Asus RT-N11 EZ Wireless Router Page: 1
Introduction
 Asus Logo
Router reviews are very few and far between. When you do manage to find one, they are very sparse in content with little or no testing included. This has often left me, and no doubt many others, frustrated when choosing a new router, so I made a conscious decision to write this review today as I would like to read  it: Straight, to the point from an 'average Joe' enthusiast's perspective. I don't claim to be a networking wizard, nor do I profess to have the most in depth knowledge on routers. I do however, have plenty of empty Nurofen packets which are testament to the headaches they have caused me in the years of using them. So hopefully you will find this review a little more useful and honest than the usual drab around at the moment.
 
Asus are a leading producer of high quality wireless devices and have recently released the latest addition to their wireless line-up, the RT-N11 EZ Wireless N Router.
 
As this is the first Asus router we have reviewed at OC3D, the RT-N11 will be setting the benchmark so to speak and thus my only basis for comparing its features and ease of use will be my own Netgear DG834GT router - a very popular router in many respects. The Netgear is not wireless N capable as it uses the 'g' standard. However, the RT-N11 is wireless N capable so hopefully this will be a useful review for those looking to either change their current router or upgrade to the latest IEEE 802.11N standard.
 
Before we progress to the RT-N11, let me first give you a little history of the networking standards which have progressed to where we are today.
 
 
A lesson in wireless
 
IEEE 802.11 is the wireless standard used by the IEEE Standards Association. 802.11 divides each of the bands (wireless N for example) into channels. As an example 2.4 - 2.4835 GHz band is divided into channels with a width of 22Mhz each spaced only 5 MHz apart, with channel 1 centered at 2241 and 13 on 2472. As well as positioning the frequency of each channel, 802.11 also sets the permitted power across each channel. The consequence of this is that some routers can only use every fourth or fifth channel without overlapping the adjacent ones. For example, the UK would typically best utilize channels 1, 5, 9 and 13. Although other channels can obviously be used, the strength of each channel may not be as good as the ones suggested due to these channels not overlapping each other. 
 
Originally 1 Mbit/s and 2Mbit/s standards were introduced in 1997 and were the original versions of the legacy standard 802.11 with a maximum indoor range of 20m. Times, as we all know, never stand still and in 1999, 802.11a and 802.11b were released. While the 'a' standard had a much higher throughput, the higher 5Ghz band it used meant its range was severely affected by walls, doors and obstructions. 802.11b rapidly became the accepted standard of use by wireless LAN applications due to its 'massive' range of 38 metres. June 2003, however, saw yet another increase in throughput and as the 802.11g standard introduced an indoor range matching that of wireless 'b'. Wireless 'g' is, in its most basic form, a collaboration of both the 'a' and 'b' standards, taking the higher throughput of the 'a' standard but having the range of the 'b' standard. So then this brings us to the 802.11n standard. Operating at the 5ghz frequency with a 300Mbit/s data rate and a possible range of up to 70m, it was the answer to everyone's prayers and a direct evolution of the previous standards.
 
The N standard, as you can read above, has built on the previous standards but also added very useful features such as MIMO (multiple-input Multiple -output). MIMO uses multiple antennas to improve the system performance and therefore both its range and throughput. MIMO can also recover lost signals much better than the previous standards by using multipath signals. The drawback of using multipath signals is that older a, b, and g standards can interfere with this feature. 'Channel Bonding' is yet another feature of the N standard, where two separate non-overlapping channels can be used to transmit data. Rather than be limited to 20Mhz, MIMO allows a double transfer rate of 40Mhz. So with both a wider bandwidth and MIMO technology, 802.11N is a very powerful yet budget conscious solution to the current line up of standards.
 

Specification

Network StandardCompatible with 802.11b/g/n (draft 2.0), IEEE802.3, IEEE802.3u, IEEE802.1x, IEEE802.11i, IEEE802.11e, IPv4, CSMA/CA, CSMA/CD, ICMP
Operating Frequency2.4G ~ 2.483GHz
Operation Channel11 for N. America, 14 Japan, 13 Europe (ETSI)
Ethernet PortWAN x 1, LAN x 4 RJ45 for 10/100 BaseT
Antenna2 External Detachable Antenna
WPS ButtonSupports WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) Push Button and PIN Code Setup

LED

Power x 1, AIR x 1, WAN x 1, LAN x 4
Security64/128-bit WEP, WPA-Personal, WPA2-Personal, WPA-Enterprise, WPA-Enterprise, WPA-Auto(TKIP/AES), WPA2-Auto(TKIP/AES), Radius with 802.1x
RoutingStatic Routing, RIP v1/v2
Firewall & Access ControlNAT Firewall, SPI (Stateful Package Inspection) Firewall, WAN Ping Control, Domain Access Control, URL Filter, MAC Filter, Inbound/Outbound Packet Filter, DoS Detection
VPN SupportIPSec / PPTP / L2TP Pass-Through
Quality of ServiceWMM (Wi-Fi multimedia)
Customizable QoS rules
Advanced NetworkSupport up to 4 Multiple BSSIDs/ESSIDs, VLANs
Network ManagementSupport SNMP, IGMP, UPnP, DHCP, DNS Proxy, NTP Client, DDNS, Port Trigger, Virtual Server, Virtual DMZ, VPN Pass-Through, WDS
Power SupplyAC Input: 100V~240V (50~60HZ); DC Output: +5V with max. 1.2A current
TemperatureOperating: 0~40 C; Storage: -10~70 C
HumidityOperating: 10~90%; Storage: 0~90%
Dimension179 x 119 x 37 (L x W x H) mm
 
Still with me? I hope so because we are now going to take a look at the product itself...


Asus RT-N11 EZ Wireless Router Page: 2
Packaging & Appearance

Packaging has always been a strong point of ASUS, and while a router is hardly the type of product a scantily clad woman would advertise, Asus have provided an attractive blue and white outer sleeve. The emphasis here is on 'EZ', with EZ Config, EZ Management and EZ Speed up features displayed in brief detail. To the rear of the package, ASUS have seen fit to go into greater detail of the features along with a brief explanation of the VIP zones which we will cover in the features page.
 
Box Front Box Rear

The side of the box gives details on the specifications of the RT-N11 router which we covered earlier. Taking the main box out of the outer sleeve and opening that up, we are greeted with the router itself and a bunch of accessories. The packaging is recycled egg box style cardboard which is soft enough to absorb anything but a major shock, but sturdy enough to hold the router in place, so the components should reach the end user in perfect condition. I would have liked to have seen more substantial packing here, though, as it 'cheapened' the presentation somewhat.
 
Box Side Inner box 
 
The included accessories are 2x antennas; Ethernet cable; base plate; power adapter, VIP warranty booklet and setup/installation CD. Surprisingly, there is no hard copy of the installation instructions. While this is most likely not required by someone who has used a router before, I do have some concerns over someone new to setting up a router or indeed new to I.T purchasing such a complex piece of kit with no instruction leaflet/quick start guide, as this is hardly 'EZ' as Asus would say.
 
Accessories Router 
 
The front of the unit itself is very similar to the latest Netgear designed routers. The router is encased in a glossy white plastic frame with a silver backlit (green) information display covered by a clear piece of perspex, wrapping around the sides and front. While not as rounded as the Netgear DG834GT, it is strikingly similar in looks. This is not a negative point as it's a very modern and stylish look.
 
Front Router side

Judging by the amount of ventilation this router has, I suspect that this router will run hot. One of the design flaws of the DG834GT is that there is very little ventilation. It appears Asus have certainly given a lot of thought about this and have certainly created plenty of scope for cooling, short of adding a heatsink and fan! The unit can also be wall mounted with a set of screws/brackets (not provided).
 
The rear of the unit has 4 LAN ports and a WLAN port as well as two antenna connections, reset switch, WPS switch and DC IN port. The reset switch will require a Biro pen or similar to reach, and thus cannot be accidently operated, while the WPS switch (WiFi Protected Setup) is raised so it can be operated easily. Or should that be 'E-Z-ly?
 
Router bottom Router Rear

Below we can see how the router looks with the antennas attached. The unit can be stationed either horizontally on the attached rubber feet or vertically using the provided base plate, depending on your preference. I removed one of the antennas when mounted vertically as it interfered with the top antenna, but this was for aesthetic purposes only as the antennas can be swiveled in all directions.
 
Horizontal Vertical 
 
I must say that ASUS have made a very good looking and solidly built router with the RT-N11. The whole product oozes class and even the antennas, which are usually the weak point in most routers, feel quality.
 
That about covers the packing and presentation, so let's move on and see what makes this router stand out from the hundreds of other routers on the market shall we?


Asus RT-N11 EZ Wireless Router Page: 3
Features

Being an 'N' class router, the range of the wireless connectivity could potentially extend up to 70 metres away from the base unit, which is double that of 'G' class routers. 70 metres is in ideal conditions though, and to be quite honest I would be quite happy if the router was able to reach my loft study from its position downstairs. Obstacles such as doors, wireless phones, cavity insulation and microwaves all play their part in diminishing connectivity and in a 4-story house, every Mbit counts. Hopefully, with the RT-N11 utilising MIMO technology, this shouldn't be a problem.

 
EZ ConfigEZ Config

EZ Config allows users of the RT-N11 to easily setup protected networks with just a simple button-push. The WPS (WiFi Protected Setup) will do the rest for you, setting your firewall and wireless access automatically. This is also a very secure way of connecting to the router as it is manual and requires the button push to enable your pc to connect. This feature can be turned off in the router's configuration panel but it is a useful addition for those who are paranoid about outsiders connecting to the network despite the router's extensive security features.
 
 
EZ Management 

Remember I mentioned VIP zones previously? Well EZ management allows the RT-N11 to easily set up and configure up to 4 networks in 1. Trusted members of your network can enjoy their own WiFi security and bandwidth. Great for those of us who have youngsters wanting online gaming while the wife wants to catch up on the latest soap while you er...well do what ever you want to do without the rest of the family interrupting your bandwidth. Each VIP zone can be allocated bandwidth with various usage scenarios as well as supporting SNMP and multiple SSID, VLAN, WDS and WMM functions. In testing, this worked a treat as my game ping was unaffected while my 2nd PC was downloading windows updates. Obviously, your download bandwidth will be affected depending on how you split your allocation but this is a limit of your ISP, not the router.


Asus RT-N11 EZ Wireless Router Page: 4
Installation

Setting up the Asus RT-N11 was a doddle. Simply plug the relevent cables in and press the EZ-Setup button along with the EZ setup tab on the screen and follow the on screen instructions :
 
setup1 setup 2
setup 4 setup 4
 
That is the easiest way to set the router up, but obviously there are much more detailed configurations available when you enter the router's address (default 192.168.1.1). Here are a few snaps of the router's configuration utility:
 
setup5
 
Nothing too special here, although an interesting feature is the ability to rotate the network keys, thereby increasing the level of security.
 
Wireless VIP Multi SSID

Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the RT-N11 is its ability to set up separate SSID's and allocate bandwidth to each individual network (see VIP on previous page). I was surprised how easy this process was, and in no time at all I was able to set up a 2nd PC as a download PC with my 3rd PC as a gaming PC, each with its own network and bandwidth allocation. A fine idea from Asus and definitely the major selling point of the RT-N11.
 
setup 6 DHCP server
 
The WAN/LAN configuration and setup section is pretty much a standard affair, offering similar settings as most other routers in this class. One of the attractions of the RT-N11 is that it is so easy to set up, yet can be as complex as you require. A beginner shouldn't have too much to worry about, yet the router offers a massive array of settings to get the optimum performance/security from the router.
 
Port forwarding Firewall
 
Port forwarding was a cinch to set up, as was the firewall. While the firewall is nothing extraordinary, it is more than adequate and equal to other hardware firewalls in this sector, offering ample protection from the hackers out there.


Asus RT-N11 EZ Wireless Router Page: 5
Test Setups

The setups used were a mixture of high spec (Host), medium spec and a low spec laptop (targets), all using different network chipsets. All three PC's had a fresh install of Windows Vista SP1 with the latest updates. Both the Asus RT-N11 and Netgear DG834GT were running the latest firmware to ensure fairness and no network tweaks were used in any of the PC's. For the wired tests, a Cat5e RJ45 Ethernet LAN network cable was used and for the wireless tests a Dynamode 802.11n USB adapter was used.

Host
Targets
 
Benchmarks

Benchmarking a router isn't as straight forward as a GPU or a motherboard. Quite simply there is little to distinguish one router from another, as there are very few 'tests' that can be used to benchmark a router. However, I was very keen to take a look at what 'real world' advantages wireless N had over wireless g. So without further ado, here's what I found out:
 
 
Transfer speed
 
To test transfer speeds, I used a 700mb DivX file. The file transfer from Host to Target was timed in seconds. The transfer was run 3 times with the average time taken from those three runs.
 
 
 
As you can see, there was very little difference between the routers in the wired tests, with both routers pretty much maxed out. Wireless however, was a totally different ball game, with the Asus RT-N11 proving its worth transfering almost three times quicker than the Netgear DG834GT thanks to the Asus's N (draft 2.0) as opposed to the Netgear wireless 'g' standard.
 
 
Wifi Coverage
 
Boasting almost double the range of the wireless 802.11g standard, wireless N claims to reach up to 70 metres and also, due to the increase in bandwidth, it can penetrate walls and doors better - relying less on line of sight. I would like to tell you that OC3D have hired out an aircraft hanger for this test, but sadly our budgets don't stretch quite that far, so this test will be conducted from home. I am lucky enough to live in a newly built house with four floors and, thanks to new UK building regulations, each wall has double width insulation which comprises of a tinfoil-like material on top of the usual faux fibreglass insulation, much like this:
 
Plasterboard|Tin foil|fibreglass|Tinfoil|frame|Tinfoil|fibreglass|Tinfoil|Plasterboard
 
Excuse my crude explanation (I am not a builder!) but I thought it was relevant to point out that the walls in my house are pretty much bomb-proof, which makes for very troublesome wireless networking. For this test I will position the router on the top floor of the house and test the signal at intervals before braving the autumn weather and going outside (getting some very odd looks along the way!). Here's how each router performed:
 
 
  
Yet again, we see the benefits of wireless N, with the range actually  topping out at an estimated 80 metres. I was also very impressed with the way Wireless N performed indoors, as this is an area which the Netgear sometimes struggled depending on what room I was in and what other interference there was in the house, such as microwaves and wireless telephones. Sadly,  the local female population appeared unimpressed as I walked along the street with the laptop in hand for the purposes of testing the wireless range. I received some very strange looks and was actually asked by some old dear if I was a searching for houses without a TV license! If the editor is reading this, you aint paying me enough!
 
Seriously though, it was a solid showing for the RT-N11, proving its worth over the wireless g Netgear. With the testing complete and a weeks worth of using the router, I had some quality time to formulate a conclusion...


Asus RT-N11 EZ Wireless Router Page: 6

Conclusion RT-N11

It is very hard to draw a conclusion on a router that I have little to compare it to. My own router is the popular Netgear DG834GT, which while being a great little router, is restricted with the wireless 'g' standard. The RT-N11 meanwhile uses the wireless N standard, so comparing the two side by side is a little unfair as it's like comparing apples to oranges. It was, however, interesting to see how wireless N compares to the g standard most routers use today. If you are in the market for an upgrade, I hope you find the comparisons useful.
 
So then, I am left with the features of the Asus RT-N11. The router setup utility was straightforward to use and can be easily navigated by both the novice and experienced networker alike. The one touch setup was just that, but experienced users may want to explore the router's settings more thoroughly. The firewall and wireless features are both extensive and again, easily configured with minimal knowledge required. The configurable 'VIP zones' are a great idea. I was surprised how easy they were to set up, considering I didn't read the PDF manual included on the CD to begin with. This is the obvious selling point of this router and one that will be a very welcome addition to a busy home or small office network.
 
There is however one major drawback to the Asus RT-N11 in that it is a standalone router. ADSL users would still require the use of a separate modem, which would then need to be wired to the RT-N11 for internet access. This will be off putting for some, as one of the reasons for going wireless is to rid some clutter from your work area. If, however, you have your router/modem hidden away in some central point in the house or office and you don't mind the use of a separate modem, then there is no doubting that this is a powerful piece of kit that will provide some fantastic networking capabilities for both the home or small office user.
 
The Good
- Stylish design.
- VIP Zones
- EZ Setup
- Great wireless range
 
The Mediocre
- No internal modem
- No hard copy manual
 
The Bad
- Nothing to report
 
 
Recommended 
 
Thanks to Asus who provided the RT-N11 for todays review. Discuss in our forums.