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The RT1900ac is a Wi-Fi router that thinks it's a network-attached storage server. The fact that it's the first router from Synology -- a company that's known for making NAS devices -- probably has something to do with it.
When hosting an external hard drive connected to its USB 3.0 port, the RT1900ac is indeed a formidable storage server. And in testing, as either a Wi-Fi router or a NAS server, the device was excellent, for the most part edging out more expensive competitors, such as the Asus RT-AC68U or the Netgear R7000. It's not perfect, however, with a relatively short range on the 5GHz band and only average network storage data rates. But at the current cost of just $150 (converted, that's about £105 or AU$200), it's the least expensive AC1900 router.
That said, if you want a router that delivers excellent Wi-Fi performance and can also work as a host for Time Machine backup, file sharing, media streaming and pretty much anything else you can do with a typical NAS drive, the RT1900AC is an excellent buy.
For more excellent home network router options, check out CNET's list of best 802.11AC routers.
As the name suggests, the RT1900AC is an AC1900 router. (Read more about Wi-Fi standards here.) It has a top on-paper speed of 1,300Mbps on the 5GHz band and up to 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz band. On the inside, it's powered by a dual-core 1GHz processor and 256MB of DDR3 memory. The router has more powerful specs than the Asus RT-AC68U (which runs a dual-core 800MHz predecessor) but weaker than the Linksys WRT1900ACs (dual-core 1.3GHz.)
The router has one USB 3.0 port and one SD card slot on its left side. You can use these ports to host an external hard drive and an SD card to take advantage of the router's storage features. Using a storage device allows you to add even more features to the router. (More on this below.) And though it's designed to lie flat, the router can also be mounted on a wall.
What makes the RT1900ac stand out from other AC1900 routers is its Linux-based operating system (also known as the firmware) called Synology Router Manager (SRM). This firmware is a variation of the DiskStation Manger (DSM) operating system used for all of Synology's NAS servers. If you've used a Synology NAS server before, you'll find the interface of the RT1900ac extremely familiar.
And even if you've never used a Synology product, the SRM is easy to figure out. The router's interface, accessible via a browser, is very similar to that of a traditional desktop operating system, like Windows or Mac OS. In fact it's the most comprehensive interface for a router I've seen, with items tied together and organized in an intuitive way.
The best thing about SRM is Package Center, which is basically an app store. Using Package Center and an external hard drive or SD card, you can add applications to the router, increasing the its functionality and features. Out of the box, the router comes with a few applications, such as Download Station, Media Server and VPN Server, but it's likely Synology will release more in the future.
Each of the applications is robust and well thought-out. The Download Station, for example, is the best PC-less download feature I've seen. You can quickly search for things on the Web and download them via just a few clicks.
The RT1900ac did well in my testing. On the 5GHz band at a close range of 15 feet, it scored a sustained speed of 587Mbps, topping the charts of routers in the AC1900 class. When I increased the distance to 100 feet, however, it now registered only 71Mbps. This is because on this band, the router's effective range was rather short, just about 150 feet (with one wall in between.)
(It's important to note that I tested the router using the high-speed mode of its USB 3.0 port. The RT1900ac lets you tune this port to work in USB 2.0 mode, which should reduce the interference for its Wi-Fi networks.)
On the 2.4GHz band, however, the router's reach was much longer, its effective range stretching out to some 180 feet away. As with all routers, however, the data rates on this bands were much lower. At close range the router scored 123Mbps and at 100 feet away, 65Mbps, numbers that are about average among AC1900 routers.
The router passed my 48 hours of stress testing with no problem. During this time, it was set to continuously transfer data between multiple Wi-Fi clients and it didn't disconnect once.
When hosting an external hard drive, the RT1900ac's network storage performance wasn't the best I've seen. Via a Gigabit connection, it scored a sustained copy speed of 40MBps (or 320Mbps) for writing and 42MBps (or 336Mbps) for reading. These were just about average among AC1900 routers, but still fast enough for most local-network tasks like data sharing or backing up a Mac laptop using Time Machine.
The RT1900ac is one of the best AC1900 routers on the market and at just $150/£105/AU$120 is a fantastic deal. If you want a solid Wi-Fi network with the option of a comprehensive network storage solution, this is the router to get.
If all you need is a basic cheap router, the TP Link TL WR841N is only $20 and will satisfy most router needs. And though I feel the RT1900ac is one of the best AC1900 routers, if you've no need for a network server then the Asus RT-AC68U, which has slightly better Wi-Fi range, is also a great choice.