FOR THE FIRST TIME in a very long time, our Best of the Best pick in the wireless router category does not bear the Netgear brand. Asus’s new RT-N66U not only beats Netgear’s WNDR-4500 in almost every benchmark, it also delivers more features, a better user interface, and a more attractive industrial design.
Let’s examine the feature set first. Like the WNDR-4500, the RT-N66U is a dual-band model capable of supporting three 150Mb/s data streams simultaneously (450Mb/s on both the 2.4- and 5GHz frequency bands). Unlike Netgear’s router, the RT-N66U delivers external antennas that can be removed and upgraded—a feature that has become uncommon on mainstream wireless routers. The external antennas helped Asus’s router deliver fantastic range: The RT-N66U delivered more than double the throughput when our test client was outdoors at its farthest distance from the router.
Satin-black diamond plate renders the Asus RT-N66U much less garish than the earlier RT-N66U.
Also like the WNDR-4500, the RT-N66U is outfitted with dual USB 2.0 ports, so it can share both a printer and a storage device on your network. But you can also plug a 3G modem into one of those USB ports, and the router will automatically switch over to that device if your cable or DSL connection goes down. The RT-N66U comes with a DLNA-compliant server, so you can stream media from an attached storage device to any DLNA-compliant device on your network (PCs, AV receivers, Blu-ray players, TVs, and so on). But Asus goes further than Netgear by also providing iTunes, Samba, and FTP servers. The presence of all these great features, however, leaves us doubly disappointed with the quality of the user manual: It doesn’t provide details on how to configure any of them.
The RT-N66U is weak when it comes to quality-of-service settings. The “automatic” QoS mode simply activates a generic rule that gaming and web-browsing activities will be assigned higher priority than peer-to-peer applications, such as BitTorrent. While you can define custom QoS rules of your own, the rules involve establishing minimum and maximum bandwidth limits for each application. The more conventional approach is to establish priority for services relative to each other (e.g., BitTorrent gets lower priority than video streaming). We also prefer Netgear’s approach to traffic monitoring, which lets you establish hard limits for bandwidth consumption and has the router send you an email message when you approach them. The RT-N66U’s traffic manager produces pretty graphs, but they’re pretty useless when it comes to stopping you from exceeding a bandwidth cap. If you care about parental controls (we don’t), you’ll be disappointed in what Asus has to offer: All you can do is turn Internet access on or off according to a schedule.
But we have no complaints when it comes to wireless throughput. On the 2.4GHz band, the RT-N66U beat the WNDR4500 by a considerable margin in every test location except the bedroom, where the client is closest to the router. We experienced similar results on the 5GHz frequency band, although the Asus didn’t perform as well when the client was outdoors: The RT-N66U was quite a bit slower than the WNDR4500 when the client was on the patio, and it was only slightly faster when the client was at our farthest test location.
If you’re looking for a fast, USB-equipped wireless router, the Asus RT-N66U is the one to buy.
Strong range, very fast, upgradable antenna, DD-WRT support.
Weak QoS settings and bandwidth monitoring; crappy documentation.
|2.4 GHz Band||5 GHz Band|
|Netgear WNDR4500 ||Asus |
|Bedroom 1, 10 feet (Mb/s)||165.0||182.0||164.0||164.0|
|Kitchen, 20 feet (Mb/s) ||172.0||125.0||155.0||141.0|
|Patio, 38 feet (Mb/s) ||124.0||112.0||77.3||96.5|
|Home Theater, 35 feet (Mb/s) ||89.1||84.3||49.2||47.6|
|Outdoors, 85 feet (Mb/s)||47.2||19.1||4.1||3.6|
Best scores are bolded. TCP throughput measured using JPerf. NAS tests consist of copying a single 2.79GB file and a folder containing 659MB worth of files and folders to and from a USB 3.0 drive attached to the router. N/C indicates no connection at that location. Additional benchmarking methodology at bit.ly/16w27O.
|Asus RT- N66U||Netgear WNDR4500|
|TCP Throughput (Mb/s)||936.0||928.0|
|PC to NAS, small (sec) ||41.5||54.6|
|PC to NAS, large (sec) ||162.0||229.0|
|NAS to PC, small (sec) ||262.3||244.0|
|NAS to PC, large (sec)||80.3||72.3|