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How to Organize Windows Files Using Both an SSD and HDD

You probably know that a solid-state drive (SSD) is a huge upgrade for your computer because it runs much faster than a mechanical hard disk drive (HDD). However, since SSDs are more expensive, you might not be able to afford a large enough SSD to store all your data on.

In that case, what’s the best way to use an SSD and HDD combo? We’ll show you how to use an SSD and HDD together for best results.

Basics on Using an SSD and HDD Together

Just in case you’re not familiar, it helps to know the differences between an SSD and HDD. Essentially, because SSDs have no moving parts and use flash memory, they can read and write data much faster than an HDD can with its spinning platters and reading head.

This results in everything loading faster, including your operating system, app launches, file transfers, game loading times, and similar. Thus, in a perfect world, you would have all your data on an SSD to keep everything running smoothly.

However, SSDs are much more expensive than a comparable HDD. At the time of writing, you can buy a decent 1TB SSD for around $100, while that same amount would get you a 4TB HDD.

If you build a desktop, you can choose what drives to put inside it, making cost the only issue. But some prebuilt desktops and laptops come with a small SSD and larger HDD. Let’s look at how to prioritize what data goes where.

Use Your SSD as a Boot Drive

The most important item to keep on your SSD is the Windows operating system itself. Having your OS on the SSD will speed up all Windows elements, including booting up, shutting down, and launching programs.

This will make the biggest speed difference, which is why you’ll sometimes hear “boot drive” used to describe a small SSD primarily used for Windows. As of version 1903 (the May 2019 update), Windows 10 requires at least 32GB of space to run.

However, there are a few ways to shrink your Windows install size further. One of these is disabling hibernation if you don’t need it, which will save a few gigabytes.

While 32GB isn’t a whole lot, you also need to leave some additional space to have room for updates. Windows won’t run well if your drive has barely any space free.

Windows Drive Space Free

Finally, when Windows is on your SSD, your user profile will be as well. This won’t take up a lot of space to start, unless you start adding a lot of photos, videos, and similar (which we discuss below)

Decide Which Apps to Install

After installing the Windows OS, you’ll (hopefully) have some space left over for apps. But with limited space, which ones should you install on the SSD?

All programs benefit from the speed of an SSD—long load times will be shorter, and shorter load times will become almost instant. Thus, the most important apps to keep on your SSD are ones that you use most often. Productivity apps like Office, photo editors, and your browser are all relatively small in size and will benefit from the speed.

If you use any heavy-duty software like video editors or IDEs for programming, those will run much better on an SSD too. However, those take up a lot more space, so you might not have room for them. Prioritize apps you use the most often that are small.

Another category of apps that get a huge benefit from an SSD is video games. SSD speeds drastically reduce load times, so you may want to install the games you always play to that drive. But since many modern games take up dozens of gigabytes, you may only have room for one or two.

Where to Put Files

When you install most apps, they put some necessary files in the Program Files folder, which you can’t move. But many additional files don’t need to live on your SSD.

For instance, while you might have VLC installed on your SSD, you don’t need to keep movies and videos there. They’ll still load in an acceptable time from an HDD, and once they’re open, an SSD won’t provide much additional benefit.

Pictures, documents, and downloads are all other types of content you can keep off the SSD. Unless you open something all the time, the slightly faster file load time isn’t worth the used space.

You should change your default download folder in your browser to avoid saving downloaded files to your SSD all the time. In Chrome, click the three-dot menu and choose Settings. Scroll down to the bottom and expand the Advanced section, then find Downloads.

Here, either click the Change button to pick a new folder for downloads or enable Ask where to save each file before downloading if you want to pick every time.

Chrome Change Download Location

Organizing Your Second Drive

When you’re using a single drive, you probably don’t think much about where you install new programs or put files. But with two drives, you must be more intentional about where you put everything. We’ve talked about general ideas above, but what does this look like in practice?

Open File Explorer and navigate to This PC to see all your drives. Assuming you installed Windows on the SSD, the regular Windows folders will already be in place there. But you’re free to do whatever you’d like with the secondary drive.

Try creating folders for each type of content you put on the drive. For example, you might create both a Program Files and Games folder at the root of your HDD. Then when you install a program that you want to keep off your SSD, just select that location during the install process.

Windows Second Drive Organization

Using Libraries

If you have many files split across drives, the Windows Library feature can come in handy. This allows you to specify certain locations that contain similar types of files and view them all in one place.

Libraries are hidden by default in Windows 10. To show them, open File Explorer and go to View > Navigation pane > Show Libraries. You’ll then see Libraries in the left panel, which contains default collections for file types like Documents and Pictures.

Windows 10 Show Libraries

To edit a Library, right-click it here and choose Properties. In the Library locations box, click Add and pick a folder you want to include in it. Repeat for as many folders as you want to add to that library. It’s also useful to click a folder and choose Set save location to set it as the default place when you save to that Library.

Windows Edit Library Locations

Using this, you can see all the files scattered across your two drives in one view. That way, you don’t have to remember where you put a specific file.

Moving Files Between Drives

It’s easy to move files from your SSD to HDD later, too. In File Explorer, simply select the files you want to remove from your SSD and press Ctrl + X to cut them. Then browse to a new location on your HDD and press Ctrl + V to paste the cut files.

Keep in mind that you should only do this with user data like pictures and videos. Cutting and pasting program data to a new drive usually doesn’t work (unless it’s a portable app), so you’re better off uninstalling and reinstalling to the new location.

That’s really all it takes—whenever you install a new program or download a large file, think about whether you want it to load quickly and if it’s worth using your limited SSD space. That will help you decide where to put it.

Managing Your Space Over Time

Depending on how much free space your SSD has, you’ll need to check in on your free space occasionally. Several factors can use up space on your SSD without you noticing, including the following:

  • User data from programs. Even if you install apps to your secondary drive, a lot of software will save files to your AppData user folder and/or the ProgramData folder.
  • The Recycle Bin. By default, deleted files go to your Recycle Bin, which lives on your boot drive. If you never empty this, the contents of the Recycle Bin could take up several gigabytes.
  • Software and Windows updates. Patches to both installed apps and Windows itself may take up more of your space over time. This is why you need to keep a buffer of free space.

Using tools to free up space in Windows, such as the Disk Cleanup tool, will help you manage these leftover bits. Also take a look at TreeSize Free, which shows you the folders taking up the most space on your drive. Uninstalling apps you no longer use will help free up space too.

TreeSize Windows

The Perfect SSD and HDD Combo

While SSDs are superior to HDDs in most regards, we’ve seen how to use them both in harmony. Hopefully, you can upgrade to a larger SSD before long. But until then, you know how to manage your files between drives.

If you’re moving everything to a new drive, see how to use Clonezilla to clone your drive. You might also consider partitioning your hard drive.

Read the full article: How to Organize Windows Files Using Both an SSD and HDD

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How to Manage the Huge WinSxS Folder in Windows 10

When your system disk space gets low, third-party utilities help you spot large files and collections of smaller files at a glance. That’s where you might stumble upon the WinSxS folder. It has a size of almost 5–10GB, and for many users, it’s like a black box in the Windows world.

Naturally, it raises the question of what exactly are those files installed in WinSxS and why it’s so huge. Web searches and forums are full of questions about this folder. Let’s demystify the secrets of WinSxS and the correct way to manage it.

WinSxS Explained

WinSxS (Side-by-Side) was created in response to solve the “DLL Hell” problem in Windows OS. In simple terms, it involves instances when any program alters the dynamic link library (DLL) file to affect the critical function of other applications that need to use the same DLL.

For example, assume that an app requires a DLL with version number 1.0.2. If another app replaces the resource with a different version, say 1.0.3, then the previous app which relies on version 1.0.2 will either crash, cause compatibility issues or worse result in the Blue Screen of Death.

Launch of WinSxS

Windows XP saw the proper launch of the component store. In this, each component (DLL, OCX, EXE) lives in a directory called WinSxS. It would store all the different versions of DLLs installed by software and hardware packages and load the correct version on demand.

So how does an app knows what version of a DLL it needs to load? This is where the “manifest file” plays an important role. It contains settings that inform the operating system how to handle a program when it starts and the correct version of DLL.

Each component has an identity with a unique name that may include processor architecture, language, version, and ID. Specific versions of these components are then collected together into packages. They’re used by Windows Update and DISM to keep your system up-to-date.

winsxs component packages in windows 10

This timeline shows a progressive improvement of WinSxS with each major OS upgrade.

timeline of winsxs improvement in Windows OS

The WinSxS Folder and the Role of Hard Links

Hard links are used throughout the Windows OS. In terms of WinSxS, it’s the only location where components live on the system. All the other instances of the files outside the component store are hard-linked to the WinSxS folder. So, what is a hard link?

According to Microsoft Docs, a hard link is a file system object which allows two files to refer to the same location on disk. It means that Windows can keep multiple copies of the same file without taking any extra space.

Whenever you update Windows, a whole new version of the component gets released and projects into the system through hard links. The older ones remain in the component store for reliability but with no hard links.

With the help of fsutil command, you can check the hard links of any system file. Press Win+X and choose Command Prompt (Admin), then type in

fsutil hardlink list [system file path]

For example, if I want to check the hard links of a system file called “audiosrv.dll,” then type in

fsutil hardlink list "C:WindowsSystem32audiosrv.dll"

fsutil hardlink list in command prompt

Importance of WinSxS

The component store plays a vital role in supporting the functions needed to customize and update Windows. These are as follows:

  • Recover your system from boot failure or corruption
  • Enable or disable Windows features on demand
  • Move systems between different Windows editions
  • Uninstall problematic updates
  • To install the new component versions using Windows Update

WinSxS Folder Size

WinSxS contains all the files necessary to maintain compatibility with hardware and software on your PC. One of the biggest strengths of Windows is its capacity to run older hardware and apps. But this legacy compatibility comes at the cost of disk space and bugs.

Navigate to the C:WindowsWinSxS, right-click it and choose Properties. This folder consumes almost 7.3GB of disk space. But the thing is, that’s not the real size. The reason for that is “hard links” that File Explorer and other third-party tools don’t consider.

It counts each reference to a hard link as a single instance of the file for each location. So, if a system file resides in both WinSxS and System32 directory, File Explorer would inaccurately double the folder size.

winsxs folder size in Windows10

Check the Actual Size of WinSxS

To check the Windows component store’s actual size, open an elevated command prompt window and type in

Dism.exe /Online /Cleanup-Image /AnalyzeComponentStore

Note: The /AnalyzeComponentStore option isn’t recognized on Windows 8 and earlier.

After the analysis, the actual size of the component store comes down to 5.37GB. This value factors in hard links within the WinSxS folder. Shared with Windows gives you the size of hard-linked files. Date of Last Cleanup is the date of the recently completed component store cleanup.

analyze the size of the component store in Windows10

Methods to Reduce the Size of the WinSxS Folder

Many users often ask if it’s possible to manually delete the files from the WinSxS folder. The answer is a Big No.

It will most likely damage Windows and critical Windows Update may fail to install properly. Even if you’re successful in removing files from the WinSxS folder, you never know which app will stop working.

You can though reduce the size of the WinSxS folder with a few in-built tools. We’ll use tools like Disk Cleanup, DISM commands, and remove Features on Demand to trim the WinSxS folder.

Disk Cleanup Tool

In the search box, type in disk cleanup, and select Disk Cleanup. From this window, click the Clean up system file button. That restarts the utility and unlock access to the full range of cleanup options. You can remove installation files, previous Windows versions, and more. Disk Cleanup tool is the starting point for cleaning up Windows 10.

disk cleanup tool in admin mode

Read this step-by-step guide to find out the best ways for cleaning Windows 10.

Remove Features on Demand

Windows lets you enable or disable default Windows features on demand. You can add some useful features—Hyper V, Print to PDF, Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL), and more.

Features that you uncheck remain in the WinSxS folder and take up disk space. Users with a low amount of storage might want to slim their Windows installation as much as possible. Open an elevated command prompt window, and type in

DISM.exe /Online /English /Get-Features /Format:Table

You’ll see a list of feature names and their status

windows feature on demand list

To remove a feature from your system, type in

DISM.exe /Online /Disable-Feature /featurename:NAME /Remove

(Replace “NAME” with the name of the feature mentioned in the list)

remove a windows feature with DISM

If you run the /Get-Features command again, you’ll see the status as “Disabled with Payload Removed” instead of just “Disabled.” Later on, if you choose to install the removed components, Windows will prompt you to download the component files again.

DISM Component Cleanup

Windows 8/8.1 includes a built-in feature to automatically clean up the component store when the system is not in use. Open Task Scheduler and navigate to Microsoft > Windows > Servicing. Right-click the item and click Run.

startcomponentcleanup parameter in task scheduler

The task will wait at least 30 days after an updated component gets installed before uninstalling the previous version of the component. The task also has a one hour timeout and may not clean up all the files.

With DISM /Cleanup-Image parameter, you can immediately remove the previous version of the component (without a 30 day grace period) and do not have a one hour timeout limitation. Open Command Prompt (Admin) and type in

DISM.exe /online /Cleanup-Image /StartComponentCleanup

If you add ResetBase switch, you can remove all the superseded version of every component. But remember, you’ll not be able to uninstall any current updates (even if they’re faulty).

DISM.exe /online /Cleanup-Image /StartComponentCleanup /ResetBase

The following command will remove any backup components needed for the uninstallation of service packs. It’s a collection of cumulative updates for a particular release of Windows.

DISM.exe /online /Cleanup-Image /SPSuperseded

Delete Windows Files to Free Up Disk Space

WinSxS component store has an important role to play in the day-to-day functioning of Windows. So you shouldn’t delete the files, or move the WinSxS folder as a solution to your space problems. Windows upgrades have brought in-depth reporting and cleanup tools you can use to find the other space hogs instead.

If you follow the techniques as described above, you can reduce the size of the WinSxS folder slightly. Read this piece to find out Windows files and folders you can delete to further free up disk space.

Read the full article: How to Manage the Huge WinSxS Folder in Windows 10

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How to Free Up Storage Space on Your Android Device

App, photo, and operating system sizes are always getting larger. If you use an older Android device—or even the entry-level model of a newer device—you’ll quickly find yourself hitting the storage limit.

There’s nothing worse than whipping out your phone for a once-in-a-lifetime photo, only to be met with the dreaded Storage Full message. So how do you free up storage on Android? Keep reading for a list of tips and ideas.

1. Identify Storage-Hogging Apps

How many of the apps currently installed on your phone do you frequently use?

Sure, we all need an email client, some social media apps, a news app, and perhaps a game or two. But do you really need that random weather widget you downloaded or the app that distorts your face to make you look like your dog? Probably not.

Recent versions of Android make it easy to see which apps are the worst offenders. Navigate to Settings > Storage > Other apps. Wait for the list to populate, then tap the menu button in the top-right corner and choose Sort by Size.

Once you know what’s taking up the most space, uninstall anything you don’t need by heading to Settings > Apps & notifications > See all X apps.

2. Delete Offline Content

Lots of apps let you save content on your device so you can access it when you’re offline.

For example, Spotify lets you save music directly to your phone. Some RSS readers let you save articles to read later, as do bookmarking services like Pocket. Podcast apps save audio files for offline playback, Chrome can even save webpages for offline access.

Saving content for offline use is great—if you have enough space. If you don’t, you’ll quickly start wondering where all your free space went.

A few prudent steps will fix this problem. Instead of downloading dozens of albums, try making a playlist on Spotify with just enough songs to cover your gym session or commute. Only open the notebooks you use most frequently on OneNote, and avoid downloading any huge files from cloud storage services.

To clear the offline content that you already have saved on your device, you have two options. You can clear app caches on a case-by-case basis by going to Settings > Apps and notifications > See all X apps > [App Name] > Storage and cache > Clear Cache.

Alternatively, you can use a reputable third-party tool that will clear app caches in bulk. SD Maid is one such tool.

Download: SD Maid (Free, in-app purchases available)

3. Move Photos to the Cloud

Google Photos will automatically back up all your photos to the cloud. As long as you’re happy with a slightly lower resolution, they won’t count against your Google Drive storage limits.

When looking at the photos on your device using Google Photos, it’s easy to miss the fact that they’re not saved locally. They’re still accessible and viewable through the Photos app as long as you have an internet connection.

The app will even alert you when it can help save some space, with an on-screen notification making you aware that you’re closing in on your storage limits.

If you think you’re close to capacity, you can get the app to check on your behalf. Navigate to Google Photos > Menu > Free up space. The app will scan your phone, let you know how many photos have already been backed up, and advise you on which ones you can safely delete.

4. Move Content to an SD Card

Sadly, fewer and fewer devices now ship with an SD card slot. They’re especially rare on premium phones.

There’s a good reason for lack of SD support on modern phones: cheaper SD cards will not perform as well as more expensive ones because they have slower read/write times. But many users won’t realize that their SD Card is at fault—they’ll just think the phone is sluggish. That’s bad publicity for manufacturers; they’d rather you just bought a more expensive model with more storage.

If you have a mid-range or budget device, it’s more likely to have a slot for SD cards. This is fortunate, given that such devices typically offer less built-in storage than their more expensive counterparts.

Android is capable of formatting an SD card so it appears as internal storage on your device. Go Settings > Storage > [SD card name], then tap on the three vertical dots in the top-right corner and choose Storage settings. Select Format as internal to begin the process.

5. Take Advantage of the Google Files App

The Android storage manager app Files comes pre-installed on all stock Android devices. It’s not as powerful as some of the best Android file explorer apps, but it does a decent job of letting you organize the downloads, shared files, and other documents on your phone.

One of the app’s most overlooked features, however, is the Free up space tool. It’s directly integrated into the Android Settings app. To use it, go to Settings > Storage and tap on Free up space.

The Files app will automatically open and start analyzing your storage. It will identify junk files, large files, old files, and anything else it thinks you can safely delete. You make the final decision of whether to complete the removal.

Download: Files (Free)

6. Android’s Storage Manager Tool

If you don’t trust yourself to keep up with these storage maintenance tasks, you can let Android do some of the work for you.

The native Storage Manager tool has been available since Android Oreo. Head to Settings > Storage and slide the toggle next to Storage manager into the On position. If you tap on Storage manager, you can customize the feature, including how long to keep backed up photos and videos on your delete before the local copy is automatically deleted.

Learn More About Android Storage

Keeping your device free of clutter is just one small part of knowing how to manage the storage on your Android device.

For example, did you know that it’s possible to move entire apps to your SD card and away from your internal memory? If this isn’t an option, check out more tips on using an old Android phone with little storage space.

Read the full article: How to Free Up Storage Space on Your Android Device

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Synology DS220j Is the Best Beginner NAS (and Great As a Surveillance NVR Too!)

Our verdict of the Synology DS220j:
Simply the best entry-level NAS for beginners. DiskStation Manager is easy to use, and there's a wealth of software packages you can run on it, including the Surveillance Station for IP camera recording.
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There are very few technology devices that I would consider essential to my life, but a Network-Attached Storage device (NAS) is one of those. The Synology Diskstation DS220j is an incredibly good value 2-bay entry point for beginners to the world of NAS systems.

Join us as we take a closer look at the hardware, why you might want one, and why the DS220j is a great choice at around $170. We’ll also be testing Synology’s own Surveillance Station software, and how easy it is to set up a small CCTV system for your home or office.

At the end of this review, we have an incredible prize package to giveaway to one lucky winner, consisting of the Synology DS220j, some Ironwolf drives, and a couple of IP cameras to get started with Surveillance Station!

What is a NAS, and Why Would You Need One?

Since this is an entry-level NAS device, let’s take a moment to explain what Network Attached Storage is, and what you might want one.

The “network-attached” part means that rather than plugging a hard disk into your computer through USB (sometimes called Direct Attached Storage), you plug it into the network instead. The immediate benefit of doing this is that every device on your network will be able to access the files stored within. Not just computers, but tablets, smartphones, games consoles, and smart TVs too.

Another benefit is data security. If you have more than one hard drive bay in your NAS (the Synology DS220j has two), you would typically configure one hard disk for data redundancy. This means one drive acts as a duplicate of the other, such that if one failed, you wouldn’t lose any data. Hard drives can fail at any point, and if you don’t have multiple backups, you lose everything. Using a NAS makes securing your data like this an invisible process. You don’t need to make two copies. The NAS does it all for you, and will audibly alert you if one of the drives needs replacing, without any data loss being suffered.

This makes a NAS a great central backup point and secure file store, such as family photos.

Another reason to use a NAS is that they’re not just a case for some drives to sit in. They’re more like ultra power-efficient mini computers. In fact, the Synology devices run their own incredible operating system, called DiskStation Manager. It’s this software that ultimately determines how easy to set up and use a NAS is. DiskStation Manager is simply the best on the market. But your NAS can do so much more than just storing files. It even has its own app store with hundreds of free packages you can install. You can learn more about some of those packages later in the review.

Synology DS220j Specifications and Design

Superficially, the DS220j looks a lot like the previous generation DS218j, with a white plastic shell and grey accents.

front of the ds220j

Inside there’s been a significant hardware bump, however: a 1.4Ghz quad-core CPU (compared to 1.3Ghz dual-core), and 512MB of DDR4 RAM (compared to DDR3). It’s worth noting that the Realtek RTD1296 CPU is ARM-based, and some media applications like Plex require Intel-based CPUs for optimal video transcoding. If that’s your intended use, check out the DS418play instead.

Around the rear of the DS220j you’ll find the DC power port, two USB3.0 ports, and the single Gigabit Ethernet connection. There’s no USB port on the front of the device (sometimes used for one-button backups), but the ones at the rear can be used either to backup data to an external drive, or for sharing a printer.

ds220j rear ports

To access the interior, you’ll need to unscrew the two screws at the rear, then half of the white shell slides off.

From here you can access the drive bays to add or replace drives. Like most NAS devices, you’ll probably purchase it bare, meaning you’ll need to factor in the cost of purchasing drives too. Although any 3.5″ hard disk can theoretically be used, if buying new you should look for those specifically designed for NAS, such as Seagate IronWolf or WD Red, which will last longer under heavy load.

inside the ds220j

Setting Up the DS220j NAS

Since there’s no HDMI port to plug in a monitor, you might be wondering how you perform initial setup, then access the DSM operating system. Simple: over the network, using the web interface.

Assuming everything is plugged in and powered on, simply navigate to find.synology.com. This should automatically locate the new NAS on your local network. Then you can continue to name your NAS, and create a user account. You’ll also be given the opportunity to set up QuickConnect, which allows you to access your NAS from outside of your home network. You can skip that now and set it up later if you want though.

setting up the ds220j

After that, you’ll be booted straight into the familiar-feeling web interface and given a guided tour. Just like Windows, the button in the top left opens up a menu where you can access all the installed applications. You can even drag and drop and icon to the desktop.

Note that by default you’ll be accessing the NAS using the IP address, but this can be tedious to remember and might change. Instead, to access the web interface in future, try using the name of your NAS and .local. In my case, that’s cctv.local. Most modern routers should support this feature (called mDNS or Bonjour).

The first thing to set up is a storage volume. Open up Storage Manager, navigate to Volumes, then click Create. The wizard will walk you through the process. By default, it creates a one-disk fault-tolerant SHR array. Note that you can keep using the device while the storage array is being built (or rebuilt, if one of your drives ever fails), but you may have degraded performance.

From there, use the File Station application to create shared folders and manage your filesystem, or start installing some software from the Package Center and explore the other features.

Synology Hybrid RAID and Upgrade Paths

RAID is the storage technology that keeps data secure by spreading it out across drives. If any drive fails, you can replace it without having lost data. With standard RAID, these drives need to be the same size, or any excess will be wasted. Synology Hybrid RAID optimizes that excess space to make more efficient use of mixed capacity drives, but only if you have three or more drives. Use the RAID calculator to see this in action.

On a two-bay NAS, this doesn’t offer any benefits though–it’s only once you add more drives that it starts to “recover” some of that lost space. So why should you care if the DS220j only has room for two drives? Because at some point down the line, you’ll probably want to upgrade.

Thankfully, Synology also has some very convenient upgrade paths. Depending on exactly which series of devices you’re moving to and from, you may even be able to just pull the hard disks straight from your old device and into the new one, and keep all the data in the process.

Increasing the total capacity of your Synology is also easy, regardless of whether it has two or four (or more) bays. Just pull out the smallest drive, and put a larger one in. You can then jump into the management system and rebuild the array. The NAS is still usable while it does that. Once completed, do the same for the second drive. And hey presto, you’ve upgraded the capacity with only a few minutes of downtime!

For me, Synology Hybrid RAID is a huge selling point as it allows me to mix and match older drives and upgrade in a more affordable way.

Package Center

From the DiskStation Manager desktop environment, the Package Center is where you can install additional functionality to the DS220j.

apps to download in the synology package center

There are hundreds of packages available to install, but here are a few of the highlights:

  • Moments allows you to store all your family photos in one beautiful interface, and make use of deep learning AI to recognize faces. With support for Live Photos, and 360 images, you no longer need to rely on cloud services for advanced features.
  • Note Station is a drop-in replacement for Google Keep or Apple Notes. For those trying to shift away from cloud services and control their own data, this is a must.
  • Video Station is Synology’s own video server software, with accompanying smartphone apps for streaming your stored media to any device on the home network. Personally, I prefer Plex, which is also available in the package center. Plex includes features like movie posters, trailers, and automatic metadata gathering, but may be a little more complex than your needs. Read our complete guide to Plex.
  • Download Station is an all-in-one download manager for Usenet, BitTorrent, FTP and more, and includes features like RSS enqueuing.
  • WordPress. Although I wouldn’t suggest opening your site up to the world, running a local copy of WordPress for development or testing can be quite useful.

That’s but a fraction of what’s available. You can view the current selection from Synology’s site, but we’d like to highlight one in particular, that makes it simple to turn your NAS into an IP camera recorder.

Surveillance Station

Of the many software packages available to run on the DS220j, Surveillance Station is perhaps the most impressive, completely replacing the need for a separate hardware NVR. With official support for a wide variety of IP cameras, any model that offers a generic ONVIF video stream can also be used.

I’ve been testing Surveillance Station with some Reolink cameras, and I’m pleased to report it’s the most user-friendly way of monitoring and recording that I’ve come across yet. From basic features like viewing live feeds, setting up motion-activated recording schedules, or viewing archived footage–Surveillance Station has it all, and then some.

viewing events on surveillance station

One advanced feature I’m fond of is Time Lapse, which automatically generates summary videos, slowing down for detected events and allowing you to view a full days footage in a few minutes. Live Broadcast lets you choose a camera feed to broadcast to YouTube. IP Speaker can integrate with IP-based audio solutions to broadcast audio patterns on schedule. There are far too many advanced features, but suffice to say, Surveillance Station even has its own app store, separate to the main package center!

surveillance station apps

Surveillance Station itself is free, but you’ll need a license for each camera you want to use with the system, and third-party integrations may have their own associated costs. Two camera licenses are included with the DS220j, and up to 12 cameras in total are supported by the hardware. Additional licenses cost around $50 per camera, but these are a one-off purchase, not an on-going subscription.

So how does Surveillance Station compare to a budget NVR, or smart cameras with built-in cloud recording options?

  • With Surveillance Station, your data is stored locally on your own network, and recordings never leave the premises without your explicit permission. Anytime the cloud is involved, there’s an inherent risk, whether that’s from hackers or rogue employees. You can also set up a custom retention period if needed for local data protection laws.
  • Cloud-connected cameras often have an ongoing cost–upwards of $10 a month per camera, or the free plans are extremely limited. You can add two cameras to your Surveillance Station for free, and although additional cameras will have a higher upfront cost than other solutions, the total cost of ownership will likely be less due to easier upgrades of storage capacity. Not to mention you’ll have saved a lot of stress thanks to the incredibly easy-to-use interface!
  • Your recordings are safe. It’s rare to find a hardware NVR with two drive bays for data redundancy, so unless you have a strict backup policy in place, data loss of recordings is likely at some point. With one disk fault-tolerance on the DS220j, it’s highly unlikely you’d lose data. If a drive dies, you won’t have more than a few minutes downtime as you physically replace the failed drive.
  • Your folders can be securely encrypted, so if your NAS is stolen, the thieves can’t pull out the drives and get access to all those recordings.

The only downside to Surveillance Station compared to an NVR is that you can’t plug a monitor directly into an HDMI port for live viewing the camera feeds. On the other hand, you have a great web interface, as well as mobile and desktop apps, so there’s a lot more flexibility overall.

setting up motion zones for surveillance station

Limitations of The DS220j

Ultimately, the DS220j is an entry-level device, so you shouldn’t expect it to run some of the more advanced NAS server software such as virtual machines.

The ARM processor limits the amount of heavy media transcoding you can do. That’s not to say you won’t be able to stream anything to smartphones though. The latest models are quite capable of decoding a high bitrate MP4 without requiring any transcoding, and with Plex you can generate optimized copies in advance if needed.

ds220j hardware outside

In terms of file copy performance, we managed to copy a 1GB file in around 5 seconds over a Gigabit Ethernet wired connection. That’s slower than a hard disk plugged in over USB would be, of course, but it’s a trade-off worth making. We haven’t published any more detailed performance testing, because it wouldn’t represent real-world usage. The performance will vary according to many factors, such as your individual network conditions, the protocol you’re using to connect, the type of cabling you have installed, whether you’ve encrypted the drives, how much software you’re running on the system, or whether it’s a full moon. Ok, we’re kidding on that last one, but the point is that any bottleneck will likely be on your end, rather than on the DS220j.

You should also remember that a NAS alone is not a complete backup solution for your computer. It is but one point in the ultimate triple backup system.

Finally, you should know that for some applications, a network drive simply can’t be used. I know from experience Adobe Lightroom and Final Cut Pro, for instance, don’t like their libraries to be stored remotely. For those you’ll need a local scratch drive, but can use the network storage for backups.

The Best NAS for Beginners?

The Synology DS220j is the best budget NAS by far, but it’s not the cheapest. You can find competitors models for $20-30 cheaper, but it’s a small saving to make for a drastically inferior product. Synology devices are worth the small premium for their sheer ease of use, as well as the added value from Synology’s own software packages such as Moments and Surveillance Station. Calling it “Network Attached Storage” really doesn’t do this device justice given the wealth of other features to be found.

The only reason not to buy the DS220j is if you already have a selection of three or four mixed capacity drives you’d like to use. In that case, you’d need a four-bay Synology NAS to benefit from the Hybrid RAID technology, such as the DS420j. Synology’s NAS selector tool is a great way to find the model that meets your requirements.

In my mind, every family and small business needs a NAS. But let me clarify that further: every family and small business should have a Synology NAS. If I sound biased, it’s because I am: Synology has served me well for well over a decade, and I’ve never lost data. Drives have failed, and I’ve upgraded countless times, but my data has remained secure.

Enter the Competition!

Synology DS220j and Surveillance Station Giveaway

Read the full article: Synology DS220j Is the Best Beginner NAS (and Great As a Surveillance NVR Too!)

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Why You Shouldn’t Buy a MacBook With Only 256GB Storage

When Apple unveiled the first MacBook Pro with Retina display in 2012, it shipped with 256GB of flash storage at minimum. Nearly a decade later in 2020, the entry-level MacBook Pro still only includes 256GB of storage, unless you upgrade it.

Meanwhile, in 2012, the iPhone 5 shipped in 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB variants. In 2020, the iPhone 11 is available in 64GB, 128GB, or 256GB flavors. So why has Apple put the MacBook on a diet? And is 256GB of space enough?

Let’s examine why you shouldn’t settle for just 256GB of storage when buying your next MacBook.

The Unstable Price of Storage

A lot of the time, we expect the price of technology to fall as it becomes more prevalent. But in the case of components like memory and storage, that’s not always the case. Scarcity is one of the biggest drivers of price hikes in the tech space—think of how expensive video cards were during the cryptocurrency mining hype of 2017 and 2018.

Though the price of SSD storage has fallen overall during the last decade, there have been some notable price hikes too.

After prices plummeted in December 2016, some manufacturers hiked prices by high percentages at the start of the following year. Price rises can be attributed to shifts in manufacturing techniques, increasing raw material costs, demand for components in other industries, and freak weather events like the flooding in Thailand that occurred in 2011.

Has Apple been hit by the volatile price of computer memory and SSDs? Sure. But the company has much more bargaining power with manufacturers than consumers and most retailers. This is likely why we’ve only seen small increases in iPhone storage (like a 64GB baseline taking over from 16GB and 32GB) rather than larger leaps in base storage for MacBooks (like moving to 512GB or even 1TB).

MacBook Storage Upgrade Costs

Apple’s high-end offerings (like the iMac Pro) come with a 1TB solid state drive as standard now, but these machines are extremely expensive. The iMac Pro starts at a staggering $5,000; hardly anyone needs that aside from creative professionals.

Meanwhile, an upgrade to a 1TB SSD adds $400 to the $1,299 you’re already paying for a 13-inch MacBook Pro. In spite of the cost, Apple should still provide more than a measly 256GB in its flagship laptop.

Is 256GB Enough?

If you’re buying any model of MacBook and plan to use it as your main machine, buy a model with more than 256GB of storage. Even if you only double the internal storage to 512GB, you’ll thank yourself in a few years. Constantly juggling free space is miserable.

Generally speaking, MacBooks tend to last a long time. Apart from aging internals and a lack of some newer fancy features, you can conceivably use a MacBook for the better part of a decade before you need to replace it. It obviously won’t perform as well as newer models, but your purchase will last you longer than many other tech items.

MacBook Pro
Image Credit: Simon Waldherr/Flickr

The flipside of the oft-lauded reliability of MacBooks is that you might have to live with your choice of machine for longer than you expect. If you don’t have the money to upgrade the hardware, or you don’t see the sense in replacing a perfectly serviceable laptop, you’re going to regret opting for the smaller-capacity model.

As a main machine, your MacBook will host your Photos and iTunes libraries. This is where all your iPhone photos and videos are stored, plus any media managed or purchased through iTunes. While it’s possible to store some macOS libraries remotely to save space, it’s inconvenient. You’ll have to rely on plugging in external drives or network drives on your local network.

If you don’t pay for iCloud storage and back up your mobile devices to the cloud, you should create regular local backups instead. These backups are stored on your computer in the ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup folder. Depending on the size of your device, these backups could be huge. Storing them elsewhere is one solution, but it also relies on external drives.

macOS Storage Management

If you use cloud storage to sync your files from other machines, those could take up a lot of space too. It’s easier to have instant access to everything instead of constantly changing what you sync, but you need free space to do that.

Don’t forget to make room for your apps. If you’re a student who spends half your digital life in a web browser and the other half in a word processor, this might not be an issue. But if you’re a photographer with an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, you’ll likely want to get your money’s worth by installing the apps you need. Apps like Premier Pro CC and Lightroom can take up several gigabytes each.

Finally, you’ll want space for the projects you’re currently working on. This could be your Lightroom library or somewhere to dump your video files while editing. If you’re working with high-bitrate video or another medium that relies on fast read-write performance, you’ll likely need to keep your source files on your SSD rather than an old external drive.

It’s Better to Buy Big

It’s always better to buy more storage than you need at the start than trying to upgrade at a later date. While you can increase your storage by replacing the drive on older models, most MacBooks from 2016 and later are not user-upgradeable.

The latest MacBook Pro models include soldered RAM, a glued-down battery, and a proprietary solid state drive which Apple does not make available outside its own channels. It’s possible we’ll eventually see compatible SSDs hit the gray market, but they likely won’t be cheap when they do. You also need to perform the upgrade yourself.

Samsung EVO SSD

You can currently only buy SSD upgrades for MacBook Pro models made in 2015 or earlier. While this is a great option that’s cost-effective if you have a compatible machine, it has its own drawbacks.

Performing an upgrade like this yourself will invalidate your warranty and any AppleCare plans you’ve purchased. You could look at other methods of adding storage to your MacBook, but the latest models lack an SD card reader. This was the previous go-to method for adding a nice chunk of storage to your laptop’s capacity.

Apple Bets on iCloud

macOS Sierra introduced a feature called Store in iCloud. This automatically uploads files to iCloud, then when you run low on storage, keeps only recently opened files on your system so you can access them locally. This only works if you have enough free iCloud storage space once you’ve enabled the feature under System Preferences > Apple ID > iCloud.

Store in iCloud

Similarly, iCloud Photos offers to store your high-resolution photos so you can optimize local space with lower-quality copies. Subscribing to Apple Music provides access to some 30 million songs, while iCloud Music Library makes them available on all your devices. However, you’ll need a data connection to stream them.

The main reason most people buy more iCloud storage is to have enough space for cloud backups. This removes the strain of storing all your backup data locally. Apple’s 5GB free storage allotment has not increased since it introduced the service in 2011, despite its pushing customers further toward cloud solutions.

But even if iCloud is meant to pick up the slack, we’re still in dire need of more local storage.

When Smaller Is Better for MacBooks

If you already have a desktop or other primary computer, MacBook storage is much less of a concern. Not keeping personal Photos and iTunes purchases around might even boost your productivity. You can save money by opting for a smaller model, while relying on your main machine for storage-intensive tasks.

For everyone else wondering how much storage they need for their MacBook: consider how long you expect to use your machine and your storage requirements before you buy. 512GB of space is decent if you don’t plan to install big apps or keep huge photo/video libraries around. If you do, get at least 1TB. Otherwise, you’ll have to add more MacBook space by relying on external drives, the cloud, and network storage.

If you’re low on space and can’t upgrade your machine, see how to free up space on your Mac.

Read the full article: Why You Shouldn’t Buy a MacBook With Only 256GB Storage