Revealed! The best, and worst, 802.11ac Wi-Fi routers of 2013

Asus RT-AC68U review: The best router on the market, priced accordingly

Credit: ROBERT CARDIN
At a Glance
  • Asus RT-AC68U AC1900 Wi-Fi Router

    TechHive Rating

    The Asus RT-AC68U is the most advanced consumer router on the market, but it’s also one of the most expensive.

Revealed! The best, and worst, 802.11ac Wi-Fi routers of 2013

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Asus has proven to be a tough competitor in the Wi-Fi router space. So tough that Netgear accused the company of pulling the wool over the FCC’s eyes by submitting fraudulent test results. The judge in that case recently declined Asus’s request to have the case dismissed, so this will be fun to watch.

In the meantime, Asus shipped its RT-AC68U router, which is the most feature-laden router I’ve tested. If you’re looking for an inexpensive router for your small business, this is the one to buy. The same goes for anyone looking for an advanced home router. It’s the only consumer-priced router I’ve seen that can be configured with dual WAN (wide-area network) ports, so that you can establish two independent broadband connections for either load balancing (distributing your broadband workload over two connections) or to provide failover protection (if one connection drops out, the other is available as a backup).

ROBERT CARDIN

The Asus RT-AC68U is the best router on the market today. 

This feature will be of interest primarily to small businesses. Most consumers don’t need—and don’t have the infrastructure for—load balancing and failover protection. You’ll also need to give up one of the four gigabit ports on the router’s switch to enable this feature, but that’s not much of a sacrifice. Alternatively, you can plug a 3G/4G mobile broadband dongle into one of the router’s two USB ports for the same purpose.

The RT-AC68U has one USB 2.0 port and one USB 3.0 port, and it can share both a printer and a USB storage device on your network at the same time. But when I tested each router’s NAS (network-attached storage) capabilities, the Asus placed a distant second to Netgear’s R7000 Nighthawk router (I suspect this is because the Nighthawk has a faster CPU).

The RT-AC68U’s VPN (virtual private network) server allows you to access your private network via an encrypted connection across the Internet. And its Download Master software enables you to download files to attached USB storage devices via services such as FTP and BitTorrent while your PC is powered down.

Most modern routers allow you establish a guest network that allows users to access the Internet without granting them access to other resources on your network. With the RT-AC68U, you can establish three wireless networks on the 2.4GHz frequency band, and three more on the 5GHz band. What’s more, you can establish separate access policies on each of these networks, so you can grant some users full access to your network, limit others to particular resources, and limit still others to just Internet access.

ROBERT CARDIN

You can convert one of the RT-AC68U's gigabit LAN ports to a second WAN port; alternatively, you can plug a 3G/4G USB Wi-Fi adapter into one of its USB ports for WAN redundancy.

AiCloud is one of the last of this router’s most alluring features. It consists of four elements: Cloud Disk, Smart Access, Smart Sync, and Router to Router Sync. Cloud Disk allows you to access the data stored on a USB hard drive attached to the router from anywhere you have Internet access. You can also stream media to Android and iOS devices. Smart Access lets you access your home network—and all the devices connected to your home network, even if those devices are asleep—from any PC, Android, or iOS device that has access to the Internet.

Smart Sync keeps whichever folders you choose on our USB storage device synchronized with your Asus WebStorage account (you get 5GB of cloud storage free). You can also synchronize storage connected to other Asus routers that support AiCloud. As with other popular cloud-storage services, you can also access this storage from mobile devices.

Router-to-Router sync enables you to sync folders on storage devices connected to two AiCloud-compatible routers. This last feature is very similar to what Connected Data’s Transporter offers, though it’s not quite as easy to set up. The RT-AC68U has all the other checklist features I’ve come to expect in a high-end router, including FTP and SAMBA file servers, and UPnP, DLNA, and iTunes media servers.

Wireless networking performance

The RT-AC68U is a feature-laden router, but that’s only half the equation. Let’s take a look at how it performs. The RT-AC68U features Broadcom’s TurboQAM technology, which enables the router to deliver of 600 mbps of bandwidth on the 2.4GHz frequency band, compared to the 450 mbps that the typical high-end router supports. The benefit of this feature is somewhat dubious, because the client adapter must also support TurboQAM—and most don’t. If you’re using the 2.4GHz band, it’s probably because you have a legacy client that doesn’t support anything else

802.11ac Wi-Fi router performance

It was very close, but D-Link’s DIR-868L edged out the Asus when I tested the routers with second identical models configured as wireless bridges. The Asus delivered the highest throughput at longer range, but the D-Link was faster at the two closer locations.

80211ac wumc710

The scores were much closer when I tested the routers with Linksys’s WUMC710 802.11ac wireless bridge—except when the client was in my home theater. The Asus and Netgear finished neck-and-neck here, but the Asus delivered the highest average throughput across all four locations.

802.11ac Wi-Fi performance

Asus’s router delivered the overall best performance when I tested the field’s performance with Linksys’s WUSB6300 802.11ac Wi-Fi client adapter, even though it finished first in only one of my four test locations (which just happened to be the toughest spot to reach—my home theater).

802.11ac Wi-Fi router performance

The RT-AC68U’s 5GHz 802.11n performance was also very good: It placed second in three of the four locations, but it placed dead last when the client was closest to the router with no walls separating the two. Interestingly, each of the other five routers finished first in one or another of the other locations.

802.11ac Wi-Fi performance

The RT-AC68U’s performance on the 2.4GHz band is nothing to brag about. It did, however deliver the best performance of the six routers in the most difficult-to-reach location of the four spots I test in: My home theater, which is a room-within-a-room design with double walls and multiple layers of drywall and insulation for the purposes of acoustic isolation.

802.11ac Wi-Fi router performance

When it comes to transferring data from an attached USB 3.0 hard drive, Netgear’s R7000 kicked everyone’s butt. The Asus placed a distance second, but it was faster than the other four competitors (the Buffalo WZR-1750DHP doesn’t recognize hard drives formatted NTFS, and the Trendnet TEW-DRU812 V2 didn't recognize my hard drive, so I didn’t test those).

The bottom line

The Asus RT-AC68U is the most advanced consumer router on the market, and it’s priced accordingly. If you won’t benefit from features such as dual-WAN support, a VPN server, or Asus’s AiCloud features, the premium might not be worth it. And if USB storage is your most important consideration, Netgear’s R7000 is the clear winner. But I still consider the RT-AC68U to be the best overall router on the market right now.

This story, "Asus RT-AC68U review: The best router on the market, priced accordingly" was originally published by PCWorld.

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At a Glance
  • TechHive Rating

    The Asus RT-AC68U is the most advanced consumer router on the market, but it’s also one of the most expensive.

    Pros

    • Fast performance overall
    • Dual USB ports (one USB 3.0/one USB 2.0)
    • Best-of-breed feature set

    Cons

    • Expensive
    • Overkill for some
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