Review: Asus RT-AC5300 Router

The high performance router wars are heating up because of two things:

  • The increasing availability of 100 Mbps or faster Internet access.
  • The need to support high bandwidth devices such as streaming devices, video game consoles, and smart TVs, and high performance gaming PCs.

Because of this, routers like the Asus RT-AC5300 have started to appear. Now, let me deal with the elephant in the room. The RT-AC5300 looks…. Different:

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It measures 2.6 by 9.6 by 9.6 inches (HWD) which means RT-AC5300 requires a good deal of real estate. It also has 8 antennas and looks like something from another planet. That may turn off some and be ultra cool to others. It feels solidly built and clearly has enough vents to ensure that it doesn’t overheat. The front contains small LED indicators for Power, 2.4GHz and 5GHz band connectivity, WAN and Internet activity, and WPS activity. On the left side is a USB 2.0 port, as well as buttons for enabling and disabling the LEDs and the Wi-Fi bands and for initializing the WPS security feature. Around back are four Gigabit LAN ports, a WAN port, a USB 3.0 port, and a Power button. You get a 1.4 Ghz dual core processor to drive three radio bands. One 2.4GHz band and two 5GHz bands so that you can segment your wireless traffic so that everything stays speedy. The router supports beamforming for sending signals directly to wireless clients, Smart Connect which automatically chooses the best band for optimal throughput, and MU-MIMO technology for simultaneous rather than sequential streaming for devices that support that standard. 

Setting up the router is incredibly trivial for novice users and you can have it running in minutes. Here’s what I did to set it up:

  1. After connecting the router to my Mac, I opened a browser, entered http://router.asus.com in the address bar
  2. I followed the on-screen instructions to configure basic Internet DHCP and wireless security settings.
  3. Done. Declare victory and have beer.

But if you really want to tweak things, this router will give you that ability in spades. You can configure everything from parental controls to threat protection. Plus if you’re a gamer, you’ll appreciate the Game Boost feature, which offers one-click QoS settings that give gaming applications traffic-network priority, and provides you with a free subscription to WTFast, an online game-acceleration service that automatically routes game data to achieve optimal bandwidth which in turn will allow you to pwn your online competition. The level of configuration is above and beyond what is available with most routers out there, and this is one of the key advantages that the RT-AC5300 has over every other high performance router that is on the market. It should also be noted that there are apps for iOS and Android that will allow to keep on top of your router settings. Finally there’s alternate firmware available such as Merlin to really open up the power of this router. And unlike most routers, you can flash back to stock firmware if you want to.

But what you really care about is how fast this router is and what the WiFi coverage is like. For the basis of this comparison, I will show you the numbers from the Linksys Max Stream AC5400 that is connected to Rogers Ignite Gigabit Internet which is the fastest router that I have tested to date. What you see below is the speed of the Linksys router using a computer connected via Ethernet:

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Now here’s the RT-AC5300:

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It’s not far off the Linksys router which has been tweaked to get the speeds that you see above. I am pretty sure that If I spent some time tweaking the RT-AC5300, it would have been able to do better. But having said that, it is more than competitive. As for WiFi coverage, it covered about the same amount of real estate in my condo as the Linksys router. Keep in mind that I have concrete walls that any router that I test has to deal with. Thus this is a very good result.

The Asus RT-AC5300 goes for $500. It’s the same price as the Linksys router, but the fact that RT-AC5300 can be customized to a greater degree than the Linksys gives it the edge for those who want a high performance router that they can control to the nth degree and get great performance from said router. Plus you get the option to use third party firmware which for the record, the Linksys Max Speed AC5400 doesn’t give you the option. For those reasons, if you are a “control enthusiast” in need of a high performance router, the Asus RT-AC5300 is the one that you need to look at first.

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