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ASUS RT-AC87U & RT-AC3200 Routers Review

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A Closer Look at the RT-AC87U Router

The new AC87U bares only a passing resemblance to past ASUS routers. Even though it still uses a wedge-shape design, its squat and angular profile looks more like ASUS’ interpretation of NetGear’s NightHawk router than previous generations. Unlike the new NightHawk X6 which uses a combination of metal and plastic, the top of this router’s chassis is solid plastic with no ventilation slits to let hot air escape. This is unfortunate as this is a passively cooled router and heat will need somewhere to go.

While technically ASUS does include vertical mounting holes for direct mounting to a wall the fact of the matter is this router is really meant to be laid flat. For many this will be a major downgrade from the AC68U as the amount of shelf space the AC87U takes up is rather extreme.

Interestingly enough ASUS has not really taken full advantage of this horizontal design. Instead, all the ports and switches are either located on the chassis’ front or back with both top sides devoid of anything, including ventilation slits. The only way for air to escape is through hidden side vents.

Considering most of the passive air movement has to come via the bottom of the unit, and the AC87U does have high performance controllers housed inside, it is rather odd to see the rather sparse number of ventilation slits. We were expecting it to be almost covered in cooling slits, but ASUS obviously feels their design will be more than sufficient to guarantee the components’ longevity. On the positive, side the base is held up off the ground via rubberized feet. This adds some needed height, as well as making the router less likely to slip around.

The AC87U’s front incorporates light bar with individual LEDs that glows blue, providing you with a very good status overview at just a glance. Of course, since the LEDs are on the underside of the front, and this area also has a very steep angular profile, you cannot really see the LEDs unless you crouch down and look up at them. This is an obvious design oversight that somehow managed to get past product testing.

In addition to the status LED cluster the left side has two large buttons. The leftmost is the LED button (which turns on/off the LEDs), and the one next to it is the wireless network on/off button which enables/disables both the 2.4 and 5GHz networks. Just like the LED bar these buttons are located underneath the front edge and are hidden from view. While they are different sizes, you need to remember which is which – or else when you try to turn off the LED bar you wind up disabling your wireless networks instead. We understand that sometimes functionality has to take a back seat to aesthetics but this could have been implemented a bit better.

On the rightmost end of the AC87U’s front is a hidden USB 3.0 port. To access it you first pull out the attached plug that hides it from view. Since USB 3.0 is keyed and will only accept devices in one orientation you really will want to squat down or lift the device up to see the port before trying to ram in a USB connector the wrong way.

On the positive side, by relocating the USB 3.0 port to the front ASUS has reduced the chances of interference with wireless connections as much as possible. Sadly ASUS still auto-sets the USB 3.0 port to USB 2.0 speeds and you will have to first change this default setting in the configuration menu before being allowed to use it as a full speed USB 3.0 port.

With this being a 4×4 router it comes as no surprise that ASUS uses four large external antennas. These antennas have been upgraded in the aesthetics department over previous models, but unlike most 4×4 routers all four have been crammed into the back of the device. With so much free space on the sides this was a wasted opportunity to space out the antennas, help improve range and reduce potential interference.

Furthermore, by having all the antennas on the back, and the usual cluster of I/O ports the rear of the AC87U is rather cramped. From left to right there is the first antenna port, a USB 2.0 port, ultra-small WPS button, WAN port, second antenna port, the four (yellow) LAN ports, the third antenna port, the recessed reset button, a small power button, the power port for the external power brick…and then the final 4th antenna port. Yes that is a lot of stuff to shoe horned into one small area.

By taking off the external case we can see a very clean and quite cohesive internal design. To be honest this is the kind of refinement that the exterior lacks and shows that ASUS is not a newcomer to router designs. Each of the three main controllers has its own robust heatsink which reduces the overall cooling surface available to each controller but keeps one chipset from overheating another.

As with most high performance routers, the 87U uses the Broadcom 4709 System on a Chip. This 1GHz controller acts as the router’s brains and is a good step up from the previous generation’s 800Mhz 4360 SoC. Interestingly enough the large central heatsink does not cover the SoC itself. Instead the central heatsink covers the Quantenna QSR1000 chipset which is responsible for the 5GHz network. This chipset consists of two parts: the QT3840BC for the Baseband and QT2518B for RF abilities.

The Quantenna setup is the one of the first 4×4 designs which allows for four spatial streams – with each stream having a maximum transfer rate of 433Mbps via 80MHz / 256-QAM. This grants a higher bandwidth of 1734Mbps versus the 1300Mbps of a typical AC1900 class router. Of course at this time there are no 4×4 capable NICs yet so the only way to hit this specification is to have two of these AC87U’s talk to each other.

The 2.4GHz spectrum is handled via a fairly common Broadcom BCM4360 controller. This controller uses only three spatial streams but still includes a 600MBps connection via the 802.11N 2.4GHz spectrum. To obtain 600Mbps you need to use three spatial steams with 256-QAM modulation and encoding abilities on 40Mhz channels. QAM 256 modulation enabled 802.11N wireless devices are rare, but are available.

The rest of the internals are fairly mundane with 256MB of RAM and 128GB worth of NAND for onboard storage. While 256MB of RAM is the same amount as what previous generations came with, the fact of the matter is these devices simply do not need more than a quarter of a gigabyte of memory.

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