A Closer Look - Design
The ASUS RT-AC66U, which is aesthetically-identical to the highly-touted RT-N66U we had a look at last year, does away with our traditional view of wireless routers as finicky devices encased in cheap plastic shells. Close inspection reveals why this product holds a Red Dot Design Award for 2012. Subtle blue LED's, checkerboard motif, and a relatively slim wedge-shaped profile make the RT-N66U stand out in a sea of bleak and generic black and blue boxes. Thanks to the attention ASUS paid to designing the shape of the RT-N66U's trio of dual-band adjustable antennas, they actually help boost the router's aesthetic appeal. Certain customers will be excited to know that these antennas are removable and upgradable. The router can rest flat, stand vertically with the included plastic bracket, or be mounted to the wall. This flexibility is great for enthusiasts who want to reap the full benefits of having both bands available inside of a large home or even a warehouse setting. Whatever you might lose in aesthetics by mounting some large and unwieldy high gain antennas can be made up for in great coverage.
Subtle vents can be found on either side of the router just underneath its glossy face. These vents conceal a large aluminum heat sink that gives the RT-AC66U far better heat dissipation and noise characteristics than other high performance routers. It also adds to the weight of the device, adding to the premium hefty feel and reassuring ballast on a desktop. A considerable amount of additional venting is hidden on the underside. The back panel is host to the obligatory WAN port, power button, and reset button, as well as four LAN ports, two USB 2.0 ports, and a WPS button. As it turns out, the WAN port can be configured via firmware to act as a fifth LAN port, should you want to re-purpose the router as an access point to extend the range of your network; just another example of ASUS covering all their bases when it comes to keeping the end user in mind, especially for small to medium office environments.
ASUS claims that the RT-AC66U can be setup in under 30 seconds thanks to an auto-detect feature. We were excited to put this claim to the test, as we are very familiar with how frustrating it can be to setup a router with a tedious activation process. Getting the RT-AC66U to broadcast a Wi-Fi signal can be completed in just 3 steps. After completing step one, which involves connecting power and signal cables to the router and a LAN cable to a computer, we open a browser which automatically brings up the router's web interface. This concludes step two. One must proceed through four panes before completing step three: the setup wizard. All told, we managed to setup a secure network on the RT-AC66U in a couple minutes (including thinking of SSID names and setting passkeys for the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands). This is by far the easiest, quickest, and most painless networking setup I've had the pleasure of using. It’s not often that you see the words quick, easy, painless, and pleasurable associated with anything networking related. We're glad to see ASUS hasn't deviated on the setup simplicity in their new next-gen router.
The best part is that it requires no additional software and transmits a setup SSID so you can set it up without relying on a wired connection - fantastic for the mobile revolution we're seeing. This can be especially useful in office environments where the router may not necessarily be placed in a convenient location. The automatic setup detection means that looking up the IP of the router and entering it into the browser is completely bypassed and even the setup CD is completely optional, which is another +1 for ultrabooks and tablets.