ASUS RT-AC66U Router WAN/Cloud Access
For years, the router served as the centerpiece of Local Area Networks, LANs. It was enough, just to connect all the local devices together and provide a central distribution point for routing internet access to five, ten, or a hundred local devices, all of them PCs, for the most part. Two recent technology trends have disrupted that simple concept: Network Attached Storage and The Cloud. Let’s look at the NAS side of things first. Regular readers of Benchmark Reviews are probably familiar with the typical NAS device, as we have been reviewing them on this site regularly for the last several years. Oversimplifying, they’re typically a small box containing 1-10 drive bays, with a bare-bones PC-like controller inside, running a custom Linux distro. They all interface to the network through Ethernet, which makes them much more powerful and flexible than a typical USB-based external drive. In the last couple of years router manufacturers have been adding more diverse connection points to their offerings; it started with the ability to share peripherals, but has grown to include the ability to emulate a NAS. ASUS has two applications that run on the RT-AC66U that mimic the basic functionality of a NAS, AiDisk Wizard and Media Server. AiDisk Wizard extends the basic concept of drive sharing on the LAN by integrating an FTP server into the mix and assigning a customized domain name to it. ASUS operates a DDNS service for its customers that redirects web clients through the domain directly to the FTP server you’ve set up on your router. To access files on your AiDisk, just launch a web browser and key in the ftp link: ftp://<domainname>.asuscomm.com.
Media streaming is another popular NAS-like function that this ASUS router can perform, using the USB connection as the data source. DLNA and iTunes services are both available, independantly. Both wired and wireless connections are possible with this feature and there are virtually no limits to how many devices are connected this way.
The second technology trend that you can’t escape from is “The Cloud”. There are so many services that are in common use today that depend on the Cloud, that it would be difficult to name them all. In general, the Cloud works best when it makes or common, daily tasks easier. Access is not the issue; as we just saw with the AiDisk Wizard you can use FTP services to login to your router from anywhere internet access is available. What the Cloud offers is a richer interface between the user and a multitude of devices. ASUS offers three capabilities with their latest router that fit into this category, Cloud Disk, Smart Access, and Smart Sync.
Cloud Disk offers much the same core functionality as AiDisk, and long-time FTP users may wonder what the fuss is all about. As I said in the intro, it’s not about access anymore, because that’s become a “given”, it’s about making it easier for the average person to use. That’s what this application does, in a way that’s less platform dependent than FTP. Yes, there are FTP clients for almost every computing platform out there, but there’s not one that can be used on all of them. That’s where Cloud applications make life easier.
Cloud Disk provided access to your USB storage via the Cloud, which is great. Smart Access provides access to your whole network via the Cloud, which is better. Once again, the DDNS service provided by ASUS is the enabling factor in making your router accessible via the Web. AiCloud, which is the overall name for all of the cloud-based services that ASUS offers, uses a secure HTTPS connection, but if you’re going to use this capability make sure all your network passwords and usernames are appropriately complex and undecipherable. DO NOT leave the default usernames in place, whatever you do! You also get to choose your own domain name, at least a portion of it, but it’s not that important to make it a complex set of characters, like it is for passwords.
The final cloud-based service I’m going to mention is called Smart Sync. Some people depend heavily on file syncing to keep their documents up to date on multiple systems. For them, there’s nothing worse than bringing a document home from work, editing it into a work of perfection, and then forgetting to copy it over to their flash drive. Most syncing schemes require a PC to be connected directly to the LAN in order to work. For those people who are on the go, this won’t work, but ASUS’ Smart Sync will. Anywhere you have an internet connection, the ASUS Webstorage server will act as the Cloud-based go-between for your portable device and the USB storage connected to your ASUS router.
The AUS RT-AC66U router clearly has a lot of features that are either built in, or are enabled by ASUS servers sitting in the Cloud. Most of these features are way beyond what a traditional router is obligated to provide. Fortunately, they’re all relatively easy to use and they offer real enhancements that real people can use. I’m tired of talking about features and benefits, though. Let’s put the RT-AC66U to the test, and see what three streams of 802.11ac can do, in terms of throughput. Next, we’ll describe the testing methodology used, and then we’ll get into the results.