Thanks to Asus for letting me evaluate their RT-N53
wireless router/access point/repeater. I used the RT-N53 firmware version 188.8.131.52.40 to replace an aging Buffalo Router with only B/G support. In this review I will focus on the use of the RT-N53 as a wireless acess point or WAP. This means the routing functions will be disabled and the device will be purely performing as a transparent bridge. In this access mode only 2 x SSID's are available: One for 2.4Ghz and One for 5.0 Ghz. If you use the device in router mode you can setup up to 5 SSID's. 4 at 2.4 Ghz and 1 at 5 Ghz. This allows for dedicated guest networks that allow your guest to access the internet but keep potential prying eyes off your home network. You could also setup a special SSID for whole house audio or video distribution. more on that later.
Unboxing: Nothing unique about the packaging or its contents. The package includes a router, power supply, ethernet cable, quick start guide and an installation CD.
The installation CD includes a setup utility for discovering and configuring the device as well all the documentation for the product in many languages. The most shocking thing about the unboxing was the design. Very modern and different than other wifi routers I have used. I like it. WAF is high.Product Photo:Installation:
I installed the router using the more traditional manual approach using a DHCP Table and web browser. I really like that the first choice in the setup is choose the mode you want to use the device in. I chose Wireless Access Point and was able to setup the two WiFi networks within 5 minutes. One great thing about this setup approach is that is simplifies configuration by making all the options that are not valid or irrelevant disappear from the configuration menu. This really reduces confusion for the end user. Bravo!!! This may seem obvious, and I have seen many routers behave this way and I have seen more than a few that do not and are very confusing to configure. Thankfully the RT-N53 gets this right. Firmware for the WAP mode seems quite feature rich with all the normal bells and whistles: popular encryption, wide channel, support, mac filtering, SSID hiding etc. I installed the RT-N53 in the same location as the old WAP which as at the base of the stairs in my living room on the 1st floor. For performance testing I used my laptop in 2 locations. The first location was about 20 feet away in the same room. This location is labelled TV Desk in the accompanying photos. Additionally I tested the performance way up on the 3rd floor in the most remote bedroom I had. Just for grins I thought I would attached a site spectral analysis from my site. This is in a rural area in Utah where everyone is on large lots. I'm surprised I see this much activity but the spectrum is pretty uncongested compared the almost 20 SSID's I pick up at the other house.Site Spectral Analysis courtesy of inSSIDerEvaluating the Performance
I used a number of tests to evalute the performance of the RT-53.
First I used the Netstress
network throughput meter to measure the throughput of the old WAP and the RT-N53. The RT-N53 performed well. One of the big challenges with WIFI is being able to get consistent and repeatable results. its a real challenge and takes some thought. I shut off all other wifi devices except for my test pair. That means all cellphones, ipads, airport expresses were all turned off. Regardless it was still impossible to get any sort of consistent results with Netsress. The measurements I posted were the most typical and also the slowest. There were a number of times where I saw extended throughput of over 100Mbps on 5 Ghz. There were even a few times where I saw throughput as low as 40M on 5 Ghz but typically they were closer to 60Mbps. I didn't see nearly as much variation on the 2.5G band. All tests were done using WPA-Auto-Personal encryption and default settings for each band. 20Mhz channel on the 2.5Ghz band and 40Mhz channel on the 5Ghz band. NOTE: The router does support 40Mhz wide channels for up to 300 Mbps operation at 2.4Ghz. I decided to leave it 20Ghz mode for compatibility reasons. The Netstress benchmark was set for 300M network and 1 TCP Stream and 1 UDP Stream. All other settings were standard.Living room test: 20 feet away line of sight to WAP
The first chart shows the performance of the old WAP using the Netstress at ~20Mbps with 1.5mbps variation.Throughput over WIFI to existing Buffalo WAP from TV Desk using 2.4Ghz Band
Now we examine the performance of the RT-N53 in this application. It doubled the peformance of the old router at 2.4 Ghz and
even better at 5.0 Ghz
2.4 Ghz: ~ Average 44Mbps +/- 4Mbps
5.0 Ghz: ~ Average 52 Mbps +/- 4Mbps
Not only is the throughput excellent but its consistent with only 4mbps variation over a many minute test with no dropouts.Throughput over WIFI to ASUS RT-N53 from TV Desk using 2.4 ghz BandThroughput over WIFI to ASUS RT-N53 from TV Desk using 5.0ghz band
NOTE: Again, I saw a lot of variation on this test from different runs within hours and days of each other. Max over 120Mbps and as low as 40Mbps. One thing we can conclude from this is that 802.11N at 5ghz and 40Mhz wide channel is very sensitive to changes in the RF environment.
Router is located in first floor living room. Next throughput tests move the laptop to much harder to reach location that is up two floors and over several rooms. Several walls and floors/ceilings are involved. Notice the throughput remains outstanding and consistent.3rd Floor Performance Test: Through a couple of walls and floors/ceilings
In this next test I moved the laptop upstairs to the farthest point away from the access point while still remaining indoors. The results were both expected and surprising. The results were expected in that I didn't expect to see too much degradation based on my previous usage. The results were unexpected in that they were even better than I would have guessed.
At the 2.4 Ghz band: Nearly no reduction in throughput. 44Mbp sdrops 42Mbps but again no significant variations or blackouts.
At the 5.0 Ghz band: ~20% reduction in throughput from 52Mbps to 43Mbps average but we do see an expected rise in variability due to the distance and barriers in the way.
Still an excellent performance. We can some degradation on the 5Ghz channel which is to be expected due to higher frequencies but overall it did very well in a difficult test. For those users with ultra long range requirements being able to run 4 SSID's at 2.4 Ghz will be a very useful feature.Throughput from Laptop in 3rd floor bedroom to Asus RT-N53 2.5 Ghz BandThroughput from Laptop in 3rd floor bedroom to Asus RT-N53 5.0 Ghz Band
The next phase of the benchmarking was the file copy tests: I used Lan Speed Test (LST)
to measure file copy throughput. The following tests used 1 Gigabyte test file size.File Copy Performance using Lan Speed Test 1.X:
Band Write to NAS: Read from NAS:
2.5Ghz 56 Mbps 45 Mbps
5.0Ghz 65 Mpbs 46 Mbps
Ethernet* 89 Mbps 83 Mbps
*Ethernet is 100M and provided as a reference.Asus RT-N53 to NAS from TV Desk 2.5 Ghz BandAsus RT-N53 to NAS from TV Desk 5.0 Ghz BandEthernet to NAS from TV Desk
I also wanted to show that what you see in windows might actually be here: Note here you see the 9.1 megabytes/sec from windows explorer but once you add in the overhead of the various protocols your looking at more like 10.3 megabytes/sec on the wire/air.File Copy using Windows on 5.0 Ghz at night
The next morning I run the same test and am getting ~5 megabytes/second. I added a second stream copy in the opposite direction and expected to see 1/2 the performance but the performance on the first stream barely went down. Wifi weirdness.File Copy using Windows on 5.0 Ghz the next morningAudio Streaming Test
The most important test for me was my audio streaming test. Our house has a 24 port GigE managed switch in the basement server room and most of the house is wired for GigE so WiFi is delegated for iPhones, iPads, laptops, and music streaming. I use an Apple based whole house audio system using iTunes,Spotify, & Firefox to drive 6 zones. Each of thes zones are comprised of either Apple airport expresses or Apple TV's. 3 zones are hardwired over ethernet and 3 zones are WiFi. When I added the 3rd WiFi airport express in the master bedroom I started having glitches in the audio I never had before when driving all 3 WiFi Zones. This is most likely caused by the degrading of the channel due to the additional WiFi device and overall bandwidth on the channel. The 3 zones that are wifi are all remote. Master Bedroom (30ft, 1 ceiling and 1 wall away), Garage (60 ft 1 wall away and mounted inside an MDF cabinet), and the detached garage (100 Ft, ~4 walls away). I setup all the airport express's to use the 2.4 Ghz channel and have been testing.RESULTS
: No issues. Works perfectly. Glitches are gone with 3 Wifi zones playing lossless ALAC. No compatibility issues so far.Video Streaming Test
I don't have much need to stream video but I thought I would try....
Plex media server served Bluray disc(BD) rips to the Ipad 3 with no issues over 5Ghz. This is under 10Mbps.
I also tried streaming a couple of BD rips in MKV format using VLC to the laptop using 5Ghz band.
First time I tried it continually re-buffered. It was late. I Decided to try it the next day again.
The next day I started with the site survey and realized I still had the ole WAP running so I took that down. Checked all my settings and
tried to play Cars2 which is a near 40Gigabyte file from my NAS. Worked fine. I was kinda surprised but then again it was 20 feet line of sight. So then I decided to get brave and unplugged the laptop and slowly wandered all around the house. Even spent 3-5 minutes in the remote 3rd floor bedroom and it was working flawlessly. I was streaming high bit rate 1080P video over WIFI. I then went downstairs and set the laptop on the kitchen counter and plugged it in to the AC and let the movie run in the background. I never heard it glitch.... Wow!
Get up the next day and went to repeat my success and it all went downhill. Can't get the video to play without buffering issues. I then play my local copy with VLC to test the player and it works. Plug in the ethernet and stream the file off the NAS via VLC and it works (as always). That's unfortunately why I've never trusted WiFi for anything critical. I've been trying to reproduce my success ever since despite many many more controlled tests. DVD's stream fine over 2.4Ghz or 5.0 Ghz. BD Rips stutter on both 2.5 and 5.0 (I even tried 5 feet apart) except for the one instance in which I was magically able to move everywhere in the house and watch an entire 2hour movie with no obvious issues. Its bizarre that when VLC would stutter I could stop VLC and then starting copying the file to the local SSD over SMB and get speeds 8-10 megabytes/second that would seem to indicate the required bandwidth was there. Try again with VLC it would stutter. Try the local copy in VLC (prove VLC is working) and it works. Plug in the ethernet and stream via VLC and it works. The moving target is the WiFi. Frustrating for sure. I always tell my non techie friends to just think of wifi like your cellphone. It works well for most things but is certainly subject to random glitches and disconnects due to plethora of invisible radio waves bouncing around our neighborhoods.Summary
The RT-N53 is a cool little device. It has cool industrial design and doesn't look like a router at first glance. Asus really delivered a great feature set. Its performance exceed my expectations. Throughput and reliablility in my environment has been very strong so far. I have no noticed no issues or disconnects using my iPhone4, iPad3, Kindle Fire, Dell Laptop, Macbook Air and at least 2 different generations of Apples' airport express. Having a glitch free whole house audio system is important to me so that aspect is very very pleasing. Having the extra bandwidth available for the laptops to move data around on the 5Ghz network while having the whole house audio on its own network at 2.4 Ghz is very nice indeed. I have at least 3x the available bandwidth using the RT-N53 as my old WAP. Last year I bought a WNDR3600 which had a similar feature set and cost twice as much. The RT-N53 delivers good looks, strong features and solid performance at a very aggressive price of less than $70.
UPDATE: After the initial test period when I started using it for normal use the box would crash and hang every 24 hours. The latest firmware does not fix the issue. This issue is being reported by multiple users on the net. Its crashed on me dozens of times yet. Asus has asked the for unit back for diagnosis and hope they have some success. Its totally useless in its current form. I cannot recommend purchasing this product until this stability is addressed. My apple airport extreme for comparison has only been rebooted once in 3 years. The old buffalo router at the other house was also very stable (maybe reboot twice a year). I will continue to update this as things change.ASUS RT-N53 Wireless Router/Acccess Pointer/Repeater at Newegg
Album with full size photos (Much easier to read the Graphs):https://picasaweb.google.com/1147296...8936/AsusRTN53