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Wireless Reviews

Four Stream Performance

ASUS supplied two RT-AC5300's so 4x4 thoughput could be tested. But the AC5300 doesn't support wireless bridging, so I had to use an RT-AC88U as the bridge partner. It was loaded with 3.0.0.4.380_858 firmware.

For the test, the AC5300 and AC88U were set up in open air, eight feet apart, the AC5300 as a router and the AC88U in wireless bridge mode. The in-house 5 GHz network was idle and only beaconing (no traffic). Channel was set to 153, bandwidth mode to 80 MHz and everything else set to defaults.

Only one computer was connected via Gigabit Ethernet at each end of the bridge. Baseline tests using Ethernet between the two computers (both equipped with TP-LINK TG-3468 NICs) show the Ethernet link capable of a bit over 940 Mbps in both directions with each direction run separately. So the hardwired part of the link shouldn't be a limiting factor.

Running four simultaneous IxChariot connections downlink, yielded 911 Mbps total downlink throughput. The IxChariot plot below shows very stable and equal throughput for all four connections once things settle down after 15 seconds into the test run; the same as seen in AC88U 4x4 testing. The maximum 2165 Mbps link rate was nowhere to be found. 1733 Mbps was the highest reported link (by the RT-AC88U) during this tests.

Four stream throughput - 5 GHz downlink

Four stream throughput - 5 GHz downlink

5 GHz uplink produced an even higher 925 Mbps total throughput, again with very low variation and even distribution among connections.

Four stream throughput - 5 GHz uplink

Four stream throughput - 5 GHz uplink

Since 1024-QAM is supposed to increase the maximum 2.4 GHz link rate to 1000 Mbps, the tests were run again with the 2.4 GHz radio set to Channel 6 and 40 MHz bandwidth mode. The reported link rate was 750 Mbps and the test yielded 444 Mbps of total downlink throughput. Throughput distribution isn't quite as even as 5 GHz.

Four stream throughput - 2.4 GHz downlink

Four stream throughput - 2.4 GHz downlink

The 2.4 GHz uplink test produced 513 Mbps. The four connections appear to cluster in two groups.

Four stream throughput - 2.4 GHz uplink

Four stream throughput - 2.4 GHz uplink

The summary table shows similar performance for the two ASUS routers, with both doing better than the NETGEAR R8500. 5 GHz uplink in particular was poor for the NETGEAR.

Test Description ASUS RT-AC5300 ASUS RT-AC88U NETGEAR R8500
5 GHz downlink 911 912 708
5 GHz uplink 925 896 181
2.4 GHz downlink 444 580 433
2.4 GHz uplink 513 541 421
Table 3: Four stream wireless throughput comparison (Mbps)

Smart Connect

For Smart Connect testing, the AC5300 was located in the wireless testbed upper test chamber with the door open. The bridge mode R7000 was in the lower chamber with the door closed. This allowed using the testbed programmable attenuators to control the signal and therefore the link rate of the R7000. 20 dB of attenuation was set so the R7000 throughput wouldn't dominate the other AC devices. All other devices were located within 6 feet of the AC5300 outside the test chamber and all received a nice, strong signal.

ASUS made it really easy to see what was connected where during Smart Connect testing. The screenshot below shows connections for the first of three tests.

ASUS RT-AC5300 device connection table

ASUS RT-AC5300 device connection table
Since ASUS' Smart Connect implementation handles 2.4 / 5 GHz band steering, a single SSID was used for all three radios. This lets the router, device or both figure out what connects to what. Because the NETGEAR R7000 bridge has to be assigned to a band, I set it to 5 GHz, as I have for all Smart Connect testing.

Three trials were run, with the router power-cycled between each. Before each test was run, device connections were checked and IP addresses changed as needed in the IxChariot test file. Devices were not moved to other locations between tests. Connections compiled into Table 4, show only the Moto X smartphone and NETGEAR R7000 bridge changed connection. The Moto X was also the only device connected to 2.4 GHz.

Device Type Network Map ID 1 2 3
Moto X smartphone 1x1 AC android-d4c097 2.4G 2.4G 5G-2
NETGEAR R7000 in client bridge mode 3x3 AC WLANTEST-STA 5G-2 5G-1 5G-2
Laptop with NETGEAR A6200 USB adapter 2x2 AC x220i 5G-2 5G-2 5G-2
iPad 2nd gen 1x1 N SNB - iPad 2 5G-1 5G-1 5G-1
iPod Touch 5th gen 1x1 N Tim-Touch-G5 5G-1 5G-1 5G-1
Table 4: Smart Connect Test devices

Total downlink throughput results for the AC5300, NETGEAR R8500 and a selection of AC3200 class routers are compiled in Table 5...

  ASUS RT-AC5300 NETGEAR R8500 D-Link DIR-890L/R ASUS RT-AC3200 TP-LINK Archer C3200
Trial 1 435 451 171 205 282
Trial 2 423 519 322 184 268
Trial 3 357 523 146 - -
Table 5: Smart Connect total downlink throughput (Mbps)

...and uplink in Table 6. This is a fair comparison, because none of the test devices can take advantage of 4x4 link rates. The ASUS and TP-LINK had only two test trials, hence the missing third trial results.

  ASUS RT-AC5300 NETGEAR R8500 D-Link DIR-890L/R ASUS RT-AC3200 TP-LINK Archer C3200
Trial 1 319 265 287 353 235
Trial 2 318 328 277 93 232
Trial 3 192 329 268 - -
Table 6: Smart Connect total uplink throughput

The NETGEAR R8500 produced consistently higher total downlink throughput, but the AC5300 was a close second. Both did pretty well for uplink, too, at least for two out of three runs.

All the AC5300's Smart Connect test IxChariot plots are in the gallery below, so you can see how individual devices behaved.

Closing Thoughts

Perhaps Wi-Fi router makers have finally jumped the shark with this latest class of "kitchen sink" routers and their too-big-to-be-believed numbers on the box. The 1x1 and 2x2 devices most of us have get no benefit from the two extra transmit / receive chains, no benefit from Broadcom's "Nitro-QAM" non-standard modulation and no benefit from the MU-MIMO that even ASUS admits won't be properly baked until sometime this summer. And unless you have a lot of dual-band devices in simultaneous use, you'll get no benefit from the second 5 GHz radio, either.

But assuming you're convinced spending $400+ on a AC5300 class router will somehow solve a real Wi-Fi problem you have, the question comes down to NETGEAR or ASUS? Starting with performance; it's a toss-up. Both have similar performance for wired routing, general Wi-Fi, 4x4 bridge and Smart Connect. Both have flawed USB 3.0 storage performance, although at least the NETGEAR produced decent read throughput.

If MU-MIMO is the itch you need to scratch, NETGEAR at least lets you download its R8500 alpha MU-MIMO firmware vs. asking ASUS for theirs via email. But neither ASUS nor NETGEAR has MU-MIMO for any of its Broadcom-based routers right now they'll even call beta quality. And ASUS is making noises like it won't have decent MU-MIMO until this summer.

No matter. ASUS fans in search of the next "future proofing" solution for their Wi-Fi woes will snap up the RT-AC5300 anyway. They'll even pay above list price, which frankly, is nuts. For everyone else, my advice remains to give this latest round of wallet-emptying Wi-Fi technology a pass, especially if you already have an AC1900 class router. If you have $400+ lying around to try on Wi-Fi experiments, wait another month or so to see if eero's mesh solution delivers on its promises.

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