I’ve just installed a new router. Actually, I’ve had to install TWO new routers, and thereby hangs a tale.
My Netgear R6300ac router had to go. It’s seen 5 years of steady, reliable use and the WiFi signal blasts its way through the house. I didn’t even have to add a range extender when the conservatory was built. But it’s days were numbered because:
- It is one of the few routers that are incompatible with Chromecast, which I want to use to replace my defunct Boxee Box media streamer.
I need greater control over WiFi time schedules than Netgear’s parental controls are able to give.
And so began what should have been a simple process that started out a lot harder than expected before sanity was restored.
Choosing a New Router
There are so many routers out there that I needed help. As a long term subscriber to ‘Computer Shopper’ (and ‘Computer Buyer’ before that – remember ‘Computer Buyer?’) I looked at its recommendations section. I’ve bought a lot of equipment based on these in the past and seldom been disappointed.
Their current pick of the crop at the time of writing was the TP-Link Archer VR2800. a highly featured modem/router at a reasonable price. As a BT Infiniti FTTC user, I did not need the modem but the unit has a VDSL port so that was not too much of an issue, although I suppose that meant that I was paying for some circuitry I did not need.
Amazon delivered it next day. And it went back the same day too. No matter what I tried, the TP-Link refused to connect to my BT Infiniti modem. The same credentials that have worked flawlessly on my Netgear router for five years were not accepted. I hot swapped the new and old routers a few times and while the old one connected every time, the new one would not. The problem became terminal when it stopped accepting the ethernet connection from my laptop. If I couldn’t connect to it and it couldn’t connect to the internet it was failing in its prime purpose – to route. I could have tried a factory reset but it had already taken enough of my time. It shouldn’t be this hard.
Time for a rethink
I must admit to being a bit of Synology junkie – I own three of their NAS drives. Therefore I had a natural inclination to use one of their two routers, the RT1900ac and its more powerful sibling the RT2600.
The only cause for concern was an admittedly old (December 2015) review that said:
“Sadly the router does not work. Synology has said that it will not work properly with BT ISP’s including PlusNet. The router won’t download some websites at all! also the software/firmware update won’t work too.”
Some BT Infiniti users on a Facebook page confirmed they had no issues connecting to the Synology routers. And I emailed Synology Support for their response which was that while there had been some issues just after release, they had been fixed by an update a few weeks later. As soon as I received that confirmation I pressed the buy button.
I was even persuaded it would be better to pay the extra £60 for the RT2600, which I don’t think I’ll regret.[/toggle]
The Synology RT2600ac
What follows is not an installation guide. What I really want to do is describe the good and bad experiences I had, and point out some nuances of the Synology Router that might help others.
The box contains:
- The router
- One piece charger
- Four antennae
- Quick Installation Guide
- A LAN cable
There is no glossy outer case, little wasted space in the box, nothing is over packed, and there’s none of the FCC Warning, Limited Warranty and other unwanted trivia that we usually get, and discard. This is all good.
And, to their credit, Amazon did not overdo the outer packing as they are sometimes inclined to do. That said, it’s strange that the TP-Link with its attractive retail box was delivered with no Amazon packaging, while the Synology’s “Shipping Ready” packaging was deemed to need more. Go figure!
Don’t try this at home but it looks so well built that it’s tempting to see if you could stand on it. (No, I didn’t)
I thought about wall mounting the unit but decided not to. Because of the large feet and the large standoff they would create from the wall, the up-and-over LAN / WAN / power cables would be very visible. If you use black cables they would be less obvious but still as visible. A snap-in cover to hide all of this would help.
It would also be a lot neater if the unit was wall mounted the other way up. with the cables hanging down but there are no slots for this. The only advantage of the way they have designed it is that the power cable is less prone to being pulled out accidentally. And in case you want to wall mount it the way Synology have designed it, it would help if the feet on the front edge were slightly taller to help cables pass beneath.
Fortunately, there’s a mobile app that can help with this. Jens Hofman from the Synology Admins & Users Facebook group suggested WiFi Analyzer from Kevin Yuan on Android*. It has an audible beep that changes according to signal strength so you can leave your phone or tablet in the room while you go and adjust the antennae.
*Actually it’s listed differently on Google Play. It’s Wifi Analyzer by farproc but the screens are identical to the ones shown by Jens so it must be the same app. Even if it’s not, it does the same thing.
There’s a USB eject button but with the LEDs turned off (see below) this of little use and you’ll need to unmount a drive using SRM. From a design perspective, I don’t see why this major interface slot is on the side of the case. If you insert a typical HDD the USB 3.0 connector sticks out a long way and it looks ungainly, spoiling the overall look of the system. It gives the impression it was added as an afterthought. It would be better if this connector was on the rear panel along with the other major interfaces. That would then allow the SD card slot to move from the front edge to the side where it would be more accessible,
On the right-hand side, there are two buttons, to turn WiFi on/off and to enable a WPS connection. It’s hard to tell the difference and pressing the wrong one could have drastic consequences if you wanted to create a WPS hookup but accidentally disabled WiFi for all users. The labels are not very helpful because they are almost illegible. If they were printed white on black that would help. Or separate the two buttons.
One of the major security risks with routers is owners who leave the admin password set to default. There’s little risk of that on this router. The first thing you are required to do is set a new admin account and password.
If you are a Synology NAS drive user you will immediately feel at home with the SRM User Interface. It’s a clone of the well regarded DSM interface. Synology really does understand that tech UI’s need not be intimidating.
When the router came back online the same message box appeared. I could have dismissed it but decided I’d try again to see what happened. Then things became a little weird because it immediately offered me another update, to SRM 1.1.4 6509 Update 1. It’s possible that this had been released in the 5 – 10 minutes since the last one was downloaded so I gave them the benefit of the doubt and selected it. The download completed and I installed it. Again, as expected, another reboot. But why was it necessary to go round this loop twice?
And of course when the router rebooted the message box appeared again. Once again I could have dismissed it but by this time the devil had got into me and I selected it – and that’s when a problem appeared. When I selected download I got an error message No internet connection. A quick check on my other wired connections confirmed this.
I opened Network Center > Internet and the reason became obvious.
The ISP Username and Password had been changed to the Router admin username and password. The correct credentials must have been entered during the initial router setup otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to download the updates. Reentering the ISP credentials restored internet connection immediately.
Something similar happened a few days later when I was cruising the router settings. The culprit appears to be my password manager LastPass which, recognising a page with username and password fields, replaced what was there (the ISP credentials) with what it had in my vault (my router credentials.) I think this was because the LAN address of the router login and ISP credentials pages share a core address. I must have saved the page without realising that the details had been changed.
Very thoughtfully Synology has provided the capability to turn off all LEDs except the system status, which I would recommend as the system status light is discreet. You can even set the LEDs to turn on / off according to a time schedule.
Initially, I was a little puzzled why the LED control is different to the Disk Station set up, where you can turn them all off or dim them in stages, but after a while, it made more sense. Even when dimmed, the constantly flashing LEDs of the router would be distracting. The Disk Stations have fewer LEDs and they are not so busy.
There are some lease validity issues setup issues though. At (1) you can see that the value set in the previous screen appears here as a non-editable field whilst at (2) we can set the Guest Validity using a drop down that includes an unlimited option. Why are the two related values set on different pages, using different input methods, and with different validity options? That needs to change.
There is a puzzling setting (3) which allows you to open up local network access to the guest network. Now, please correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought the entire point of a guest network was to isolate casual users from local network resources? So this seems like a very strange option. At least it is defaulted to OFF.
After a brief conversation with Nathan Poulos from this Synology Admins & Users Facebook group, I decided the easier approach would be to change the Synology router’s local IP address range to the 10.x.x.x range, in the hope that it could then pick up the NAS drives. I did and it could. (In hindsight, I realise I should have tried to find and manage the Disk Stations using Synology Assistant, the desktop client utility, but it’s working now so I will leave it alone.)
Setting the base IP address range was easy (see steps 1 and 2 in the image above) but setting the Guest DHCP server to use part of that range was not. I could find no combination of start and end addresses that the router would accept. In the end, I reverted the Guest server to the 192.168.x.x range, which worked. On reflection, it’s quite useful have guests on a separate IP address range. It makes it very easy to identify them.
I mentioned earlier that there are two places and methods for setting lease expiry times. Here (4) is one of them. There is no obvious way to set it to unlimited (the user guide doesn’t tell you either) and why there is a setting for the main DHCP server and not the Guest Server is unclear. too. I need to research this some more.
I turned on the TV, switched to the Chromecast channel and there it was, linked to the router. Once I started casting my tablet, everything worked. The previous “freeze after the first frame” problem had disappeared. In fact, the only issues I had were the need to adjust the colour settings of the TV display to match those of the tablet and the realisation that the four-year-old TV will need to be replaced at some stage. so that its resolution matches the tablet!
There is just one tiny criticism – I wish I could assign time slots in half- or even quarter-hour segments. That would give me more flexibility over bed-time blackouts with growing grandchildren. There’s a lot of difference between 9 and 10 PM
It could be even better
It’s a router. OK? If it’s anything like my old Netgear router it will sit quietly in the background chugging away, needing little if any attention. Unlike my old Netgear however, when I do have the occasion go into it, I will be in familiar territory because of the UI’s similarity to DSM. But that got me thinking…
Having played around with it for a few days one obvious user requirement comes to mind. With my local LAN ecosystem now firmly based on Synology products ( 3 x Disk Stations and 1 x Router) and with the router as the natural heart of it all, it would be great to see a Synology System Manager, a super-app with the ability to manage the entire Synology system from one application. You can (sort of) do this with the Disk Stations using CMS but it’s crying out for an all-embracing solution.
And since Synology is a great offering for the non-techie domestic user like me that doesn’t want to put everything in the cloud, that could include things like managing the entire process of enabling WordPress to run on a DiskStation. Instead of assigning DNS names to the Disk Station(s), let me do that at router level and let the router pass the traffic for my WordPress, Photo Station and other apps to the appropriate DS device. Forget port forwarding (or rather, let me forget the dark art that is port forwarding by just doing it, silently, in the background). And if I want to install WordPress on multiple DS’s and access them from the internet, just handle it. That would be SO cool.
Something else that would be nice to see would be a visualisation of the network. Netgear’s Network Genie comes close but is looking a bit jaded these days. The ability to see the network graphically and assign metadata to the devices is powerful. If I could open the network map, tell my grandson to connect his device, watch it pop up on the map, and then assign privileges (including parental controls), and do it from my smartphone or tablet would be fantastic.
Oh, and make it properly wall-mountable, and include that drilling template for the wall fixings (also mentioned above.)
In the end, it was my good fortune that the TP-Link failed to install correctly because it turns out the Synology RT2600ac is a fine router.
- Great UI (for Synology Disk Station owners it’s immediately familiar.)
- Chromecast compatible
- Solid Construction
- Looks good
- Great parental controls
- Great coverage
- Not the best for wall mounting
- No guidance on antennae orientation
7th July 2017