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This review is from: Asus RT-AC66U AC1750 Black Diamond Dual-Band WLAN Router, 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Gigabit LAN/WAN, 2x USB, Print FTP UPnP VPN Server, IPv6, 8x SSID (Personal Computers)
I received the RT-AC66U router from Amazon on the 4th October 2012, which I had ordered the day before for the price of £152. At the time of writing this review it had gone up to £168, so I count myself lucky. Delivery, as is usually the case, was on time and the item arrived in perfect condition.
The RT-AC66U has four Ethernet ports and a WAN port, all gigabit which is a big plus - especially the WAN port which meant I could make full use of my Virgin 120Mbps service. The router has two USB 2.0 ports on the back, which allows you to connect various devices. It also has DLNA compatibility, allowing you to access media from any attached external hard drives from other DLNA compatible devices on your network. Internet access can be switched over to an attached 3G/4G dongle if your main connection goes down. You can also use the router's built-in print server to access an attached USB printer from anywhere on the network. I haven't used any of the USB related features however so cannot comment on how well they work - but it's disappointing they are only 2.0, especially considering many including myself have 3.0 external drives.
Fortunately setup was non-eventful. I have a fairly complex network consisting of multiple Ethernet switches and wireless repeaters but it seamlessly slotted into place of my trusty Billion BiPAC 7800N which had served me well for two years. All of my devices connected to the RT-AC66U without hassle and without me having to mess around with the rest of the network. I ported over my fixed IP assignments and wireless filtered MAC addresses from my old router manually (copy-and-pasting from a text list didn't work due to differently formatted characters), but while it was a tedious and time-consuming process at least it all worked perfectly first time. I also updated the firmware to the latest version at the time of purchase (22.214.171.124.220) and all settings were preserved. Having said this, I am quite experienced with setting up networks and so did not have to consult the manual. As such, I cannot say how well the manual is written or how easy it would be for someone relatively inexperienced to configure the device.
My Ethernet speeds are as good as they were with my old router (which also had gigabit ports, though only a 100Mbps WAN port), so no complaints there. My wireless-N speeds have definitely improved - I estimate roughly 10-15Mbps on average on 2.4GHz 802.11n). I can now run my wireless network on 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency bands simultaneously, and the 5GHz signal stretches through my house just fine, though quite frankly I only have 2-3 devices that make use of it. What's more, it seems to interfere with my Sennheiser RS220 wireless headphones less than my old wireless network did, even on the same channel. Some tests/reports claim that the RT-N66U performs slightly better on 802.11n, perhaps because of more mature firmware, but I can't verify this except to say that speed-wise the RT-AC66U noticeably improved on my previous router which was itself generally highly rated.
I have read complaints on various online fora about unreliability and flakiness, especially with the latest firmware, but I have had no such problems so far (touch wood). I never have to restart the router unless I make changes to some of the settings and it's not uncommon for it to be active and working properly for weeks on end without issue.
Wireless-AC and Media Bridge mode
One of the "stand-out" features of this router is the 802.11ac capability which, in theory at least, can provide more than a gigabit of bandwidth wirelessly, potentially enabling wireless devices to achieve wired speeds. However, this standard has not been finalised. The RT-AC66U has the "Draft 2.0" version of 802.11ac so while there's a good chance that future 802.11ac devices will be compatible, there's no guarantee - particularly if changes are made to the chipset. Because of this, I considered getting the RT-N66U instead, which is more or less the same router but without the 802.11ac feature.
However, Asus permit a second RT-AC66U router to be employed as a "Media Bridge", which employs 802.11ac on the 5GHz frequency. This can theoretically eliminate some of the cabling in a wired LAN without compromising speed, which in itself could justify the purchase of this device - in particular if you have a large LAN and you want to replace the cabling for example between the top and bottom levels of a premises. This situation reflected my own, which prompted me to purchase a second unit for use as a Media Bridge. Doing so also facilitated tests to determine the accuracy of some professional reviews that indicated good performance for the 802.11ac.
The secondary "Media Bridge" router was placed downstairs in my house with the primary router approximately 20 feet away upstairs (measured in a direct line). The Media Bridge connected to the primary router wirelessly, on the 5GHz channel using the "N Only" and "80MHz" bandwidth options, ensuring an 802.11ac connection. It took some time to position the Media Bridge so that it could connect reliably to the primary router; placing it right behind my television caused problems. Elevating it slightly and using the supplied stand to place it upright with the antennae positioned vertically fixed the problem and a connection was established. As someone who uses the wireless MAC filter feature, I also realised that both the LAN and 5GHz MAC addresses for the Media Bridge needed to be added to the 5GHz "accept" list on the primary router, as did the MAC addresses of *all* the devices connecting to the Media Bridge, otherwise those devices (Smart TV, PS3) could not connect to the Internet.
To test the performance of 802.11ac (5GHz), I examined the throughput between the primary router and the Media Bridge via their 802.11ac connection. Using a test laptop with a 1.5GB test file, I transferred the file over the LAN between a server (source) and the laptop (destination), with the former connected via Ethernet to the primary router and the latter connected to the LAN in three different configurations:
(a) connected via Ethernet to the primary router;
(b) connected via 802.11n 2.4GHz to the primary router while positioned next to the Media Bridge downstairs; and
(c) connected via Ethernet to the Media Bridge, also while positioned next to the Media Bridge downstairs, and with the Media Bridge connected wirelessly to the primary router via 802.11ac (5GHz).
This provided a comparison between the 802.11n (2.4GHz) and 802.11ac (5GHz) bandwidth at the same position and distance relative to the primary router, as well between the wired and wireless connections, demonstrating the efficacy of the Media Bridge mode of the unit in replacing a wired connection. While wired bit-rates are a function not just of the network architecture but also factors such as the speed of the hard drives, the transfer was done between the same devices on the network to ensure some consistency for the comparison.
For (a) (wired to the primary router) the average transfer rate was approximately 250Mb/s (around 31MB/s).
For (b) (802.11n connection) the transfer rate averaged approximately 17Mb/s (around 2MB/s).
For (c) (wired to the media bridge connected to the primary router via 802.11ac), the rate averaged 125Mb/s (around 15.5MB/s).
While only half the average bitrate for a wired connection, and given that the theoretical 1.3Gb/s bandwidth of 802.11ac is not realistically achievable in practice, and also considering that the signal had to penetrate two walls and a floor as well as various obstacles over a distance of around 20 feet, this was an excellent result overall and showed a clear superiority (~635%) over the direct 802.11n connection between the laptop and the primary router. This is pretty much in line with the performance observed in some professional reviews of the RT-AC66U.
Subsequently, having shuffled my network around a little, including moving one of my desktop PCs downstairs and connecting it via Ethernet to the Media Bridge, I decided to move the Media Bridge to see if I could improve speeds further. It was repositioned to the room directly underneath the primary router, shortening the distance to around 10 feet in a straight line. Some obstacles remained, in particular the ceiling, a metal filing cabinet and an armchair. File transfer speeds between two desktop PCs - the one downstairs wired to the Media Bridge, and one upstairs wired to the primary router - achieved an average of 185Mb/s (around 23MB/s), more than satisfactory for essentially obviating the need to wire up the upstairs and downstairs portions of my LAN.
Overall, the media bridge set up is extremely effective and the experience when using devices connected to the media bridge to view BBC iPlayer, Netflix or video streamed via a media server over the LAN is *noticeably* quicker and lag free, with shorter buffering times. File sharing or remote desktop connections between the upstairs and downstairs PCs through the wireless Media Bridge connection are to all intents and purposes indistinguishable from the experience when all PCs were directly wired to the same router, which is ideally what one wants with a wireless environment. Consequently, if wanting to replace cabling over relatively long distances between two "halves" of a LAN, currently the twin RT-AC66U setup seems the best option for minimising loss of bandwidth. For wireless networks in general, 802.11ac even in draft form outstrips 802.11n by some margin.
To summarise, the positives of the RT-AC66U in my experience are:
(1) Easy to set up;
(2) Lots of features for network configuration;
(3) Ethernet and Wireless-N perform excellently;
(4) Wireless-AC significantly outstrips Wireless-N, even in draft form;
(5) Media Bridge mode is highly effective even at a fair distance with obstacles;
(6) Highly reliable and does not require regular restarts;
(7) Looks nice and built well.
At least in the context of my experience and requirements, the drawbacks are few, though other reviews suggest cons that may be more relevant for your situation:
(1) USB ports are only 2.0;
(2) 802.11ac is only Draft 2.0, throwing future compatibility into question;
(3) Using Media Bridge mode with MAC filtering may be a little fiddly.
Given the draft status of the 802.11ac feature implemented in the RT-AC66U, those who don't have (or desperately need to use) any AC enabled devices and who do not have much use for the Media Bridge mode are perhaps better off saving a chunk of cash and purchasing the RT-N66U instead until routers appear with a finalised 802.11ac specification. But for those who do need AC now and/or are willing to purchase two units to make good use of the Media Bridge feature, the RT-AC66U performs superbly and certainly more than justified the cost of two units for my requirements.