As most people now know, ASUS is not happy being known as a PC component maker. They have in the last few years pushed themselves into becoming a monster in the world of consumer electronics. In fact, at one point when I asked an ASUS representative if they were planning on making "everything" in the future, he smiled and mumbled something about ...*cough* - overclockable adult...toys, and then walked away. Now, I know he was kidding, but it does show that ASUS is ready to get into just about any market that they feel they can fill. One of these has been the world of home networking.
We have had a couple of ASUS' wireless routers and in true ASUS fashion these have been great performers with tons of extras stuffed inside. Today we take a look at another wireless home router, the ASUS RT-N13U. This is a multi-function router, access point, repeater, print server, and NAS. That is quite a lot to stuff into one product. So let's see if all of these things can work well together or if they will cause the RT-N13U to split at the seams under the load.
The box the RT-N13U ships is not too bad; it has a nice image of the RT-N13U on the front plus the usual logos, awards and "hard sell" to get you to pick up this product. One thing I find interesting, though; in this day and age when the majority of consumers (of computer hardware) buy online or scour the websites for information, why do manufacturers still waste money in printing up flashy boxes? Yes, if you go to the computer markets in Taipei, Hong Kong, or other places like that, you will see rows and stacks of boxed hardware, but this is not common for other places in the world.
But I am digressing here; I can bore you with my thoughts on ads and box appeal later.
Flipping the box over, we find that ASUS has not left the back side out of the game. It is quite cluttered back here, but amid the jumble of images you can get a feeling for where the RT-N13U can fit into your network and what it brings to the Home Networking table.
After getting past all the marketing imagery and actually opening the box, you get to what you really were interested in; the RT-N13U and the goodies that ASUS packs with it.
ASUS has packed in everything you need to get started. Well, everything you need if you are not intending to actually use this with a computer. One thing I have always wondered about with home networking equipment; why do they only give you a single Ethernet cable and then tell you to setup the product with your computer directly connected? Wouldn't you need two cables to do that properly? - Still, as 99% of the home networking manufacturers do this, I cannot fault ASUS for it as well.
The ASUS RT-N13U is, well, it is different. I am not sure what it is, but it does not look "high-performance". It has an almost cheap look and feel to it. I am not saying it is not a good product; it just does not look like one.
Taking a quick look at the front, we find the usual lights to indicate power, WAN, WLAN, and LAN connections. There is also a small button that allows you to start WPS (wireless protected setup).
I think now I see what makes it seem "cheap". Looking at the front closely, it looks like the silver label is a slip of cardboard or paper under a plastic cover. Upon removing the plastic window, I found it is a metallic sticker.
Flipping around to the back, we find the usual four 10/100 Ethernet Ports, a single 10/100 WAN port and a slight addition. ASUS have put in a single USB 2.0 port. This port is for use with the Print Server and AI Disk Functions that we will cover later.
Looking at the bottom, we found something quite interesting. There is a small switch that allows you to hard set the operation mode for the RT-N13U. The switch gives you options for Router, Repeater and AP (Access Point).
The RT-N13U, as we mentioned does come with a ton of features, though. The list is so long that I just linked it from the ASUS website and dropped it in here for you to take a look at. We will cover many of these as we push onward.
Setup and Installation
The RT-N13U is (like most other wireless routers) pretty easy to setup. After you connect everything up, the RT-N13U will detect and setup your networking for you the first time you access the internet through your preferred browser. The setup will take you through a few very simple steps to get setup.
Once the RT-13U has a handle on how you connect to the internet, it will give you a couple of options for a follow on setup. These include configuring your Wireless and advanced options which we will cover in the Web Based Interface section soon. For some reason, they still do not have you change your Admin Password during the setup wizard. You have to get into the "advanced options" to do that, even though it should be one of the first things you do.
Still, for the most part ASUS has made getting up and on the internet very simple.
Web Based Interface
The RT-N13U uses the same default IP for access that the majority of routers do; 192.168.1.1. After the quick setup runs you can login and change the configuration to your heart's content. One of the first things I would recommend doing, if you did not do this using the setup wizard, is change the SSID and Admin Password. These two things will help (but will not prevent) someone from gaining access to the web setup.
The "home" page of the RT-N13U is fairly informative. Most routers take you to the system status page where you can see very little useful information. ASUS has opted for a more graphical page that shows the status in easy to understand icons. Here you see a connectivity tree that shows you the number of clients connected, if you have any USB devices attached and if you are connected or disconnected from the internet.
Along the right side of the window you will find information about your setup. This includes the SSID, Authentication mode, LAN IP, PIN code for WPS and a few other options. If you click on the client icon you can easily see the status of each client. You can also quickly change their priority on the network.
This is a nice feature if you have someone that is hogging up all the bandwidth in the house. You can (with the click of a mouse) reduce their traffic priority and free some up for the rest of the network. You can also block that device; clicking on block establishes a MAC address block so that even if the machine name and LAN IP change, it can still not access the router. As for the rest of the web interface on the RT-N13U, it is pretty much like others in its class with a few notable (and very nice exceptions).
The first on our list of nice added features is the Operating Mode page. Here you can view the operating mode of the RT-N13U. Your options are Router, AP and Repeater and are changed by the switch on the bottom of the RT-N13U we talked about earlier.
Each of these is pretty self-explanatory.
Next up on the RT-N13U list of handy features is the AI-Disk. This allows you to setup an "FTP" for internal or external use. To use this all you need is a USB drive. For my testing I used a Kingston DT200 64GB Flash Drive. Once you have the drive in place, all you have to do is go through a very simple three-step wizard to share files from the RT-N13U. If you want you can also setup advanced options for your file shares in the USB Application page.
Next we talk about the EZ-QoS page. This one is very nice for people that do not know (or want to know) about the complexities of QoS (Quality of Service). Instead, with a couple of clicks they can adjust their RT-N13U for the best performance based on the type of traffic they have.
The rest of the items are very similar to what you would have in every other router, with the exception of a WDS (wireless distribution service) tab on the wireless settings page. This is interesting as it allows the RT-N13U to act as a wireless bridge between other routers and access points. WDS is great for homes or offices that want to extend their wireless connectivity without the need to run a ton of cables.
There is a down side, though. If you are using mixed brands then the only wireless encryption allowed is WEP Open. This puts you at a great security risk. WEP is one of the least secure methods for wireless traffic. In fact, it usually can be broken in less than 10 minutes with the right tools (even less if you bring a GPGPU based system into play). If you want to use this nice feature I would recommend sticking with the same brands throughout the area.
One other important thing to note is that while WDS can extend range and make life easier, it also reduces the speed of your extra legs. If someone connects to a second tier AP in a WDS network, then their bandwidth is cut roughly in half. If you are on a third tier then the total is 1/4 what the whole is. For example, if you are connected at 150Mbps, and connect to a second tier AP, you have an effective bandwidth of 75Mbps. On a third tier it is 37.5 Mbps. So, it is important to keep that in mind when setting WDS up. We will be covering this in more detail in another article.
We used PerformanceTest 6.1 by PassMark which you can find out more information about here. It has a handy Advanced Networking section which is perfect for our testing.
Doing our best to emulate a real-world performance scenario, I setup a server running Windows 2008 (x64) Server, (2x Xeon Quad Core 3.0 GHz 1333MHz FSB, 4GB DDR2 FB-DIMMS, 2x 146GB SAS drives in RAID 1) and the client PC was an ASUS G51-VX With built-in Intel 802.11n (Intel WiFi Link 5100 AGN) adapter. The results were gathered by sending data from the ASUS notebook to the server at different distances with the built in adapter and a TPLink TL-WN821N. Average transmission speeds were recorded for each.
- Connection Speed
As with most N Spec routers, there is still a problem when you have a mixed mode network. This happens when you still have B or G spec products in your environment.
The RT-N13U has this as well. If you need to leave B and G enabled your connection speed tends to limit itself to around half the speed or about 75Mbps. This is very annoying for anyone with an N spec adapter. But again, it is a flaw with almost all routers these days, but I do hope they can fix it soon.
As usual, to test the speed of the RT-N13U I chose three common working points inside my house. One was in the lab within 10 feet of the routers; the next was in the bedroom roughly 35 feet away and requiring the signal to travel through a wall containing the main house electrical panel and a "wet wall". The last was outside on the back porch, roughly 45 feet from the router. Both the second and third positions were out of the direct line of sight of the router.
*signal travelling through wet wall and main house electrical panel
The RT-N13U does not do too badly. I do think that the lack of an external antenna (or grouping of antennas) does hurt it when dealing with long ranges and internal wireless cards (which also have small antennas).
Gaming latency is a problem for many. This is even truer as background traffic in the form of YouTube streaming, Netflix and much more clutters up our connection to gaming servers. For the RT-N13U, we wanted to test it with typical background traffic in both open and with EZ-QoS set to prioritize gaming traffic. We connected to the same game server for Counter Strike three times and took the middle "ping" time from each connection type (wired with and without EZ-QoS and Wireless with and without EZ-QoS).
Now look at that; it looks like the EZ-QoS setting for gaming while connected directly did almost nothing. I was surprised (very surprised) to see this happen. I checked using the D-Link DI-655 and received similar results. This makes me think that either the EZ-QoS profiles are not working properly over the wired connection or due to the lack of server load there was no difference noted between the two.
The ASUS RT-N13U is a pretty good product. It fills more than one need and does so in a very easy to manage way. It is one of those products that really does make it very simple for even a novice to setup and configure. I like the icon based network map especially; it shows at a glance exactly what is and is not on your network. This beats the "system status" pages of just about any other wireless router.
The added benefit of having three full modes to play with also increases its worth in our opinion, as does the print server and NAS functions. Currently you can grab this for $54.99 from Newegg and if you can remember, you can cut another $20 off from a mail-in rebate. This is an amazing price for what you are getting.
But all is not roses with the RT-N13U; I wish ASUS would have put in Gigabit LAN ports instead of 10/100 and I also wish they would have added in the requirement of changing the admin password in the setup wizard. Still, even with these minor problems the ASUS RT-N13U is a good product and one that comes in at a good price.