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ASUS RT-N56U - wireless router - 802.11 a/b/g/n - desktop
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Editors' note, September 5, 2014: This review was updated with the router's latest firmware (version 126.96.36.199.376_2678), and its ratings have been changed accordingly.
The AC2400 RT-AC87U Dual-band Wireless Gigabit Router is a big leap in home Wi-Fi performance. And a month after its release, it's now even better thanks to recent firmware update that squashed a round of initial bugs. It's now safe to get and I recommend it.
The new router has everything the previous model, the RT-AC68U, has to offer and then some. Yet at the same time, it manages to remain as easy and fun to use as its predecessor. You do need hardware with compatible superfast 802.11ac Wi-Fi to take advantage of its top speed, however.
In my testing, the RT-AC87U delivered the fastest Wi-Fi speed I've seen and exhibited the longest effective range, living up to its potential as the first 4x4 802.11ac router. On top of that, it also made a good NAS server when hosting an external hard drive.
On the downside, its bulky design could be improved. And at $280/AU$329 it's cost-prohibitive to many. (Pricing for the UK is not yet available, but converted it's about £170.) That said, if you live in a large house and need better Wi-Fi coverage, the RT-AC87U, is totally worth the investment.
For more affordable choices, check out this list of top 802.11ac router on the market.
The RT-AC87U packs an impressive punch. It's the first router on the market that supports the four-spatial-stream setup (4x4) of the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard, using the dual-core 500MHz Quantenna QT3840BC chip. (Read more about Wi-Fi standards here.) This means on the 5GHz frequency band, it's capable of delivering the top speed of 1733Mbps when working with a 802.11ac client (such as a smartphone, tablet, or PC).
Keep in mind that while the router supports all existing Wi-Fi clients on the market (regardless of their Wi-Fi standards), in order to achieve the quad-stream speed, you also need quad-stream-enabled clients. Currently there aren't any on the market, though some are expected to be available by early next year.
On the 2.4GHz band, the router sports a dual-core 1GHz Broadcom BCM4709 chip that delivers up to 600Mbps. This chip is also used for the router's other functions, including the USB, NAT, system operation, and so on. This is a true dual-band router so it has the total combined Wi-Fi bandwidth of 2333Mbps, but Asus rounds this up to categorize it as an AC2400 router.
The Asus also has 128MB of flash memory and 256MB of DDR 3 system memory. In all, it has enough power as a small server and is currently the one with most powerful specs among home routers.
As a router, the RT-AC87U has four Gigabit LAN ports and one Gigabit WAN (Internet) port on its back. This is a normal number of network ports for a home router. The RT-AC87U is very large though and therefore has enough space for a few more LAN ports. The more ports you have, the more wired devices you can plug in before having to resort to a switch.
The router does come with two USB ports. The USB 2.0 port, as usual, is on its back, but for some reason the USB 3.0 port is placed on the front. Generally, the USB 3.0 port would be used to host a permanent storage device, and having this port on the front means you'll have a messy setup should you choose to use the router as a NAS server.
I understand the lack of extra network ports and the placement of the USB 3.0 port depends on the design of the router's main circuit board, but it's something Asus should keep in mind for its future routers.
On the front, the router comes with an array of fancy LED status lights. I found these lights very helpful but unfortunately they all face downwards. This means no matter how the router is placed (either on the floor or mounted on wall), chances are you won't be able to see these lights at all, without bending down. Since you can turn these lights on or off via a button on the router's front, the fact that they are hidden away serves no purpose at all.
Similar to recent previous 802.11ac routers from Asus, including the RT-AC66U and the RT-AC68U, the new RT-AC87U is very easy to set up. All you have to do is plug the router in and point a browser to the router's default IP address (192.168.1.1). The first time you go there, the interface will greet you with a Web-based wizard, which walks you through a few steps.
After that, you can always go back to this interface to manage the router, as well as to customize other settings and features. It's interesting to note that the RT-AC87U shares the same settings structure as previous RT-ACxxx models. I tried restoring it with the settings file of the older RT-AC68U, and it worked. This makes it very convenient for owners of Asus' older routers to upgrade to the RT-AC87U since they won't need to reprogram the new router from scratch.
Great features, robust Web interface
The RT-AC87U shares the same robust and easy-to-use interface as previous RT routers. It also has all the features that the RT-AC68U has and more. A few common major features include:
Six guest Wi-Fi networks: The router has three guest networks for each band. By default, these are turned off but you can easy turn one on with a click. After that you can customize this network's name, as well as its security. A guest network allows connected clients to access the Internet but not other local resources, such as files or printers.