If you are thinking of getting a new router, there is little excuse not to consider a Wi-Fi 6 one, which offers higher speeds and lower latency.
Even if you do not have any Wi-Fi 6 clients to fully enjoy the benefits of the latest Wi-Fi 6 standard (also known as 802.11ax), the prices of Wi-Fi 6 routers have dipped to mainstream levels since late last year.
The Asus RT-AX56U, for instance, is priced at $249. This entry-level dual-band router has a 2.4GHz wireless band (which supports speeds of up to 574Mbps) and a 5GHz wireless band (up to 1.2Gbps).
A compatible Wi-Fi 6 client can thus expect a download speed of up to 1.2Gbps, though in my experience, the typical real-world speed is in the range of 700 to 800Mbps.
Design-wise, the AX56U is a rectangular wedge of plastic similar to some of Asus' older routers. It has two adjustable antennas and mounting holes if you wish to affix the router to the wall.
It has the typical configuration of four Gigabit LAN ports and a single Gigabit WAN port. There are also two USB ports, which can be used to share an external storage device or printer with the network.
Like any modern router worth its salt, the AX56U can be set up in less than 15 minutes using a smartphone app (available for iOS and Android). This Asus Router app also lets you monitor the network traffic in real time and view all connected devices at a glance.
I especially liked how I could click on a specific client device in the app to view its IP address and connection quality, as well as restrict its Internet access or limit its bandwidth, without having to hunt for these oft-used settings in sub-menus.
In fact, the app is powerful enough that most users should not need to access the router's Web-based interface via a computer, which has more advanced options.
The AX56U comes with the Asus AiProtection Pro security suite. Powered by Trend Micro, this security software claims to protect the devices in your home network from malicious online attacks. It also comes with parental controls that lets users block specific websites or apps.
You can use the AiProtection Pro features without paying a subscription for the lifetime of the router, unlike other manufacturers that require a monthly fee after a certain trial period.
While the AX56U offers plenty of features for its price, I was less than impressed by its wireless performance. In my usual download speed test, the AX56U managed a middling average download speed of 424Mbps with a Wi-Fi 6-compatible laptop. This is much lower than the typical 700Mbps to 800Mbps that I had recorded for other Wi-Fi 6 routers.
The speed dipped steeply to 80Mbps for a similar test in a distant bedroom with the door closed. This, though, did not come as a surprise to me because most non-mesh routers will have a weak Wi-Fi signal at this part of my home.
The good news is that Asus has an AiMesh feature that can be used to create a mesh network with several of its routers, including older Wi-Fi 5 models. Chances are, you may have an existing Asus router that can be used together with the new AX56U to improve the overall Wi-Fi coverage of your home.
With its relatively affordable price and solid features, the Asus RT-AX56U is a decent choice for home users looking to upgrade to the latest technology. However, its wireless performance falls slightly short of its competitors'.
• Relatively affordable
• Built-in security features
• Powerful app that will appeal to tech-savvy users
• Lacklustre wireless performance
ETHERNET INTERFACE: 4 x Gigabit LAN ports, 1 x Gigabit WAN port
SECURITY: WPA2-PSK, WPA-PSK, WPA-Enterprise, WPA2-Enterprise
ADVANCED FIREWALL FEATURES: NAT and SPI
VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5