A Closer Look at the ASRock G10 Router
A Closer Look at the ASRock G10 Router
It appears that 2015 is the year of the aggressive angular lines and form over function router designs. As with a lot of routers we have recently looked at ASRock has taken a page for Netgear (who arguably started this whole craze with their “NightHawk” series) and made the G10 quite aggressive looking. This is particularly interesting as ASRock goes out of their way to state that this router’s design concept was to make it a piece of art, one that could be the centerpiece to a gaming room.
Whether you consider this design aesthetic to be a positive or a negative will depend greatly on your age and your opinion on objects d’art. In either case the G10 is certainly attention getting but we do have to wonder what will happen with antenna performance considering they are all housed within that angular casing.
Thankfully this router does have the hardware specifications to back up this braggadocio act. We will go over the specifics in a moment but for the time being let’s just say that the G10 belongs to a new breed of routers that are loosely grouped together into the ‘Wave 2’ header.
Wave 1 was the original 802.11AC routers that brought to the world a new meaning of the word ‘fast’ for wireless devices. However, while they have insanely high paper specifications it really took multiple units to take advantage of the ultra-wide 802.11AC network bus.
Wave 2 sets out to change this by not starting from scratch as the industry did every single time it wanted to improve wireless Ethernet (ie ‘A’ begot ‘B’ who sired ‘G’ who gave the world ‘N’ who fathered ‘AC’) and instead have figured out new ways to make 802.11AC better. These technologies include greatly improved beam-forming which allows the router to boost the signal strength to specific devices by taking into account interference, such as walls and furniture, to improve reception and work with its surroundings instead of the brute force approach that first gen devices basically relied upon.
This however is only the tip of the ice berg. The big improvement to Wave 2 routers is MU-MIMO or Multi User Multiple-Input & Multiple-Output. Unlike original MIMO, MU-MIMO provides MIMO to multiple users simultaneously. In the past Wave 1 would basically do all its magic for one device at a time in a first come first serve manner, but now it spreads benefits across multiple devices without micro-stutters or higher latency. This takes a massive increase in processing power and that is why the RAM and CPU itself is beefed up in this new Wave 2 devices.
Unfortunately, as we saw with ASUS and their Wave 2 models like the RT-AC87U this improvement in performance only happens on congested networks and with multiple users all accessing the network at the same time. On a clear network it doesn’t make that much of a difference. Thankfully this is a gaming orientated router and as such is expected to be used by multiple devices at the same time.
In either case, this is where the other trick Wave 2 routers have comes into the equation. As with the RT-AC87U, the ASRock G10 uses a four channel route design so it can send and receive four spatial streams at the same time instead of just three. In addition, when only using three spatial streams the G10 can make use of its additional antennas to improve the efficiency of the beam forming it does. In other words, it will only use the one, two, or three sets of antennas with the best signal reception at any time when dealing with ‘older’ wireless devices.
This adaptability is a great addition as the ASRock G10 makes use of eight internal antennas. Internal antenna arrays have some limitations when compared against exterior arrays since they are placed close to the other unshielded electronics which can cause a minor amount of interference. However, Wave 2 has mitigated some of the ‘damage’ that using internal arrays would normal cause so the G10’s performance shouldn’t be overly handicapped.
Getting back to the overall layout and design, the ASRock G10 can only be placed in a vertical orientation and it can’t be hung on a wall. For most routers this would be a major handicap, but the G10 has been designed in this way for a reason. We will get to that reason in a moment but it is worth pointing out that its layout will put undue stress on any wired Ethernet cables that are attached and may even cause premature port failure as gravity places more stress on the port’s top area and less on the bottom half.
On the positive side, ASRock has done a very good job in spacing out the various I/O ports and while the back area will be bit cluttered with all ports in use, actually using them all is actually easier than with most routers.
At the top (or in this case left) and working downwards there is the removable H2R dongle, the IR transmitters, a separate WPS buttons for the 5GHz and 2.4 GHz networks, the four Gigabit LAN ports, the lone (yellow) WAN port, two USB 3.0 ports, a small recessed Reset button, the power button, and lastly the power adapter port for the external power brick.
The one major feature missing from the G10 router is a front I/O LED panel. We personally prefer LED panels as they allow for instant diagnosis of many issues and generally make troubleshooting much easier. Luckily, the top front of this device has a large led that blinks different colors and can double as a diagnostic LED.
One of the most unique and downright interesting features of this router is the fact that it has built-in IR transceivers. This is actually the first router we know of to boast such a feature and it opens up a who other box of possibilities for the ASRock G10. Basically this router can easily intercept and retransmit any IR signals that you send from basically any IR-based remote control. In simple terms this means it can not only learn but then act as multi-remote device similar to what Logitech and their ‘Harmony’ series offers…or at least that is the theory.
In testing the G10 did indeed pick up and learn our various remote control functions across multiple devices. This is impressive to say the least but unfortunately the built-in transceiver leaves a lot to be desired and renders this feature less usable that one would believe. The problem is that the IR receiver and transmitters are built directly into the unit itself and have an exceedingly narrow focal width. This means a device like the G10 which is meant to be tucked into a corner and ‘out of sight out of mind’ has to be placed directly in the path between the user and the TV/Amp/HTPC/etc. and placing it so more than one device can be controlled is damn difficult to say the least.
This issue could have easily been alleviated if ASRock has taken a page directly from Logitech and their higher end Harmony series. All that would have needed to be done was to include more USB ports dedicated to remote IR transmitters and this in turn would have allowed consumers the flexibility to place the G10 so it could properly interface with secondary IR-based devices.
Needless to say making this cool feature an actually useablee would have made this already pricey router more expensive. In its current form it needlessly adds to the cost of the G10 without actually being all the useful for most users, other than those who have all their devices in the same room.
Cracking open the case and peaking inside left us rather puzzled. On the one hand the internals of this router are amazingly clean and there is obviously enough room around the PCB for passive airflow. However, heatsinks are pretty much non-existent other than an odd metal covering which doesn’t even come into contact with the plastic case. The two metal ‘cans’ you see are for the radios, act as EMI shields and do not cover the hot-running SoC.
While we are sure that the Qualcomm chipset does run cooler than some other more classical SoC processors the fact of the matter is it does not run that cool. We honestly believe that overheating and throttling during extended high bandwidth usage is a real possibility, particularly in the summer months. This would likely become quite evident when using all the “gaming” features like QoS and MU-MIMO since they require more processor cycles. While we didn’t experience any hiccups during our gaming sessions, it is winter here in the great white North and we don’t have the capability to put this thing into a hot box. Stay tuned for updates.
As to the specifics, the G10 makes use of the new Qualcomm ‘Atheros’ IPQ8064 SoC. This multi core, 1.4 GHz controller acts as the brains of the unit and is an extremely potent choice. It is made up of two Krait 300 processors each of which runs at 1.4GHz, and makes use of two (each at 730MHz) network accelerator engines to help boost overall network performance.
Unlike most other routers both the 2.4GHz and 5.0GHz networks are controller by the same chipset, the Qualcomm ‘Atheros’ QCA9980 which boasts Wave 2 802.11AC capabilities. Amongst the long list of features it brings to the table, the QCA9980is also capable of 4x4 configurations per network. This is why there are eight of the internal dipole antennas. Sadly, as you can see these ‘antennas’ are not precisely awe inspiring in their build quality nor their layout.
As this is a true 4x4 router the G10 is capable of 1733Mbps on the sole 5GHz 802.11AC network and a 800Mbit/s on the 2.4GHz 802.11N network. Backstopping these potent abilities, and helping the SoC keep up with the demands, ASRock has used 512MB of RAM and 256MB of NAND for caching purposes. That is a combination that is rarely seen on consumer grade routers.
|Latest Reviews in Peripherals|