It looks like another boring router, but the Synology RT6600ax's Clark Kent disguise masks phenomenal capabilities. It's super fast and the SRM 1.3 OS offers a plethora of powerful apps, including enhanced network segmentation, firewall, VPN, VLAN, QoS, family controls and multi-SSID. It’s so cheap you could buy several and transform your home or SMB into an epic Wi-Fi mesh.
Much lower priced than rivals
Overkill for basic home Wi-Fi requirements
A little ugly
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Synology routers are not well known in most markets, but the company is making a big push with its first Wi-Fi 6 unit, the RT6600ax. At first glance it may look rather uninspiring, but it doesn’t take long to realise this is simply its superhero disguise.
Those familiar with Synology’s network-attached storage devices will know that its operating systems are very well-featured, frequently updated, bomb-proof reliable, highly secure, have a huge catalogue of additional first-party and third-party apps, offer a superb user experience (at least for experienced techies) and are backed up by large communities of expert fans, who take pride in delivering superb step-by-step documentation for even the most complex of features.
Well, it transpires the same functionality is available on routers.
While the existing Synology router community will point out that this has been the case for some time, it’s fair to say that, up until now, Synology’s Wi-Fi products have been hidden behind big-brand, mainstream rivals. We suspect that this is all about to change. The RT6600ax uses the latest iteration of Synology Router Manager (SRM 1.3) which functions like its sibling, Disk Station Manager (DSM) NAS OS and comes with a small library of additional apps – that’s a huge step up from the usual router firmware. It’s best accessed through a desktop browser window, though a full-featured phone app is supplied. It’s designed to be the perfect, secure choice for smart homes, home offices and SMBs, and it didn’t take us long to see why.
Unique features include the ability to operate multiple Wi-Fi network SSIDs with different policies, including QoS and firewall rules for different use cases. These can be completely isolated from one another or linked if, say, a printer needs to be shared. Extensive firewall rules can also enable one-way network traffic. For instance, if your NAS is running surveillance software, it can see a one-way feed from an IP camera. But, should the camera become compromised, it can’t be used to attack the network.
There are considerable VPN abilities too. Synology made licences free at the start of the pandemic and they can be used to manage all your remote workers’ connections to an office network. Meanwhile, the Safe Access package provides powerful parental (and employee) access controls.
It rivals the performance of expensive, top-tier routers, including mega-mesh competitors that use dedicated, backhaul Wi-Fi connections to partner nodes (in order to maximise range and performance). Buying multiple RT6600ax units and connecting them together using a dedicated backhaul channel allows you to ape this functionality.
While there’s the caveat that its power and features could overwhelm casual users who want basic Wi-Fi performance and not much else, for any Wi-Fi enthusiast, prosumer or sub-Meraki-grade SMB network builder, Synology’s RT6600ax is arguably now the only choice to be made.
Synology RT6600ax: price and availability
The Synology RT6600ax is available now in most major markets and costs just $300 / £284 / AU$461. It belongs to a market segment that we’d traditionally associate with mid-range, Wi-Fi 6 products that can’t remotely match the performance and features on offer. Frankly, we wouldn’t have been surprised if the price had an extra “1” in front of it.
Up until now, the best Wi-Fi routers have been twin-node “mega-mesh” products like the Asus ZenWiFi and Netgear Orbi which have a dedicated Wi-Fi backhaul channel to a partner node that ensures top performance is available at distance. This is superior to regular mesh systems which are much slower. The fact you can easily combine multiple Synology RT6600ax’s into a mega-mesh network, with a dedicated backhaul channel – and still save money(!) – means it’s not just the best standalone choice, it’s scalable too.
Synology RT6600ax: design and features
We recently saw an Asus gaming router with RGB lighting and thought it might herald the way to routers becoming genuinely cool. So, it’s fair to say that the boxy, Synology RT6600ax has brought us back down to earth with a bump. That said, it’s very solidly built and should last for many years. This is by design as Synology doesn’t like to casually refresh its products every few months (or even years) without offering significant improvements. The RT6600ax will be officially supported and upgraded with new firmware, features and apps for years to come – just like its predecessors.
Wireless connectivity: Wi-Fi 6 (IEEE 802.11ax), tri-band 2.4GHz and 2x 5GHz
Processor: Quad-core Qualcomm @1.8GHz
Ports: 2.5Gb WAN/LAN, 3x Gigabit Ethernet LAN/WAB; 1x USB 3.2 Gen 1
Dimensions (HxWxD): 175 x 320 x 200mm
Initial setup (via browser or app) is simple and we were quickly up and running. While we’ve often extolled the virtues of setting up and configuring routers with a phone app, it may seem like a step back to the old days, to encourage accessing the router’s SRM 1.3 OS on a desktop, but the PC-like experience means you can see more things at once. That’s not to say the phone app is bad – it’s the most well-featured on the market and offers excellent, intuitive usability. But, with features this powerful, having a keyboard, mouse and maximum screen real-estate makes a difference.
And where to start with the features? Everything you’d expect from a prosumer router is present but, and please excuse the cliché, it’s taken to the next level. From a basic consumer perspective, features like QoS, guest network and parental controls are all there. However, the latter is handled by the Safe Access app which has default and configurable profiles for children, adults and employees.
The content filtering it offers is among the most powerful we’ve seen, but it’s always going to be fallible. That said, competitors are starting to charge for this functionality and Synology’s are free. We also like the fact that users can request access if a site is blocked, while admins can easily provide it remotely.
If you’re worried about having both family and employees using the same router, this is where the outstanding networking segmentation features kick in. Despite the standard layout and Synology labelling, there are two 2.5GbE WAN/LAN ports plus three Gigabit WAN/LAN ports. These can be used for things like adding an additional, fast (or fall-back) internet connection, a fast LAN connection to a NAS box or the host ports of a wireless mesh made up of other RT6600ax units. (Note: Synology states that, in the future, older models can be used in such a mesh, which will be good news for upgraders.) Each port is highly configurable and can run its own network. There’s also a USB 3.2 Gen 1 port that can be used by things like storage devices, peripherals or mobile phone network dongles.
In addition, wireless access can be spread across (up to) 15 different Wi-Fi SSID networks. Each one can have different QoS and Firewall policies that can do things like, isolate work assets, share a printer with a kids’ network and a home office network, isolate VPN office and employee connections, give the fastest priority to the household’s competitive gamer, segregate IoT devices, provide visiting friends with internet access or provide visiting clients with access to the internet and home office devices but not sensitive files (with access being granted via a QR code) – basically, any combination you want for any combination of scenarios.
Extensive QoS controls enable bandwidth to be handled automatically or prioritised for gaming, virtual office meetings, videos streaming, IoT devices and more. It can also isolate IoT devices like surveillance cameras so that traffic only travels in one direction – so if a device is compromised, it can’t be used to attack the network.
The VPN Plus client allows licence-free, professional-grade access to office networks for numerous employees using multiple protocols. WebVPN and Remote Desktop functionality provide remote access to intranet sites and remote operation of PCs and servers. Other optional packages include Media Server, Download Manager (which includes FTP and BitTorrent downloading), Threat/Intrusion Prevention (including Edge protection), DNS Server and RADIUS Server. All offer once-click installation. More to appear over time.
Meanwhile, remote access to the router can be achieved via Synology’s QuickConnect system where a simple web address, username and password combination allow you to sign-in remotely.
The mobile app provides intuitive access to most of the RT6600ax’s features with a judicious layout combination that positions easy-to-access, core features and monitoring tools at the surface and more-elaborate settings a few sub-menus below.
Synology RT6600ax: performance
The RT6600ax is a 6,600Mbps-rated, tri-band, Wi-Fi 6 router that supports the new, fast 5.9GHz band.
We recently moved house which means new tests. Fortunately, we still had the excellent (but expensive) Netgear Orbi RBR850 on hand to provide a performance baseline. We setup the RT6600ax next to our modem in the middle of our one-storey, weatherboard house, connected it via Ethernet to our NAS and downloaded large video files to our Wi-Fi 6 laptop. We did this up close, two rooms away and 25m away at the bottom of the garden. The Netgear scored 710.8, 550 and 30.5Mbps respectively. The Synology scored 736, 392 and 71.6Mbps.
The Orbi only beat the Synology in the second test because the partner node of its mega-mesh system was located there. But every way you look at it, that’s phenomenal performance from the RT6600ax. It also illustrates how buying a second RT6600ax and using it as a dedicated mega-mesh partner node in the second-room test would be beneficial – especially as two RT6600ax’s cost two-thirds the price of the two-node Orbi kit!
Ultimately, Synology’s greatest achievement with the RT6600ax is the seamless marrying together of domestic, SMB and enterprise networking functionality into one, very-affordable device which can be all things to everyone, or a simple tool for a single networking task. Whether you’re a parent wanting to look after your kids, a gamer wanting the best network performance, someone with multiple devices in a smart home, someone with a home office, a professional network engineer on a limited budget or any combination of the above, the answer is the same: this is the device to buy.
Should I buy the Synology RT6600ax router?
Buy it if...
You want high performance Wi-Fi
The RT6600ax is one of the fastest routers with the best range on the market. Buying more devices and connecting them together via wireless backhaul, will expand that range while maintaining performance. The 1.8GHz quad-core processor also ensures that accessing features and changing settings is a speedy, lag-free process, too.
You want access to every networking feature
The SRM 1.3 OS acts like a PC platform whereby you can (or will be able to soon) download numerous partner and third-party apps to enhance capabilities. You can choose which features you want to avoid clutter and you can effortlessly combine business, consumer and parenting features into one unit while keeping the end users and devices completely separate.
You don’t want to spend too much
Synology’s RT6600ax saves money in multiple ways. It’s not only very cheap for a top-tier, premium router, Synology will keep supporting it for years to come. Other companies will needlessly release a multitude of refreshed models across a huge price range in the same timeframe. If you find you need more performance or range, just buy another inexpensive unit and connect them together.
Don't buy it if...
You just want the basics
If you need a new router to spread the internet around your home and your only requirement is a network password, keeping things simple with a cheap router and a basic phone app will likely suit you better.
You want a stylish device
The Synology RT6600ax ain’t pretty. It’s boxy and corporate looking and won’t suit many people’s living rooms. There are many alternatives that are designed to look like furniture and even premium statement models, with RGB lighting, which are designed to turn heads. This is more like equipment you’d expect to see in a regional branch of an aging bank.
You want simple-to-set-up features
SRM’s Safe Access app provides incredibly powerful ways to protect and manage kids and employees alike – plus all their varied devices. But with great power comes considerable complexity and there’s no doubt that some phone apps offer simpler ways to configure features like bedtimes and internet time limits.
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