We've all struggled with online gaming while a friend or family member is downloading a bunch of data, or with Skype chats that drop out intermittently for no apparent reason. Synology's RT1900ac router lets you organise just about every aspect of your home's wired or Wi-Fi network, down to specific devices, specific Web addresses and specific speeds. If you want to make sure your Xbox or Playstation is getting a straight pipe to the 'net, or if you want to stop your kids from looking at Facebook on their laptops after 10PM, this is the device you need in the middle of your house.
What Is It?
- Processor: Broadcom BCM58622, 1.0GHz
- RAM: 256MB
- Wi-Fi Speed: AC1900, 802.11n 600Mbps +802.11ac 1300Mbps
- Storage: 128MB ROM
The $229 Synology RT1900ac is an AC1900 router, as the name might suggest — it's capable of a combined 1900Mbps transfer rate across the 1300Mbps-capable 802.11ac 5GHz band and 600Mbps-capable 802.11n 2.4GHz band. Three high-gain antennas should make for a reasonably wide Wi-Fi coverage area, if competing products like the Asus RT-AC87U are any indication. Four gigabit Ethernet LAN ports and one gigabit WAN port make for a pretty standard connectivity suite, but it's the Synology Router Manager web-based user interface that is its real attraction.
Because the Synology RT1900ac is built on roughly the same software basis as the company's DiskStation network-attached storage devices; instead of DiskStation Manager (DSM), it has Synology Router Manager (SRM). SRM is a Windows-esque interface that runs through a Web browser, and is a straightforward portal to everything that you'd normally do with a router — setting up Wi-Fi, scheduling internet access times and checking currently connected devices — but it also does a lot more.
Synology Router Manager is almost a carbon copy of the company's own Diskstation Manager for its NAS line-up, and a lot of the same features are available. The File Station service lets users access files from any locally-attached storage drive connected to the RT1900ac — there's a side-mounted USB 3.0 port and SD card reader. You can install separate services like a DLNA media server or a VPN server or client through the Package Center application.
The RT1900ac has a huge range of network monitoring features, including real-time traffic statistics for different devices differentiated by MAC address, as well as traffic, bandwidth and quota scheduling by time of day, category of website or category of web traffic — P2P, for example, can be restricted or blocked entirely. Synology's products are also incredibly easy to access over the internet through the company's QuickConnect portal, so remote monitoring is possible.
What's It Good At?
When it comes to monitoring the traffic that's running through your home Wi-Fi network, the Synology RT1900ac reigns supreme. I've never seen a home- or small business-focused Wi-Fi router that has quite so much detail about the traffic travelling through its network ports or wireless antennae. It's most easy to delineate devices by their unique MAC addresses — and it's pretty easy to tie those MAC addresses to specific devices on your network, if you don't already have that information close to hand — and the level of data is intense.
With the RT1900ac, you can see exactly when an iPad pings Facebook for a page refresh, for example, and see in aggregate how much data it has uploaded to or drawn down from Facebook over any given time period. It's genuinely easy through the Network Center application to assign specific parental controls — like Web address or schedule restrictions — or to set specific devices as high or low priority for overall bandwidth, where you can also set minimum and maximum available bandwidth amounts per device. Having this kind of granularity is super helpful if you're like me and have dozens of different devices on your network, some of which are very important (hello, LG WebOS TV that I watch Netflix through) and some that aren't important at all (hello, iPad that sits by my bed).
The network coverage of the Synology RT1900ac is pretty good; it doesn't have quite the wide 2.4GHz dispersion of the Linksys WRT-1900AC or Netgear's 1900Mbps R7000 Nighthawk, but at closer range its 802.11ac transmission power means strong, fast connection speeds and sustained transmissions. File transfers over 802.11n were roughly on par with competitors; the RT1900ac certainly sits near the top of its class and is quite close in performance to the best of the best. You won't be disappointed if you have other 1900Mbps-capable devices.
Synology RT1900ac: Performance
Wireless: 802.11ac, 2m: 98MBps 802.11ac, 10m: 86MBps 802.11ac, 15m: 63MBps 802.11n 5GHz, 2m: 51MBps 802.11n 5GHz, 10m: 50MBps 802.11n 5GHz, 15m: 41MBps 802.11n 2.4GHz, 2m: 39MBps 802.11n 2.4GHz, 10m: 37MBps 802.11n 2.4GHz, 15m: 30MBps USB 3.0: 1GB: 29MBps 5GB: 29MBps USB 2.0: 1GB: 23MBps 5GB: 23MBps
And, being a Synology device, the RT1900ac's remote performance is brilliant. You can use the browser-based QuickConnect service — just navigate to quickconnect.to on any tablet, laptop or desktop PC that's connected to the internet — to view the RT1900ac's user interface, or you can use any one of Synology's range of excellent DS Router or DS File apps to access the router through an Android or iOS mobile device. I've always liked being able to check in on my router remotely, and Synology's interface makes that extremely straightforward.
What's It Not Good At?
The webpage for the Synology Router Manager interface is quite heavy, especially on older Web browsers. If you're in Microsoft's Edge browser in Windows 10 it's actually quite snappy, but even in updated Chrome and Firefox I found significant slowdowns when transitioning from the SRM login screen to the main page, and similarly when loading more complex SRM services like Media Server or VPN Server. It's not possible to load on a smartphone, either — you'll have to use the DS Router app for iOS or Android for that.
This is a reasonably small concern considering that Synology has proven its skills running relatively powerful operating systems with small amounts of RAM on its DiskStation devices, but the RT1900ac pairs its proven and powerful 1GHz Broadcom BCM58622 processor with only 256MB of DDR3 RAM. I didn't experience any during my testing, but there's a possibility that heavy multi-tasking — like transcoding a file using Media Server, while simultaneously transferring a large amount of data over the network interface — may slow things to a crawl.
While the Synology RT1900ac has an onboard SD card slot and USB 3.0 port, I've found its support for larger capacity SD cards and USB flash drives to be sketchy at best. exFAT drives aren't supported at all; a new Lexar 128GB SD card, a 128GB Toshiba USB flash drive and a 64GB Samsung SD card were all entirely nonresponsive with the RT1900ac's various inputs. FAT32 and NTFS formats are fine, but that restricts the maximum size of the files that you might want to access; so no Ultra HD movie rips over DLNA through the RT1900ac, which is a pity. Synology's support for 3G and 4G dongles on that USB port, too, is bad enough to not be worth considering at all.
And, of course, the fact that the the Synology RT1900ac is entirely average in its Wi-Fi networking range is probably going to be a downside for any Australian house that's larger than an apartment. This is where network extenders come into play — and there are some great ones on the market, including Netgear's 802.11ac-compatible EX6200 — but it's a pity that the RT1900ac doesn't have quite the range of its equal-spec Netgear or Linksys competitors.
Should You Buy It?
For the sub-$250 price tag that Synology is asking for for the RT1900ac, you're getting a hell of a lot of router. It's not the most attractive model out there nor the absolute fastest, but it's perfectly competitive within its 1900Mbps (combined) weight class, and it's at least $50 cheaper than the Netgear Nighthawk R7000 and Linksys WRT-1900AC. These three models are broadly comparable in specification, but you're both saving money and getting a larger, more useful feature-set with the entrance of the RT1900ac.
- Excellent interface.
- Great traffic monitoring.
- Versatile per-device management.
- Interface requires a tablet or PC.
- Some RAM issues.
- Minor SD/USB file format issues.
Where the Synology sets itself apart is with a Web interface that looks just like the Windows or OS X operating system that you're almost certainly going to be viewing it on. You can download and install apps through Synology's Package Center, like Media Server to distribute locally-stored media files through the RT1900ac's USB 3.0 port or VPN Server to set up your own secure networking environment. The features of the RT1900ac far outweigh its price tag; there are even apps that suit business users.
It's the networking and internet monitoring features of the RT1900ac that'll make geeks swoon, though. To be honest, there isn't a huge and pressing reason for any home user to have these handy, but you can't deny that it's incredibly useful to be able to monitor the network and internet throughput of your home network, and of the individual devices within it. Whether it's being able to see just how much data is being uploaded and downloaded, or the specific sites that that data is being used on, that power is great.
With that in mind, the Synology RT1900ac is a networking nerd's dream. Having all that data at your fingertips is incredibly useful when it comes to tracking down what device or service is using the lion's share of data in your home network — especially if you're stuck on a restricted ADSL2+ connection, where both upload and download speeds are precious. Within your house, it's rock solid when it comes to 802.11ac Wi-Fi, with good speeds and equally good coverage. The RT1900ac comes highly recommended.
We tested this device and wrote this review on Gizmodo's 2016 gaming PC: a machine built with the help of ASUS, Intel and Corsair. The PC runs on an Asus Maximus VIII Gene motherboard, an Intel Core i7-6700K CPU, Corsair Ballistix DDR4 memory and a Samsung 950 Pro solid-state drive.