Asus RT-AC3200 Router – Taming the Beast
Should a Network Administrator by day be afraid of his newly purchased home router by night? Well, I am. I don’t know if that says more about my professional competency or about the router, but I do know that this router intimidated me. And only after spending a couple nights getting to know it and then locking it in a closet did I finally begin to feel at ease.
Perhaps I should start at the beginning. . .
The Linksys E2000 router had served my family well. Though capable of 2.4GHz (wireless-g, or crippled wireless-n) or 5GHz (full wireless-n), it can’t do both at once. It isn’t a true “dual-band” router. I’d been forced to run it on the 2.4GHz band in order to keep a Astek Mole camera that we’d conscripted as a baby monitor in operation.
It was still getting the job done. But it was feeling old. New firmware hadn’t been released in years. And I’d often notice pausing and hiccups on our wireless devices while watching full-resolution HD movies from our server (only those I’d encoded myself, Netflix streams and Apple media played fine).
With the wife’s blessing, I began my search for a new router. I had installed a few Asus RT-AC68U routers for family and friends and had been impressed with the performance and user interface. Looking at their latest, I quickly settled upon the RT-AC3200. Now, frankly, this is probably more router than any one person needs. And I cannot really justify the expense. Yet, once it went on sale for “only” $239 at newegg, I couldn’t help but click “gimme.”
I was wholly unprepared for what arrived.
I knew I was likely in trouble when the box arrived. It was entirely too large for a router. What had I gotten myself into?
See that shelf? I had run to OSH earlier in the day and specially built that to be my new router’s perch. Here’s my old Linksys E2000 next to my cable mode. Clearly, the router wasn’t going to fit in that space.
Well, with some trepidation, I removed the router and plunked it on its new home. With the antennas aligned as directed in the manual, the result was not entirely satisfying.
Not exactly the aesthetic I was going for in my (albeit geeky and cluttered) office. And after attaching the power and network cables, it only looked worse. Even my six year-old daughter commented on how giant it was. It didn’t help that I told her it reminded me of a giant, dead, mechanical spider with its legs stuck out.
I honestly don’t think these photos do the sheer size of this router justice. Even side-by-side with my old router, it’s hard to convey the scale. . . with the antenna deployed as directed, you’re talking about a full 2-foot “wingspan” for this device.
But, on its shelf it stayed while I made sure performance was as it should be. I’d figure out where to put it once I decided I would keep it.
Other places have done extensive reviews on this device so I’ll only touch upon the features that drew me to this router and how it fit our needs.
I decided to disable the “Smart Connect” feature of the router and instead connect each device to the band best suited for it. Since this is tri-band router, I was able to create a separate band for wireless-g (2.4GHz), wireless-n (5GHz #1), and wireless-ac (5GHz #2). The missus and I both have iPhones capable of wireless-ac. Then our laptops and my daughter’s iPad mini are all wireless-n. And then finally, our (Mole) babycam in our 2 year-old’s room went on the wireless-g band. All separated and neat. Couldn’t have been happier. And the 5GHz wireless signal was substantially stronger than the one my older Linksys unit was sending out (I momentarily switched my Linksys E2000 to 5GHz for testing and comparison purposes).
Performance was exactly where I expected it. We have Cox for our internet provider and pay for 50Mbps (burst up to 63Mbps) downstream and 5 Mbps (6 burst) upstream. While I was used to seeing exactly that speed on my desktop via wired connection, it was very nice to actually see every drop of performance getting to my phone with this new router.
With a careful –but not always as careful as I’d like– wife, as well as kids who will eventually be getting old enough to do their own browsing, I was interested in the router’s malicious site blocking, and compromised host detection (and notification/blocking). Both seem to work as advertised and without any discernible effect on performance. I’ve never had a compromised device behind our perimeter. But now, if it ever happens, I’ll be more likely to know about it sooner than I otherwise would.
Setting up DHCP reservations for each device was trivially easy (though time-consuming since each entry required a long “saving” process). I merely found each device on the “network map” screen and turned on the “Mac and IP address binding” option. Very welcome was the ability to label and customize the icon for each device. I will not stand for mystery devices on my network!
If I weren’t raising a young family, working full time, and nearly always on the brink of exhaustion, I would have a lot more fun exploring and using every fancy feature of this device. It has advanced QoS features, live bandwidth monitoring (for each connected device even), VPN client and server capability, the works. That bandwidth per device monitoring would have come in very handy for my father a while back when a “cloud drive” he installed and fully activated (against my advice) went rogue. It took us days (and hours on the phone and connected via RDP) to finally demonstrate to our satisfaction that we had found the culprit for why his data quota was being (vastly) exceeded on a daily basis. I was on the verge of sending him a switch /w port mirroring enabled along with a laptop with wireshark installed. With this router, the “mystery” would have been solved in a matter of minutes. Needless to say, he now heeds my advice about casually setting up local “cloud-connected” devices willy-nilly.
So, it was established that I wanted to keep the router. But with its arms outstretched, that ugly use of two feet of shelf real-estate was really bothering me. So. . . what to do?
Then it hit me: I had run a GbE link to our server in the hall/furnace closet. I had long ago confirmed that the furnace was sufficiently insulated so that heat would not be a problem for electronic devices. And a quick test demonstrated that the large blower fan didn’t generate any fields that would affect the wireless signal. All I needed to do was drop a RG6 coax line down through the grated closet ceiling from the splitter in the attic, and I could move both my cable modem and this new behemoth of a router out of my office and into the centrally located closet. It would be win-win.
Five minutes in the attic, and after a couple hours of pilot hole drilling, cable management, and tidying up, here’s the result.
I couldn’t be happier. . . with the router, its performance, its final location, and the improved aesthetics in my office. And our house now has that nice “at work” feeling where networking is concerned. Both wired and wireless devices “just work” while all the nuts and bolts of the network infrastructure remain completely out of sight.
So, in the end, I’m friends with our new router. I’m even quite fond of it. But I still keep it out of sight.