Synology released its third Wi-Fi router, the MR2200ac, early last month. While this is a great standalone router in many ways, its ability to be part of a Synology mesh Wi-Fi system is most noteworthy.
Effectively, you now have another choice to start with a full-feature single router and gradually scale up your Wi-Fi network as your needs grow. Before this, the only option for this kind of non-compromising home mesh is Asus’s AiMesh. To know which mesh system is better for you — and it’s a hard question — you first you need to know what Synology mesh is.
Synology Wi-Fi Mesh System
- Fast, reliable and large Wi-Fi coverage
- Advanced interface with high-quality add-on features
- Highly-customizable network settings
- Effective Parental Controls and online protection
- Advanced Guest network
- Limited hardware options
- Few network ports
- Not available as a package (you need to get two or more units)
Synology Mesh quick review: It’s quite fantastic
Together with the MR2200ac, Synology updated its router firmware, called Synology Router Manager or SRM, to version 1.2. Among other things, the new firmware brings mesh functionality to select Synology routers.
Like all Wi-Fi systems, you use one of the hardware units as the primary router which connects to the Internet. After that, you can add more hardware units, wirelessly or via network cables, to extend the home network. But, similar to Asus’s AiMesh, a Synology Mesh can do a lot more than just providing a reliable seamless Wi-Fi network.
What you can expect from a Synology mesh system
Indeed, a Synology Mesh system has all the bells and whistles of the primary router. That means you can do a lot more with your home network than with a purpose-built system.
Following are the breakdown of what you can expect from a Synology mesh:
- Supported routers: Synology Mesh is currently available to the MR2200ac, and the RT2600ac. Both run a Qualcomm Wi-Fi chip. (The RT1900ac, powered by a Broadcom chip, is not supported and remains a standalone router.) Chances are, future Synology routers will support this feature, too.
- Router roles: The MR2200ac can work as either the main router or a mesh satellite unit (or node). The RT2600ac can only work as the primary router.
- Max hardware units: There’s no limit to how many hardware units you can use in a Synology Mesh. However, the company recommends no more than seven hardware units, including the primary router. Generally, you won’t need more than 2 or 3 units.
- Dedicated back-haul band: Since the MR2200ac is a tri-band router, a Synology Mesh always has a dedicated backhaul band, with one of the MR2200ac’s two 5GHz bands being used to connect it to the main router at any given time. Consequently, in a wireless setup, there will be no (or very little) signal loss. (Read more about the signal loss here.)
- Wired back-haul: You can connect an MR2200ac node to the main router using a network cable as a wired backhaul. In this case, you should connect its WAN port to the LAN port of the primary router.
- Feature set: The mesh network retains all features and settings of the main Synology router, which is among the best on the market. (To find out more, check out the review of the MR2200ac).
- Auto-update: You can set the system to auto-update to the latest firmware, which will take care of both the main router and nodes.
- Auto-sensing network ports. Other than the WAN (Internet) port of the router unit, which needs to connect to an Internet source (like a cable modem), the rest of the network ports in the mesh function as LAN ports to host wired clients.
- Access point mode: The mesh (main router + satellite nodes) can work in the AP mode, allowing you to use the system with an existing router/gateway as part of one single network. In this case, other than the Wi-Fi network, no additional features or settings of the mesh are available.
- Optional vendor account: You will not need to register an account with Synology to manage a router or a mesh network remotely, though there’s an option — called QuickConnect — to do so for the sake of convenience.
- Here to stay: Future routers from Synology will likely support the new mesh functionality, especially those using Qualcomm Wi-Fi chips.
Synology Mesh: Excellent performance
Synology mesh is one of the fastest systems I’ve known. In fact, in a wireless setup, the satellite unit’s performance topped the chart of all systems I’ve tested. Note that in standard testing, I place the nodes (satellites) 40 feet (13m) away from the main router.
Synology Mesh also delivered excellent coverage in my trial. For example, a set of an RT2600ac and an MR2200ac could easily cover more than 4000 ft² (370 m²) with Wi-Fi fast enough to deliver a 150Mbps broadband connection in full.
It was also reliable. I used the system for more than a week without any problem at all. Keep in mind that Wi-Fi performance depends on the environment, so your mileage will vary.
Like all mesh systems, a Synology Mesh is not perfect. The following are a few issues:
- You have no direct control over the satellite unit; if you attempt to access its web interface, you’ll get to that of the main router unit.
- The USB port of the satellite unit is of no use at all.
- Firmware update and setup time can time-consuming, mostly because the hardware takes a long time – up to two minutes – to boot up.
- Synology doesn’t offer the mesh as a package. That said, you’ll need to either buy two MR2200ac units or one RT2600ac and one MR2200ac at a time.
Synology Mesh v.s Asus’s AiMesh
It’s unclear which is better, Synology Mesh or Asus’s AiMesh, but they sure have similarities and differences, as shown in the table below.
Asus’s AiMesh offers more hardware options since you can pick and choose from more than a dozen routers, as opposed to just two of Synology. (Though, this also means AiMesh is more susceptible to firmware issues since there are just so many combos that Asus has to deal with). Also, if you’re a gamer, Asus is the way to go since certain AiMesh routers — such as the RT-AC86u, or the GT-AC5300 — have powerful built-in gaming features.
On the other hand, Synology has much more advanced firmware and an extensive set of network storage features, including a powerful PC-less download app. It also has many business features, such as the advanced VPN and DNS server functions.
And last but not least, the Guest network functionality of Synology is much more sophisticated, making the mesh suitable for a secure, managed public hotspot.
That said, Synology’s approach to mesh is professional with business flavors. Asus’s AiMesh, on the other hand, is fun and geared towards home users. Both systems are effective in delivering fast Wi-Fi with extensive coverage. In a wireless setup, though, Synology has better performance.
How to build a Synology Mesh
To create a mesh, you’ll need at least two hardware units. One will work as the main router and the other as a satellite (or node). Later on, you can add more nodes if need be.
In a Synology mesh, for a node, the only option is the MR2200ac, which is a tri-band router, and that means the mesh will always have a dedicated backhaul band.
As for the primary router, you can use either the RT2600ac or the MR2200ac. I’d recommend the former since it has more network and USB ports. However, if you pick the MR2200ac as the primary router, the setup process remains the same.
Steps to build a Synology Mesh
- Update all routers involved to the latest firmware then reset them to the default factory setting. This step is to make sure they are all on the same page. You might skip this step if you buy them new at the same time. Also, if you want to add a node to an existing router, then only reset the node.
- Place the node unit less than 10 feet (3m) from the primary router. Plug it into power. Do NOT plug any network cable into its network ports. If you intend to use network a network cable to connect a node to the main router, do that AFTER the setup process.
- Set up the main router unit as a standalone router.
- At the end of the initial setup process in step # 3 above, you’ll have the option to add Wi-Fi points. Click on it. Alternatively, you can always log into the router’s web interface, run the Wi-Fi Connect app, then click on Wi-Fi Point.
- Click on Add, the Wi-Fi Point window will pop up, now click Next.
- After a few seconds, the MR2200ac will appear. Name it to your liking or pick a name on a list. If you don’t do anything, the system will use its serial number as identification. Now click on Next.
- The system will take a few minutes to add the MR2200ac as the mesh point (node). After that, it’ll show a message saying the Wi-Fi network will restart. Click on OK and wait for the Wi-Fi function to reboot, which takes a few seconds. And that’s it. Repeat from step #5 if you have more MR2200ac units to add to the system.
Now place the node(s) a reasonable distance, between 40 feet (13m) and 75 feet (25m), from the primary router, and your mesh is ready. If you have more than one node, make sure you place them around the main router and not in a straight line to get the best performance.
If you intend to connect the node to the main router using a network cable, the distance between the two doesn’t matter much. In this case, though, it’s better to use the node’s WAN port. If you use the node’s LAN port to connect to the router, the entire network might take a few minutes to be available.
And that’s it. You’ve just gotten yourself a quite fantastic Wi-Fi system.