Smoother speed, fewer lag spikes on Asus' RT-AC5300 and Netgear's Nighthawk X8 routers

The Asus RT-AC5300 has the most number of antennas on a consumer router.
The Asus RT-AC5300 has the most number of antennas on a consumer router. PHOTO: ASUS
The amplifiers that boost the Wi-Fi signal are embedded in the Netgear Nighthawk X8's four antennas, which Netgear said results in a stronger and cleaner signal. The Asus RT-AC5300 has the most number of antennas on a consumer router.
The amplifiers that boost the Wi-Fi signal are embedded in the Netgear Nighthawk X8's four antennas, which Netgear said results in a stronger and cleaner signal.PHOTO: NETGEAR

The features on these advanced consumer routers will future-proof your home network

The Asus RT-AC5300 and the Netgear Nighthawk X8 are two of the most advanced consumer routers on the market.

Both are tri-band 802.11ac routers, which means they support two 5GHz wireless bands over the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard and a single 2.4GHz band on the older 802.11n protocol. Having multiple wireless bands ensures that your latest gadgets enjoy fast wireless speeds in their own high-speed bands without being affected by slower clients. The routers automatically assign clients to the most optimal band, though tech-savvy users can choose to disable this Smart Connect feature and manage the connections themselves.

While older tri-band routers provide up to 3,200Mbps in data transfer speeds across all their wireless bands, these new models provide up to 5,300Mbps in aggregate speeds. On the 5GHz 802.11ac band, they can transfer data to a single client at 2,166Mbps. For the 2.4GHz band, the top speed is 1,000Mbps.

This sounds like a big upgrade. However, current client devices, such as laptops or smartphones, do not come close to supporting these speeds. Even the state-of-the-art D-Link wireless adapter that was used to test these routers has a maximum theoretical speed of 1,300Mbps on the 5GHz band.

  • ASUS RT-AC5300

  • TECH SPECS

    PRICE: $469

    ETHERNET INTERFACE: 1 x 10/100/1000 Gigabit WAN, 4 x 10/100/1000 Gigabit LAN

    STANDARDS: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac

    SECURITY: WPA/WPA2, WEP

    ADVANCED FIREWALL FEATURES: NAT and SPI, DoS protection


    RATING

    FEATURES: 5/5

    DESIGN: 3/5

    PERFORMANCE: 5/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 3/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

  • NETGEAR NIGHTHAWK X8

  • TECH SPECS

    PRICE: $699

    ETHERNET INTERFACE: 1 x 10/100/1000 Gigabit WAN, 6 x 10/100/1000 Gigabit LAN

    STANDARDS: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac

    SECURITY: WPA/WPA2, WEP

    ADVANCED FIREWALL FEATURES: NAT and SPI, DoS protection


    RATING

    FEATURES: 5/5

    DESIGN: 3/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 2/5

    OVERALL: 3/5

Another cutting-edge feature, but currently dormant on these routers, is MU-MIMO. This feature lets these routers send data to multiple devices at the same time. It is disabled on these routers pending a future firmware update as the technology is supported on only a handful of clients.

With all this in mind, there are still some interesting features on these new routers that may convince enthusiasts to buy one now.

ASUS RT-AC5300

The Asus is a sight to behold with its eight antennas, the most number of antennas on a consumer router. It is heavy at around 1.8kg and cannot be mounted on the wall. The router runs pretty warm, so try not to put anything on top of it.

It has a USB 3.0 port and a USB 2.0 port, both of which can be used to link a printer or a hard drive to a network. You can also plug in a 3G or 4G wireless dongle to link it to a cellular data connection.

The router has the standard four Gigabit LAN ports. But there is a twist: the first and the second ports can be linked to provide up to 2Gbps speed to a wired client, a feature usually seen on enterprise routers. It is very useful for those who own a high-end desktop PC or network-attached storage device with two Ethernet ports.

Gamers are also likely to benefit from this Asus router, especially if they play online games hosted on servers located outside Singapore. This is because this router has built-in support for WTFast, a virtual private network (VPN) for gaming. WTFast has multiple servers around the world and works with most of the popular multiplayer games. It is like having a dedicated route from your computer to the game server. Gamers who subscribe to this VPN can enjoy lower latency and fewer lag spikes when playing online games. This could mean the difference between winning or losing an online duel.

Buyers of this router will enjoy a free subscription to WTFast's basic plan (worth US$60 or S$84 a year) for a single device for the lifetime of the router. For gamers, this freebie could be worth the cost of this pricey $469 router.

Download speeds are impressive, too. The Asus managed an average speed of 695Mbps, which is the highest I have seen on a router using the same test set-up.

NETGEAR NIGHTHAWK X8

Like the Asus, the Netgear supports link aggregation on two of its Gigabit Ethernet ports for a combined transfer speed of 2Gbps. But it has six Gigabit ports compared with four on the Asus.

Another plus: the Netgear can be wall mounted, though at 1.6kg, you probably want to secure it properly.

The four antennas on the X8 have a unique design trait. The amplifiers that are responsible for boosting the Wi-Fi signal are embedded in the antennas instead of the motherboard inside the chassis. Netgear said this results in a stronger and cleaner Wi-Fi signal.

To highlight this feature, Netgear has added LED lights to the tips of the antennas. This design appears to improve signal strength slightly. Using a Wi-Fi analyser app on my smartphone, the signal strength in my bedroom, which usually has poor Wi-Fi coverage, was measured at 66 per cent compared to 51 per cent for the Asus RT-AC5300.

But I was quite disappointed with the Netgear's user interface. With its tables and check boxes, it looks dated compared with those on some routers. While it may seem like a good idea to split the router settings into Basic and Advanced tabs, the sheer number of settings results in multiple submenu items that make it difficult for you to find what you want. With NAS vendor Synology entering the router business with a model that has a desktop-like user interface, Netgear needs to improve its software.

The Netgear managed an average speed of 621Mbps, which is slightly lower than the Asus'. However, it is far more expensive than its rival at $699, which makes it difficult to recommend.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 16, 2015, with the headline 'Smoother speed, fewer lag spikes PC'. Print Edition | Subscribe