ASUS RT-AC66U & PCE-AC66 802.11AC Network Kit Review
Only a few short years ago, ASUS was a relative unknown in the consumer networking marketplace, a marketplace which was dominated by only a few key major players. This near-monopoly set the cost of entry absurdly high and pushed many consumers towards lower level products. While they may have not been around as long as Cisco or D-Link, ASUS quickly broke onto the scene and set about building an enviable reputation in the home networking environment. Their latest home networking devices – the RT-AC66U router and PCE-AC66 PCIE adapter card - show exactly how they’ve has been able to attain respect in this cut-throat segment.
ASUS’ previous generation ‘Dark Knight’ RT-N66U is widely considered as one of the most well rounded consumer grade routers available due to its adaptability, high performance and ease of modification. However, its replacement, the RT-AC66U, will make it seem slow by comparison.
The RT-AC66U is one of the few 802.11AC Draft routers available, thus allowing it to triple the theoretical performance of its predecessors. Instead of a very reasonable (yet slow compared to ‘wired’ Ethernet) 450Mbits/sec downstream, this new generation of wireless networking device is rated for an impressive 1.3Gbit/sec connection via the 5GHz band. Since it uses the 802.11 standard ASUS’ AC66U is also fully backwards compatible with 802.11N devices and can use the 5GHZ band for an 802.11AC network while simultaneously using the 2.4GHz range for all 802.11N network traffic.
The PCE-AC66 is another part of ASUS’ home networking equation since it can be installed into a PC via a PCI-E x1 slot, granting access to the RT-AC66U’s ultra fast 802.11AC signal. This would give any PC the ability to wirelessly stream data at a rate which approaches Ethernet speeds without the hassle of running the necessary cables into another room.
With such a massive increase in potential performance, wireless home networks may no longer be considered inferior second class connection points, where ease of installation makes up for their shortcomings in bandwidth. These next generation 802.11AC wireless devices may only offer two thirds of the theoretical bandwidth of full duplex wired gigabit Ethernet networks, but for the first time ever consumers will have a mainstream wireless option which has the potential to offer ‘good enough’ performance to satisfy their ever increasing network bandwidth demands.
Even though 802.11AC is still only a “draft” standard rather than fully certified – and if history is any indication will stay a draft standard for a while - ASUS feels more than comfortable in supporting its bleeding edge wireless interface. Of course since it is a brand new standard most consumers will not have any 802.11AC equipment which can take advantage of all its improved performance. This is why along with a brand new router, ASUS has released the aforementioned high performance PCE-AC66 PCI-E adapter card, making for the ultimate upgrade ‘kit’. Both of these devices are part of what ASUS calls their ‘FAST’ Networking solutions meaning they promise to be Fast eAsy (to use) and STable.
Since these are bleeding edge networking devices, neither is precisely inexpensive. The RT-AC66U will set you back $185, whereas the PCE-AC66 PCI-E wireless adapter will set you back $90. This means to upgrade your wireless network and a single computer you will have to be willing to shell over a whopping $275. This is rather expensive compared to 802.11N network of the same size but ASUS hopes their new 802.11AC kit’s unique abilities will more than justify such a steep entry cost.
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