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After my old Linksys WRT54G could no longer keep up with my digital demands and had started acting up after 8 years of heavy use, I decided it was time for a new router. Wanting the latest and greatest, I did some research and decided to to get the ASUS RT-AC66U. Now right out of the gate this will set you back around $190, but you will get a phenomenal high-end consumer/small-business router with plenty of horsepower and loaded with features.
It's Damn Sexy
When unboxing the router, you will immediately notice the router's thin, sleek, black, textured look with the ASUS logo in gold. Blue LED indicators exist for power, each LAN port, internet connectivity, USB ports, and two wifi indicators. My girlfriend rarely comments on the appearance of any of the tech gadgets around the house, but even she complemented the router's good looks.
The router has three antennas, and can be wall-mounted or comes with a slide-in stand. As far a network connectivity, you have the standard 4-port LAN switch plus a WAN port, all which support gigabit ethernet. For wireless connectivity the router provides 802.11ac wifi on the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies. Two USB ports exist on the router as well.
When I plugged in the router and navigated to the web interface, again I noticed that ASUS paid attention to making things look good. The GUI has a Tron-themed feel and is organized well. When starting up, you have the option of using the quick internet setup tool to get you up and running fast.
Given the audience for the router is mainly power users, I doubt many would choose this option, and I went ahead and manually configured the router. I noticed while doing this, that within some menus the interface is very sluggish and takes a long time to apply some configuration changes, which was a minor annoyance. In spite of this, it only took me about 15 minutes to get the router configured for my setup, and then I was up and running.
Making Things Work
Starting with the wifi settings, I had no issues finding and configuring what I wanted. Setting up 4 SSIDs on was no problem, as my setup was one normal SSID on each frequency, then one guest SSID on each frequency. This router can actually support up to 6 guest SSIDs for a total of 8 SSIDs total if you really need that many.
Now when setting up a MAC list filter I did get slightly frustrated that the list couldn't be shared between the my SSIDs on each frequency, rather I had to enter them once on the 2.4GHz list and then once again on the 5GHz list, which I felt was a minor oversight that was also an issue when setting up the guest wifi as well. You can also fine tune some advanced wi-fi setting such as beacon interval and TX power through the professional wifi menu.
What was nice to see was that the default wireless network that was broadcasting when the router was started was secured by WPA2 by default. After setups and FIOS installations in particular come pre-configured for WEP 64-bit, it was a relief to see that a simple, common sense decision has been made here.
The range of the 2.4GHz band was around 250 feet and speeds on average around 60 Mbps. I live in a townhouse community with many other access points within range of my house (last count was at least 6) so I was shocked when I walked a few houses down and still had a wifi connectivity to my network with solid speed.
5GHz range was obviously not as impressive as I couldn't pick up a great signal more than one townhouse down or around 150 to 200 ft; however, I did notice faster speeds overall, which were on average around 110Mbps inside my house. Unfortunately I had no 802.11ac clients to test with, so the speeds above were all n clients inside my home. All demanding activities like video and music streaming and gaming over wifi had superb performance, even with two or three instances of say Netflix running at the same time. The router handled everything I threw at it easily.
IPv6 and VPN Support
The router also has full IPv6 support, and since Comcast recently upgraded the CMTS in my area, I went ahead and turned it on and the router got a IPv6 address on the WAN ia minute later, followed immediately by a LAN prefix. Google and Facebook are the only major sites I have noticed so far that are using IPv6, I had no issues. Using IPv6-readiness test sites told me I was good to go. I did like that I had some configuration options in the IPv6 settings, as in some router's I have previously configured with IPv6 there was merely an enable/disable setting whereas on this router, I was able to set my own IPv6 DNS servers.
I do have a gripe about the interface layout as IPv6 is in a seperate menu from the rest of the WAN and LAN configuration almost treating it like a second-class citizen it terms of web-connectivity, when all tech companies should be pushing it more. I understand why this decision was made, but I hope in the future this changes.
The two USB ports on this router add the ability to connect external storage and/or a printer, and thus the router can be used as a storage or print server. Both of these were painless to setup and ASUS even has there own iOS and Android App so you can browse any connected storage easily from mobile clients. I didn't play around with them that much as I already run my own server on my network and rarely have the need to print anymore.
Where the USB functionality really shines is when a cell phone or mobile broadband is plugged in. This feature allows you to tether your wireless connection to the router, either as your main source of connectivity, or more like as a backup in case your wired WAN connectivity goes down. To test this feature, I connected my Galaxy Nexus to the router's usb port, enabled tethering, and then unplugged the ethernet cable from the WAN port. The router took about one minute to detect the WAN connection was down, and then began using the teethed phone instead.
However, when plugging the main WAN connection back in, the router didn't detect the main connection was backup and simply kept using the backup cell connection. Therefore, for in cases where you can easy and actively intervene when you main internet goes down, this is a nice feature; however, it cannot operate without intervention thus its usefulness is limited, as no one wants to keep using a slower, capped cell connection once your main ISP has come back online.
VPN server support puts this router in the small enterprise category and it works well. While I was on vacation in Sweden and trying to watch Netflix one night, I of course got the standard regional restriction message that nothing was available. Thankfully, I had setup the VPN on this router, so I signed in and was able to watch Netflix albeit with some degraded quality.
A traffic manager tool also exists on this router, which provides a great real-time, 24-hour, or day-to-day information about your traffic. The real-time and 24 hours traffic is shown in a graphical format, while the day-to-day is shown in a table. Upload and download average speeds and amounts are all displayed conveniently, which is a great tool now that some ISPs are getting more and more aggressive with data caps. Parental controls exists as well, but are only able to restrict time limits per MAC address and not much else.
This is a Linux-based router running a 2.6 kernel and full telnet access is available from the LAN. If you know your way around Linux make configuration changes from the shell for items that are not available on the GUI is no problem. For work, I needed to sniff some traffic from an ATA and I setup port-mirroring on the router using iptables with no problem. Most of the standard networking binaries are present so Linux aficionados should feel right at home.
The firmware update check tool doesn't work even on the next to latest firmware. Rather I had to manually apply the firmware file from the ASUS site. Make sure you check your firmware version when you get it, as the early versions of this router's firmware suffered from some issues relating to the wifi, and certain features weren't quite ready for the primetime. The router also does tend to get pretty warm. I was never worried that anything close to it would catch on fire or anything like that, but it is rather warm to the touch.
: You get what you pay for, and this router has all the features you could ask for in a high-end consumer/small-business networking device. Both the speed and the range of the wireless is the best I’ve ever seen in a home router. I live in a townhouse with plenty of other wireless routers creating interference and yet my signal and speed were still solid from several houses down, 2.4GHz range about 350ft with speeds of 60Mbps, and 5GHz range about 150ft with speeds around 110Mbps. IPv6 support is solid. Router industrial design and interface design are both well done. VPN Server support. Linux-based router with full shell access via telnet. USB ports for network connectvity, storage, and printer sharing. Great traffic monitor utility. Guest SSIDs can be setup with ease.Cons
: Interface is sluggish when applying settings, making me wonder what’s taking so long. 3G/4G wireless failover doesn’t switch back to WAN connection when it comes back online, so this feature's usefulness dimishes greatly. Fireware check tool doesn't work. Router can get pretty warm. Update your firmware right away when you get it.Final Word
: This is a great router that has a few rough spots. ASUS has been very proactive with updating the firmware thus far, so if any of the issues described bother you, than you can always hold off and pick it up when they are resolved. That being said, this router isn’t something the average person needs at home. However, if you are looking for something with the latest bells and whistles with some enterprise features tacked on and plenty of speed and range, I highly recommend this router.