Duanne Ginger had a Commodore 64 as a kid. One with a disk drive. As the internet evolved from FTP and Netscape 1.0. to mobile and apps, Duanne was the guy asked to fix everything technological. But those days are gone, and after a decade of work and family, Duanne has joined the ranks of ‘regular’ users of technology.
"I don’t think I am any different to any of the other office workers next to me on the train playing with their new Apple or Samsung device," Duanne says. But as one of the winners of our recent Synology RTI900ac competition, Duanne took the device through its paces for us. This is his in-depth review.
Like most people, I am immersed in technology all day, every day. Every piece of work I do is on a computer, all my photos are stored on a hard drive. On those days where the work network is down or my telco has an outage, I really think that perhaps the world could end if the internet as we know it was to go away! As quick as the kids are picking up how to use tech, I’m still the one who has to restart the router, hook up some media to the TV/DVD or give a visitor our home WiFi password. I think that probably makes me a competent regular user in the wider world, and a low-end Gizmodo tech person.
Our tech set up is pretty normal as far as I can tell:
- WiFi modem router (an old iiNet Bob2, which I think is starting to slowly die)
- A couple of laptops and a desktop PC (and a Macbook Air for the oldest daughter starting high school this year).
- Lots of tablets and connected devices (two iPads, a windows tablet, two iPods, a Chromecast and an old Blu-Ray player with DLNA capability and some limited YouTube capability).
- Three mobile phones, one of which seems to be constantly connected to Instagram and YouTube.
- Everything is connected via WiFi, except the old desktop PC which is connected via Netcomm powerline adapters (I just can't convince the missus that it’s time to let go of the old box and get a modern laptop).
The $229 Synology RT1900ac is a high-speed AC1900 router -- 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.
Four Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports and one Gigabit WAN port will satisfy your connectivity needs. 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.
Streaming is a breeze, and you can also play content from external storage, on a DLNA compatible TV or media player. It's perfect for gaming, too, since you can prioritise bandwidth to the devices you need the most. So you won't be able to blame it on the lag anymore.
What Is It?
I don’t really understand the attraction of unboxing videos so I’ll just provide passing comment here. Everything was well packaged and secure, the box was sturdy and undamaged, all parts were in good condition when I pulled them out of the box. The box itself is rather plain and looks like a product intended for business purchase and not retail (the box isn’t as shiny as something you’d see on a shelf at JB Hi-Fi or Harvey Norman). This probably reflects the intended end user, which I expect is a small business or tech-savvy individual.
I found setup relatively painless. I am not fast with this stuff -- and I tend to read first before just winging it -- but it really was pretty easy:
- 9pm -- started setup
- Read basic instruction info
- Assembled parts (very simple, just screw in the antennae) and connect to my existing modem
- Powered up the device
- Connected laptop to router easily with ethernet cable
- I Couldn’t connect via WiFi (didn’t see the WiFi on/off button on the side of the device until later)
- Logged on, set up admin and SSID names/passwords
- Downloaded and installed updates
- 10:10pm finished
The majority of the time was spent downloading updates and restarting the machine. I’m sure I could do it all in 30-40 minutes next time.
Since it's been set up I have not had any issues. No mysterious drop outs or restarts, no heating issues, and it’s quiet.
What’s It Like?
I’m used to basic modem/router wizard or toolbox screens, so the user interface on the Synology 1900ac was a nice surprise. It is clean, easy and friendly. There are a few navigational quirks (for example you need to hit the button on the top left that kinda looks like the Windows Start button to bring up main actions and menus), but overall it was well laid out and clear after a minute or two.
I haven’t downloaded torrents in a couple of years. With Spotify and even Apple iTunes, I find I have almost all I want. So I cant see massive benefits from the Download Station.
Maybe I can set up some RSS feeds and get some podcasts stored, but without doing a massive amount of torrenting, this is just a nice side feature for me and not a key benefit.
Setting up Media Server was easy – using it on my ‘smart’ Blu-Ray player – not so. The player did not detect the DLNA server. Although I suspect this is not the fault of the Synology router!
The File Station is really useful for someone like me. To have my library of movies and music available on any device in the house at any time is great. I know this is common and has been available on modem/routers for an eternity, but it’s really the first time I’ve tried it.
I have Season 1 of Justified on an old USB thumb drive and was able to plug it into the router, enable file services, and stream Episode 1 to my iPhone using one of the Synology apps (DS File).
To be honest, it took me a few minutes to set up, but worked flawlessly once I had it going.
The Synology router comes with several apps.
This little app is a light interface into the router, really simple but quite useful for basic users like me. It allows a basic view of my connection, any errors or notifications, connected USB or networked devices, and basic usage figures.
The app allows a few things to be changed like device priority -- I was able to give my iPhone and the wife’s PC high priority and reduce my daughter’s iPhone and the family iPad. I won't tell the kids if you don’t! I was even able to schedule internet access (or in reality turn access off for periods of time) for my kid’s devices.
The fact I can do this from my lounge with an iPhone is pretty handy.
Just as simple as the DS Router is the DS File -- giving me the ability to look through files on attached storage devices from my iPhone. Streaming video, looking through pics, pulling up work document -- everything was easy and intuitive.
Performance around the House
Now this is where I was really hoping to get an improvement from the Synology 1900ac over my iiNet Bob2. I didn’t test throughput/speed but was more interested in signal strength as there are a number of dead spots in the house from my old modem / router. To test strength I used a free program called WiFi Analyser from the Windows store.
I started testing immediately adjacent the old and new router. The signal strength was markedly higher from the Synology router than the old Bob 2:
In the living room, where everything gets used -- laptops, iPads, phones, plus my old ‘smart’ Blu-Ray player and Chromecast, signal strength was much improved over the old router.
Signal strength used to be a bit better in my main bedroom than other parts of the house. This is simply due to the position of the old router right outside the bedroom door. Whilst signal strength is improved here, other parts of the house now have improved coverage also, so my family can’t complain too much.
My son’s room showed marginal improvement. I’m not too concerned here really as in reality I’d love to turn zones of the house off and force my kids back into the lounge, dining and communal parts of the house. Anyway, there was some improvement so I suppose the 1900ac is a little better than the old router.
Now this was the pleasant surprise -- signal strength was really good out on my back veranda where normally it’s been patchy. Before it was ok to check emails on my phone, but useless for Spotify, and forget streaming video. Well it’s great now, and I tested it out watching Ricky Gervais’ opening address at the Golden Globes on YouTube. The router and Ricky were great.
Should You Buy It?
My experience with the Synology 1900ac has been great. Setup was simple, interacting with the device reasonably intuitive and performance has been outstanding -- a strong, stable signal and greatly increased range over my old device. The extras that allow for easy filtering and time limiting are easy to use and are a feature the wife and I have been thinking about for some time.
There are far more features in this device than I will ever need. I don’t intend to set up a NAS or to enable funky configurations. I simply need stable and strong access to the internet throughout the family home. On that level the device is a major improvement over my old set up and I’m very happy with the Synology router.
The question of whether or not I’d buy one is interesting. Normally I have had combination modem/routers instead of separate devices. There are pros and cons with going for combined or separate setups – I think in my case a combination device is most suitable. However, now that I have a great little router I will be looking for a good modem to replace my Bob2, and I can simply look for the best modem and not worry about its routing or WiFi performance. I think I have crossed over into the two-device set up world, but I suppose only time will tell if I stay here.
Value is an interesting question also. The router is not cheap, but I think it is reasonably priced given its performance, ease of use and extensive features. I think in a small business set up this is a great device, in a residential basic user set up I think most will go for a combination modem/router for around the same price as this stand-alone router. How does this compare for higher-end home users looking at Nighthawk R7000 or similar? I can’t really say -- but I can definitely give my support to the Synology router and I will note that the Synology router is significantly cheaper than the Nighthawk.
My family and I are probably not the target market for this device. I would pitch this at a group that straddled small business and high-end personal users. There is a lot that this device can do and it looks like it will shine in a situation where a lot of downloading is required and a lot of data sharing and streaming is needed.
It’s pretty easy to be converted when given a nice gift, like I was when I was selected to review the device. But even recognising that, I have to say that I’m a convert. It’s a good product, and I’m happy to have it in my house. Thank you Synology for developing a great device that is user friendly, and thanks Gizmodo for the chance to review it, and thereby improve my home network!