- Outstanding Wi-Fi
- Feature packed
- Expandable through mesh setup
- Expandable through add-on packages
- Easy setup
- Outstanding parental controls
- ...doesn't come in red?
The Synology RT2600ac router has been around since 2017 and it launched to almost universally positive reviews. It was lauded for its speed, coverage and customizability through the impressive Synology Router Manager (SRM) interface.
“So why review it again in 2020?” I hear you ask. Because, like a fine wine, the Synology RT2600ac has improved with age. Synology has continued to provide updates that have kept the RT2600ac as one of the most impressive bang-for-buck options for home and small businesses, which is admirable in an age where technology companies seem more focussed on pumping out new hardware each year at the expense of supporting their already-existing products.
Disclosure: Synology provided Blog of Dad with the RT2600ac for the purpose of review and ongoing use. Any thoughts expressed about Synology products in this article are based on my own experiences.
Synology Quality and Customer Focus
It seems appropriate to begin by highlighting Synology’s apparent focus on providing the best customer experience possible. Look around the Network Attached Storage (NAS) and router forums and you will find a loyal Synology following.
This seems to be because Synology put the customer experience at the forefront of their products. They have somehow managed (I imagine thought a lot of R&D) to develop products that are accessible to novice users while still catering to the needs of power users, IT professionals and curious tinkerers. This is quite amazing, and in my experience a rare accomplishment in the tech world.
To put it simply – Synology products are extremely useable. I know this from my first-hand experience with the MR2200ac router and I am continuing to experience it with the RT2600ac. I also see it in the Synology NAS that I currently have under review (coming soon).
Synology RT2600ac First Impressions
The Synology RT2600ac arrived in the same familiar style of plain cardboard packaging as the MR2200ac. I like the understated nature of Synology packaging – it tells me that they trust the quality of the product inside to do all the talking.
Unboxing the RT2600ac revealed the router (sans antennas), a couple of cables, a quick-start guide and the four large antennas, all carefully packaged. Setting up the router was a simple matter of screwing in each antenna, plugging in the power and connecting the RT2600ac to my ISP-provided modem.
The Synology RT2600ac has a fairy traditional router look. It is a reasonably large matte-black box with status lights on the front and the four external antennas protruding upwards. The Synology logo is embedded in large letters on the front and an array of passive air intakes provide some subtle styling. It certainly stands out a lot more than the non-descript white rectangular prism of my ISP-provided modem/router with internal antennas, but then again it is designed to offer much more impressive performance. I quite like the way it looks, but I like the way most of the technology that litters my home looks.
Synology RT2600ac Setup
As I said before, one of the things that impresses me about Synology products is the way in which they cater for just about everyone. The RT2600ac offers two ways to set up and manage the device – through the SRM in a web browser and through the DS router mobile app. The instructions are simple, clear and easy to follow in the included quick guide. There is a more comprehensive manual available to download from the Synology website.
I used the mobile app to set up my router, because I thought that option would cater best to the typical home-user experience. For many, many people a router is something they want to have to deal with once (during setup), then never think about again.
Setup through the app was easy and it took a matter of minutes. Users are asked to choose from a few options in the setup process, which could provide a small amount of intimidation, but I found that, if in doubt, just go for the default option worked well for me.
Better yet, if the worst happens and you completely mess up the installation via the app, just use a paperclip to perform a hard reset of the router by using the included reset button on the rear of the device. I didn’t have to use this option, but when I reviewed the MR2200ac a little while ago, I made a mess of things while playing with security settings and the factory reset worked like a charm!
Once I had named my network and added a secure password, the Synology RT2600ac was up and running and ready to connect my (increasingly vast) collection of Wi-Fi enabled devices. Each device connected on the first attempt, without even the slightest sign of any issue.
For the basic home user, that was the extent of what was required for setup. If that was all I wanted, I could happily walk away and enjoy excellent Wi-Fi without ever having to open the more advanced SRM interface.
Of course, there are plenty of options for power users or business IT managers who want to customize the setup of the router. As a self-described curious tinkerer, I didn’t feel compelled to dive too deep into these settings. If in doubt, stick to the default!
If you have arrived on this page, chances are it is because you are seeking better Wi-Fi. Welcome! Solid Wi-Fi performance is one of the great challenges of modern living. All too often, the ISP-provided modem-router is woefully inadequate at living up to the hefty demands of the modern house. Signals don’t travel far enough, or the network falls over under the weight of the sheer number of devices competing for bandwidth.
The Synology RT2600ac is an outstanding solution to this predicament. As a router that is just at home in a small business as it is in the family home, the RT2600ac is built to handle demanding, high bandwidth environments. The quad stream capability allows a wireless bandwidth of up to 2.53 Gbps across the 2.4GHz and 5GHz channels.
Conveniently, the RT2600ac presents this combined bandwidth as a single network, meaning you don’t need to try and pick between 2.4 and 5GHz networks to find the best connection – the router does the work for you. Many modern routers take this convenient approach, but Synology seems to implement it particularly well and the vast majority of my devices (currently 9 out of 10) connect happily and consistently via the preferred dual 5GHz channels.
Since turning on the Synology RT2600ac, my wireless network has been rock solid. Devices connect 1st time and stay connected when in range of the RT2600ac, even when several devices are streaming high definition video.
One of the things I really like about the RT2600ac is the way that every aspect of its design is dedicated to producing the best Wi-Fi signal possible. The four external Wi-Fi antennas naturally produce a better signal than the internal antenna in sleek-looking routers like my Telstra Smart Modem 2. The position of these can even be tweaked to fine-tune the Wi-Fi signal (although for me, this hasn’t been necessary). It isn’t just the external antennas that make the difference. Heat is the enemy of router function and the Synology RT2600ac does everything it can to ensure excellent air flow and reduce heat build up. This contributes to the router performing so consistently well, even under sustained heavy load. Two permanent feet raise the router off benchtops in order to ensure that airflow is uninterrupted.
Interestingly, the RT2600ac is wall-mountable. That is a small feature, but it can make a huge difference to Wi-Fi performance. Most home phone lines were not positioned in houses with high-speed Wi-Fi in mind. My phoneline, for example, it tucked away in a corner of the kitchen. It is a convenient place to have a phone, but it is about the worst spot in the house to spread a Wi-Fi signal. Wall-mounting gives me the option to easily bring the RT2600ac around the corner and place it in a much better position. If you do chose to wall mount, keep in mind that the Synology router will not sit flush against the wall. This is again about ensuring adequate airflow, but it does mean a little thought will need to be put into your mounting-screw lengths.
I have written before about the particular connectivity issues that I suffer in my townhouse, mainly due to its double brick and concrete construction. A single router (even one as capable as the RT2600ac) isn’t going to reach every corner of a house like this. Synology know this and, incredibly, they have developed the most elegant of solutions to deal with it. Thanks to a firmware update, the RT2600ac can be used as part of a mesh network when combined with one or more Synology MR2200ac routers. More on that later, but I will quickly mention now that I am using this setup (one RT2600ac and two MR2200ac) and it is quite incredible (it also means I haven’t had to drill holes to wall-mount the router). Dead spots are a thing of the past.
Ongoing Router Management – DS router app
The DS router app offers plenty of useful options for ongoing router management, if you wish to fine-tune or check up on your router without much fuss. The following is an overview of the most useful features for parent and home users:
The Overview provides useful and easy-to-understand information about the status of your network and the devices that are connected. You can see which devices are connected via a wired connection and via wireless. You can also check the status of any MR2200ac routers, if you have created a mesh network.
Each section in the overview can be used to drill down into more detailed information. Clicking on the wireless symbol reveals a list of the Wi-Fi devices connected. It shows which signal they are using to connect (5GHz-1, 5GHz-2 or 2.4GHz). It also shows devices that have been part of the network, but that are not currently connected.
Clicking on each device again drills down into more information about the device, and also provides some options for traffic control – high priority, low priority and banned. This is really useful if you want to ensure that things like work computers have consistently strong bandwidth for all of those endless Zoom meetings. You can also change the name of each device, to make them easier to identify at a glance.
The next (extremely useful) section in the wireless devices section is signal strength. Here you can find information about the signal strength and link rate of your own device or any other device on your network. This makes it easy to identify any underperforming connections as a starting point for troubleshooting.
The Network section provides options for managing the Wi-Fi, including: enabling Smart Connect, turning wireless on and off, renaming the network (SSID), changing the security level (options include the latest WPA3) and changing network password. There is also the ability to turn a schedule on and off.
The Synology RT2600ac also has the ability to create a guest network.
The Network section of the Synology RT2600ac is also the place to go for adding or monitoring additional access points in a mesh setup. The ability of the RT2600ac to operate in a mesh configuration with the Synology MR2200ac is one of the most brilliant aspects of the router, catapulting it from excellent to outstanding! As I mentioned earlier, the RT2600ac has improved over time and the mesh ability is one of its most valuable additions. Creating the mesh network is as simple as turning on the MR2200ac, pressing the “+” symbol, following the prompts and waiting a couple of minutes for configuration to complete.
In the Device section of the DS router app, users can manage setting such as Safe Access, and monitor and control traffic. Safe Access is absolutely brilliant for parents who want to effectively manage their children’s internet use. The level of control, even in the app version of Safe Access, is very impressive. Parents can set parameters such as internet schedules, time quotas, web filters and safe search options.
Using the SRM to Manage the Synology RT2600ac
The browser-based SRM firmware is extensive. It is where you want to be if you really want to dive deep into the customization of the Synology RT2600ac. All of the areas mentioned above in the DS router app are in the SRM, usually with even more functionality. While the SRM is designed for the more hardcore IT enthusiasts and specialists to get the most out of the router, it is still logical and easy to navigate. In fact, it is by far the best router interface that I have ever used. The layout is designed to be familiar to users of desktop computers. There is so much in the SRM that I cannot possibly cover it all in detail. I will stick to the most important elements that I believe would be of interest to most home or small business users with small to moderate levels of technical ability.
This is probably the most important section to begin with. Customizing a router beyond the basic functions can be an intimidating prospect, but it is made so much easier when comprehensive help is available. And the SRM Help section is comprehensive. It contains a wealth of detailed information for setting up and using just about every function that the Synology RT2600ac has to offer. It is fantastic! I used it to learn more about setting up a VPN in my article about free access to Synology VPN Plus (more on this later).
For parents, I highly recommend reading through the Safe Access SRM Help information.
The Network Center on the SRM offers the same basic functionality as Network in the DS Router app, plus a whole lot more. Because it is feature packed, you may have to do a little digging to find thigs that were obvious in the app, but they are all there.
There is also a world of options to make the novice’s head spin – port forwarding, DHCP Client, DCHP Reservation, Static Route are all well above my level of expertise. That being said, the mere fact that I have them there as customisable options makes me want to dive into the SRM help and find out what benefit (if any) they offer to me. Perhaps there are some rainy-day projects ahead…
The part of the Network Center that I found extremely interesting was the Traffic Control screen. There was a basic element of this available in the app, but here in the SRM it offers a whole lot more. As I sit and write this, I am also watching the Monitor tool. It is providing a real-time insight into the network use of various devices around my home. Emma is upstairs on a video call to a colleague and I am writing this on a laptop with browsers open, but no actual internet use to speak of.
I can see that Emma’s work computer is accounting for most of the traffic, with a reasonably steady flow of around 300KB/s upload and download.
In the interest of science, I added a 1080p YouTube stream on my phone into the mix. The result was fascinating – the download spiked to as much as 5MB/s, but it wasn’t consistent at all. The YouTube video seemed to download in chunks. I’m sure that isn’t news to some of you, but it was interesting for me. I’m now keen to see what it takes to max out my 50/25 NBN connection, but I’ll leave that experiment for a time when Emma isn’t on a crucial work call.
All of that might be very interesting, but is it actually useful? Well, yes, if you want to take advantage of the Traffic Control options built in to the Synology router. Enabling traffic control allows you to set priorities and limitations for some (or all) of your devices. It means that once it is set up, I can ensure that my wife’s important work video conferences are not interrupted by my frivolous viewing of NRL Semi-final games from 2006 or my daughter’s incessant obsession with Peppa Pig on ABC iView.
WiFi Connect is the place to find the overall health status of your wireless network and to add more MR2200ac devices to your mesh setup. It is easy to navigate and use.
In this part of the SRM, you can also manage aspects of your wireless network such as its name (SSID), security level, password and assign 5GHz and 2.4GHz channels manually. You may want to do this if you are suffering from weak connections (usually due to interference from neighbouring Wi-Fi devices), but in my experience so far the Synology RT2600ac has done an excellent job of automatically assigning usable channels. Connectivity has just not been an issue, no matter which signal I am using.
The final part in Wi-Fi Connect that may be of interest is the guest network. This can be handy if you want to share your internet connection with friends and family, without giving away tightly-held (or embarrassing) passwords. You can also limit the number of devices, set schedules or time limits, and even enable a guest portal which can be a customised local template or even a redirect to a specified URL. I cannot tell you how tempting it is to send my house guests to Blog of Dad, just to rack up a few more hits…
The control panel has a wealth of options for setting up and managing user accounts, organising storage, file services, notification settings and the Synology RT2600ac system settings.
The storage option is particularly interesting and it highlights the genius in Synology’s approach to designing a router that can be just about everything to everyone. The RT2600ac comes with very limited on-board storage, however, it is extremely expandable and flexible, depending on your needs. The router comes with an SD card slot, which is ideal for adding on extra software from the Package Center (more on that shortly). It also comes with two USB ports for creating a basic NAS setup with an external hard drive and/or a print server. I connected a 2TB Seagate external hard drive without any problems, and a 64GB Sandisk SD card. I did have to format the SD card in my computer first.
In this way, Synology have managed to provide the essentials that every user needs on the RT2600ac, while still giving more advanced users the ability to expand and get the most out of the device. I think it is a brilliant approach to such crucial hardware and it is one of the things I like most about the Synology router (the awesome Wi-Fi is, of course, the number one thing I like about it).
Remember that SD card slot I mentioned? You’re going to want to fill that. This is because Synology’s Package Center offers a range of software packages that expand the functionality of the Synology RT2600ac. The packages include Safe Access (although this comes preinstalled on the device), Treat Prevention, VPN Plus Server, Download Station, DNS Server, Cloud Station, Media Server and RADIUS Server. I was able to install VPN Plus Server without added storage, but other packages like Threat Prevention wouldn’t install until I inserted an SD card.
For the average home user, especially those of us with children, several of those expansions are worth exploring:
Perhaps the most important of these is Safe Access. I spoke about how good the app version of this was, but the features in the SRM version are amazingly comprehensive. Parents can customise this router to cater for just about any access requirement imaginable.
Profiles can be created for individual users, for the local network and for the guest Wi-Fi. Each profile can be named and a photo can be added for extra-easy identification. Several devices can be added to an individual profile, which means teenagers with multiple devices can have consistent boundaries set through a single profile.
Parents can set a detailed weekly schedule, with time allocated in 15 minute intervals. They can also set a time quota, which could be a general hours-per-day setup, or something more specific (more screen time on Saturdays, for example).
Web filters can be set to profiles, with premade filter options such as child (prevent children from accessing adult and illegal websites), employee (prevent employees from accessing chat software and social networks to improve productivity) and guest (prevent guests from accessing illegal websites). A custom option is also present, which enables a pretty specific level of control. Here you choose if you want the filter to be a block filter or an allow filter. If you set the filter to the allow option, then you need to add every domain you wish your child to be able to visit. That is a pretty intense level of filtering, but I can see its place. For example, I could grab my old phone and set it to a profile for my four year old daughter. She has negotiated a (very small) amount of screen time each day, so I could use a combination of quota and allow lists to give her access to YouTube for Kids and ABC iView, but nothing else.
Safe Search controls provide a further layer of control, with options to enable safe search modes in YouTube, Google and Bing searches.
VPN Plus Server
I wrote extensively about Synology VPN Plus Server recently, because amazingly, Synology have temporarily provided free licenses to their VPN Plus Server options (This special offer ends on September 30, 2020 (PDT)).
This is a generous move on Synology’s part to assist mainly small businesses that use Synology routers (new and existing customers) to deal with the challenges associated with COVID-19 and transitioning the workforce to a work-from-home environment.
While targeted at small businesses, this is also an offer that home users should consider taking advantage of. With many grandparents and other family members unable to visit, this is an excellent way to share large amounts of photos and home videos. Simply create a virtual network and provide relatives with access using the free VPN licenses. You could attach an external hard drive full of media directly to the RT2600ac, or use a Synology NAS to create an amazing home-media-sharing solution.
Threat Prevention guards the Synology RT2600ac against network threats. It identifies malicious packets to prevent the router from infection and data compromise.
Anything that makes my network and devices more secure is fine by me. In my observation, enabling Threat Prevention causes no noticeable impact to my network speed. It has been eye-opening to see the number of identified threats to my network over the past few days.
Media Server allows users to stream and play multimedia files from the Synology RT2600ac to compatible digital media adapters. It turns the Synology router into a basic NAS-like setup. You will need to add external storage to use Media Server. I attached a 2TB Seagate external drive and it worked like a charm, appearing immediately in my list of drives. I was able to format the Seagate drive from within the SRM, which made life easy.
This could be a great solution for anyone looking to easily store and share their media across their network, without the need for investment in a full-blown NAS. Those looking for more out of a NAS setup are better of exploring Synology’s extensive options.
I touched on this earlier, but it is worth going into a bit more detail here. Home (and office) mesh networks are becoming extremely popular, and for good reason. A good mesh network takes all of the pain out of setting up and managing consistent Wi-Fi access throughout the home. It is (by far) the best way to eliminate patchy connections and dead spots.
Basically, a mesh network is created by adding additional access points throughout the home. These access points expand the original network (rather than creating a secondary network) and are far more seamless than the old-fashioned, frustrating and disappointing Wi-Fi extenders. I have three Synology routers (the RT2600ac and two MR2200ac) throughout my home and the result is a single, incredibly strong and consistent Wi-Fi network.
Devices connect automatically to the most appropriate access point and mobile devices switch seamlessly as I move about the house. I have held video calls on my mobile phone in which I have moved throughout the house (kids love to show grandparents trinkets in every corner of the home!) and the Synology mesh network hasn’t missed a beat. The worst performance that I have measured using a speed test is around 34Mbps download, 11.9Mbps upload (a slight decrease from around 45Mbps down, 18Mbps up).
I have little doubt that mesh networks will soon be a standard feature of home internet setups. With strong Wi-Fi throughout the house now more important than ever, mesh networks are invaluable. It was a brilliant move by Synology to update the RT2600ac and make it mesh-enabled.
The sheer length of this review demonstrates that the Synology RT2600ac is fully-featured router that is well-suited to home and small business use. There is so much that this router can do in both environments to optimize internet use and protect users and networks. Yet, it is also a router that can be configured in a matter of minutes through a simple mobile interface. Those who chose to do so can tinker for hours, and those who wish to set-and-forget are catered for too.
It is absolutely brilliant work on Synology’s part, yet also hardly surprising. Synology consistently deliver products that respect the consumer and their commitment to ongoing development after a product’s release is admirable. The addition of mesh capability to the RT2600ac is the prime example of this and it puts the (already spectacular) Wi-Fi performance of the router in a space that no stand-alone device could possibly match. The Synology RT2600ac must be one of the most comprehensive and versatile router devices on the market.