NAS device manufacturer extraordinaire Synology have chosen to branch out of the cozy confines of their network attached storage world into the harsh wilderness of wireless routers.
In what at first might seem like a bit of an odd turn, if you give it enough thought it actually makes a lot of sense: Synology’s core product range is only as strong as the routers they connect to, particularly when it comes to streaming content such as video or music.
The RT1900AC is their blatant attempt to cut out the middle men - hello, Linksys and Netgear - and give their customers a one-stop solution. Let’s see if it passes muster
Hey, dull looking
One thing’s certain, if Synology is trying to play with the Wi-Fi big boys, they’ve got the look down pat. While the likes of Google and Eero are redefining router design with mesh networks and looks that won’t want to make you to hide them in a cupboard, Synology have opted go for the standard-issue threatening black box with enormous antennas protruding from the rear style. Hey, it’s worked up until now for everyone else, so why not?
To differentiate itself slightly, the RT1900AC has a pair of feet fixed to its back that help raise it a couple of inches from the ground - whether that’s to make it look even more threatening or to provide a bit of ventilation (routers get warm, and this one is no exception) we can’t be too sure, but its probably a mixture of both.
As much as we might whinge about the look of the antennas, they do, of course, serve a purpose. This trio of pointy bits offer up Wi-Fi in both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, while Synology’s Beamforming tech allows the device to reduce latency and improve signal range by focusing its efforts towards six supported devices.
Under the hood, the RT1900ac boasts a dual-core 1GHz processor and 256MB of DDR3 RAM, making it equally as powerful as its rivals.
In a nod to its network assisted storage roots, we also like the inclusion of a USB port and SD card slot on the side of the router. This allows you to easily plug in an external HDD or your camera's memory card, and quickly share content across your network.
This effectively allows you to create a NAS for far less than the cost of one of Synology’s other products. It even works like them, allowing you to download various apps from the Synology store opening up the potential for building your own media server, VPN server or a whole host of other possibilities.
Setting up the RT1900ac was a breeze. After plugging it into your home network, you simply visit router.synology.com in a browser on a PC connected to its network and you’re guided through a easy-to-follow setup wizard.
Once you’ve set your SSID and password, you’re presented with a GUI that resembles a standard PC desktop. This is a nice touch that could be helpful to users who are normally intimidated by the plethora of menus that one can easily lose themselves in when setting up a router. You can even create shortcuts for setting that you use often for quicker access.
Of course for those that like to dig deep, the usual options are all there to play with. That includes port forwarding, IPv6 support, DMZ and the ability to lord it over any visitors by setting up a guest network. You won’t want for options, and Synology also offers a dedicated iOS and Android app that, while not as fully fledged as the web interface, will still allow you to check in and change some things such as security setting and parental controls if you’re not near a PC.
What's the frequency, Kenneth?
All of this is for naught, however, if you can’t confidently stream cat videos to your tablet from every corner of your apartment. In our test, we placed the RT1900ac in the living room of a 900sq ft 1 bedroom duplex apartment, where normally we have to hard-wire a secondary router to boost signal upstairs.
While the RT1900ac did manage to pass off a 2.4GHz signal easily enough upstairs for simple web browsing on both mobile and laptop, it struggled to stream video content from an attached HDD to the upstairs TV without constant buffering. This is not a complete surprise considering the concrete that separates the two floors of the apartment - but it is a good indicator that if you live in a large concrete house, you may want to keep the option of signal boosting in mind. Sadly, the 5GHz signal didn’t even make it upstairs outside of the top of the stairwell.
Downstairs everything was pretty much as expected: multiple devices connected without incident, and even during peak traffic times - HD video streaming to the downstairs TV, music streaming via Sonos and 3 separate mobile devices all streaming YouTube - the RT1900ac performed admirably with minimum hiccups.
Synology RT1900ac Verdict
With the RT1900ac Synology are on the right path to controlling the whole NAS experience for their customers. Thanks to an easy-to-use interface and app support, you can easily build a decent home networking solution that isn’t cobbled together from composite parts and that’s a real bonus.
Unfortunately, the signal on this particular model isn’t anything exceptional, particularly at range, and therefore could present problems for users who live in larger houses. If the NAS functionality is something you simply must have though, for the price we wouldn’t be adverse to suggesting hard-wiring two of these bad boys together so you can guarantee coverage across the whole of your living space.