Synology RT2600ac and RT1900ac: Your Apple AirPort Extreme Replacement

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[Updated April 18, 2018 with lowered prices on Amazon. The RT2600ac is now available for less than an AirPort Extreme, with a lot more features and range.]

These days, many Apple users are looking to improve and update their home Wi-Fi connections. With Apple seemingly having abandoned any true hardware updates to their AirPort router line, Apple users are looking to third-parties to fill the gap for an AirPort Extreme replacement. To that end, Synology is among the cream of the crop in the standalone router market and provides many features never found in Apple’s offerings.

Mesh Wi-Fi is all the rage – and for many good reasons that our How-To-Buy Mesh Wi-Fi piece explains – but for folks with modest-sized homes and centrally-placed Internet entry points, having a single, standalone router still works quite well. With that, I’m often asked, “Which is the best standalone router?” and I almost universally answer: the Synology RT2600ac. With its coverage range, Apple-focused feature set, price point, and easy setup, it’s a no-brainer.

Time Machine

Being able to have a single Time Machine destination on your network is one of the reasons people buy Apple routers. Both Apple’s Time Capsule and AirPort Extreme support this, the latter by way of attaching a USB disk. The good news is that Synology’s Router Management web interface (SRM) supports this, as well. Just attach a USB disk, enable Time Machine support in SRM, and you’re good to go. All the users on your network can backup to this just like it was an Apple router.

Screenshot of Synology Router SRM control panel Time Machine configuration screen

Connect a USB drive to your Synology router and then enable network Time Machine backups

AirPrint

One thing that Apple’s routers have curiously never supported is Apple’s own AirPrint technology, which affords users the ability to print to an attached printer from your iPhone. Many newer network printers support AirPrint out-of-the-box now, but even if you shared your USB printer from your Apple router, it still wouldn’t appear as an option from your iPhone or iPad. Synology’s SRM solves this, too, by allowing you to enable AirPrint (and Google Cloud Print) on any USB or network printer you have. Again, it’s as simple as enabling the option in the SRM web interface and assigning the appropriate driver.

Screenshot of Synology Router SRM AirPrint and Google Cloud Print configuration screen

Synology’s AirPrint support means you can print from your iPhone

VPN – Inbound and Out

The past few years have seen VPNs gain popularity, and for many good reasons. It’s convenient to be able to tunnel back into your network at home, and it’s also great to have a secure way to browse when you’re out on a public Wi-Fi network. Additionally, with the possibility of your home ISP sniffing your packets and selling your data to marketers, some folks want the option of connecting their entire home networks to a third-party VPN. Synology’s SRM software supports both of these use-cases.

Inbound VPN is managed by Synology’s excellent VPN Plus Server, a freely-installable “package” that Synology has built for SRM. From there you can set up one or more VPN options, including L2TP (natively supported on your Mac and iPhone), OpenVPN, and Synology’s own SSL VPN with which I’ve had great luck traversing even the most locked-down networks.

Screenshot of Synology's SRM VPN Server Plus configuration screen

With support for many types of inbound VPN services, you can always find a way back home.

Cloud Station Server – Your Own Personal Dropbox

Many of us use Dropbox or iCloud Drive to store and sync our files, but generally that means both storing our data on someone else’s server (aka “the cloud”) and paying for that storage. Synology’s Cloud Station allows you to create your own, private cloud. You manage the storage, it’s accessible from anywhere (as long as your Internet connection is alive), and their Mac syncing app is elegant and simple.

Screenshot of Synology Router SRM Cloud Station Server screen

Synology’s Cloud Station Server lets you create your own Dropbox-like private cloud.

Mobile App

Synology is a very Apple-user-friendly company, with countless mobile apps for all the different services you can run. DS Cloud and DS File can be used to connect to your Cloud Station files, and DS Router can be used to manage your router from anywhere.

For DS Router, Synology employed the same philosophy they used for their web interface: simple-and-elegant to start, but it goes as deep as you like. Their DS Router app lets you both tweak your router’s configuration and see reports no matter where you are.

Screenshots of Synology's DS Router iPhone app

With DS Router you can easily see and manage information on your router from anywhere.

Price

With an MSRP of US$239.99 the Synology RT2600ac can currently be found on Amazon for $194.99 (as of April 18, 2018). Its little brother, the RT1900ac, can be found for just $119.99. The RT2600ac is a dual-band, 4×4 router, whereas the RT1900ac is a dual-band, 3×3 router making either a perfect AirPort Extreme replacement. That extra antenna on each of the bands makes the range of the RT2600ac nearly double that of both its predecessor and the AirPort Extreme in our tests. For a single-floor apartment the RT1900ac can likely handle the job quite well for you, and both Synology routers use the same SRM software so you get all the same options regardless of which you choose.

AirPort Extreme Replacement, the Synology RT2600ac router front view with four antennas

Synology’s RT2600ac is a dual-band, 4×4 router with that classic “router” look.

Synology Router’s Other Features – Your AirPort Extreme Replacement

It would be unreasonable to dig into each and every feature available in SRM. Like the DiskStation Manager (DSM) upon which SRM is based, there are many, many layers, far too many to cover at once. Some of the additional features include: Smart Connect/Band Steering, Single SSID for both 2.4GHz and 5GHz radios, support for multiple simultaneous Internet Connections, IPv6, Port Forwarding/Triggering, Guest Network, DHCP Reservations (for both IPv4 and IPv6), customized IPTV support, Parental Controls, full-on Intrusion Prevention, Advanced Traffic Monitor with Reporting, service-and-device-specific customizable firewall, and a DLNA server to act as a hub for your movies and music. You can learn all about these direct from Synology, where they provide videos to explain some of the more esoteric features.

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John Kheit
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John Kheit

Great review Dave, and I have been eying this just in case. But one thing it does not do that Apple routers do is “Back to my Mac” connection which makes the Airport (and any drive on it) as well as your home macs come up under your shared tab even when you’re away from home, just as if you were home. I’m not only clutching on to my Apple router, I’m thinking of buying an extra or 2 just in case it dies. The extra range isn’t doing much for most as it so overwhelms a place it probably… Read more »

Alf Watt
Member
Alf Watt

@John Kheit

Back to My Mac only requires UPnP on the router for devices inside the network to map ports to the external IP.

For the router itself, either a static or dynamic DNS pointing to the public IP address would allow you to connect, it’s not as convenient or automatic as the BTTM setup but it can be done.

John Kheit
Member
John Kheit

@Alf

Well no. “It” namely back to my mac feature, cannot be done. Sure, you can get some approximation of the features offered by “back to my Mac” by doing crazy tedious annoying port opening (which increases security vulnerabilities) and forwarding, but that is what it is, and it’s a feature trying to ape “back to my Mac” it is not back to my mac. Back to my Mack also throws in integrated screen share control for example. No doubt you can get some other engineered solution or app to help there. But it ain’t back to my mac.

John Kheit
Member
John Kheit

We disagree Dave. A feature of back to my mac is I put my iTunes pass in the router and it automatically makes all my home machines available for file sharing and screen control wherever I am. Effectively saying, let me set my router to port forward everything through some ports, or screw it, let’s just forward everything through a totally open DMV is not an equivalent. Sure, if I do that I can access some, not all it’s features, but that is NOT the product. It’s like saying cloud station works automatically wherever I go because they provide an… Read more »

John Kheit
Member
John Kheit

Well Alf, I’d first like to point out how far and deep my foot has found it’s way into one of my orafices. You and Dave have pooped out and forgotten more than I’m going to learn in this lifetime time on this topic so I defer with this tiny exculpatory explanation. For whatever reason, putting in the Apple ID/pass on the Apple router makes not just the local router drive on the time capsule visible when I’m traveling, but also my back/macs on my network. And when I update my appleID password and not on the router, I don’t… Read more »

geoduck
Member
geoduck

Thanks for the info. My AirPort is humming along fine for the moment but at some point is’s going to expire and I’ll need to find a replacement. Synology has a good reputation. With Apple seemingly having abandoned any true hardware updates to their AirPort router line, In all seriousness I would not be at all surprised to find that AirPorts and Time Capsules have disappeared from the AppleStore when it comes back up after the big show on Tuesday. Just now I checked and they have done bloody well everything possible to hide the AirPorts. No links, no section,… Read more »

Doug Petrosky
Member
Doug Petrosky

It is true that John was pushing the benefits of AirPort with back to my mac way too far, it is true that Apple’s personal cloud abilities are unique to that same back to my mac interface. Placing your AppleID or ID’s into your Airport allows all of those users to access the attached storage as if it is another back to my mac disk. So after the discussion about routers I was left a bit cold about what I would get if I ditched my 4 year old network setup of 2 time capsules and 2 airport express’s (for… Read more »

Truhill
Member
Truhill

One feature of the Airport Express is the ability connect a speaker, and stream your iTunes Music to it. Using the Remote app on iOS devices, you maintain control of which Playlists you play, and you can control each Airport Express speaker.

Can’t do this with an Airport Extreme/Time Capsule, but it works great with the Airport Express.

“Smoke on your pipe, and put that in.” said Anita to Bernardo.

Paul Goodwin
Member
Paul Goodwin

Too bad these things are ugly as sin. They don’t really fit in design wise. The wife would never stand for one of these sitting in the study. Most non-Apple Wi-Fi routers look awful.