Asus RT-AC66U 802.11ac router
Asus’s first wireless 802.11ac router is very fast, but is that enough?
Review Price £159.99
The fastest wireless ac router yet
Excellent 802.11n speed and range
Intuitive user interface
Fast, simple setup and management
No USB 3.0 ports
Lacks true Cloud platform of D-Link/Linksys
Design not the most subtle
Review Price £159.99
Key Features: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac wireless; Six amplified antennas; 4x Gigabit Ethernet Ports; 2x USB 2.0 ports; AiCloud remote access
Asus RT-AC66U 802.11ac router
What is the Asus RT-AC66U?
This is Asus’ first 802.11ac wireless router. While Asus is primarily known for its laptops, tablets and smartphones the company has also been carving out a niche for itself in the router market. Performance has been at the forefront of its success and consequently our expectations for the AC66U are high.
Asus RT-AC66U – Design
The look of the AC66U can be described in just one word: imposing. This impression is given by the router’s three optional (and upgradeable) external antennas and its sharp angular design. Both elements fly in the face of recent router trends that veer towards internal antennas and smooth, curved finishes. As such the AC66U won’t subtly fade into the background of a room, but it will sit there declaring that it means business.
Asus continues to break trends elsewhere too. The usual plain matt and gloss finishes of most routers has been replaced by a textured tartan on the AC66U’s main body and the tendency to minimise flashing lights is spun on its head with the router featuring no less than nine separate blinking status indicators. There are (from left to right) power and activity lights for four Ethernet ports, Internet, 2.4GHz and 5GHz WiFi and USB.
Like all routers the AC66U is constructed from plastic so it won’t hinder wireless signal, but is well made and feels durable. The antennas also mean the router has flexible positioning, it is wall mountable and comes with a stand that lets it rest on its front edge to lift up those antennas even higher.
Asus RT-AC66U – Features
While the antennas bring positional flexibility, one of the most interesting aspects to the AC66U is its functional flexibility since it can work as a router, wireless bridge and wireless access point. Of course the price for bridges (to bring wireless connectivity to wired devices) and access points (to extend wireless signal) are much cheaper than the AC66U, but it gives the router a welcome second life when you upgrade in the future.
But the real draw is the AC66U’s 802.11ac functionality and like other wireless ac routers it is also backwards compatible with 802.11a/b/g/n and offers dual band 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless n signals – all of which are bolstered by those three large antennas.
You’ll also find 4x Gigabit (10/100/1000) Ethernet ports as is standard these days on any premium router (though we continue to cry out for more) and two USB ports for sharing printers and storage over a network. It is perhaps surprising to see Asus not include a USB 3.0 port like the D-Link DIR-868L or Linksys EA6700, but USB network performance has yet to test the bottleneck of the USB 2.0 standard in any case so it tends to be more for superficial bragging rights.
Internally, the AC66U ticks all the boxes: WPA/WPA2 wireless encryption, parental controls, UPnP, IPv6 support, traffic prioritisation, guest access, QoS and WPS. Curiously, though, for all the blinking activity lights on the router, there isn’t one for WPS, which is frustrating as you can’t see how long it is running when trying to connect to other devices.
Asus has yet to go down the D-Link/Linksys route of providing a full Cloud platform like SmartWiFi and mydlink, but it does offer a halfway house via a smartphone app. AiCloud lets users remotely access audio and video on their network and can be tied in with the the company’s WebStorage Dropbox-a-like service. The combination doesn’t add up to the power and flexibility of its rival’s offerings, but we would expect Asus to fold them into a more complete offering before too long.
Asus RT-AC66U – Setup
While most router setups are slick these days Asus deserves great credit for making the AC66U one of the most enjoyable. Again this is because it bucks a trend.
Unlike rivals, the AC66U doesn’t encrypt its wireless signals by default so you connect without a password. Once you do this, however, your default browser automatically loads the router’s setup page where it walks you through setting Wi-Fi and router passwords and the SSID (router ID). This is clever because it means there is no need to print a key on the bottom of the router and everyone must choose their own password.
Asus RT-AC66U – Performance
So how does this fiesty looking router perform? Impressively. In our test environment of 2m and 10m line of sight and 13m between two standing walls, the AC66U clocked 802.11ac transfer speeds of 39.1MBps (312.8Mbit), 31.2MBps (249.6Mbit) and 27.8MBps (22.2Mbit).
The first of these is the fastest we have seen from any router, besting the 36.7MBps (293.6Mbit) achieved by the Linksys EA6700. As distance increases the EA6700 regains the lead with 35.2MBps (281.6Mbit) and 28.8MBps (230.4Mbit), but the AC66U remains the second fastest ac router we have tested, edging ahead of the D-Link DIR-868L.
It was a similar story with 5GHz wireless performance with the AC66U falling between the D-Link and Linksys. 2m, 10m and 13m speeds managed 21.1Mbit (168.8Mbit), 19.8MBps (158.4Mbit) and 11MBps (88Mbit), which makes it second to the Linksys at 2m and 10m, but much faster at 13m and faster than the D-Link at 2m and 10m, but slower than its remarkable 14.1MBps (112.8Mbit) at 13m.
Asus RT-AC66U 2.4GHz speedsInterestingly – despite these excellent figures – the AC66U shines brightest at 2.4GHz 802.11n. It managed 11.6MBps (92.8Mbit), 10.6MBps (84.8Mbit) and 5.3MBps (42.4Mbit) at 2m, 10m and 13m respectively.
In fact only the dedicated 802.11n D-Link DIR-845L can pip it at any distance with 5.5MBps (44Mbit) at 13m.
As for performance via USB, like all other routers, it disappoints. The AC66U managed just 3.1MBps (24.8Mbit), which is a long way down on the USB 3.0 equipped Linksys EA6700 and D-Link DIR-868L [7.1MBps (56.8Mbit) and 4.9MBps (39.2Mbit) respectively] and it continues to show USB network sharing – while convenient – struggles badly compared to Gigabit Ethernet.
Why? While it differs from router to router, typically they lack enough memory to cache large amounts of USB data before firing it over their network. By contrast Ethernet is already part of the network and doesn’t need caching.
Should I buy the Asus RT-AC66U?
Based on wireless performance alone the AC66U is well deserving of your attention as it tussles successfully in all wireless n/ac tests with the two fastest routers we have seen to date. At £159.99 it also splits both routers in price with the Linksys EA6700 dearer at £169.99 and the D-Link DIR-868L a bit cheaper at £139.99.
If you can afford it we would still give the EA6700 the edge, despite its ropey 5GHz wireless n performance at range. This is because its Smart WiFi platform remains a real benefit, offering complete control of the router from any location with an internet connection. Mydlink is far more limited in this way, but you save money and D-Link has a Cloud platform to develop while Asus is keeping schtum on any fully fledged Cloud platform plans for now.
We can’t see any purchasers being disappointed in the AC66U, but given performance levels are beginning to even out it is the extras which are starting to make the difference.
The Asus RT-AC66U is a superb router, but it’s not quite our favourite. It’s very, very fast, which is great news if you only care about performance, but rivals have a few more features we’d like Asus to add.
Scores In Detail
Build Quality 8/10
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