are in a wiring closet of sorts under my basement stairs next to my patch panel for my home wiring.