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Secure network in this Asus Blue Cave router

A recent trend in home networking gear is to make routers look, well, less router-like - by getting rid of geeky antennas, bright blinking lights and the boring rectangular form.

As a result, routers have morphed into gadgets that look like pucks, vases and speakers, often decked in white and gentle glowing LEDs.

Now you can add the chic look of a Dyson bladeless fan to this list. Asus' new Blue Cave router has a circular doughnut hole in the middle of its squarish body - just like a Dyson desk fan.

The rim of this doughnut hole is translucent and pulses faintly with blue LEDs placed inside the router, to indicate that the router is ready to be set up.

This hole does not have any other functionality beyond aesthetics. The Blue Cave's unique design screams Oscar bait (in film industry parlance) to me. It feels like it was built to show off Asus' design and engineering chops and perhaps garner a few awards along the way.

Asus certainly deserves credit for shrinking the motherboard for standard routers to fit the Blue Cave's compact form. It even retains the usual complement of ports - four Gigabit LAN ports and one Gigabit WAN port, as well as a USB 3.0 port. It supports dual bands (2.4GHz and 5GHz) with specifications typical of a mid-range router.

One thing that I like: I can easily move the router around by gripping the edge of its open hole. Its plastic chassis is relatively light. The back and the base of the router are dotted with holes, presumably for ventilation.

  • SPECS 

    PRICE: $339

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

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

    SECURITY: WPA2-PSK, WPA-PSK, WPA-Enterprise, WPA2-Enterprise, WPS support

    ADVANCED FIREWALL FEATURES: NAT, DoS and SPI

  • RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 3/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

But I feel its minimalist design would be enhanced if the Asus branding in front is hidden at the bottom of the router, alongside the router's technical information like MAC address and default Wi-Fi network name (SSID).

To my surprise, it uses a chipset from Intel instead of the usual vendors Broadcom or Qualcomm. Hence, it does not support the Asus AiMesh platform, which lets users create their own mesh network using a handful of compatible Asus routers.

The Blue Cave is similar to other Asus routers in terms of features, including the Trend Micro-powered AiProtection suite that blocks malicious websites and quarantines infected devices in a network. Asus also bundles a year's subscription of Trend Micro's antivirus software (valid for two mobile devices and two Windows computers).

You can also use the Amazon Alexa assistant to control the router with your voice. IFTTT (If This Then That), which lets users create conditional statements to trigger specific features in smart home devices, is also supported.

But a major omission is the lack of band steering, where users can conveniently set a single SSID for both wireless bands, and the router will automatically switch client devices to the most optimal band.

Its performance, at least in my speed tests, was all over the place. At its best, it reached super-fast speeds of over 700Mbps, but it also had much slower, albeit short-lived dips to under 200Mbps. Overall, its average speed - around 500Mbps - is good enough that you probably won't notice the peaks and troughs in actual usage. These figures were recorded without AiProtection enabled. Turning this feature on will slow down the router slightly because of the extra processing involved.

• Verdict: The unique-looking Blue Cave is a great conversation starter. More importantly, it is a good mid-range router with useful security features.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 30, 2018, with the headline 'Secure network in this Blue Cave '. Print Edition | Subscribe