We don’t much care what our routers look like, because they’re usually hidden inside a closet (unless we’re benchmarking them). But Asus’s engineers lavished as much attention on the RT-N56U’s skin as they did its guts: This dual-band router is a looker, and it’s also pretty damned fast.
The RT-N56U is nicknamed “Black Diamond” for its embossed, shiny black plastic housing. In addition to speed, it delivers excellent range and a good collection of features. It’s missing one very important feature, however: It doesn’t provide a guest network on either its 2.4GHz or 5GHz radios. It does offer two USB ports (to support both a printer and an attached storage device) and support for WDS bridging (you can turn off its router function and use it as a wireless bridge). Alternatively, you can configure the router as a wireless access point. The Black Diamond’s graphical user interface renders any setup easy.
If you’re looking for a router to support your entertainment system, Asus’s RT-N56U features a DLNA-compliant media server.
When we plug a USB hard drive into all too many routers, we find that the port doesn’t deliver enough juice to spin up the drive’s platters. Our long-time favorite, Netgear’s WNDR3700, proved guilty of this when we connected a Verbatim Clon drive (which is based on a 2.5-inch 500GB Samsung mechanism). The RT-N56U has no such problem; it can deliver up to 30 watts of power through its USB ports.
The paper-thin router comes with a stand that puts it in a vertical orientation, with its Gigabit modem port and four Gigabit Ethernet ports facing right (that’s how we tested it), but it can just as easily lie flat as a pancake on a shelf or your desk with its ports facing the wall.
We’ve changed our benchmarking procedures so that the JPerf app running on the server produces four simultaneous wireless TCP streams to simulate four wireless clients. It’s not a perfect simulation, because one wireless adapter is juggling all four streams, but it does a much better job of revealing the router’s throughput limits than our previous single-stream test did. As you can see from our benchmark chart, Netgear’s WNDR3700 2.4GHz radio spanked the RT-N56U in our Bedroom and Kitchen tests, where the client is closest to the router (10 and 20 feet from the router, respectively). The Asus returned the favor in our Patio, Bedroom 2, and Outdoor tests, crushing the Netgear when the client is much further from the router (38, 60, and 85 feet, respectively).
Both routers delivered roughly the same performance on the 2.4GHz band with the client in our difficult-to-penetrate home theater. The Netgear was faster on the less-crowded 5GHz band, and significantly faster on this band in the home theater. The client wasn’t able to connect to either router’s 5GHz radio when the client was at its furthest outdoor location.
The RT-N56U is a strong performer—its 2.4GHz radio delivered fabulous throughput at range—and it has some great features. Whether you think it’s pretty or pretty ugly, there’s no question that it would be a better value if at least one of its radios supported a guest network.