Firmware and setup
While the hardware will, obviously, have to perform well to justify the price tag on this (or any) router, Synology's Router Manager firmware might be the killer feature of this device. It'll make you think twice before trying to install any OpenWRT or Tomato firmware on it.
Initial setup is a breeze on a standard internet connection. Your mileage may vary if you're rocking a PPPoE connection or something like that, but configuring it to act as a router connecting to a cable modem is as simple as clicking next a few times before you're into the guts of the beast.
The interface is based heavily on the DiskStation Manager that acts as a front end to the company's bread-and-butter network-attached storage devices. It offers a clean, Windows-like interface that lets you look at what you want to look at while keeping the rest of the interface out of sight and out of mind. You can have multiple windows open at once, though, and a button in the upper-right corner offers functionality similar to that of Exposé on macOS or Alt+Tab in Windows. Despite all the information the firmware offers up, I almost never had difficulty finding the function I was looking for or, if I did, I didn't have trouble finding it twice. Better yet, it all just works. There's no plug-in or software to install, as everything is web-based.
The RT-2600ac offers a huge suite of features that should satisfy a large range of users. For example, the 2.4GHz and 5GHz radios can be set to auto-select so that when a device wanders out of range of the faster 5GHz radio, the RT-2600ac can automatically switch it over to the 2.4GHz one.
The parental controls and web filtering assisted by Google SafeSearch integration will let you automatically block access to known-malicious websites, adult websites, and custom websites depending on your preferences. Traffic control (the aforementioned "Hardware Layer 7 Engine") will let you assign priority levels to devices and applications, restrict their speed, or even ban them entirely from the network if they're misbehaving. You can schedule times a given device is allowed online, as well. All the monitoring the RT-2600ac allows means you can output some pretty extensive reports that detail application use by device. All of this can be applied device-by-device. Yes, Steve, we do know you were using BitTorrent, and uninstalling it isn't going to fool us.
One especially cool feature that I'm already liking is the ability to link the router to an email account (Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook, QQ, or a custom SMTP server) to allow the router to send you notifications. You can even have it text you or get ahold of you through push notifications. In this age of the Internet of Things constantly being compromised, out-of-date network appliances are a very real hazard. Knowing that this router is going to shoot me an email when an update is ready is a reassurance I'm not used to.
If the 2600ac's built-in features aren't quite enough, though, Synology offers a package center that lets you add both official first- and third-party packages. The packages include features like a VPN server, Intrusion Protection, a Download Station, a Media Server, and even a RADIUS server. You can choose whether or not to allow apps to be side-loaded onto the device. Someone even ported over the version of the Plex media server app originally intended to be used with Synology's storage servers.
Some of these packages could warrant reviews on their own. The Download Station is a web-based app that will let you download through BitTorrent, FTP, and a variety of other protocols, as well as subscribing to RSS feeds and even offering auto-unzipping. The Intrusion Protection package claims to offer safety from and identification of threats to your network. The VPN Plus package will allow adminstrators to setup a VPN server that supports SSTP, OpenVPN, L2TP, and PPTP VPN services. The package includes its own real-time traffic monitoring and filtering services. In short, if you need the 2600ac to do a thing, there's probably an app for it.
If managing your router is something you find yourself doing frequently—whether you're running a business or maybe a houseful of kids with computers, tablets, and consoles—one thing worth checking out is Synology's DS Router app on Android and iOS. You can set it up to work within the bounds of your network through your router's private IP address or you can setup a Synology username and password, connect your router to that account, and setup a Quick Connect ID and input that information.
With the Quick Connect ID configured, you can manage many of the router's primary functions. You can enable and disable wireless signals, setup guest networks, modify traffic control preferences, and a whole host of other functions. And it's all built into a simple touch-friendly interface.
There are a couple physical caveats worth mentioning. While the RT-2600ac can use two internet connections bonded together, it doesn't offer port aggregation on the LAN side. Also, as noted in the photographs above, the router only sports 4 LAN ports. Considering that using Smart WAN feature will occupy one of those four ports, it seems like many users will have to resort to picking up a switch to connect all their hardware. At this price point, extra LAN ports would've been a nice treat.
Now that we've seen the basics of the RT-2600ac, let's see how it performs.