Synology RT2600ac Review

WHAT WOULD YOU GET IF A ROUTER AND A NAS HAD A BABY?

DESPITE NO LACK of attempts, relatively few outsiders have been able to break into the broadband router market — a space that, for the last decade, has largely dominated by big players like Netgear, Linksys, D-Link and TP-Link.

Synology has been fighting a bit of an uphill battle since it introduced its first router, the RT1900ac, last year — but it’s one that’s at least partially fuelled by the good will flowing on from its well-recieved and feature-packed NAS boxes. The company has now followed up that first attempt with this theoretically faster AC2600 successor, which upgrades the internal hardware to 512GB RAM and dual-core 1.7GHz ARM Qualcomm IPQ8065 CPU, and increases the Wi-Fi chops to 1,733Mbps on 5GHz and 800Mbps on 2.4GHz (that’s compared to the previous 1,300Mbps and 600Mbps, respectively).

That said, speed and specs aren’t really Synology’s main selling point — it’s the software running under the hood that’s the really unique element. The company’s SRM (aka ’Synology Router Manager’) interface works just like the one on its NAS products — it’s accessed through a web browser and gives you a virtual desktop environment, complete with icons to launch apps and access settings menus, which all open in ‘windows’ that you can drag around and rearrange within the browser interface. This can make it a bit easier to grasp for complete router newbies, but the real reason you’d choose a Synology router is the ability to download NAS-grade apps to extend functionality. That includes the likes of Download Station, a sophisticated program that supports not just HTTP and FTP-based downloading, but BitTorrent and Usenet, too; Cloud Station, which lets you host your own cloud-storage server (a-la Dropbox or Google Drive) and remotely sync files to Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS and Android devices; and File Station, a Windows Explorer-style file manager that lets you access the contents of any USB-connected drives from within the SRM web interface.

There’s a heap of higher-end features, too, like VPN client and server features, a DLNA media server and per-device parental controls with two preset blocklists (either ‘malicious’ or ‘malicious and adult’ sites) and the ability to either black- or whitelist additional domains. You can also set a schedule to allow or deny devices internet access at certain times of day and there’s even Apple Time Machine support for backup up Macs.

Synology’s main problem is that the default selection of apps is fairly limited; there were eight at the time we tested.

Despite Synology’s NAS boxes having a wide selection of third-party and open-source offerings, there hasn’t (so far) been much interest in replicating that for the company’s routers…

Still, the RT2600ac is a joy to use and while it doesn’t quite make setting up more complex networking/NAS features idiot-proof, it does go some way to making the process more straightforward than on other routers. The Wi-Fi performance was quite adequate in testing, too, with good coverage (thanks in part to the four large detachable antennae) and speeds that largely matched other AC2600 devices we’ve tested.

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Should not buy anything from AudioAffair.

You’ll pay more for the extra features on offer, but if you can genuinely use them, the RT2600ac is a top little router.

[DAN GARDINER]

www.synology.com

CRITICAL SPECS

802.11a/b/g/n/ac wireless
Simultaneous 2.4GHz/5GHz
operation
4 Gigabit Ethernet ports
1 USB 3.0 port
1 USB 2.0 port
SD card slot

Synology’s latest router is an expensive piece of equipment-can it justify the price tag?

There’s something pleasantly old-school about the visual appearance of Synology’s latest router.

It’s a large piece of kit, and draws attention to itself with four very prominent aerials – suffice to say it’s not aiming to be as pretty and living room-friendly as the average ISP-issued wireless router. Synology has clearly focused on delivering an outstanding piece of networking kit, and in that respect it has delivered.

Everything from initial set-up to ongoing management is handled through Synology Router Management, a web-based GUI that mimics the look and feel of a desktop operating system. With a minimum of fuss, we had the device working in harmony with a cable modem and connected a full household of devices in less than half an hour. The GUI provides instant familiarity, and helps you sort through the settings available – of which there are an enormous number.

As an example of the level of detail allowed in customization, parental controls include device specific time limits and website blocking, while the LEDs on the front of the router can be configured to avoid distracting blinking on a day-by-day, hour-by hour basis. Other useful functions include a built-in firewall, DoS protection, and auto-blocking. The level of control on offer is simply remarkable.

The device is also capable of acting as a home file server, thanks to its support for external storage via USB or SD card. With some simple configuration, this also allows the device to function as a UPnP media server for streaming to your smart TV, game consoles and mobile devices – a feature we successfully enjoyed with a binge-watch marathon! The Cloud Station Server function is also useful, allowing you to synchronize select files between a number of connected devices.

As the device operates both 2.4GHz and 5GHz simultaneously, connection is simple and the router will automatically determine which connection is most appropriate for each specific device connected. In our usage tests, speed was faultless with ten or more devices connected, and the wireless range was easily sufficient to cover standard household usage and more, with portable devices connecting some way out into the garden.

Users of wired networks have access to four gigabit Ethernet ports, though the first of these can be used as a second WAN port. This can be configured as a fail safe connection for instances in which the primary WAN connection is unavailable, or as a second source of bandwidth – in this case, the load is balanced in a 60/40 split with the primary WAN port handling the larger share of the work.

There are very few drawbacks to the Synology RT2600ac. The biggest is the price – you’ll need to be very serious about home networking in order to spend more than on a router, no matter how good it is. If you’ve already invested in lots of cabling and you’re just looking to replace your existing router, you may also find that the standard inclusion of four Ethernet ports is a tad miserly, especially considering the size of the unit. If you’re using a second WAN connection, this falls to just three ports, meaning that you might end up needing an additional network switch.

These drawbacks pale in comparison to the benefits of the device, though. For your investment, you get a wireless router that offers faultless range and speed, which can quickly and comfortably be configured to your exact requirements. Whether you want simple and secure networking or a full-fledged NAS with all the bells and whistles imaginable, the Synology RT2600ac will easily meet your needs. Just don’t expect it to look pretty while it does so.

■ Nicholas Thorpe

Whether you want simple and secure networking or a full-fledged NAS, the Synology RT2600ac will easily meet your needs.

PROS:

  • Great performance on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, and a user interface that sets it well apart from competing routers

CONS:

  • It’s not cheap, and heavy users of wired networking might have hoped for more Ethernet ports. It’s also pretty bulky

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