ASUS RT-AC56U & USB-AC56 802.11AC Review
As the latest additions to ASUS’ quickly expanding 802.11AC family, the RT-AC56 and USB-AC56 are meant to redefine the budget-friendly wireless networking device segment. While one is a router and the other a USB add-on, they’re essentially two pieces of the same puzzle and are looking to offer up a more affordable Wireless AC high bandwidth solution to folks who can’t afford the top of the line RT-AC68U / PCE-AC68 solution or slightly lower priced RT-AC66U.
With a marketplace already filled with high quality, great performing mainstream routers and easy to use USB wireless adapters, manufactures are searching for ways to make their new models stand out. Unlike buyers interested in halo or ‘flagship’ models, mainstream consumer base their purchasing decisions on one major theme: value. Value in performance vs. price, value in the extra features that are included and even how much of their valuable time can be saved with an easy installation procedure.
The specifications for the RT-AC56U router are actually quite impressive given its $129 price. ASUS has equipped it with the exact same dual core, 800MHz controller found in the RT-68U. To keep costs down they have opted for a slightly lower performance Broadcom wireless controller that offers a good mix of price and performance, but still much higher throughput than any 802.11N router can offer. Specifically, it offers simultaneous speeds of up to 866Mbits/sec on 802.11AC 5Ghz networks and 300MBits/s on 802.11N networks. To keep costs low, it relies upon a 2x2 antenna configuration instead of 3x3 like the 66 and 68 models.
The USB-AC56 is an interesting addition to ASUS’ networking lineup since it packs Wireless AC bandwidth into a USB dongle. Within this product lies a Realtek controller and a dual internal / external antenna array which afford this adapter with exactly same potential as the RT-AC56U router. This alone makes them a perfect match for one another.
Both of these are USB 3.0 enabled devices which allows for additional value added abilities such as Network Attached Storage on the RT-AC56. However, based on the RT-AC68U’s USB 3.0 performance this may not be the standout feature ASUS hopes it will be. On the USB-AC56, USB 3.0 is in fact a game changer as it allows more potential bandwidth (which is why it’s rated as an AC1200 device) and additional transmission power. This in turn should help with long and short range performance.
All told the only real question mark here is the actual price vs. performance of these models. While less expensive than other ASUS 802.11AC routers we have looked at, at $129 the RT-AC56 is still at the upper edge of most mainstream consumers’ budgets. The same holds true for the USB-AC56 as it may cost $69, but for a USB wireless adapter it is quite expensive. To overcome these relatively high asking prices the performance will have to be stellar.
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