In the staid world of routers, Asus’ RT-N56U is a diamond in the rough. Its design really stands out, with its shiny, jauntily angled front fascia, and sparkling cool-blue LEDs the very antithesis of standard router styling.
If you were expecting this style to come at the expense of power and features, however, you’d be wrong, because the Asus is the equal of all but the most expensive routers on test this month. Those with ADSL connections will be disappointed to hear the RT-N56U is a cable-only router, however.
The router offers concurrent dual-band operation, which means it can maintain two networks at the same time – one in the 2.4GHz frequency band and the other in the 5GHz space – and channel bonding is available on both.
It also has four Gigabit Ethernet ports on the rear, and a pair of USB 2 sockets for sharing storage across your network and connecting printers.
Notably, it’s also one of the friendliest routers around to administer, with the onboard web pages offering a network map with pictograms representing devices connected to the router, and a clearly laid-out, easy-to-understand user interface.
The RT-N56U's web-based admin pages are easier to understand than most.
There’s a scattering of useful extras, too, including a real-time traffic monitor graph, a BitTorrent client, the option to use the router in WDS bridge mode to extend an existing wireless network, plus the ability to use the router as an access point. The latter is a useful option for ADSL users in particular, who can use it to hook into an existing ADSL modem router to provide fast wireless performance.
Speed is one thing this diminutive outer has in spades; in our tests, its results placed it at or near the top in most categories. Over 2.4GHz we measured its average speed at 14.4MB/sec, and it peaked at 18MB/ sec when transmitting large files to the router at close range. Over 5GHz at close range, it delivered a stunning average speed of 23.8MB/sec, peaking at 29.3MB/sec – the fastest result in this test.
It put in a weaker performance in the long-range tests, achieving an average speed of 4.6MB/sec over 2.4GHz, and a disappointing 1.4MB/sec over 5GHz, but at least it connected and transferred the files we asked it to; several others were painfully slow in this test. And things picked up again in the NAS test. With our test hard disk drive connected to one of the Asus RT-N56U’s USB ports and our laptop hooked up via Gigabit Ethernet, we measured an average transfer rate of 7.2MB/sec, significantly ahead of all its rivals – and it reads NTFS disks too.
The RT-N56U's 5GHz radio frequency profile is a little untidy but it shunts the data through quickly.
With such sterling performance in all but one area, ease of use and a design that won’t stick out like a sore thumb, Asus’ RT-N56U is an excellent all-round router.
But the best is yet to come. The price, at only $185, is about as reasonable as it gets for a concurrent dual-band router, and for one as fast as this it’s an absolute steal.