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Technology

Gadget Review: Asus RT-AX56U Router

Last month, my AC87U started acting up. It was randomly disconnecting from my wireless clients, and was often failing to handover the connections to the AC5300U. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring a portion of my infrastructure up to Wifi 6 standards.

A little bit of a background – the 87u sits near the entrance of the house, and is mainly to service the living-room, balcony and kitchen. Due to the presence of 2 large aluminum backed mirrors, I had to place the 5300u in the study room, so that it could service the 4 bedrooms.

Since the 87u was no longer fit for purpose. I was on the lookout for a new router that could integrate with my existing hardware. I had heard about the Asus AIMesh functionality, but the reviews had been poor for the first couple of iterations. But the latest reviews were starting to sound good, so I knew this was an option.

I also researched other standalone mesh systems, but the price to feature ratio did not make sense for me. I didn’t want to be paying $400 for a device that had better Wifi 6 speed, but then loses out on the configurability (?!) that I can get from the Asus WRT software and especially from the Merlin firmware. Long time readers (all 2 of you) would know I love this firmware because of the OpenVPN integration and the general performance boost.

So a quick search online and I found that Asus had more than a few options:

Source: https://www.asus.com/sg/Networking/Wireless-Routers-Products/

The Asus RT-AX56U caught my eye for a couple of reasons:

  • Cheapest of the lot
  • AI Mesh compatible
  • Merlin firmware compatible
  • Dual band (Since this would be placed near the entrance of the house to serve only a few clients, it didn’t need to have mind-numbingly high throughput)
  • A quad-core broadcom 1.5Ghz CPU with 512MB of RAM (double the 87u)

A quick trip to the hardware shop, and here it:

A fresh Asus RT-AX56U

Out went the 87u and in its place went the 56u. The usual process through the Asus connection wizard and I was up and running. Of course, I had to import all the settings from the 87u, but that didn’t take me more than 30 minutes. I used my only Wifi 6 device (Samsung Galaxy S10) to connect to the router, and lo-and-behold, would you look at that Network Speed!

1.1 Gbps wireless connection speed – welcome to the future!

I’m obviously happy with that connection from 2 meters away, but what I was really keen to test out was the mesh network handover. Using the S10 I walked step-by-step towards my bedroom. As expected, the hand-off occured the moment I passed the 2 aforementioned mirrors. (Sidenote: The 5300u backhaul is connected using an ethernet cable for maximum stability. ) That is exactly how I wanted the router to perform, and I am happy that that’s what it does out-of-the box.

One caveat about Asus routers – they tend to run hot. After an hour, my 56u was hovering in the 70 C range. I put a USB fan under it, and the temperature went down to 50 C.

Router in DB Box with a USB fan for cooling

In summary, if you are looking for a cheap Wifi 6 router that can serve as an AI Mesh node, look no further than the Asus RT-AX56U. It is priced in the S$159 – S$199 range, and it’s good value for a simple but capable router. I’m happy with my purchase, but there’s that little voice that tells me I should have bought the RT-AX58U for the triple band connection. Let’s see how long we can ignore the upgrade bug!

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Technology

Simplify with these digital tools

If you’ve been doing marketing in the technology industry for a while, one truth becomes evident over time: Productivity is an over-used word. It’s become a catch-phrase for lazy marketers to help them convince their B2B audiences that their “product” is the ONE that will make their customers x% more efficient than their competitors.

It’s something I’m also guilty of in my own role – too many times, I’ve used “productivity” as a way to get management to approve a campaign because it easy for them to understand the message. But for our customers, who are just people like you and I, does that message really resonate? I bet it doesn’t.

That’s why I’m here to share actual productivity tips that I use every day to make myself complete my work faster. The quicker I can complete my work, the sooner I can head home to spend more time with my family. That’s what motivates me, and I hope you have something similar to give you that extra push.

These tips are a combination of hardware, software, and cloud based services+apps, which work together to get you in the “zone”. Without a holistic system to support you, we’ll be back to the days of manually filing documents in an archive room – and nobody wants to go back to that stone-age!

So, without further ado, here are the tools of my trade; the things I user all day, every day to get more done.

 

Hardware

My Desk
My Desk

Let me be frank – I’m an uber-geek. If there’s a new gadget idea, I would already have pledged for a founders edition on Kickstarter. I take my hardware setup seriously, and have invested a considerable (some might say insane) amount of time researching what are the best peripherals available. When it comes to my office setup, these are the fundamentals:

  • Monitor: Get one 1440p 27” monitor, OR 2 24” 1080p monitors (the more, the merrier). If possible, check that it uses an IPS screen (for better colours and viewing angles). I got myself a 27” screen from an unheard of Korean OEM for less than $300. My colleagues are still casting envious glances my way.
  • Keyboard: If you spend most of your day typing, a good mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX brown keys (so you don’t annoy your colleagues, too much) is necessary. Nothing beats the feeling of typing on spring-loaded switches. I personally use one with a combination of clear and brown
  • Laptop: At least a 4th gen i5 with a 128GB SSD – anything lower will have you cursing more than you should
  • Headset: Something comfortable that you can use for hours at a time, especially if you spend the majority of the day on calls with a geographically dispersed team. I use the Kingston HyperX Cloud II.

Software

Apparently, it’s eating the world. For you and me, it’s the vital middle-ground that lets us interface with the digital world. It’s the brains to the hardware brawn. And it is every 1 and 0 that gets transmitted every time we unlock out smartphones to when we press send on that email.

  • Microsoft Office: The grand-daddy of office software. Excel, PowerPoint, Word, and Outlook. You love them and loathe them, at the same time. Used correctly, they can set you apart from a crowded field of office workers. But too often, we barely scratch the surface of what these tools can do. So do yourself a favour, and spend a few minutes every day reading up on a new tip – it is one skill that will possibly outlive even the cockroaches.
  • Evernote/OneNote: Sure, you can use a pen and a note book, but wouldn’t it be nice to be able to search for the outcome of that particular meeting from three years ago? That’s why I prefer to digitize my notes, so that I can have everlasting access to all my meetings from years gone by just a few keystrokes away. Or, you can use this and get the best of both worlds!
  • Docuworks/SharePoint: Do your team still share documents over email? The 90’s called, and it wants its collaboration back. These days, a document management system is a must with the thousands of documents that are created every day in every organization. Having a central place to store, manager, tag and track your documents is crucial for teamwork. Trust me, when you have five people working on the same document, you do not want to be the person that has to consolidate all the changes for you – that’s what the systems are for. It’s these small little things that separate us from the animals, after all!

 

Services+apps

  • IFTTT: Here’s a concept – take two online services, connect them, and set up a rule so that If you do This, Then That will happen. Think of it as your personal automation butler.
  • Feedly: Social media was supposed to be the death knell of the really simple syndication (rss) feed, but between the “smart” news feed algorithm that doesn’t always show you everything and the “personal branding” that seems to permeate LinkedIn daily, it’s nice to have a place to go where only content that you want to see gets pulled in. Feedly is an online service that acts as a rss aggregator, where you have to manually set it up to pull content from your favourite sites and blogs. Sure, it’s a bit of ol’ school web (Flipboard is a more modern variant), but you’ll have to pry my rss feeds from my cold dead hands.
  • WorkingFolder/OneDrive/Dropbox: If the document management system is for collaboration, than this class of services are for your individual document management. Don’t clutter up the team’s work space with you fourteen versions of your monthly sales report. That’s what cloud storage is for. And no, My Documents is not the best place to store your precious documents either.
  • Buffer/Hootsuite: With all the social media channels, it can be tiresome to update all your friends all on the different networks all at once. Use one of these tools to automate it for you, and with just a click, you can publish to multiple social accounts. #timesaver!
  • Wunderlist: Everyone needs a to-do list. You should have to-do lists for short term, mid-term, and long-term goals, and you should keep coming back to them to make sure you are on track. How else will you measure your own performance?
  • Dashlane/LastPass/KeePass: Apparently, I have 356 passwords. There is no way I could ever remember any. I could always use the same passwords for all 356 sites, but I’d prefer not to live so dangerously. A good password manager will securely keep your passwords protected, while allowing you to log in to sites with the minimum of hassle. If I get a new PC/tablet/phone, this is usually the first app I install. It saves me considerable time, and keeps my accounts secure.

 

So there you go – those are some of my favourite tools. What are some of the tools that you use? I’d love to hear from you, so shout out below in the comments section, or DM me on twitter.

Categories
Technology

Gadget Review: Asus RT-AC5300 Router

I just re contracted my home broadband to a 1Gbps plan, and felt I wasn’t getting all the features I wanted out of my existing router.

My primary concern was that I could not run OpenVPN on the router directly, and had to do it on a client by client basis. With the ongoing issues with OpenVPN, Windows 10 and IPV6, I prefer to have the client sit on the router instead, so that my entire home network is protected behind the VPN.

My VPN provider of choice is privateinternetaccess. The main reason I chose them is because they don’t store logs, and they are reasonably cheap. I’ve been using them for the better part of three years, and in that time, they’ve added more features, including a server in Singapore!

I strongly believe in the right to browse anonymously and privately, without your ISP or governments spying on you (hear that NSA?), so my best bet is to secure my home network from the primary point – the router.

Which brings us back to the RT-AC5300. My current ISP provided router was decent, but it could not support OpenVPN, so out it went. I looked at the latest routers, with Asus being the first (and only) port of call. I’ve had great experiences with Asus routers. I’ve owned the RT-N56u and the RT-N66u (which is still in use as a wifi extender), and love the GUI and the features of Asus WRT (which is a fork of DD-WRT). I particularly enjoy using Merlin’s firmware.

So when I read that the RT-AC5300 was the newest router from Asus, I knew I had to get my hands on it (being the gadget-freak that I am). My wife took a little convincing, but now, this monster is sitting on my console:

Asus RT-AC5300U
Daughter for scale

Design-wise, it looks like a facehugger. But that only makes me like it even more!

From a hardware perspective, it run’s on Broadcom’s newest 4×4 MU MIMO chip that is supposed to provide

1000 Mbps on the 2.4 GHz band and 2167 Mbps on each of the 5 GHz bands for a total of 5333 Mbps theoretical bandwidth (Anandtech)

What that basically means is that as of the end of 2015/start of 2016, this is the most sizzling-hot piece of networking hardware in the market. And it looks like a freaking alien!

The first thing I did when I got it was install Merlin’s firmware. Then I ran the Quick Internet Setup, which automatically detected my ISP’s settings. Lastly, I set up my wifi security password. I was online in under 2 minutes.

Like I said, OpenVPN is a priority for me, so I first went to VPN –> OpenVPN Clients, and entered the following details:

ASUS-WRT privateinternet access configuration details
ASUS-WRT privateinternet access configuration details

The tricky part for me was the Custom Configuration portion – there are a few different guides available online, but the one that finally worked for me was:

tls-client
remote-cert-tls server
reneg-sec 0

Now, with just 1 click, I can toggle on or off my VPN.

Of course, that wasn’t the end of the set up for the new router. I also had to do the following:

  • Port forwarding (for Plex and other gaming servers)
  • Disable WPS (best practice for home network security)
  • Disable guest networks
  • Set static IP pool for my server and other lan line devices
  • Test IPV6 to make sure it works, but disabled it untill the OpenVPN issue is resolved
  • AIProtection Security test: This is a new feature, which scans my router for potential vulnerabilities.

Today is the 3rd day I’ve had it running, and its been rock-stable ever since I turned it on. And as for the internet performance, here’s the first speedtest result once my new plan was activated:

First 1gbps speedtest
First 1gbps speedtest

Blistering!