Asus RT-N66U router review: The best 802.11n router for the home or home office

At a Glance
  • Asus RT-N66U

    PCWorld Rating

    Whether you’re a consumer or a small business owner, and you demand products based on the rock-solid 802.11n standard, the Asus RT-N66U is the router to buy. It's fast, it's packed with features, and I...

I have a confession to make: As much praise as I’ve heaped on 802.11ac Draft 2.0 routers I’ve tested, particularly the Asus RT-AC66U, I’m still using an 802.11n router at home; namely, the Asus RT-N66U. Why? Three reasons: First, the RT-N66U is still the fastest 802.11n router I’ve tested. Second, my home is different than most in that I have hardwired Ethernet in every room—including the garage. I don’t need a faster-than-N wireless network because it will never beat my wired network. The final reason is that I have a smart-home system with a bunch of wireless IP cameras tied into it, and I’m too lazy to reconfigure them all to talk to a new router.

Asus introduced its RT-N66U wireless router early in 2012, so the competition has had plenty of time to design something better. It’s now early 2013 and no one has managed to do it. That’s not to say the RT-N66U is flawless. I’m particularly annoyed with the crappy stand that enables you to orient the router vertically to give its three removable, positionable antennas maximum height. The thing just refuses to stay attached to the router. And in my most recent benchmarking sessions, the RT-N66U took last place when the client was connected to its 5GHz network and operating at very close range. But Asus’s router took first place in almost every other wireless test.

The RT-N66U is also attractive, as routers go, with a satin-black diamond-plate finish that doesn’t show fingerprints. Blue LEDs on the bottom front light up to inform you of the status of the router’s power, switch, Internet access, network, and USB ports. I use the router on its stand, but you can also lay it flat on a desktop or mount it to a wall (four rubber feet create a gap between the back and the surface for air circulation). The back (or top, depending on how you’ve set it up) of the router hosts a WAN port, a five-port gigabit Ethernet switch, and two USB ports. There are also buttons here for power and for WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup).

The RT-N66U can sit flat, mounted to its stand, or attached to a wall.

Asus’s Quick Internet Setup wizard makes short work of configuring the router to work with your ISP’s gateway. The balance of the router’s user interface is also well laid out and easy to master. Unlike most of the rest of the routers in this roundup, which shield the user from the router’s complexities, Asus allows you to drill deep down into the nitty-gritty. The Quality of Service (QoS) tab, for instance, has three modes: Automatic mode defaults to assigning the highest priority to online gaming and web-browsing, and the lowest priority to peer-to-peer file-sharing applications. Switch to User-defined Priority, and you can manually assign priorities to specific types of network traffic. With the third option, User-defined QoS rules, you can write very detailed rules for specific services, online games, and P2P services, and then link them to specific router ports and network clients.

As I mentioned earlier, the RT-N66U has two USB 2.0 ports, so it can share both a USB printer and a USB storage device with any PC on the network. Using Asus’ AiCloud feature, you can access not only any storage device connected to the router’s USB port, but also any Samba client (be it a PC, server, or NAS box) on your home network from anywhere you have Internet access (you will need to install the AiCloud client on your PC, tablet, or smartphone). If you sign up for an Asus Webstorage account (an online service similar to Dropbox, with 5GB of free storage), you’ll also be able to synchronize the contents of that USB drive with your cloud storage account and with any PC, smartphone, or tablet linked to that account.

The RT-N66U has consumer users covered with UPnP, DLNA, and iTunes servers, but if you’re buying a router for a home office or a small business, Asus provides FTP, Samba, and VPN servers, too. This router also goes above in beyond in terms of security features, with support for easy-to-configure WPA2 Personal and WPS encryption for consumers, and WPA2 Enterprise encryption and support for a RADIUS authentication server for business users.

Performance

On the 2.4GHz frequency band, Asus’ router outperformed the entire rest of the field—usually be a wide margin. When the client was in the bedroom, nine feet from the router, the RT-N66U delivered TCP throughput at a 22-percent faster clip than its closest competitor, the Belkin N900. The Asus router was nearly 60 percent faster when I moved the client to my home office, 65 feet from the router.

While operating on the 2.4GHz frequency band, the Asus RT-N66U outperformed the rest of the fielld by a wide margin.

The situation was just the opposite on the 5GHz frequency band, but only when the client was operating very close to the router. The RT-N66U actually took last place in the field of five, delivering TCP throughput of just 162 mbps compared to the Belkin N900’s 271 mbps—a deficit of 40 percent. As soon as I moved the client further away from the router, the RT-N66U thrashed the competition with TCP throughput 192 percent faster than the second-place finisher, the Linksys EA4500. If you need to set up a wireless network in a congested environment, running one on the RT-N66U’s 5GHz radio is the router you should use.

The RT-N66U's performance on the 5GHz frequency band isn't quite as impressive.

As much as I like the RT-N66U’s wireless performance and its in-depth feature set, I was disappointed with its performance transferring files over a wired network to and from a 500GB hard drive attached to its USB port. The Asus turned in a fourth-place finish on most tests. If this criterion is your most important metric when shopping for a router, the Linksys EA4500 is the clear choice. But if network storage is that important to you, you should probably consider running a true NAS box.

If network-attached storage is a critical feature, I found several other routers, especially the Linksys EA4500, that perform the task much better.

Bottom line

If you want the absolute highest wireless networking performance and you’re not worried about the chances—however slight they might be—that 802.11ac Draft 2.0 gear won’t be interoperable with gear based on the ratified 802.11ac standard, but the Asus RT-AC66U. It’s the fastest router I’ve ever tested, and it’s just the ticket for streaming media around your house.

Whether you’re a consumer or a small business owner, and you demand products based on the rock-solid 802.11n standard, the Asus RT-N66U is the router to buy. It’s fast, it’s packed with features, and I haven’t found a better router.

Note: This review is part of a roundup. Click here to read reviews of the other four routers I tested at the same time.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Whether you’re a consumer or a small business owner, and you demand products based on the rock-solid 802.11n standard, the Asus RT-N66U is the router to buy. It's fast, it's packed with features, and I haven’t found one that's better.

    Pros

    • Very fast
    • Outstanding range
    • Comprehensive feature set

    Cons

    • Slow USB performance
    • Slow 5GHz throughput at close range
    • Sloppy fit with the optional stand
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