The first router I saw was in the mid 1990s. The company I worked for was a very early adopter of the Internet, at least in the commercial world. After spending a couple of nights with the network manager and his technical support guy dragging Ethernet and coaxial cables through the office roof space we hooked everything up through a router that cost more than most of us earned that year. Today, more than 20 years later, a faster and more capable device costs less than a day's pay for some of us.
Synology's RT2600ac router, at a touch under $400 (if you pay full retail) lets you connect printers and external storage using USB, four devices over gigabit Ethernet, and wireless devices using 802.11 b/g/n/a/ac.
My home/office connection is via Bigpond Cable - the NBN is but a dream out my way. I disabled the routing features of the Bigpond-supplied modem/router, making into a simple cable modem.
I have a bunch of preferred network settings I like such as SSIDs, WPA 2 passphrases and a few other personal preferences around IP addressing. Unboxing the RT2600ac, attaching its four antennae and having it running with my preferred settings took about 15 minutes.
There's an option for creating a guest wireless network, which worked well when I tested it, although I disable it unless it's needed.
Synology has made their name in the NAS business and they are looking to expand into the rest of the network. With network hardware such as routers and NAS devices being commoditised Synology is endeavouring to stand out with their Synology Router Manager (SRM) software. Rather than presenting all the different settings as a confusing list of options, SRM looks like a computer operating system with a desktop, icons and windows.
When you think about it, a router is really a purpose-built computer. It takes an inbound Internet connection and distributes that to other devices. I remember effectively making a router by putting multiple NICs in a computer and using software to take the connection and share it.
SRM is Synology's major point of difference with other routers. As well as making setup and configuration straightforward, it allows you to install extra features - which in Synology-speak are called Packages.
Packages are router applications delviered through Synology's curated Package Center. I installed an IDS and there are others such as a VPN server, DNS server, RADIUS server and download manager. If you don't have a NAS, you can connect an external storage device to one of the RT2600ac's two USB ports and use the download manager to FTP or BitTorrent files without needing to leave a computer running.
Mac users can also use the RT2600ac as a Time Machine backup destination.
With wireless comms, the RT2600ac uses its four external antennae with MU-MIMO (multiple user multi-input/multi-output) radios. You can prioritise specific applications and devices by using the Quality of Service settings. On my home network with about 20 connected devices, I streamed movies from Netflix using an Apple TV as well as multiple high resolution YouTube streams on three computers at the same time.
Updating the RT2600ac's firmware is easy. You can manually check for updates yourself but I set the router to check for updates automatically and install them on Monday mornings at 3:00AM.
What don't I like?
The RT2600ac is quite large. This is not a router you can hide on a shelf or in a small space. It's 280mm wide and 240mm tall with the antennae extended. That might make it a little tricky to place in some homes or offices.
One of the challenges of testing network issues is that a failed or troublesome connection can be tricky to diagnose. I found one quite specific problem but I'm not convinced the RT2600ac is at fault. but as it's something I encountered I thought it was worth reporting.
While watching some streaming iTunes content and Netflix through an Apple TV 3, I would sometimes get dropouts. My suspicion is the issue is with the Apple TV but I was not able to isolate the specific issue.
Would I buy the Synology RT2600ac?
I'd give a conditional yes. My biggest issue isn't one of function, or even form despite the device's large footprint. It's the price. An RRP of $400 is quit high. And while that can be justified on the basis of function and performance, router technology is moving forward quite quickly. We can expect 802.11ah next year and 802.11HaLow devices as well.
That means a router upgrade could be on the cards next year. And while the Synology RT2600ac won't suddenly become useless, it will be overtaken.
If you're planning to hang on to most of your end-point devices for another couple of years the Synology RT2600ac makes sense. But if you're planning to upgrade some hardware next year, I'd probable wait and see what comes ext year when 802.11ah comes to the market.