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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!

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┬áchip 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!