Getting Up and Running
From a software perspective, the ASUS RT-AC3100 is powered by the company’s ASUSWRT management software, which offers a similar feature set and user experience to that we explored recently in the RT-AC5300 review. Like any router, you can choose to get up and running quickly with this model and simply ignore the vast array of features on offer – that would probably be a mistake though.
As I say, much of the value of an ASUS router – for seasoned users – is wrapped up in the extended suite of features available. There’s a lot to wade through and not all of the features essential, but time invested in the management console can prove beneficial for anyone tasked with managing a connected home.
Like other routers from ASUS we’ve recently reviewed, initial setup of the router is made convenient – if a little insecure – courtesy of an open network transmitted by the device when powered on. There are no preset passwords printed on the router – you simply connect to the device via a computer (or via the available ASUS Router mobile app for iOS/Android) and configure the router via the installation wizard.
The device can be configured in the default Wireless router mode, or as an Access Point, where the RT-AC3100 connects to a second router via an Ethernet cable and extends wireless signal coverage. The Media Bridge mode, available on the RT-AC5300, is not present on this device.
Using the ASUS RT-AC3100 Router
If you’ve recently read my ASUS RT-AC5300 router review, then apologies for repeating myself in this section, as the ASUSWRT software installed on both devices is practically identical. The software is a treasure trove of tweakables for advanced networkers with a swathe of low-level configuration options available that you simply won’t find on competitor devices.
It’s a double-edged sword however. Novices and mainstream users that simply don’t have the time or inclination to wade through the settings won’t feel particularly at home here – at times, the user experience gets highly technical and ASUS doesn’t do a particularly great job of explaining the options available. Compared to a TP-LINK or Linksys management console, which lead the way in clarity and friendliness, ASUSWRT feels a little dark, dated and geeky.
ASUS’ mobile app, ASUS Router, offers a fresher and more modern UI 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.
In common with most routers, the ASUSWRT software groups settings into a basic (labelled General on this device) and advanced menu, navigated via a sidebar to the left of the page.
Spend some time working through the features – and there are a lot of features to check out – and you’ll find a number of tools that can help you manage your network effectively. Alongside the usual guest networking features, an extended security suite called Ai Protection combines network security with parental controls. Powered by Trend Micro, Ai Protection monitors network requests and protects your PCs from accessing compromised websites, malware and other intrusions. You can even scan your router’s configuration to quickly identify opportunities to strengthen security.
Similarly, parental controls are a cut above the offering you’ll find on some routers, with automated content filtering and service blocking available, alongside the usual access scheduling options.
For those that enjoy spending time monitoring the network, extensive bandwidth and quality of service controls allow you to manage and tweak network performance for specific devices, applications and services. Gamers are offered a Game Boost page, which offers dedicated features, including support for the WTFast private network (which routes and supposedly optimises online gaming traffic for reduced latency), plus a LAN Boost adaptive QoS feature for optimising gaming traffic.
Hook up a USB drive to one of the two ports available and you can take advantage of an impressively wide range of storage features. They include AiDisk and AiCloud, which allows remote access to files stored on connected drives via an FTP Server or cloud service sync. For media sharing, there’s an onboard iTunes Server, UPnP media server while other files can be shared with network devices using a Samba share (with full user access management). A network printer server can also be equipped, with support for LPR or ASUS’ own EZ printer sharing feature, while a 3G/4G wireless mode allows you to use the router with mobile networks. Data backup for Apple Macs via Time Machine is a feature more commonly found on NAS servers compared to routers, but you’ll be able to use it with the RT-AC3100. As a bonus, you can also install a download manager that supports the usual array of file sharing protocols.
Throughout my time with the router, the ASUSWRT software remained snappy and responsive. Outside of a number of formatting glitches (someone really needs to send ASUS a book on CSS), the only regular issue I experienced was the console webpages refusing to automatically refresh when a setting was changed. The new settings were enabled, but the web page would hang with a message confirming the change. A manual page refresh was then required to get back to the settings page. It’s certainly no showstopper but it was one of a few niggles that takes the edge off what could be a class-leading experience.
Digging down into the Advanced menu uncovers a wider suite of configuration options and features. You’ll find integrated RADIUS Server authentication support, a raft of advanced wireless configuration options, wireless bridge (WDS) support, dual WAN configuration, integrated dynamic DNS support (with an extensive arrays of service providers supported, including ASUS’ own free service), IPv6 support, VPN Server/Client configuration, advanced firewall controls, Wake On LAN features, network monitoring tools and more.
Overall, the RT-AC3100 offers a superb selection of networking features that advanced users will lap up. For the average guy or gal, it’s overkill but the router will work fine for those that wish to set and forget (although you’ll be paying a premium for the features you’re ignoring). ASUS certainly has some way to go to match the user experience design we see from Linksys and TP-LINK, but pound for pound, few can beat them on features right now.