|Name||Wireless-N Router: Asus RT-N56U|
|At a glance:||Dual-band Wireless-N,4 gigabit-Ethernet ports,2 USB 2.0 ports,Easy to use QoS feature|
|Summary:||Overkill in the average home – great if you need high throughput and traffic prioritisation.|
This high-end home router from Asus offers dual-band (2.4 and 5GHz) 300Mbit/sec Wireless-N functionality, four gigabit wired Ethernet ports, and two USB ports for storage and printer sharing.
The RT-N56U looks much like a project to update and streamline 2001’s monolith. The ultra-slimline router has a smooth surface with a faceted, almost lenticular appearance. From some angles it’s just a black rectangle – from others, intricately patterned. Add a single column of blue status LEDs, and you’ve got something a whole lot more stylish than the average router.
One downside of the ‘designer’ look is a form-over-function decision: an angled back and the lack of any mount-points means the RT-N56U can’t be wall mounted. If you’re short on space, or going for the absolute perfect height and location for your particular environment, you may be disappointed.
Setup is simple for the most part: plug in the router, connect it by cable to your source of internet (in my case, an ADSL modem/router), and connect your PC via cable or Wi-Fi. I did have some trouble with the browser-based setup wizard that appeared when I did this – the ‘automatic’ setup failed, forcing me to manually assign the router an IP and enter the subnet, gateway and DNS details of my ADSL modem/router. I was expecting to have to enter those details anyway, so I can hardly complain.
Immediately after setup, the 2.4 and 5GHz networks (default SSIDs ‘ASUS’ and ‘ASUS_5G’ respectively) are both enabled, with no. This isn’t one of those plug-and-play routers that come pre-secured, with a nice randomly generated WPA key stickered to the bottom. Why? I really don’t know. For something that claims to be ‘Easy’ on the box, it would have been a nice touch. Even for experienced users, it’s easy to secure your 2.4GHz network, and forget to assign a password in the 5GHz network’s admin tab – leaving your Wi-Fi wide open.
The RT-N56U’s web interface does have some nice touches, like the ‘EZQoS Bandwidth Management’ feature. This lets your prioritise gaming, browsing, FTP or VOIP/video streaming with a single button-click. Detailed control over quality of service is available for those who want it, but if you just want to stop your games or VOIP calls lagging while you’re running large downloads, it’s a useful tool that requires no networking know-how.
Quality of Service is also the logic behind the dual-band setup. The idea is that you’d connect your web browsing and download-hungry devices like PCs to the 2.4GHz network, and your smart-TV, music streaming and gaming devices to the 5GHz network – isolating the speed-critical traffic into its own little world, and preventing your browsing and downloads from affecting your media and gaming experience. This really does seem to work, particularly when streaming HD video from a local source like a NAS box or PC. Streaming video from the web is still going to be affected by downloads, unless you have a mightily high-bandwidth internet connection.
With the latest firmware update, one of the USB ports designed for connecting storage devices or printers can instead be used to connect a USB modem – turning the RT-N56U into a modem/router.
Overall, this high-performance home router is ideal for those needing to shift a large amount of data around both over Ethernet and wirelessly. If you’ve got a home theatre playing HD media from a NAS box, a console or two for online gaming, you use VOIP for all your calls, and you burn through fifty gigabytes a month in downloads, the massive throughput the RT-N56U is capable of should justify its price. For the average home setup, it’s just overkill in a pretty little shell.