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Awesome hardware, but be sure to set it up properly!
on September 23, 2013
The Asus RT-N66U is absolutely an impressive piece of hardware. Seriously powerful, feature packed, aesthetically pleasing, and at an approachable price point for the hobbyist. I think you'll find that this holds true by reading all the great reviews here.
There are definitely two weak points to be aware of, however.
The first - the firmware that it ships with is in pretty rough shape.
After unboxing and plugging in my router I went through the setup wizard to change the SSID, change the router password, and set up WPA2 key. This went fine. After that, I went in to the router settings and made one small change, saved it, and was disconnected from the router as part of the change. It should have reconnected shortly after, but instead my browser presented me the page that comes up when a web address cannot be reached. I tried for a while but the router was suddenly inaccessible on the default IP address. Basically, from what I could tell, the change I made however benign had buggered up the router. I ended up resorting to a reset - accomplished by holding the reset button for 5-10 seconds with the router turned on.
So lesson #1 here is to immediately install the newest firmware available at the Asus website THE MOMENT you unbox your and plug in your router. The firmware update went smoothly after I got the router reset to factory setup and working again, and now it's been working flawlessly for a month.
OK, second weak point - the router, as far as I'm concerned, comes from the factory improperly configured. That is, the default settings in the router hamper its full and proper operation.
What I mean by this is that after installing the router I was getting less than ideal performance out of it. While it was working well enough to give me good download and upload speeds (25mb/sec down, 15mb/sec up) from my cable connection, internal network speeds and coverage were below expectations. For example, paired with a matching dual band NetGear USB wireless adapter on my office computer, Windows wireless client was showing network speed fluctuating between 78Mbps and 216Mbps with it usually in the middle somewhere around 120Mbps. Better than the approx 50Mbps speeds I would see with my 802.11g router and adapter previously but not what I'd expected. In addition, the signal strength was rather poor in the back room. As another example, I was getting a consistent 144Mbps from my XPS M1530 laptop, with an older single band 2.4Ghz draft-N internal card, in the living room right near the router. Also less than my hopes had been for this router.
So I did some more thorough review of the wireless settings and found two big issues that needed to be change to get this router working as it should be.
The first was that the wireless control channel setting for both the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands is set to "Auto" be default. Ideally, this would mean that the router would dynamically select the best channel based on local interference in that band. In the real world, though, this Auto mode on most routers doesn't work that well and this is no different. I performed a wireless network scan with my Android phone using a free app, and found that my router was camped out on Channel 6. As some may know, this is the default channel for most consumer routers and most home users never change away from it. Sure enough, there were three other wireless networks that I could detect around neighborhood that were on channel 6 as well. To remedy this, I took the 2.4Ghz band off of Auto and set the channel to 1. For those making this change themselves, be sure to scan using something like WiEye on your phone or inSSIDer on your computer. Assuming that most of the other routers in your area will be using channel 6, you will need to move yours to the far ends of the channel list, choosing either 1 or 11. This because the signal from the routers set to channel 6 do not stay there perfectly, instead they overlap substantially. A router on channel 8, for example, will have a pretty good overlap with those on channel 6 and will still see interference. The only way to avoid this is moving all the way to 1 or 11. I left the 5Ghz channel selection on Auto for now, as the 5Ghz band is much less interference prone currently, and in fact I don't believe there are any other 5Ghz networks in range in my neighborhood currently so it's a non-issue there.
The second major problem I found with the router's default setting was also in the router settings. The RT-N66U has the option to change the bandwidth for a given band. By default, I found that both the 2.4 and 5Ghz bands were set to a signal bandwidth of 20Hz. The reason this is a major issue is that at 20Hz, there is simply not enough throughput on the given band to allow for this router to hit its full speed potential. So I went ahead and set the router to use 40Hz bandwidth for each band.
With those two changes, my network performance and signal strength increased dramatically with real world results to prove it. Now, that dual-band network adapter in my office shows pegged at a solid 450Mbps (x2 for the dual bands for a theoretical 900Mbps hence the N900 designation on the router). Now that's what I'd been expecting all along! As for the laptop in the other room, on single band 2.4Ghz it is now hitting a rock solid 300Mbps which is the max for that older draft-N card. This extra speed has even helped me attain the max internet speeds I can expect from my cable plan, I'm now seeing 30+Mbps download speeds and 20+Mbps uploads.
Now that it is properly configured, I have set it up to do all sorts of other fun stuff. I set up the VPN, with encryption, and can now connect to that with my Android phone and tablet when traveling which is a great feature for secure and private browsing when at airports, hotels, etc. I set up a separate "guest" SSID that is segregated from my internal network for my phones and to connect to since they are the only devices that regularly leave the security of the internal network. There are still 5 more guest SSID's I can set up. Additionally, I connected a USB hard drive to it and it's running as a local share folder as well as a DLNA and iTunes server. It's doing all this with a desktop computer, two laptop computers, three Android phones, an Android tablet, a chromecast and a PS3 all connected to it and it's not even breaking a sweat.
So that's a lot of info, but I hope you can see that in the end with some know-how and research on the internet (like reading this review) this router can be just about the best thing you can do for your home or small business network at this price point. I would not hesitate to recommend it with the above provisos in mind.