Review: Synology RT1900ac router

Form meets function with comprehensive router management solutions – including restrictions on bandwidth-hungry apps – in a surprisingly sleek machine

This is a device you wouldn’t mind on your desk. With its sleek edges and minimalist dark tone, the RT1900ac router from Synology looks cooler than most. But there’s plenty of function to match the Batman-styled form of this device. Whether lying flat on its back or standing up, it’s easy to picture this router anywhere from the corner of a CTO’s desk to your hipster aunt’s living room.

The antennas support MIMO, a technology that allows for transferring multiple streams of data

Synology RT1900ac router
The RT1900ac: as sleek as they come. It has an SD card reader and USB input for file sharing

Under the hood

The RT1900ac runs on a dual-core 1GHz processor powered by 256MB of DDR3 RAM. It offers dual-band Wi-Fi (2.4/5.0GHz) and a trio of antennas that are screwed onto the rear of the device. The antennas also support MIMO wireless technology to transfer more data at the same time. As you can see in the above image, there is an SD card reader and USB slot on the side of the router for easy file sharing.

Your average router broadcasts its wireless signals in all directions at the same time. It matters not whether your smartphone and PS4 are north or southwest of the wireless device – it fires these signals all over the place in a scattergun manner like a crazed Broforce protagonist. Synology’s device, however, has Beamforming technology up its sleeve. This puts down the omnidirectional signal-blaster shotgun and picks up a Wi-Fi sniper rifle – it fires signals at up to six supported devices, which enjoy reduced latency and superior wireless range. Additionally, the router economises power consumption.

Synology RT1900ac
Beamforming means that individual devices get their own signal. This extends wireless range while cutting down on latency and router power consumption

Aside from Wi-Fi focused on specific devices, the RT1900ac also packs in a Smart WAN feature. I’ve been frustrated on numerous occasions when beginning to download an 80GB AAA game on my PS4 in the morning, coming home from work in the evening only to find the download has paused due to a dropped connection. Smart WAN uses failover to soften such blows. Should your ISP experience a temporary outage for whatever reason, network traffic falls onto a secondary interface. Meanwhile, the load balancing option lets users pick the percentage of bandwidth allocated to each of the five individual gigabit ports at the device’s rear. In this case, I’d let the PS4 enjoy the lion’s share of bandwidth – especially during a Doom multiplayer session – while leaving the wireless with 40 per cent, which is more than sufficient for smartphone browsing and a bit of WhatsApp. This allocation, among other things, is managed via Synology Router Manager.

Synology RT1900ac
The back of the router has one WAN and four LAN gigabit ports

Software makes the difference

Synology Router Manager is what you use to setup the router in the first time. Open a browser on your Windows PC or Mac and visit Router.synology.com. What shows up isn’t a typical menu set of options for managing you see when typing in a router’s IP address; it’s an operating system. Yep, a desktop with icons shows up inside your browser. And this desktop-in-your-desktop lets you users do a number of things.

Synology Router Management offers an OS within your browser
Synology Router Management (SRM) offers an OS within your browser. You can do everything from filtering out rogue IP addresses to managing a VPN protocol and adjusting permissions to a network-attached storage device

You can manage settings to block specific websites and IP addresses through parental control and security; apply VPN protocols; study detailed traffic reports on a daily, weekly and monthly basis; adjust access permissions to a network-attached storage device (such as the WD My Cloud EX2 Ultra we recently reviewed); manage and route traffic to and from specific devices (see loud balancing above); enable a firewall; and manipulate bandwidth to specific applications (e.g. more for Chrome, less for Steam when work needs to be done).

Can’t be bothered to turn the computer on? A simpler interface is available through the App Store and Google Play for managing the RT1900ac from a smartphone or tablet. The apps, which are identically designed on iOS and Android, offer a pared down offering of everything listed above.

Intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDS and IPS) help me worry a little less about my McAfee subscription having expired a couple of days ago. Like a vigilant customs official, IPS studies data packets to proactively determine whether they’re malicious – which means your antivirus software can put its feet up. If IPS is at the frontline of the War on Malware, IDS is high command, studying traffic and manipulating security rules to prevent future threats.

Synology RT1900ac
The iOS and Android (pictured) apps offer a pared down version of the SRM experience

Final thoughts

The best thing about the Synology RT1900ac router would have to be its versatility. It didn’t match the range we had with the Linksys device, but it certainly offers a more robust management interface than the EA9500. The software can be used by amateurs and pros alike, and that’s great.

However, people who don’t understand how to make the most of the many features here may be better off looking at something simpler.

That said, this versatile router more than delivers what it says on the tin – and at Dh650, you won’t find many devices that offer these many features.

Synology RT1900ac