The IEEE 802.11ac wireless standard is still in the draft stages, with the specs to be finalized sometime next year. Finalization, however, has never stopped tech companies before from releasing products that are literally on the cutting edge. You may have heard of “AC” routers in the market, and today I’ll be looking at one such entry from ASUS, the RT-AC66U. And since we didn’t have any AC compatible hardware in the office, ASUS conveniently also gave us the USB-AC3 adapter as well.
The RT-AC66U builds upon the success of the very popular RT-N66U router we reviewed earlier this year. Only this time, the 5GHz bandwidth has the speed capacity of 1300Mbps instead of 450Mbps on 802.11n standard. So you literally have 3 times the bandwidth capabilities with the 802.11ac standard compared to 802.11n. Of course, the standard 2.4GHz bandwidth on both routers still over 450Mbps speeds.
In all aspects the RT-AC66U is the same as the N66U except for the Broadcom BCM4360 chipset which allows for the AC protocol, and the the additional 128MB FLA1 memory the AC bandwidth. The set of features, from the AiRadar wireless optimization to the Download Master for accessing hard drives connected to the router itself remain the same. As such you can refer to the RT-N66U review for an in-depth look at the firmware and features usage for the RT-AC66U.
For testing the regular speeds on the 5GHz bandwidth, our regular office desktops were used. Since they only have 802.11n compatible LAN chipsets, the results below weren’t surprising, although I wasn’t expecting the average performance to be below the N66U.
Meanwhile the RT-N66U gave an average speed of 12.3Mbps in the same test. I replicated the test by connecting multiple other laptops in our office with similar results. Perhaps the BCM4360 chipset on the RT-AC66U isn’t as good as the BCM4331 chipset on the RT-N66U for 802.11n speeds.
With the USB-AC53 adapter plugged in, however, things changed dramatically. It runs on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bandwidths, capable of 300Mbps and 867Mbps speeds respectively. Not quite up to the 1300Mbps offered by the RT-AC66U, but the USB-AC53 is the next best thing.
Now keep in mind that at 1300Mbps, the USB2.0 connector on the USB 3.0 simply couldn’t match the speed of the 802.11ac bandwidth. It’s strange indeed that ASUS went with USB 2.0 instead of a USB 3.0 port on the adapter. The above tests confirm that plugging the USB-AC53 adapter into a USB 3.0 port will give more bandwidth, but it still can’t make up for the fact that the potential is limited by USB 2.0.
Ultimately the ASUS RT-AC66U router, despite the low speeds in 802.11n protocol, does offer a completely future proof systems as 802.11ac equipped devices are expected to be commonplace by 2015. Usage is simple and performance, even when not pushing the limits of the 802.11ac connection, is incredibly lag-free and seamless on the RT-AC66U. Meanwhile the USB-AC53 adapter is similarly future-proofing yourself. Sadly I cannot recommend it in it’s current state as the USB 2.0 connection severely limits its capabilities. However, the next iteration with USB 3.0 connection will definitely be worth the purchase.