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ASUS RT-AC56U & USB-AC56 802.11AC Review

AkG

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As the latest additions to ASUS’ quickly expanding 802.11AC family, the RT-AC56 and USB-AC56 are meant to redefine the budget-friendly wireless networking device segment. While one is a router and the other a USB add-on, they’re essentially two pieces of the same puzzle and are looking to offer up a more affordable Wireless AC high bandwidth solution to folks who can’t afford the top of the line RT-AC68U / PCE-AC68 solution or slightly lower priced RT-AC66U.

With a marketplace already filled with high quality, great performing mainstream routers and easy to use USB wireless adapters, manufactures are searching for ways to make their new models stand out. Unlike buyers interested in halo or ‘flagship’ models, mainstream consumer base their purchasing decisions on one major theme: value. Value in performance vs. price, value in the extra features that are included and even how much of their valuable time can be saved with an easy installation procedure.

The specifications for the RT-AC56U router are actually quite impressive given its $129 price. ASUS has equipped it with the exact same dual core, 800MHz controller found in the RT-68U. To keep costs down they have opted for a slightly lower performance Broadcom wireless controller that offers a good mix of price and performance, but still much higher throughput than any 802.11N router can offer. Specifically, it offers simultaneous speeds of up to 866Mbits/sec on 802.11AC 5Ghz networks and 300MBits/s on 802.11N networks. To keep costs low, it relies upon a 2x2 antenna configuration instead of 3x3 like the 66 and 68 models.

The USB-AC56 is an interesting addition to ASUS’ networking lineup since it packs Wireless AC bandwidth into a USB dongle. Within this product lies a Realtek controller and a dual internal / external antenna array which afford this adapter with exactly same potential as the RT-AC56U router. This alone makes them a perfect match for one another.


Both of these are USB 3.0 enabled devices which allows for additional value added abilities such as Network Attached Storage on the RT-AC56. However, based on the RT-AC68U’s USB 3.0 performance this may not be the standout feature ASUS hopes it will be. On the USB-AC56, USB 3.0 is in fact a game changer as it allows more potential bandwidth (which is why it’s rated as an AC1200 device) and additional transmission power. This in turn should help with long and short range performance.

All told the only real question mark here is the actual price vs. performance of these models. While less expensive than other ASUS 802.11AC routers we have looked at, at $129 the RT-AC56 is still at the upper edge of most mainstream consumers’ budgets. The same holds true for the USB-AC56 as it may cost $69, but for a USB wireless adapter it is quite expensive. To overcome these relatively high asking prices the performance will have to be stellar.

 
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AkG

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A Closer Look at the RT-AC56U Router

A Closer Look at the RT-AC56U Router



Unlike most other ASUS branded routers we have looked at recently, the RT-AC56U’s accessory list is a touch underwhelming but understandable considering its lower price point. With that being said, there’s a well done installation booklet, an external power adapter and an installation CD.


Even on just a cursory glance no one will mistake the AC56 for either the older ‘Dark Knight’ router nor any of ASUS’ other 802.11AC draft routers. While it does use a vertical-only design which borrows heavily from the RT-AC68U, the RT-AC56U is much more compact and sleek looking. A lot of this difference in size come from the fact that it doesn’t use an external high gain antenna array. Instead, ASUS have opted for a more cost-conscious internal layout. Luckily, just like the AC68U, the AC56U uses the same ‘black diamond’ patterned front panel and has the status LEDs located in the bottom left corner for easy visibility.


Instead of carrying over the full length stand design of higher end models the AC56U 56 makes use of a small leg on one side and a small nub of plastic on the other. Needless to say we are not impressed with this one-legged design since even the barest of nudges can knock it over.

ASUS have inverted their classic wedge shape so all the connections remain at the bottom while keeping the dual band, dual antenna array at the top. This should help keep a clear path between the router’s internal antennas and any wireless device in range as the cables no longer hang out the top like they did on the RT-AC66. It’s also good to see a large number of cooling slits have been added to the chassis to ensure proper ventilation.


The I/O panel itself differs slightly from on ones found on ASUS’ RT-AC66U and RT-AC68U. Like the newer RT-AC68U it is located at the bottom and not the top, has the WPS and WiFi on/off button located on the side and even has a USB 3.0 port replacing one of the USB 2.0 ports.

Unlike the 68 and more like the 66, the RT-AC56U uses a much more compact approach with all the remaining ports clustered together. It is also lacking the external LED on/off button of the RT-AC68U but does have dedicated buttons for power and reset functions. From left to right the layout is as follows: the large WPS and WiFi on/off button on the side, the four wired 10/100/1000 Ethernet ports, the color coded (blue) WAN port, the USB 2.0 Port, USB 3.0 port, with a power button and power input port on the extreme right .


Much like the exterior is an interesting combination not found on any of ASUS’ other 802.11AC draft router, the internal layout a unique mixture of common and unique components. The RT-AC56U uses a striking Red PCB with dual heatsinks and includes a single DDR3 256MB IC, a 128GB NAND IC and the same dual core Broadcom BCM4708 SoC that is used in the RT-AC68U.

Unlike the RT-AC68 , the RT-AC56 uses a 2x2 capable Broadcom BCM43217 controller for its 2.4GHz networking abilities and a 2x2 Broadcom BCM4352 controller for the 802.11AC networking duties. While these are less capable wireless controllers than found in other more expensive ASUS routers, they are still quite powerful and in the case of the BCM4352, will allow for 256-QAM abilities. It is unfortunate that 256-QAM is not possible over the older 802.11N network as that would have given this unit 400Mbits/sec capabilities via its two spatial streams instead of the 300MBits/sec it is rated for.
 
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AkG

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A Closer Look at the USB-AC56 Network Adapter

A Closer Look at the USB-AC56 Network Adapter



The accessories which accompany the USB-AC56 are rather sparse, but considering this is a USB wireless adapter the list is actually longer than expected. In addition to an installation pamphlet and warranty brochure ASUS includes an external antenna and a nicely styled external base station.


To use the base station all you need do is plug in the attached USB 3.0 cable to your computer and then plug the USB-AC56 itself into the top USB 3.0 port. To put this another way, this is a very pretty looking port replicator which allows for off-computer use that could potentially help network performance. Considering how large the USB-AC56 is, that’s a good thing since many people will likely use this base station on a regular basis.


With its two end caps on, consumers could easily be forgiven for thinking this rectangular USB networking device was nothing more than a USB flash drive, albeit a rather large one. However, once you uncap both ends and attach the external antenna, the jig is up and the USB-AC56 starts looking like a high performance wireless device.

Unfortunately, ASUS didn’t include a small onboard ROM IC to store the drivers. Instead the drivers are on the included CD which is good considering as this model is anything but plug and play.


Taking a close look at the USB-AC56’s plastic chassis reveals few features which may not be apparent at first. Hidden in amongst the diamond patterned finish is a recessed blue LED which acts like any router’s LED activity light. Also hidden on one side is a small WPS button for quick and easy connectivity to encrypted networks.

Unlike most USB-based wireless adapters ASUS has gone for an internal and external antenna array but only one or the other will be active as they don’t work in tandem. For those times that you will be close to the router or don’t want to use any more power than necessary, the external high gain antenna can be left aside in favor of the dual 2dBi internal array. It is unfortunate that there is only room for one external antenna as this di-pole unit will have to pull double duty for transmission and reception which could cause a bottleneck in some situations.


While we are unable to show you the internals, according to documentation, ASUS is using a Realtek RTL8812AU controller. This is s dual 802.11N and 802.11AC unit which is capable of 256-QAM connectivity on 802.11AC 80Mhz channels but is not able to do so on 802.11N 40MHz channels. This combined with its 2 sending and 2 receiving spatial streams means the USB-AC56 is rated for a decent 866Mbits/sec on 802.11AC but only 300Mbits/sec on 802.11N networks. While these specs don’t necessarily equal ‘1200’, with a liberal dose of rounding it is how the USB-AC56 can be rated for “AC1200” speeds.
 
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AkG

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Setup and Installation

Setup and Installation



Much like the other ASUS ‘FAST’ networking solutions we have reviewed, installation and initial configuration of the RT-AC56U is quick and painless. Just plug in the router, attach the various cables need, and run the software which comes on the included CD. The software will scan, connect to the RT-AC56U via your default web browser and then walk you through the setup procedure which has been automated as much possible and requires very little input. On simple networks this will take well under a minute to complete if you already have a good idea of what passwords and SSIDs you want to use for the new network.


With half the battle already taken care of, all that is left is to reconfigure the various static IP addresses your existing network components use and the other various tweaks. If you do not use or know what all of the additional features are, then in all likelihood the basic setup will be good enough. If you do use more advanced features, configuring them should only take a few moments thanks to the RT-AC56U’s easy to navigate and clearly labeled interface. Once again, ASUS deserves to be commended for this.


USB wireless adapters may not be known for their performance but a quick, easy setup procedure is key to their success. In this regard the USB-AC56 does not disappoint. Simply pop up off both end caps, attach the antenna to the proper end, find a free USB port – preferably USB 3.0 – plug the device in, and run the included software. The hardest part of this installation will be deciding between connecting it to your computer or using the included base. Either one is a solid choice though the included base station does provide for additional fine-tuning of reception and can reduce the chances of the computer system itself blocking the wireless signal. It also results in a much neater appearance as the USB-AC56 is rather large to have directly attached to a free USB port.

The included software consists of one very lightweight program: the ASUS USB-AC56 WLAN Control Center software which is very similar to what’s included with ASUS’ wireless adapter cards software but it does differ in a few crucial ways.

Like the others this software application isn’t precisely needed since Windows 7’s (or Windows 8’s) built-in wireless controller works perfectly fine with the USB-AC56. Using the program does grant the ability to see signal strength in actual –dB’s and preconfigure networks to make connecting an even smoother experience but, unlike its Broadcom brethren, this Realtek controller based unit’s software lacks any advanced features. Gone is the ‘Enable BeamForming’ option. Missing is the ‘Interference Mitigation’ feature and a 256-QAMoption.

Considering the differences in interface and controller selection between the other ASUS wireless adapters and this USB model, some allowances do have to be made but the omissions tend to make this software somewhat pointless for most users.
 
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AkG

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RT-AC56U Router Interface

RT-AC56U Router Interface



Like many other router manufactures, ASUS uses the same User Interface across as many models as possible. For mainstream consumers this has many beneficial side-effects. All the time and effort put into making their flagship RT-AC68U as easy to use and powerful as possible has trickled down to this new, less expensive router. In fact, the AC56’s UI will be instantly recognizable to anyone who has used ASUS’ later generation routers. For first timers, the ASUS router interface may seem a touch overwhelming and anything but user-friendly. However, once you grasp the main design philosophy behind it, the UI becomes quite intuitive.

When the configuration utility is opened, a general landing page is displayed which can be used to access all of the router’s various built-in features. This page has been broken down into two main columns with the right side taking up the lion’s share of space. This right side column is what will change and transform depending on the option selected in the left column’s navigation bar.

Most users will never need to go beyond the Network Map page since it gives a basic overview of the network configuration and with a simple mouse click everything from the USB device configured to the wireless network setup can be changed. It allows you to see and adjust four main areas: WAN, Wireless, Clients and USB.

If a more in-depth look is warranted the ‘Internet’ / WAN status page can be accessed by clicking on Internet Status. This will change the long rectangular box from its default Wireless Connectivity layout to the Internet / WAN adjustment box. Meanwhile, USB device modification can be accomplished in much the same way.

Just understand that this is simple overview and configuration page and does not contain all of the RT-AC56U’s features and abilities. If at any time you do not know what a setting does there is a great little search option at the bottom right corner which will connect to the ASUS website and search for an answer to your question. While the answers will not always be helpful – especially for more esoteric searches such as ‘IPTV’ - they are usually enough to point consumers in the right direction.


Below the default Network Map landing page is the Guest Network configuration section. As the name suggests this is where special ‘guest’ or limited access networks are created. Such options come in handy when the RT-AC56U is used in an environment where LAN access needs to be limited but connection to the internet remain open. A grand total of six of these guest networks can be created across the 2.4GHz and 5GHz spectrums. If the default settings are not optimal, simply accessing Details section will bring up a new window where encryption, SSID, Intranet access, MAC filtering and access time length can be modified.


Traffic Manager is what ASUS calls their routers’ Quality of Service abilities. Just like the RT-AC68U, the RT-AC56U comes with two QoS modes: Automatic and User Defined. Automatic uses the default pre-defined rules and sets online gaming and web surfing as the highest priority. For most consumers who wish to use QoS this will be more than good enough. For more advanced users the User Defined mode allows for highly detailed rules which can fine tune exactly what should be prioritized.


As the name suggests the Parental Control allows users to customize who has access and when their children can access the Internet. Unlike OS based control it is a touch harder to circumvent router level control but as with anything technology related, a good secure password and limiting physical access to the router itself is paramount to making such controls work.


The USB Application section deals with everything USB related. Unlike the more basic Network Map area this includes the ability to set up a USB device as a Samba, iTunes, FTP-based NAS device alongside an option allowing for USB connectivity via the Internet. For non USB storage related tasks this page also includes the ability to configure a printer as a network device via the Network Printer Server. Just be aware not all printers are supported so paying careful attention to the list of supported products is key.


The AiCloud allows you to connect to your network via an iOS or Android device no matter where you are located in the world. You can even stream video from your LAN – via Samba – to your phone as well as use custom ports for both web and streaming. Just be aware that you will be using upload bandwidth via your ISP and download bandwidth via your phone’s data plan.


Much like the USB application section, the Wireless section of the Advanced Settings group is much, much more advanced than what the Network Map section would lead you to believe. In addition to configuration of the 2.4 and 5 GHz networks you can also configure WPS, set the RT-AC56U to bridge mode, configure wireless MAC address filtering and modify the settings for more Enterprise-orientated solutions such as RADIUS configuration. The professional sub menu is also where you can further tweak and customize the wireless networks and control advanced features such as enabling 256-QAM (aka ‘TurboQAM’) and even set up a basic schedule for when the radio will be enabled and disabled.
 
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AkG

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RT-AC56U Router Interface, pg.2

RT-AC56U Router Interface, pg.2



The LAN section has the usual Local Arena Network configuration options including the IP range, DHCP server settings, route and whether or not to support Jumbo Frames. The DHCP server abilities have been significantly beefed up over the AC66 and it is now very, very easy to hard set an IP to the MAC address of a given NIC. Of special note is the IPTV section which allows you to connect your Internet enabled TV or set-top box directly to the router and have it access the internet. With IPTVs being more and more common this is a very nice feature to have.


The WAN section allows for setting up a DMZ, port forwarding, NAT passthrough and most interestingly of all: Dual WAN. As the name suggests you can use one of the four ‘LAN’ ports as a second WAN port. While not all that important for most this will be a very nice feature for those who do need it.


The IPv6 section deals with enabling IPv6 abilities of the AC56U router but thankfully it has been set to off by default. While IPv6 is the future, its widespread acceptance has been limited. However, when it finally does gain traction the AC56U will be there and waiting. Meanwhile, the VPN server section deals with setup and configuration of a Virtual Private Server and allows for some very decent configuration abilities such as encryption level and hard setting client IP addresses. Unfortunately it only supports a maximum of 10 clients at one time, but for most home users this should be more than enough.


The Firewall section is also fairly robust and allows for filtering by keyword, URL or even by network services. There are also filters that can determine blacklist or whitelist parameters, the latter of which is much more secure but also more time consuming to properly configure.


The Administration section is where you would find all the usual administrative related tasks such as changing the login password, setting the router to repeater, Access Point, or Media bridge mode or even just where it goes to update its clock. It is also where you can update the firmware and even save or restore your custom settings to and from the router.


The new and improved system log is very, very complete. Instead of the usual one or two generic logs that most routers use, the new RT-AC56U keeps 7 separate logs for easy troubleshooting. In grand total these logs are: General, Wireless, DHCP, IPv6, Routing Table, Port Forwarding, and Connections. Better still each and every one is very self-evident and we doubt any one will have problems figuring out which log to search for answers.

The last section – aptly labeled Network Tools – contains some very basic network troubleshooting tools such as ping, traceroute, and NSlookup. However it also contains netstat (aka networking statistics) which displays all the network connections (incoming and outgoing) as well as NAT connections. The last option deals with wake on LAN which allows the router to send a wakeup command to a given system. Few will ever use these tools but each one is nicely executed and if you do need them their ease of use will be greatly appreciated.
 
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AkG

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Testing Methodology

Testing Methodology


Testing wireless devices is not as easy as you would think. Yes you can simply connect to it and push a bunch of file across the network while timing it but this only tells half of the story and does not explain <i>why</i> speeds can vary. To obtain a more clear picture of how good – or bad – a networking device is, more is needed in the form of a multi-step testing approach.

The first step consists of accurately measuring signal strength. A good strong signal is a prerequisite of high performance. If a device can barely send or receive a signal, the speeds will be very low as both devices will opt for a slower connection speed to compensate.

To test signal strength we use inSSIDer, a program which can graph signal strength of all wireless signals being received by the computer’s wireless NIC.

The second step consists of synthetic bandwidth testing to show the potential performance of a given wireless configuration. For this test we have chosen Lan Speed Test. This free program can test both transmission and reception performance and do so in an easy to use and highly repeatable way. For clarity sake we have averaged both the transmission and reception performance into one aggregate number.

The last step is real world testing. This test consists of 10GB worth of small file and large file mixture which will be pushed from one wireless connected computer to a second computer connected via wired Ethernet. Testing will be done via MS RichCopy. For clarity sake we have averaged both the transmission and reception performance into one aggregate number.

If the device supports wired transmission, wired Ethernet to wired Ethernet real world performance will also be included using the same 10GB of data used for the wireless test.

If a given wireless device is labeled as “entertainment” or marketed as being entertainment centric, a secondary real world test will be included in the form of using the device for wireless HD media streaming. This test will be a pass/fail affair.

To test all sections, we have further created four unique and distinct scenarios in which all testing will be done. The first test is labeled “Zone 1” and it consists of a twelve foot ‘line of sight’ distance between the router and the wireless NIC with no walls or obstructions between the two. This replicates having the router in one end of a small room and the wireless device at the other. It is unlikely to be encountered all that often but it will test a best case scenario performance of the device being tested.

The second test consists of an eighteen foot separation with a single interior non-load bearing wall separating a wireless device and the router. We have labeled this “Zone 2” as it is much more common and is still a very optimal setup for a wireless home networking. This test replicates you having your wireless device in an adjoining room to the router.

The third test is labeled “Zone 3” and consists of having the router in the corner of the basement with the wireless device trying to connect in the second story room at the extreme diagonal end from the routers location. This is still a fairly common occurrence in home networks with numerous walls, floors, pipes, wires, etc. and even other electronic devices in the intervening distance. This is not an optimal configuration but a very common one none the less. This will test the abilities of both the router and wireless NIC to connect and communicate with each other.

The fourth test is labeled “Zone 4” and is an extreme test. While the router is still in the basement we have paced off 400 feet from it outside the testing facility. This replaces those times a person is outdoors and wishes to use his home network to connect to the Internet or other devices connected to the home network. With fewer walls but much greater distances this test is extremely demanding and many will not be able to successfully complete it. Thus it will separate the truly good from the merely adequate devices.

For all tests, four runs will be completed and only the averages of all four will be shown.

When possible both 5Ghz as well as 2.4GHz Bands will be used for all tests with each getting their own separate results.

All tests will carried out via a “clear” network in order to maximize repeatability and minimize factors outside of our control.

For information purposes here is the theoretical maximum each network connection is capable of:

10Mbits/s = 1,250 KBytes/s
100Mbit/s = 12,500 KBytes/s
150Mbit/s = 18,750 KBytes/s
300Mbit/s = 37,500 KBytes/s
450Mbit/s = 56,250 KBytes/s
1000Mbit/s = 125,000 KBytes/s
1300Mbit/s = 162,500 KBytes/s

Processor: Core i5 4670K
Motherboard: MSI Z87 MPower Max
Memory: 32GB G.Skill TridentX 2133
Graphics card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 in SLI
Hard Drive: Seagate 600 Pro 400GB SSD, Intel 910 800GB PCI-E SSD
Power Supply: Corsair AX860i
Case: Cooler Master Storm Trooper


<i>Special thanks to NCIX for their support and supplying the i5 4670 CPU.
Special thanks to G.Skill for their support and supplying the TridentX Ram.
Special thanks to NVIDIA for their support and supplying the GTX 780s.
Special thanks to Corsair for their support and supplying the AX860i PSU.
Special thanks to Cooler Master for their support and supplying the CM Storm Trooper </i>
 
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AkG

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Signal Strength / Attached Storage Testing

Signal Strength Tests


A good strong signal is a prerequisite of high performance wireless networking. If a device can barely send or receive a signal, the speeds will be very low as both devices will opt for a slower connection speed to compensate. To test signal strength we use inSSIDer, a program which can graph signal strength of all wireless signals being received by the computer’s wireless NIC.



To be perfectly candid we are surprised at how well ASUS’ budget-friendly router did in this test. While there is a noticeable drop-off in signal strength as distance from the router increases, the overall results are still decent. Obviously AiRadar is working hard to mitigate any latent interference issues and for most consumers the AC56U will provide excellent levels of signal strength. Few will need a ‘Long Ranger’ and fewer still will demand such performance from a mainstream priced router. Remember, the RT-AC56U is going up against some of the best the industry has to offer, making its positioning here all the more impressive.

Meanwhile, the USB-AC56 certainly benefits from its external antenna design and additional USB 3.0 bandwidth. While signal strength does quickly drop off at longer distances you would be hard pressed offer any criticism since this USB device is competing on a nearly level footing with much higher end internal PCI-E solutions.


Attached Storage Testing


As most consumers know, USB 3.0 brings numerous enhancements to the table including higher bandwidth potential and increased power over USB capabilities. As we have seen many times in the past reality can sometimes differ wildly from theory and there are numerous ‘USB 3.0’ devices which actually perform at the same levels as their previous USB 2.0 counterparts.

To see what USB 3.0 adds to the equation we devised a very simple test. Using an empty Seagate GoFlex Slim 320GB device, we connected it to the USB 3,0 port of the router. We then configured it as a network drive and using MS RichCopy measured the performance via wired, 2.4HGz wireless and 5GHz wireless. Once testing was complete, we repeat this process using the USB 2.0 port.



Unlike the recently tested RT-AC68U’s USB 3.0, the lower priced RT-AC56U’s USB 3.0 performance is actually impressive and is noticeably better. Obviously, ASUS learned from the AC68U’s shorcomings and were quickly able to translate this experience into real world performance for the 56U. Simply put, this router is able to achieve NAS throughput you will be hard-pressed to find in any consumer grade single bay NAS device. This truly makes USB 3.0 a value added feature and does help offset the slightly high asking price here.
 
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SKYMTL

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Synthetic / Real World Testing

Synthetic Testing


For this test we have chosen Lan Speed Test. This free program can test both transmission and reception performance and do so in an easy to use and highly repeatable way. For clarity’s sake we have averaged both the transmission and reception performance into one aggregate number.



Even with relatively strong signal reception the fact still remains both of these devices are only 2x2 designs and in our charts it is going up against 3x3 devices. Both are only capable of 866MBits/sec rather than 1300 on 802.11AC and 300Mbits/sec on older 802.11N networks. Starting from a lower starting point means that overall performance will be lower than it would be in a 3x3 network so it just can’t keep up.

With that being said we are actually impressed by what the USB-AC56 can accomplish. USB adapters are not known for their performance potential but this new model does change our opinion on what is possible via USB. Consumers will be giving up some performance over that of a PCI-E model, and a noticeable amount of signal strength, but what is lost in absolute performance is made up for in ease of use and installation.


Real World Testing


For real world testing we have taken 10GB worth of small file and large file mixture and pushed from one wireless connected computer to a second computer connected via wired Ethernet. Testing will be done via MS RichCopy. For clarity sake we have averaged both the transmission and reception performance into one aggregate number.

If the device supports wired transmission, wired Ethernet to wired Ethernet real world performance will also be included using the same 10GB of data used for the wireless test.




In many ways, the USB-AC56 can accomplish some surprising benchmark results considering its price. At extreme ranges the performance was severely lacking but at more realistic distances it really did surprise us.

Moving on to the RT-AC56U these results are pretty much in line with what we were expecting; decent if not overwhelming. Once again the lack of multiple external antennas does hurt its performance when compared to the more expensive internal 3x3 units.
 

AkG

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Conclusion

RT-AC56U Conclusion


With its peppy wireless performance on both 802.11N and 802.11AC bands, decent range, impressive wired Ethernet bandwidth, surprisingly good USB performance and a host of features inside an excellent UI, there’s a lot to like about the $129 RT-AC56U. A good portion of this AC1200 router’s raw potential comes from utilizing components from higher end routers like RT-AC68U and combining those with a healthy dose of cost savings. For example, it uses the RT-AC68U’s 800MHz primary controller alongside a scaled down version of Broadcom’s 4352. This created a wireless product that surpassed our expectations on many levels.

For all its potential and excellent execution, there is one minor flaw: chassis design. Sure, the RT-AC56U looks absolutely stunning but its use of internal antennas means it always needs to be placed in an upright position without any possibility of mounting it another way. This limits utility, making it nearly impossible to hide behind a desk or in an out-of-the-way location. ASUS did add AiRadar which goes a long way towards minimizing the signal loss that plagues many other internal 2x2 designs so that’s one less thing to worry about.

All in all, the RT-AC56U just cannot compete against higher priced models like the RT-AC68U or RT-AC66U but it does provide an excellent value-oriented counterpoint to the remainder of ASUS’ wireless AC lineup. It may not have the speed, mounting options or range of its siblings but at $150, ASUS has created a great option for those who want to get into the higher bandwidth wireless game without investing a ton of money.




USB-AC56 Conclusion


Much like a swan in a pond full of ducks, the all new USB-AC56 stands out from the majority of USB 802.11 adapters. Unlike a typical USB adapter which prizes compactness and portability over raw performance, this device embraces a relatively gigantic stature to achieve impressive wireless AC abilities.

When combined with a suitably capable router, the USB-AC56 grants a point to point solution for users who want a high bandwidth wireless connection on their existing system but don’t want to perform the upgrading version of a frontal lobotomy. For desktops it is perfect but due to such a large size and the hardware’s potential power-hogging nature, we’d hesitate before recommending this for notebooks.

Ironically the very hurdles preventing its use in the mobile market become strengths in most scenarios. The external antenna is backstopped with the extra power USB 3.0 affords Tx transmission strength. This allows 802.11AC and 802.11N to fly high above the typical USB-based 802.11N wireless adapter competition. Add in the small footprint base station and simple to use software and suddenly the USB-AC56 can really flex its muscles.

As it stands the USB-AC56 is highly refined solution that will not be right for everyone. However, for consumers whose needs do align with its strengths this would be an excellent choice and well worth the $69 investment.

 
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