[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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.