Many homes could use an update to their Wi-Fi network. The 802.11ac Wi-Fi protocol has been out for several years, most new mobile devices and PCs sold these days support 802.11ac, 4K video is tip-toeing into mainstream and the sheer number of devices trying to connect to home Wi-Fi networks at once — especially in “smart” homes — is putting a serious strain on older networks. No-one enjoys replacing their router. It’s a whole lot of crawling around to connect wires, configuration, tweaking and then re-configuring the network connection of all those devices you forgot about that depend on a Wi-Fi connection. Despite the pain, if you haven’t upgraded to 802.11ac yet, you should. But you don’t necessarily need a beast of a router like the ASUS RT-AC5300.
ASUS sent me one of these to try out over the past week and its specifications are jaw-dropping.
Three Wi-Fi bands with a total bandwidth capability of 5300Mbps. It comes with free access to the Gamers Private Network from WTFast for accelerated online gaming performance. There are eight external antennas, a dual-core 1.4GHz CPU and all the latest 802.11 technology such as: MU-MIMO, beam forming and adaptive quality of service.
And yes, it did boost my Wi-Fi network performance compared to my several year-old Airport Extreme 802.11ac router. However, even with three kids running current generation game consoles and playing online constantly, a slew of iPads, iPods and iPhones, four Apple TVs, as many as four Netflix streams, a wide range of smart devices (thermostat, door locks, lights), Wi-Fi stereo equipment and Wi-Fi printers, our current 802.11ac router doesn’t cause any complaints.
When you start looking at raw numbers, the RT AC-5300 posts some pretty decent improvements, particularly in marginal Wi-Fi areas (that would be those external antennas at work). For example, downloading a 57MB file using an iPhone 6 in what is currently a zone of the house that gets dicey Wi-Fi reception, times dropped from 1:12 using the Apple router to 19.6 seconds. Spooling up a 1080HD Battlestar Galactica episode on the Apple TV in that zone went from 38 seconds until ready to play, to 5.67 seconds. Checking the signal strength at the deepest point of my back yard, I got a solid four bars on my iPhone and the network speed at that location increased from 5 Mbps to 13.2 Mbps.
That’s all great, however, I’ve tested other high performance Gigabit routers that return results just as good. The Linksys WRT 1900AC, for example. In most of the house we get pretty good reception with our current router and the improvements aren’t nearly so dramatic. There really was no noticeable difference in Xbox One gaming using Xbox Live, for example. However, even in our fairly connected house, we aren’t really pushing the limits of what a fairly basic 802.11ac router can handle, so it makes sense that performance didn’t improve dramatically, despite the router’s impressive specs.
And just look at the size of the ASUS RT-AC5300. Something this size requires serious placement consideration.
I guess the message out of all of this is that I’m not knocking the ASUS RT-AC5300. It’s a beast of a router and if your Wi-Fi network is punished with the sort of extreme demand it’s built to tackle — 4K video streaming while gamers are simultaneously slugging it out online and dozens of smart devices are trying to update — then it may well be worth shelling out the $400. The sheer amount of network tweaking you can do using ASUS’ network management software is also hard to beat. But for most people, this is more hardware than is needed.