At first glance you might mistake the Asus RT-AC3200 gigabit router for a creature from the latest sci-fi blockbuster, but it’s large size and six attention grabbing antennas aren’t just for show. No, this monster of a router utilizes the new 802.11ac wireless protocol, the successor the the longstanding wireless N protocol, while also offering tons of features which help to give it the performance to back up the $300 price tag.
The most notable of the RT-AC3200’s hardware features is that it is a Tri-band router, a step up from the more common dual band routers. Tri-band, as its name suggest, supplies three WiFi bands; one 2.4GHz band and two 5GHz bands. These three bands carry a maximum combined data rate of 3200Mbps (1,300Mbps on the two 5GHz bands, and 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz band). The benefit of having three bands is the way in which it optimizes your WiFi devices’ connections using SmartConnect so they all receive the maximum bandwidth potential.
SmartConnect does pretty much what it’s name would suggest, it combines all three of the tri-band frequencies into one single network and intelligently selects the optimal frequency band for each of your connected devices to use, helping ensure the maximum performance is achieved for each device. This is incredibly handy in today’s WiFi age where multiple people in a home are all sharing the same connection simultaneously, helping to keep that streaming Netflix movie fully buffered even while your son is playing Xbox and wife checking her Facebook. While this is enabled by default you are also given the option to manually name the frequencies yourself to create three separate networks. However unless you really know all of your devices very well you are probably better off letting the router do the work for you.
Another big feature I was pleased to see was the inclusion of Beamform. A simple analogy for Beamform routers compared to traditional routers is of a light bulb to a flashlight . Similar to a lightbulb, traditional WiFi sends it’s signal out over a large area, to ensure that it hits it’s target. Beamform, on the other hand, refines the direction and focuses the signal more directly at the target, like the beam from a flashlight. The advantage is a stronger signal reaching the target device, as opposed to a weaker signal covering a larger area. This more direct “beam” of WiFi helps to improve video streaming and voice quality, along with any latency-sensitive transmissions (e.g. the dreaded “lag” in online gaming).
While the benefits of Tri-band with SmartConnect and Beamform technology are impressive, thats only the tip of the iceberg for the RT-AC3200. The folk at Asus have really loaded this top of the line router up with the latest and greatest WiFi tech. Two other notable mentions are AiProtection and Adaptive QoS. AirProtection gives you a first line of defense against viruses and malware, while simultaneously blocking your personal information from being sent outside the network if you do get infected. While Adaptive QoS optimizes and prioritizes bandwidth, with presets for gaming, media streaming, VoIP, web browsing and file transfers, working alongside SmartConnect and Beamform to ensure your devices are connected in the most efficient manner for their tasks.
Gone are the days of jumping through hoops and meticulously following the instruction manual word for word to setup your home network, with Asus it could not be simpler. It is as close to plug and play as it could be, simply plug your modem’s ethernet cord into the router in and open your computer’s browser. A Web-based setup wizard will greet you to guide you through the simple process of naming and password protecting your network. From un-boxing to complete home wifi is under five minutes.
You can always access the Asus interface after completing the setup wizard by logging back in at the default IP. The web interface is fantastic, both in it’s visual appeal and its organization. Clearly labeled tabs and sub-menus allow you to customize practically every setting and feature, from the basic to the advanced. The whole interface feels more like an efficient App than a web utility. There is even a traffic analyzer section so you can monitor all the connected devices and their data usage, in case you need to hunt down a data hog on your network.
A company can pack a ton of features into a product and claim progress, but if there are no results then they serve as little more than fancy selling points. The real test for me was how it would stacked up compared to the Netgear Wireless N router I have been using for the past few years. While thats not too long ago for most things in life, technology change fast and it would be nice to see how much of a difference a few years can make. I currently pay for “speeds up to” 25Mbps from one of the nation’s largest ISPs and decided a good general test of the RT-AC3200’s features would be to see whether there was a noticeable improvement in the speeds delivered to my devices between the two routers.
I settled on testing two separate zones; my living room, which is where the router and modem are located, and the office, which is much further from the hardware with several walls separating (and weakening) the signal. I have generally had problems maintaining a solid or fast connection in the office, even with the addition of extended antennas and signal boosters. So it did not come as a shock to see a measly 1.8 Mbps being provided by the wireless N router. The living room fared better with nearly 19Mbps, still below the advertised maximum, but fast enough to have never caused an issue.
Needless to say after seeing these results I expected to see some improvement, particularly in my office connection, but what I found shocked me. I didn’t just see improvement, I saw exponential improvement! The connection in the living room registered at over 30Mbs, 5 above the 25Mbps I was paying for. Not only that but the connection in the office was almost equally as strong as that in the living room, just a few decimals away from also being 30Mbps. This left no doubt that the tri-band, smart connect, and I heavily suspect the Beamform technology, produced real measurable results.
The Asus RT-AC3200 gigabit router is big… in size, performance, and price. It delivers on everything it sets out to do and for someone who absolutely must have a tri-band router it is certainly worth the purchase. However if you are just looking to upgrade from an 802.11a/b/n router to an 802.11ac router you may find it worthwhile to look into the RT-AC3200’s cousin instead, the Asus RT-AC68U. The AC68U is the dual-band equivalent to the AC3200 and offers equally impressive performance and many of the same features, for about half the price!