ASUS RT-AC68U & PCE-AC68 802.11AC Review
With the wireless spectrum starved for bandwidth, the steady move towards the next generation 802.11AC standard couldn’t be coming at a better time. ASUS has been at the forefront of this movement from day one and their new AC68-series (consisting of the RT-AC68U and PCE-AC68) builds upon their previous generation RT-AC66U and PCE-AC66 models but really takes things to the next level.
The easiest way to think of these new AC68 models is that both are ASUS’ ‘tock’ model to their first generation AC66’s ‘tick’. Like Intel’s ‘tock’ models, consumers can technically purchase only one or the other and see improvements in their wireless home networks performance but, in a perfect world, they’re meant to be paired up together for optimal performance.
So what does this perfect scenario consist of? The primary component is ASUS’ $239 flagship RT-AC68U router which takes over from the well-regarded RT-AC66U. The PCE-AC68 meanwhile is a PCI-E based add-in board which retails for $99 and is supposed to bring ultra quick AC wireless compatibility to your desktop system with a minimum of headaches. These two devices are should bring home networking to the next level through their powerful interfaces, versatile installation procedures and user friendly software stacks.
With the progression from the AC66 to AC68 taking less than a year, some may be worried that these new units are nothing more than slight refreshes of their predecessors. That isn’t the case. Because the 802.11AC standard is still only in the Draft stages neither the RT nor PCE promise major improvements in their theoretical performance throughput but there are plenty of updates going on behind the scenes.
Like the previous AC66 models both are rated for 1300Mbits/s but real world component performance has been augmented and some pretty major improvements to the older 802.11N network standard have been incorporated. Instead of combined performance potential of 1750Mbits (or 1300Mbits/s over 802.11AC 5GHz network and 450Mbits/sec over 2.4GHz 802.11N) these two devices are rated for 1300+600. This is how the new ‘AC1900’ rating has come into being and is one of the largest distinctions between the AC66 series and the new AC68.
On its own this rather significant change warrants an entire new model name, but this is only the tip of the iceberg for these new devices. The PCE-AC68 may use the same half height PCI-E x1 form-factor, heatsink and technically the same controller as the previous AC66 but Broadcom has tweaked this version. So, unlike the PCE-AC66, the PCE-AC68 is fully compatible with Haswell based systems.
The RT-AC68U also is full of surprises and everything from its newly redesigned chassis, to an upgraded processor, to the firmware it relies upon have been redesigned to greatly enhance its abilities. Suffice to say that ASUS is counting on the sum of these improvements to both the RT-AC68U and PCE-AC68 to justify their rather steep combined asking price of $339.
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