We recently reviewed the ASUS RT-AC5300 Tri-Band Wi-Fi Router (read), which sits at the top of the company’s router range. While it offers very strong performance, those speeds come at quite the price and, unless you have top-end wireless adapters available to connect, you may not receive all of the performance you’re paying for.
A little lower down the range, you’ll find the ASUS RT-AC3100 Extreme Wi-Fi Router – it differs from its big brother in a number of ways, but most notable is that this model is a dual-band, rather than a tri-band model. Whereas tri-band routers are most useful in homes suffering from heavy network congestion courtesy of a large number of wireless devices fighting for bandwidth, a dual-band router is more of a mainstream choice – ideal for a well-connected home.
From a theoretical performance perspective, the two routers are rated similarly when it comes to individual bands. Both offer a maximum speed up to 2167 Mbps on the 5 GHz band, and 1000 Mbps on the 2.4 GHz band. But the RT-AC5300 has that additional 5 GHz band, rated up to 2167 Mbps, which explains the difference between the AC5300 and AC3100 nomenclature.
The other ASUS comparator worth mentioning is the RT-AC88U, which is almost identical to the RT-AC3100. It’s boosted by the inclusion of eight LAN ports, compared to the four equipped on the latter. James Kerr reviewed that model for us back in February, check out his review.
Currently priced at $279, the RT-AC3100 costs around $100 less than its big brother positioning it as a potentially smarter choice for mainstream households. That said, the RT-AC88U can be picked up for just $20 more, so if you need the additional LAN ports, there’s an option for you. Either way, it’s still a reasonably pricey proposition, compared to the wide array of AC1900 routers available on the market today, which can be found at half the price. Let’s see how it stacks up.
Built around the same 1.4 GHz dual-band Broadcom BCM4709C0 processor and BCM4366 wireless chipset that powers many of current crop of top-end routers, this quad stream (4×4) ASUS router has a strong spec sheet. With a supporting slab of 512 MB RAM on board there’s plenty of horsepower available for ASUS’ usual array of extended features.
They include Broadcom’s Smart Connect feature, which automatically manages device groupings on specific bands, optimising speeds. It’s a feature that has the potential to dramatically boost combined network speeds by up to 80%, based on our own tests. I’ll look forward to seeing how it fares on this ASUS router.
Alongside the ASUS RT-AC88U, the router’s closest competitors are the $240 D-LINK DIR885 and the $199 TP-LINK Archer C3150 (both of which are equipped with just 256 MB RAM). The latter, in particular, looks like a tough competitor on paper, with a similar hardware specification with an $80 price differential. But, as I highlighted in my recent review of the RT-AC5300, ASUS’ value proposition is built on strong hardware and an extended range of features and configurability, that you won’t find on competitor models. The additional RAM plus software flexibility (and associated complexity) will be worth $80 to some, I’m sure. Those seeking more of a set and forget router in this class will want to take a long, hard look at the Archer, though.
From a connectivity perspective, the RT-AC3100 follows a reasonably standard path. Four Gigabt WAN ports, combined with a single WAN port are available, with one USB 2.0 port and a single USB 3.0 port. Four externally attached antennas at the rear ensure a sleeker aesthetic than the new crop of AC5300 routers that have hit the market this year.
What’s in the Box?
The router arrives in a reasonably large box whose contents are well protected in transit. The RT-AC3100 sits at the top of the box with accessories, including a power adaptor, Ethernet cable and manual CD enclosed in a separate compartment at the side. Underneath the router, you’ll find the four external antennas that screw in to the rear and back sides of the device.
The router itself offers a more traditional aesthetic than some of the more extreme designs we’ve encountered recently. The four external antennas are reasonably large, but are sized in proportion to the router chassis, which has a reasonably muscular look. The RT-AC3100 forgoes the ASUS ROG-red streaks you’ll find on other devices at the top of the company’s networking range. The design can’t be called subtle, but it’s certainly more pleasing than the upturned claws of ASUS’ AC5300 model.
The front face of the router presents eight bright status indicators which mostly glow white, with the Internet WAN indicator turning red when disconnected. A (reasonably well hidden) button on the front of the device can be used to disable the LEDs and there’s a large WIFI button too for switching off the radios. An extremely well hidden, front-facing USB 3.0 port is tucked behind a fold-down flap on the front left of the device.
Around the back, it’s the usual line-up, with a single WAN Gigabit Ethernet port, four Gigabit LAN ports, USB 2.0 port, WPS button, reset button and power input. It’s all tidy enough for novices and experts alike to get to grips with – once you’ve found those hidden features up front, that is!
Build quality is reasonable, though not the best I’ve seen from ASUS. The plastics used are reasonably robust with a very slight give when twisted.