While many unconventional brands have tried to gain a toe-hold in the broadband router market over the last half decade, only one or two have really managed to stick it out.
We’re hoping Synology is another name we can add to the list. Better known for its network-attached storage boxes, Synology is looking to bring over the same software smarts that have made its NAS devices some of APC’s favourites.
Specs-wise, the new RT1900ac is respectable but nothing particularly cutting edge. It’s got dual-band 2.4/5GHz Wi-Fi (at 600Mbps and 1,300Mbps, respectively) and is powered by a mid-range dual-core 1GHz Broadcom BCM58622 processor with 256MB of memory.
However, the router stands out not on specs, but on smarts. Running an OS called Synology Router Manager (or SRM), configuring the RT1900ac is done the same way as most others — go to the device’s IP address (such as 192.168.1.1) in your browser and log in with your admin username and password.
Rather than simple text-based menus and drop-down boxes, SRM’s interface apes a standalone OS, giving you a virtual desktop with app icons and ‘programs’ that launch inside their own windows, which you can drag around, resize and minimise or maximise.
Moreover, SRM is overflowing with features and options. Its bandwidth management settings are some of the most advanced we’ve seen, allowing you to monitor usage in real time, based on either device or application, or restrict a single device’s upload and download speed with hard KB/s limits.
There are in-depth parental controls and you can easily set schedules to turn off access for specific devices at certain times of day — great if you have kids and don’t want them up all night on the net.
You can configure lots of little things to levels of detail not usually seen, like turning the status LEDs off at night-time, and there’s a comprehensive built-in manual that reveals what everything does in plain English. Synology even offers well-made admin mobile apps for iOS and Android.
Beyond the built-in tools, you can add more functions by installing modules downloaded from Synology. Adding Download Station, for example, lets you plug in a USB storage device and download things directly with the router, with lots of options to get it set up.
The only worry we have with the RT1900ac is that its performance was mixed. While it was up with the best at close range (managing read and write speeds of 57.7 and 68.3MB/s, respectively), at medium to long range, it dropped to more sedate speeds (30MB/s and 20MB/s), which puts it below average and about 10–15MB/s behind the best in these areas.
What’s not in dispute is that the RT1900ac offers features and a level of depth you won’t find elsewhere. Its SRM interface often makes managing and monitoring your network easier than on basically any other router we’ve tested.
You may need to do a little learning to make use of some of those features, but it does a good job of explaining what all the bells and whistles do.
If you can deal with just average performance, this is an amazing device from a features standpoint, and one that’s quite affordable, too.
Verdict: Stands out thanks to an amazing OS, but long-distance wireless performance could be better.