Synology’s RT-2600ac wireless router reviewed

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.

The basics

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.

Miscellany

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.

 

Performance

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.

Conclusions

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.

Comments closed
    • Peldor
    • 3 years ago

    Good work, but your apartment is ridiculously small for this. You must know someone with a house. Preferably more than a single story. You should not be legally allowed to describe 25ft as “long distance”.

    I would also suggest showing just how crowded both spectrums are with something like Wifi Analyser.

    Last, your diagram labels don’t match the charts. It’s not really clear which is A and which is B for bedroom and office. As drawn, A is closer than B, though it is described as being farther away.

    • deruberhanyok
    • 3 years ago

    Interesting that the 5GHz AC downstream on the new router was faster than ethernet on your old one in 2 of your 3 test locations, I wouldn’t have expected that. I wonder what it was about this that enabled it to reach a higher overall speed?

    What’s your connection rated at? Is the theory that your ISP bumped up your downstream a while back and the old router didn’t have a fast enough processor to handle outbound traffic above a certain rate, whereas this new one does?

    If so, that’s a pretty interesting find – I figure these things are rated for gigabit internally, so pushing 200mbps+ internet traffic would be “normal” for them – if not on wireless, then at least on wired connections. I’d never have really expected otherwise. So to see an obvious different between the two devices, clearly something is at work there.

    It has me wondering how many people might be paying for 150mbps+ internet connections (because, as the Verizon guy tells me every time I call them, if you’ve got like, two tablets and a laptop you need at least 300mbps or it will be super slow, so you should definitely pony up for the $200/month deal they’ve got going on right now) that can’t even utilize that bandwidth due to older equipment that no one ever thinks of replacing.

    Also, can highly recommend Synology NAS devices – their interface is incredible. I bought one a year or so ago, been running Plex on it, doing time machine backups, and hosting a shared iTunes directory, and it’s just a great piece of equipment. Glad to see that the same team that put together DSM had a hand in this.

    • Froz
    • 3 years ago

    I don’t want to be rude, so tell me if I am (and sorry about that). But… I just don’t see a point in reviews like that in TR. I realize TR cannot be as focused and provide the same top quality of GPU reviews for other products reviews. But come on… It really is like you would have just reviewed a random GPU and compared it to a random GPU from a couple years ago, testing one in winXP and Vista and another one in winXP and win10, then provide a conclusion that yeah, this new GPU is quite expensive, but there are many nice games available for the newer GPU, although you didn’t test them. Additionally, the new GPU should be good for multimonitors set up, but you haven’t tested that either. And you end up giving it a TR recommendation.

      • Jeff Kampman
      • 3 years ago

      Gotta start somewhere, no?

        • Froz
        • 3 years ago

        Hmm, I do hope that means you are planning to do more router reviews soon(ish). I’m actually looking for a router to buy, though I’m in no hurry.

      • thedosbox
      • 3 years ago

      [quote<] But come on... It really is like you would have just reviewed a random GPU and compared it to a random GPU from a couple years ago [/quote<] The difference being that people don't generally buy routers as frequently as they do GPU's. In this particular case, there is value in showing someone owning an older router whether the new hotness is worthwhile getting. It's certainly better than relying on the marketing materials.

        • morphine
        • 3 years ago

        There’s also the fact that an old-but-good router is usually superior to a newer unit with poorer hardware/software.

    • anotherengineer
    • 3 years ago

    Internal details for anyone interested.

    [url<]https://www.smallnetbuilder.com/wireless/wireless-reviews/33075-synology-rt2600ac-router-reviewed[/url<]

    • pete y testing
    • 3 years ago

    i see no point in comparing a 450M n66u asus to the synology , it makes a mokkery out of your testing and any conclusions you draw or suggest

      • derFunkenstein
      • 3 years ago

      That Asus router was wildly popular. There’s a good chance people are thinking about replacing either that exact model or something very similar, and folks should know what to expect.

    • mkk
    • 3 years ago

    I’ve been running with only 5 GHz enabled at home for almost two years now, but no N-support would make that tough to do.

    • tsk
    • 3 years ago

    So close to being a good router, but no wall mount = no sale.

    • colinstu12
    • 3 years ago

    DSM on their NAS’ is great. Good to hear their router product is excellent too.

    • w76
    • 3 years ago

    I had an EdgeRouter Lite with Unifi AC Lite until my wife’s cat killed the ERL (my fault, it was left in a cat-vulnerable position). Until it’s demise, it was rock solid. Never once a reset not done to change a setting.

    I wanted to try something new though, bought a Mikrotik hAp AC. Also rock solid. Seems to be handling my gigabit home network fine, but I haven’t stressed it too hard there yet. Customization is possible to a degree these consumer routers never will be.

    And both brands have a good history of continuous software support, though Synology I think does too.

    Personally, I wouldn’t waste time with anything but Ubiquiti or Mikrotik. This Synology is $239 at Amazon right now. About twice what I paid for my bullet-proof (but probably not cat proof) Mikrotik hAp AC, and probably even more than a ERL + Unifi AC Lite.

    EDIT: I understand the TechReport crowd, so that recommendation is in that light. Neither brand is for mom and pop, unless you set it up for them. But, owing to their stability, you’ll virtually never need to support it after the fact. I put a ERL + Unifi AC at my parents, a year a later, no phone calls on internet woes.

      • thedosbox
      • 3 years ago

      [quote<] And both brands have a good history of continuous software support, though Synology I think does too. [/quote<] Yeah, Synology are still updating up my 5-year old NAS, and they appear to be keeping that record up with their router line. Other manufacturers should take note.

      • morphine
      • 3 years ago

      Ubiquiti stuff is certainly excellent, but keep in mind the intended audience for a Synology router like this, which is a “prosumer” or a small office. Synology’s UI makes setting up a network real easy.

      I know how to set up servers and firewalls, and I have an Asus router (and would have a Synology, maybe a Ubiquiti if I upgraded), simply because I want something that performs well and requires minimum fussing-around.

        • w76
        • 3 years ago

        I get the audience, and figure TR is it. I spent 5 minutes setting up this new Mikrotik hAp AC (most of which was spent confirming the out of the box settings were fine), could set up an ERL for basic home use just as quick. But compared to most consumer routers, the difference is what happens next: Nothing! No problems. No resets. Rock solid, because that’s what their commercial customers expect. And the flexibility is there when you need it.

        Wouldn’t make the same recommendation over, say, Facebook, where non-tech-enthusiasts might see it.

      • tay
      • 3 years ago

      [quote<]I had an EdgeRouter Lite with Unifi AC Lite until my wife's cat killed the ERL (my fault, it was left in a cat-vulnerable position).[/quote<] Interesting that your wife has you so well trained that you blame yourself for leaving it in that position rather than the cat for destroying it.

        • w76
        • 3 years ago

        There are five lights.

          • chuckula
          • 3 years ago

          THERE.
          ARE.
          FOUR.
          LIGHTS!

            • dpaus
            • 3 years ago

            Error 606: Insufficient nerds to get reference.

            (But in the meantime, for God’s sake, put your shirt back on!!)

            • Redocbew
            • 3 years ago

            Someone get him some tea. Earl Grey. Hot.

            He’ll be fine.

      • reckless76
      • 3 years ago

      I just set up my new Unifi AC Lite a couple days ago. It’s a massive improvement over my previous gear, and it integrates with the RADIUS sever running on my synology NAS better. I’ve got the Unifi Security Gateway arriving next week, and am looking forward to setting that up as well. I almost got the EdgeRouter, but I really want all those fancy DPI reports to work in the controller.

      • BobbinThreadbare
      • 3 years ago

      The experience at the ISP I work at with Mikrotik has been rather disappointing.

      Admittedly this is more in the “share a gigabit to 100 clients” type of situation than anything a home user would encounter, but our tests gave much lower results than their advertised capabilities.

      Ubiquiti stuff on the other hand is much closer to what they claim, and their support is pretty good too.

      • Laykun
      • 3 years ago

      I can second the recommendation for the Mikrotik gear, it’s solid and is priced incredibly well.

      • juampa_valve_rde
      • 3 years ago

      Ubiquiti is almost as easy to configure as this GUI stuff from Synology (looks just like the NASes, super easy), now about Mikrotik besides of being really cheap, once having the know-how his software is inmensely powerful and flexible (but hardware wise they are a little skimpy).

    • dpaus
    • 3 years ago

    Wow. Aside from the incremental manufacturing costs (those types of molds are considerably more expensive – and problematic), that seriously limits the mounting flexibility. Typically, such a design would be instantiated with snap-on feet/legs. Curious…

    (duh…. that was supposed to be a reply. Clearly, I’ve been away too long)

      • piratesyar
      • 3 years ago

      It really is curious – especially considering that it has mounting holes on the back. To use them, you’d have to leave the screws sticking something like an inch out of the wall. Sure, they’re hidden, but that’s not exactly attractive. Not to mention maybe not so sturdy.

    • dpaus
    • 3 years ago

    The first question I have is: so, those feet… they’re not removable? (and no, a hacksaw doesn’t count)

      • chuckula
      • 3 years ago

      If the feet aren’t removable I think it’s a measure to improve airflow and yet another deterrent to any attempt to stack something on the access point (yes, it happens).

        • derFunkenstein
        • 3 years ago

        Say it ain’t so, Chuck! [url=http://computers4seniors.org/images/LinkSysStack2.jpg<]Say it ain't so![/url<]

      • Jeff Kampman
      • 3 years ago

      The feet are not removable.

      • morphine
      • 3 years ago

      Maybe Nvidia’s tiniest-chainsaw-in-the-world would do?

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