AirLive N450R And Asus RT-AC66U
AirLive is the odd man out in our round-up. The N450R is a dual-band router, but it is not 802.11ac-compatible. Rather, it uses beamforming for dual-band 802.11n. The company specifies 450 Mb/s for 5 GHz and 300 Mb/s for 2.4 GHz. On paper, this looks to be the best 5.0 GHz that one can hope to get, short of hopping to 802.11ac. Also, we wanted a low-cost, high-performance example of prior-gen technology to compare against our 802.11ac line-up. AirLive tells us the router should be priced around $116. Unfortunately, though, it isn't available in the U.S.
Compared to the rich GUIs found in many top-name routers, AirLive’s menus are fairly plain, reflecting the sort of menus found in routers five or six years ago. That’s not to say they’re bad. The N450R comes stocked with all of the basic features we wanted, including thorough and understandable English documentation. As with all of the routers here, the N450R comes with four gigabit Ethernet ports and a Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) button for easy connection with WPS-ready client adapters. AirLive also houses two USB ports for NAS storage and a 3G network adapter dongle.
Like AirLive, Asus also employs three external antennas, but Asus goes nearly all out to maximize their potential. The RT-AC66U ($190 at Newegg) applies 3x3:3 on both radio bands, specifying 450 Mb/s for 2.4 GHz 802.11n and 1300 Mb/s for 5.0 GHz 802.11ac. To be clear, Asus does not specifically state that it uses beamforming, but the company’s "exclusive AiRadar technology" is able to "detect the direction" of connected clients and amplify their signals, which sure sounds like beamforming to us, though it could be something else. If you were so inclined, you could remove Asus’s detachable antennas and opt for higher-gain alternatives.
Our focus in this article is on hardware and performance, so we’re going to glance over a lot of usability and non-performance features. However, the RT-AC66U is a model of user-friendliness, starting with the browser-based setup process, host of internal monitoring screens, and perhaps the most attractive and intuitive menu system we’ve ever seen in a router.
Most of all, there’s AiCloud, which is a bit like having an Asus version of Pogoplug built into the router. Like AirLive, Asus builds in a pair of USB 2.0 ports, but AiCloud makes much better use of them. Essentially, any storage device (PC, NAS, USB, and so on) connected to the router can stream files through the AiCloud service and out to your Android or iOS mobile device or PC (via a Web browser). Compared to getting the same functionality through the old-school DDNS methods, AiCloud is effortless and immensely more gratifying.