A few years back, I moved from a house to an apartment. The Asus RT-N66U wireless router that had served me for a couple years began to suffer. What had once reached with ease from my basement to my second floor now struggled to provide a reliable connection across 20-some feet with a couple walls in between. Between the mass of competing wireless networks—about 26 of them in range, at last count—and the five-year old tech inside the so-called Dark Knight, it was about time for an upgrade. When Synology offered to send us its brand-new RT-2600ac router for consideration, I was eager to see what it could do.
Before we get a look at the outside, let’s go over what’s inside. The RT-2600ac is an 802.11ac router with “wave 2” features, including MU-MIMO with 2×2 160MHz support on contiguous 80 MHz bands and 2×2 80 MHz streams on discontiguous bands. It packs a Qualcomm IPQ8065 1.7GHz dual core CPU and 512MB of DDR3 RAM. It also features what Synology calls a “Hardware Layer 7 Engine” that provides application-layer QoS optimization. Synology says the engine will allow for “minimal performance and throughput drops even with advanced traffic control and monitoring enabled.” This router takes its “2600ac” designation from the 800 Mbps it can push on the 2.4 GHz band and the potential 1733 Mbps it can move on its 5GHz radio.
Now for the casing: Imagine a router in your head. That’s exactly how the Synology RT-2600ac looks.
This router won’t stand out as anything other than a standard piece of home networking equipment. The matte-black plastic, slightly rounded look, and raised feet tell us that this hardware is meant to put on a desk at home or in a small office rather than mounted on the ceiling of a cubicle farm. But unlike a lot of routers lately, it’s also not a piece of artwork meant to be put on display. It’s a tool to get a job done. It’s also much bigger than the Asus RT-N66U I’m replacing. Weirdly, the feet extend far past the screw-mount holes. Mounting the RT-2600ac on a wall would be difficult without modification.
The back of the RT-2600ac is pretty standard, as well. You’ll find four yellow switch ports capable of Gigabit Ethernet speeds, one blue WAN port, and a single USB 2.0 port. One of the LAN ports can also double as a second WAN port. With this arrangement, you can bond two internet connections together or use one as a failover for the other, including connections from a list of compatible 3G/4G dongles.
Each side of the router has a couple discreet items tucked underneath. On one side there’s a USB 3.0 port and accompanying eject button to safely disconnect the USB device. The other side has a switch to turn Wi-Fi off and to initiate Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS). And finally, on the front is an SD card reader.
The status lights on the front are small and fairly discreet. They’re also green and orange instead of the blue that’s been more popular in recent years. For me, that means they’re not nearly as eye-searing as most routers are. Better yet, you can turn them on and off—or even schedule when they’re on—in the router’s firmware, which we’ll be getting into shortly.
Visually, the RT-2600ac is a simple and straightforward package that gets the job without attracting attention to itself. It’s got basically every port we might want from a consumer wireless router, and its claimed performance numbers are compelling enough. Let’s take Synology’s firmware for a spin now.
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.
Synology’s router offers a welcoming desktop-like interface, accessed through your web browser.
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.
Even installing new software packages is as simple as a click.
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.
Before we jump into the numbers I pulled out of the router, let’s take a quick tour of the testing environment. I live in a small apartment building with anywhere from 20 to 28 wireless networks of various types in range of me at any given moment. In short, this isn’t the sort of environment where we’ll be pushing the router to its upper limits of top speeds. Instead, we’ll find out how it does in an environment of high interference.
Test point A has a few walls and corners between it and the router, and is about 25′ away in a straight line. Test point B has one wall between and is just under 20′ away. Test point C is about 5 feet away from the router.
One snag I hit during testing is that while my 802.11n Asus RT-N66U router allows me to isolate the signal to just 802.11n on both the 5GHz and 2.4GHz frequencies, the Synology router can only run at AC speeds on 5GHz. So our points of direct comparison are the Ethernet and 2.4GHz Wireless-N speeds, while the 5GHz speeds are included for reference.
To put each router through its paces, I ran a variety of speed tests at Speedtest.net, ran iPerf with default settings, and performed two sets of file transfers between local machines. My large transfer test is a group of zip files totaling 9.53GB, and the small test is a 4.63GB folder of 998 JPG photos. The source machine for those transfers is my Lenovo X1 Yoga notebook with a 128GB SSD on the wireless network. The sink is my personal desktop, a Core i5-4590S-powered PC with a Samsung 840 EVO SSD. That machine sits behind the aforementioned Netgear ProSafe GS105 switch connected to the Synology’s gigabit ports.
The first pleasant surprise I got from the 2600ac was finding that my ISP had actually raised my internet speed. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, because my Asus router never pulled more than 175Mbit/sec from Speedtest.net. Synology’s router immediately bumped me up to anywhere from 210 to 240 Mb/s. I was able to verify that the difference was isolated to the wireless router by switching back and forth between the Asus and Synology repeatedly during testing. While this is almost certainly not a benefit imparted specifically by the RT-2600ac, it does show that if you live in an area with increasing broadband speeds, it can make sense to upgrade your router every couple years.
Because of all the interference provided by the surrounding networks, I did tinker with the Synology’s channels, but I wasn’t able to squeeze any more speed out of the router than the auto-selected channels were giving me. Aside from that, the only real changes I made to each router were to isolate to the 802.11n band for testing there. I didn’t have any additional software packages enabled on the Synology during testing, either. Here’s what we found.
The vast majority of the time, Synology’s router beat Asus’ router handily. Looking at the iPerf results, even the Synology’s 2.4GHz 802.11n signal outperformed the Asus hardware on the same frequency. The gap narrowed when I was close to the router, but further away it was no contest. The RT-2600ac offered a stronger signal with better speed. Jumping up to 5GHz, we were pitting an 802.11n signal versus an 802.11ac signal, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Synology won out there, as well.
For testing how the wireless handled the connection to the internet, I first ran Speedtest.net’s test over Ethernet. That baseline shows the jump I mentioned above for the Synology. From there, though, we can again see the Synology router outperforming the Asus’ Wireless-N speeds easily once walls were introduced into the mix, while a test run close to the router narrowed the gap. Once 802.11ac kicks in, the Synology is unquestionably faster across the board.
In file transfers, the results are a bit more telling. By and large, the 2.4 GHz signal offered by Asus’ router wasn’t strong enough to make continuing the test worthwhile. I attempted the file transfer on the Asus’ 2.4 GHz network, but it rapidly fluctuated between .5 MB/s and 1.5 MB/s, so I aborted the test. The Synology’s 2.4 GHz signal wasn’t much better at long distances, but it did remain solid enough to complete the test.
At 5GHz, the N-only Asus delivered solid enough transfer rates at all locations in my apartment, but the Synology’s Wireless-AC radio lets it perform twice as fast or better at all of our testing locations. To be clear, this isn’t a fair test (and it’s not meant to be), but it does show that if you’re on an older Wireless-N device, it can be worth upgrading to a more modern Wireless-AC router.
Overall, I’m very pleased with Synology’s RT-2600ac. The quality-of-life features it offers through its firmware interface make it worthy of a look by themselves. Maintaining a network is never going to be a pleasure, but it doesn’t have to be a slog, and Synology’s SRM did a great job of offering me plenty of options and making them easy to find. And while my network doesn’t see much in the way of heavy traffic right now, I know that it would be simple to bring it up to speed with additional users regardless of their needs. I’m even considering digging up one of the supported 4G dongles as a failover to make working from home a bit easier.
Whether I’m using the 802.11n or 802.11ac network on the 2600ac in my crowded wireless airspace, I’m already seeing a more consistent, zippier connection with my wireless devices when I’m not in my living room, and the data bears that out. When I work, I work mostly from my office, and wires are looking much less necessary there with the RT-2600ac
Whether the RT-2600ac is going to be worth its $240 price tag will depend somewhat on your needs. If you’re living alone and own a single laptop and phone, then you may find it difficult to take advantage of the RT-2600ac’s full feature set, but its ease of use and strong connection may be worth the cost. If you run a small business, a complex home network, or just like having solid, high-performance hardware, though, the collection of features and peformance offered by this router will make it more than worth the $240 sticker. Either way, we’re happy to call Synology’s RT-2600ac TR Recommended.