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The Asus RT-AC3200 is the latest in a trio of tri-band routers on market, rivaling the R8000 from Netgear and the EA9200 from Linksys. Similar to the others, the router did well in testing, proving itself to be great for homes with lots of local heavy Wi-Fi needs, but an overkill product for others.
What's more, the Asus RT-AC3200 has a few things that make it stand out. These include a robust and fun-to-use Web interface, a slew of excellent network-monitoring features, a built-in VPN server and the ability to connect to multiple Internet sources at a time. This means, it can also be a capable gateway for a small office.
Comparing apples to apples, the Asus RT-AC3200 has the most to offer among the three. Still, whether or not it's worth the $299 price tag (directly converted before taxes, about £195 or AU$385) depends on if you have the need for its power. Most people won't, and will see no difference when compared to a much cheaper AC1900 router, such as the Asus RT-AC68U, the Netgear R7000 or the Linksys WRT1900AC.
That said, while it doesn't hurt to get the Asus RT-AC3200 if you can afford it, it's generally a better idea to pick a router that fits your needs without breaking your bank on this this list of top 802.11ac routers.
In the development of Wi-Fi, the current AC3200 designation is somewhat unnatural. Instead of increasing the speed of each wireless band, Broadcom decided to add an extra band to an existing dual-band Wi-Fi chip to make up its 5G XStream chip, which powers all AC3200 routers. That said, an AC3200 router, for now, is like a AC1900 router, plus another 5GHz access point all built into a single box. (For a deeper dive on Wi-Fi standards, check out this this handy feature.)
To be specific, the Asus RT-AC3200 has three separate access points: one 2.4GHz access to support all 2.4GHz 802.11n/g/b Wi-Fi clients and which caps at 600Mbps; and two 5GHz access points to support 5GHz 802.11ac/n/a clients, capped at 1,300Mbps each. This means despite the total bandwidth of 3,200Mbps at a given time, the router's fastest theoretical speed to single clients is 1,300Mbps at most, which is the same as an AC1900 router.
So, why two 5GHz bands? For better bandwidth allocation leading to optimal speeds. Generally, for compatibility, a wireless band works at the slowest speed any of the the connected clients supports. With two separate 5GHz bands, both high- and low-end clients can operate in their own band, hence at their top speeds, without affecting each other. On top of that, two 5GHz bands also helps reduce the stress on each of the bands when there are many connected clients fighting for router's bandwidth. It's like adding more lanes to a freeway, which is helpful when there's a lot of traffic.
And the keyword here is traffic. If you have just a few 5GHz clients, especially those of the same standard, having the second 5GHz band doesn't amount to anything at all. It's just redundant. Also note that you'll only benefit from the faster speeds when doing data-intensive local tasks, such as file transfers, media streams and so on. For Internet-based applications like Netflix streaming or file downloading, chances are you'll see no difference between this tri-band design and a dual-band AC1900 setup, simply because the router's speed will always be faster than the speed of your Internet, but it can't speed up your service provider's Internet connection.
It was a bit of deja-vu for me reviewing the RT-3200 since it looks almost identical, though slightly larger, to the RT-AC87U and shares the same set of features, as well as the interface. The biggest difference between the two is the RT-AC3200 is a three-stream, tri-band router while the RT-AC87U is a quad-stream, dual-band one.
That said, the RT-AC3200 is huge, with six detachable antennas. Despite the large size, the router has just the usual four gigabit LAN ports and one gigabit WAN (Internet) port on the back. There's enough space to add another row of LAN ports to it. Also strange, the router has two USB ports but only the USB 2.o port is placed on its back while the USB 3.0 port is in the front.
Due to the much faster speed, the USB 3.0 port is the preferred port to host a permanent storage device, and having this port on the front will translate into a messy setup when you want to the router to also serve as a network storage server.
The RT-AC3200 does have one minor design improvement over its older brother: the array of status lights on the front now protrude out, instead of facing down, allowing you to see them even when looking at the router from the top.
On the inside, the RT-AC3200 packs powerful hardware. It runs a Broadcom BCM4709 dual-core 1GHz processor with 256MB of DDR 3 system memory and 128MB of flash storage. In all, it has enough power as a small server and is currently among the most powerful routers on the market.
The RT-AC3200 shares the same setup process as routers from Asus released in the last few years, which is very easy. All you have to do is plug the router in and point a browser from a connected computer to the router's default IP address (192.168.1.1). The first time, the interface will greet you with a Web-based wizard, which walks you through a few steps, including creating a password for the interface itself and the Wi-Fi networks.
By default the router has its Smart Connect feature turned on, meaning all bands (2.4GHz and 5GHz) are combined into one single network and the router will automatically connect clients to either band depending on the clients' Wi-Fi standard. However, you can also manually name the three bands as three separate networks. In this case, you will have three Wi-Fi networks, one for the 2.4GHz band and two for the 5GHz band.
After the initial setup, you can always go back to this interface to manage the router as well as to customize other settings and features. The interface is very well-organized and easy to use. It has an interactive network map that displays the connected devices in real time. You can click on a connected device to interact with it or view more information about it. Clients connected to the router are also sorted by the connection method, including wired, and by which wireless network they're connected to.
From this network map, you can also quickly access the router's other settings, such as Dynamic DNS, Wi-Fi settings, the settings of the Internet connection (WAN) and so on. You can also access other settings by using different sections of the interface. For the most part, everything is very clearly explained or self-explanatory.
The Web interface is not perfect, however, since there's at least one minor caveat: while you can easily assign a fixed IP address to a connected client, once the IP is assigned, the client is now remembered by its MAC address, instead of its name. The MAC address is a string of numbers and letters, therefore it is very hard to know which client has which IP address when you have multiple clients on the IP reservation list. This shortcoming has been present in many other routers which share the same interface, and I was surprised Asus hasn't fixed this.
Apart from the router's settings, you can use the Web interface to manage the router's many features.
The RT-AC3200 shares many helpful features collectively available in other Asus routers. The two main features, however, are the AiProtection and Adaptive QoS (quality of service).
AiProtection is powered by Trend Micro, and designed to protect the entire home network against viruses and malware from the Internet. Furthermore, if a client has already been infected, this feature will also stop it from sending out personal information. AiProtection worked quite well in my trial, even though it's hard to say if it can protect your home network completely. Also, when I turned this feature on all the way, certain settings or features of the router -- namely those prone to security risks, such as port-forwarding, UPnP, remote access and so on -- would stop working, too.
Adaptive QoS prioritizes the Internet bandwidth according to the type of traffic: Web surfing, gaming, video and audio streaming, VoIP/instant messaging, file transferring and other. You can use the mouse to arrange these categories by priority and the router will take care of the rest. You can also opt for the Traditional QoS where you need to define rules manually.
On top of that, there's also a function called "apps analysis" that allows for real-time monitoring of the Internet activity of any connected client as well as the total download and upload bandwidth being used. This is a very helpful tool if you want to find out which client or application is abusing the Internet connection.
The RT-AC3200 supports nine concurrent guest Wi-Fi networks (three on each band). By default, all of these networks are disabled but you can turn each on via a click. After that you can customize this network's name, schedule and even its security. A guest network allows connected clients to access the Internet but not other local resources, such as files or printers.
The router's two USB ports can be used for multiple purposes. They can host external hard drives, cellular modems or USB printers. When a hard drive is connected, you can share the data stored on it with local clients or remote clients over the Internet, and you can even set up syncing, native Time Machine backup support and PC-less downloads. Overall, the RT-AC3200 (along with other 802.11ac routers from Asus) has the most to offer by far in terms of what you can do with their built-in network storage feature.
And last but not least, the RT-AC3200 has a built-in PPTP VPN server that can host up to 10 remote clients and can even turn one of its LAN ports into a second WAN port in case you want to use the router with two Internet services (DSL and Cable) at the same time. These make it a good fit as a gateway for a small office.
All in all, the RT-AC3200 has the best feature set of all routers reviewed to date.
In terms of data rates, the RT-AC3200 is slated to be as fast as any other AC1900 router. This is because, as mentioned above, it is actually an AC1900 router when it comes to each individual connection. And the router performed well in testing.
On the 5GHz band, at the close range of 15 feet (4.6 meters), it registered the sustained real-world speed of 514Mbps; when I increased the distance to 100 feet the speed was reduced to 213Mbps. Overall, these were above the average on the chart.
The router's performance didn't change much when I used six 5GHz clients at the same time, a benefit of the second 5GHz band. However, in real-world usage, you'd rarely have that many clients performing heavy tasks at the same time. And in case you do, if all those clients pull data from the same source, such as streaming media from the same server, the throughput speed of the server itself would be the bottleneck of each individual connection. In short, as far as Wi-Fi speed is concern, it's unlikely that you will experience the difference the RT-AC3200 makes compared to good AC1900 router.
On the 2.4GHz band, the router scored 236Mbps at close range and just 66Mbps at 100 feet (30 meters) away. These were as fast as expected.
The RT-AC3200 had quite good range in my testing. It wasn't the longest range I've seen, but on par with other AC3200 routers, with an effective range of around 200 feet (60 meters). The router also passed my 48-hour stress test with no problems at all. During this time, it was set to transfer data constantly between multiple devices, both wired and wireless, all of different Wi-Fi standards and connected to all of its bands; none of the clients disconnected even once.
Note that I tested the router at CNET's offices, where there are plenty of walls and many Wi-Fi devices, including those from adjacent buildings, that are out of my control. Generally, walls shorten the reach of a Wi-Fi signal, and other Wi-Fi devices create interference. As with all Wi-Fi routers, your results may vary depending on where you live.
When coupled with a portable drive, the RT-AC3200 didn't blow me away with performance averaging slightly less than 30MBps via a Gigabit connection. This is by any means slow, but compared to other routers with the same feature it wasn't near the fastest either. Nonetheless, at this speed, the router can work well as a home NAS server, with enough bandwidth for media streaming as well as file sharing and backup. In fact, it's much faster than Apple's Time Machine.
As with other AC3200 routers, I can only recommended the Asus RT-AC3200 to a very small group of people. This is because its Wi-Fi performance, the main selling point of an AC3200 router, is no better than an AC1900 router in most cases, while the router itself is very expensive.
But I do like the new router's excellent feature set and ease of use. And there's not much to complain about its performance, either.
That said, if you can afford the price, the RT-AC3200 will work well. Just don't expect it to dramatically change your network's wireless speed if you're already using an 802.11ac router. But if you're one of those few with lots -- a dozen or more -- of 5GHz clients, or you just want to take advantage of the unique and helpful features, then the RT-AC3200 is made for you and will definitely make your life better.