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.
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 ]