Those of you who already have a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device at home may be familiar with Synology - even if you don't have one of their NAS devices. The company has been in this market for a while and their NAS devices are well know for a combination of web-based user interface, robust operating system and a number of software packages that expand the basic functionality with features you could only dream on a highly-specialised IT firm.
The company has brought these concepts into the SOHO network router market, a segment crowded with well-established competitors.
Its Synology RT1900ac is a high speed router with ethernet and WiFi capabilities that provides so much flexibility it's easy to think of it as a smaller NAS with baked-in routing capabilities.
As I write this I have the Synology router connected to my Ultra Fast Broadband (UFB) connection at home. Not only it is connected to a fibre service, but it's working on a 1Gbps/1Gbps symmetrical connection, and doing a great job at this, even with multiple devices connected an active at the same time.
With support for both 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless networks, the Synology RT1900ac allows me to configure our home network in a way that minimises interference from our neighbour's own WiFi network. Plus with its 5GHz beam forming feature you can almost certainly guarantee good performance to specific devices. The router supports 802.11a/b/g/n/ac with speeds of up to 1300 Mbps (5GHz) or 600 Mbps (2.4GHz). You can have up to 70 concurrent devices connected via WiFi and according to documentation up to 40 of those can be concurrently transmitting data.
Although I haven't tested there's support for 3G/4G USB modem adapters to be used as fallback.
Gigabit ethernet ports and the wireless networks are standard network features. What really makes the Synology RT1900ac shine is the software capabilities.
First of all the software is really easy to use. Instead of web-pages like the ones we see in other routers, the user interface creates a desktop on your browser, with windows that you can move around, even working on multiple windows side-by-side.
You can use their download centre to install more software - in my case I installed the VPN server package that allows me to run a L2TP VPN (also available are OpenVPN and PPTP options). The L2TP VPN is more secure than PPTP and doesn't require a client software like the OpenVPN option. My interest on this VPN was mainly for use when connected to unsecure networks outside my house - I can safely browse and use Internet services with all the data traffic going through an encrypted tunnel via my home connection. Having a high speed fibre connection plus a high speed router gives me a secure connection with low impact on browsing speeds.
It not only runs a VPN server but the router itself can be configured to connect to an external VPN that is shared with all devices in the internal network.
Other interesting feature is the two factor authentication, based on a time-based authenticator algorithm (which is compatible with Google Authenticator and Authy for example). You can use this to add another level of security preventing access to the router's configuration page to those without the authenticator.
You can plug a USB3-based storage device or printer to share on your network. You also have a SD card slot so you can load photos and videos directly from that kind of media. Although the device sharing is remarkably similar to the NAS implementation (including user-based access control) you don't have concept of Groups like the proper NAS devices.
Support from Synology is exceptionally good. I found a problem with the VPN implementation and reported it via their website. After giving their support people a token for remote access to this system they identified the problem and manually rectified it in less than a day - with a final patch for the VPN module released a few weeks later to the larger user-base.
Other software packages available include a Radius server, a torrent download client, a DNS server and a media server. Even though this seems limited (and not even close to the vast number of software packages available for their NAS devices), the community at large has been repackaging some of the software for use on this platform. This means you can find some of the software packages from third party repositories and run on your router.
Click the images below for larger versions:
The Synology RT1900ac comes with three MIMO omni-directional high-gain dipole antennas that you plug into the router, making it look like an alien spaceship. Luckily you can configure the LEDs on/off times so they don't attract too much attention (which is important depending on where you put your box).
IPv6, Firewall, DMZ and port forwarding are standard features in the router OS and don't need additional software packages. It also supports UPnP for automatic port forward and port triggering rules. You can create static routes but you can't redirect specific packets (e.g. I'd like to be able to capture any outbound requests on port 53 and redirect/rewrite so these are served by the router's built-in DNS).
The wireless access point supports a variety of encryption methods including WEP, WPA/WPA2-Personal and WPA/WPA2-Enterprise.
The operating systems offers notifications via SMS (including support for Clickatell), email and push notification via mobile app. These can be anything from unwanted access to OS and packages updates.
The Synology RT1900ac is available in New Zealand and is compatible with existing Internet services (xDSL, cable) as well as UFB (fibre).