Review: ASUS RT-AC5300 Extreme Tri-Band Wi-Fi Router

The ASUS RT-AC5300 Extreme Tri-Band Wi-Fi Router is the third of the latest-generation AC5300/AC5400 routers that we’ve reviewed, following the excellent TP-LINK Archer C5400 (see the review) and Linksys EA9500. These top-end models, along with the NETGEAR R8500 Nighthawk X8, are built around the same Broadcom chipset, so you may initially perceive that they offer the same features and performance.

That’s not actually true, although there are significant overlaps in the specification sheets. Currently priced at $382.95 (Amazon.com), the RT-AC5300 is surprisingly more expensive than its competitors. It offers just four LAN ports compared to the six and eight equipped on NETGEAR and Linksys’ models, while only the latter has enabled MU-MIMO support to date.

That said, fans of ASUS routers tend to stick with the brand for performance and usability. Its ASUSWRT software is one of the more advanced available with an extensive array of configuration options and features that you won’t find on competitor devices (unless they’re running DD-WRT or another flavour of third-party software). Dig around and you’ll also find custom firmware available for ASUS routers that offers an ever greater suite of tweakables. For some, that’s worth a premium but almost $400 is a lot to pay for a router, so the RT-AC5300 has much to live up to. Let’s take a look at the router in greater detail.

Specifications

The ASUS RT-AC5300 is classed as a 4×4 router with eight externally connected antennas. It’s powered by the Broadcom BCM4366 chipset, with a dual-core 1.4 GHz Broadcom BCM4709C0 processor, supported by 512 MB RAM. The three wireless bands available promise connection speeds up to 2167 Mbps on the twin 5 GHz bands (courtesy of Broadcom’s 1024-QAM technology), with up to 1000 Mbps available at 2.4 GHz. Of course, you’ll need capable wireless clients to reach the upper limits of the router’s performance curve.

The traditional four Gigabit LAN/one Gigabit WAN port combo is equipped and you’ll also find a single USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 port available for peripheral sharing. While the port count is fewer than found on Linksys’ and NETGEAR’s AC5300/AC5400 devices, otherwise, this current crop of routers are offer broadly similar hardware specifications.

What’s in the Box?

The router arrives in an impressively large and heavy box that includes the router itself, an RJ-45 Ethernet cable, Quick Start Guide, Manual CD and an external 19 v power adapter.

Aesthetically, the ASUS router is my least favourite of the AC5400 router’s we’ve reviewed to date, but is at least consistent with other high-end networking devices in the company’s range. The eight external antennas connect around the four sides of the router chassis to form a claw-shape that’s less graceful and more aggressive than the TP-LINK and Linksys models we’ve recently reviewed. Paired with an ASUS ROG gaming system, the RT-AC5300’s red and black livery will undoubtedly match, but positioned elsewhere in the home, the large, asymmetrical device looks rather freakish.

With the antennas mounted on all four sides of the router, ASUS’ designers have been forced to cram in the device’s controls, ports and status lights around three sides of the chassis. The front face sees a small selection of status indicators with the USB 2.0 port, WPS button and buttons to disable the router’s LEDs and wireless capabilities positioned on the left side. At the rear, you’ll find a power button, DCIN, USB 3.0 port, WAN port and the four LAN ports. The router’s reset button is also here, but may be missed on first glance.

At over 3.2 kg/7.2 pounds, the RT-AC5300 is also surprisingly heavy which signals a reasonably robust build. Attempts to twist the chassis failed to show any weaknesses in construction – it’s a hefty slab of networking hardware that, visually, may not be to everyone’s taste, but the quality is obvious.

Getting Up and Running

Unlike many routers, which ship with a long and random, pre-determined password, you the RT-AC5300’s wireless networks are initially open – you then configure your passwords during the installation wizard. It certainly adds to the convenience of setup, but there’s a small risk that a neighbour could jump on your network before you’ve had the chance to make the router secure – so be quick!

As is typical of the modern router, automated and manual configuration options are available, allowing you to get online quickly, or spend a little more time setting up a more advanced configuration.

The ASUSWRT management software has been around for some time now and while the company continues to build in new features, the overall design of the router’s user interface is showing its age. It’s reasonably straightforward to use, split into Basic and Advanced areas like many of today’s routers, but compared to the freshness of Linksys’ and TP-LINK’s management consoles, ASUSWRT looks a little dated with a mash-up of fonts, page styles and text spacing issues breaking consistency throughout. More pressing, however, is the broken English that seems to be pervasive across many of ASUS’ product lines.

While there are no absolute show stoppers, I can only assume it’s complacency that allows a large global manufacturer to ship products without adequate UI testing. Whatever the reason, it’s about time that someone at ASUS got hold of the ASUSWRT user interface and cleaned it up, as it really doesn’t inspire confidence.

The good news is that ASUS is now shipping a free mobile app (simply called ASUS Router) that allows management of the network (with a subset of features available in the web console) from an iOS or Android device. While retaining the dark theme of the router’s web console, the app certainly looks more modern and consistent, with icons providing a more visual and clear method of navigating the raft of settings available. Fingers crossed that ASUS extend this design and approach to the desktop.

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