When an established Network Attached Storage company turn their hand to creating a SoHo router using the same basic principles and dedication, what can we expect?
With thanks to Synology, DigitalReviews get to review the Synology RT1900ac Router – a high-speed wireless router designed for homes and offices.
As far as router design goes, the RT1900ac can easily blend in with the rest of the market. An non-descriptive matte black affair with the Synology name dominating the front fascia. The main differentiator being the two feet on the back to help angle the unit for improved cooling.
The front panel also hosts the LED indicators – power, WiFi, WAN and four Ethernet ports. An eject button for the SDXC card slot which is located to the right side of the device next to the solitary USB 3.0 port.
A stand is bundled in with the packaging allowing for the RT1900ac to be positioned vertically. The downside of this is that the cables will come in from the top and unless you are a top rated cable management person it will inevitably end up looking pretty messy.
Under the hood the heart of the RT1900ac is the Broadcom BCM58622 chipset, a dual core 1GHz ARM Cortez A9 CPU with 256MB of RAM and 4GB of internal storage (eMMC). Alongside the CPU are two Broadcom BCM43460 wireless radios – one each dedicated for Wi-Fi an+ac and 802.11 b/g/n, both offering 3×3:3 MIMO configuration. Delivered by three omni-directional antennae, the 5GHz channel is capable of 1300Mbps and the 2.4GHz channel 600Mbps with a combined throughput of 1900Mbps. A physical switch is available to turn on/off WiFi without needing to log into the web interface.
Installing the RT1900ac is pretty straightforward. As long as power and WAN cables are plugged in, all you need to do is browse to router.synology.com to get on with the configuration. A wizard takes you through the initial configuration with all the basics – admin account and SSID settings. A decision needs to be made to use the device as a standard router, access point or wireless client mode. One the wizard is complete, the router will be accessible via the Synology Router Manager (SRM) web interface. For those who are familiar with the Synology Diskstation interface, the SRM (Synology Router Manager) will be a snap.
A big plus here for the RT1900ac is that the wizard forces you to create a password for the router. In this day and age it still amazes me how often I come across unsecured devices.
An interesting bug, or design flaw during the configuration wizard phase is that it refuses my WiFi password due to non-alphanumeric characters in the string. In order to get around that I had to put in a temporarily password that meets the alphanumeric requirement and then changing it later via SRM. Incidentally SRM happily accepts a complex password for WiFi.
Once this is done, the RT1900ac is effectively ready for use as a simple WiFi router. However, the unit is capable of so much more.
Digging a little deeper, the SRM offers a number of features as can be expected from a Disktation based firmware. The first icon on the SRM desktop is the Network Center. Launch it brings up the Status page giving a high level view of the router status – Internet Connection, WiFi on both channels and a live graphical chart of the upload and download traffics. This screen allows the ability to turn off each WiFi channel independently.
The bottom half of this panel gives quick access to the Device List, which is a list of devices known to the RT1900ac and their connect bandwidth utilisation. Current CPU and Memory utilisation are both available as live charts.
The Wireless configuation tab offers the expected options, notably it allows for scheduling of WiFi for each channel independently. Whilst USB 3.0 port is provided, it is well documented that it will interfere with 2.4GHz WiFi and there is an option to automatically downgrade the port to USB 2.0 to reduce the interference. Guest WiFi networks can be configured for either channel or both. Local network access via the guest WiFi network is a all or nothing deal though, it is either denied or allowed. In other words, you cannot set for example, 5GHz guest WiFi with local network access whilst denying the same to the 2.4GHz. Guest WiFi networks can be time bombed to auto turn off.
The Internet configuration tab offers along side the usual suspects, IPTV & VoIP settings and VPN support. VPN support here is purely to function as a VPN client dialing into a remote server, an immensely useful feature if you have a single concurrent connection account and want to share it across your network (thanks Australian metadata retention legislation). There is DDNS support, or if you are not already a DDNS user, Synology QuickConnect to allow yourself easy connection to your router from anywhere.
One of the features I really looked forward to trying is the Parental Control. The question of how to manage Internet content and access effectively with two young kids has been on my mind for a while, especially now that my older one just started Prep.
Parental Control comprises of two components – schedule and web-filter.
Scheduling provides an easy means of controlling internet access time based on device MAC. This is easily chosen from the dropdown box of known devices (or manually entered) along with the blocks of time allowed or blocked. The time allowed is limited to hourly blocks. After the creation of the device scheduling, the web-filter level can be applied.
Web-filter can either be whitelist or blacklist based. Whitelist is a manual edit of the allow list which can be handy with total control of what you would allow access to. Other options include basic block access to known malicious websites, protected access blocks known malicious and adult-only websites. Lastly there is a custom block access where you need to select pre-determined categories with customisation allowed for ones that slip through the net. The filter list is based on this source.
Traffic Control is one of the more intuitive configuration screens I have seen for a while. A list of known devices along with their IP address is listed. Next to them are icons for enabling or disabling one of these four options: Beamforming, Banned, Custom Speed and High Priority. Up to 6 devices can be enabled for beamforming and up to 3 can be assigned high priority.
File Station utilises storage connected to the USB port. Right clicking a folder permits both external and internal file sharing links that can be time bombed. SRM will automatically generate an Internet enabled linked based on the DDNS settings. Storage can be controlled by internal Access Control List with built in support for both Windows and Mac. And yes, it supports Bonjour Printer Broadcast (pet peeve of this writer).
Speaking of printers, SRM supports network (IP) printers and Google Cloud Print.
Also deserving a mention, the LED lights can be scheduled to be turned on and off or just permanently off except for status LED.
While Synology Router Manager forces the creation of administrator credentials at the wizard phase, there is also a bundled security advisor that can be configured to perform security baseline checks for either home and personal use, or for work and business. Scans can be scheduled on a weekly basis. It provides an easy way to see if your router meets the minimum security requirements for your use. A list of items it checks is available within the application.
Just like DiskStation, SRM supports the installing of additional packages. Five are available at the current time: Download Station, Media Server, VPN Server, DNS Server and RADIUS Server.
Download station allows download of files through BitTorrent, FTP, HTTP, NZB, Thunder, FlashGet, QQDL and eMule. It can also subscribe to RSS feeds and auto unzip compressed files so that they are ready for use.
Media Server provides a multimedia server to browse and play multimedia content via DLNA/uPNP devices.
VPN Server turns the RT1900ac into a VPN server supporting PPTP, OpenVPN and L2TP/IPSec services.
Given the potential of the unit, 256MB of RAM is a bit on the low side. Considering that it is designed to run a number of task intensive packages such as Media Server and VPN server, it really should be doubled to even begin with.
The interface can be fairly intensive to use, and really difficult to use on a phone. A PC or a tablet is pretty much the way to go.
5GHz WiFi range is moderate.
Vertical orientation or wall mount is impractical with cable points at the top of the unit.
The Synology RT1900ac came into my life seamlessly and stayed. The cutover time to swap out my existing equipment and getting the Synology up and running is literally minutes. Yes I did spend additional time exploring all the features and options, but to go from zero to operational was a breeze.
The 2.4GHz range blew away my need for a repeater down in my room where it has always been problematic to sustain enough signal for decent speed. My range extender is powered down and out down this end of the house. 5GHz range is adequate to decent. When I am working within range of it then it is fantastic for speed.
My inner geek drools at the networking and Internet monitoring capabilities of the unit. It is incredibly useful, to the point of overwhelming, the ability to easily monitor each individual devices for bandwidth usage or specific site where data is used. For what I envisage to manage the complex world of child Internet access I am embarking on, the Synology RT1900ac is exactly what I need.
The Synology RT1900ac is available for around AUD$200. It is not the cheapest nor the best raw performing router out there, but the granular control and visibility into your network is nothing short of amazing.
CPU Model: Dual core 1.0 GHz
Memory: 256 MB DDR3
Antenna type: 3×3 MIMO Omni-directional high-gain dipole (2.4GHz / 5GHz)
Antenna gain: 2.4GHz 3.5dBi, 5GHz 4.6dBi
LAN port: Gigabit (RJ-45) x 4
WAN port: Gigabit (RJ-45) x 1
– USB 3.0 x 1 (5V, 1.5A power output)
– SD card reader x 1 (SDXC UHS-I, SDHC)
Button and switch: WPS, USB/SD eject, Power, Reset, Wi-Fi On/Off
Size (Height x Width x Depth): 66 mm x 206 mm x 160 mm (without antenna)
Weight: 0.51 kg
AC Input Power Voltage: 100V to 240V AC
Power Frequency: 50/60 Hz, Single Phase
– 10.82 W (Access)
– 7.45 W (Idle)
Operating Temperature: 5°C to 40°C (40°F to 104°F)
Storage Temperature: -20°C to 60°C (-5°F to 140°F)
Relative Humidity: 5% to 95% RH
Full specifications here.