Remember when all home routers looked pretty much the same? Without fail, they were rectangles that sat mostly flat on our desks and blinked quietly at us while we worked and played. Nowadays they look like anything from dangerous weapons to art pieces. Asus’s RT-AC1900P sits somewhere in the middle of those extremes, sporting a contemporary, subdued look coupled with a non-traditional form factor that’s sure to solicit divided responses.
We’ll take a look first at what lies inside and outside the router, and then dive into Asus’ firmware. After that, we’ll see how the RT-AC1900P performs, particularly in comparison to the latest router we checked out, Synology’s RT-2600ac.
What’s this thing made out of?
The most basic description would pin the RT-AC1900P as an 802.11ac router with file sharing functionality, sporting a comprehensive set of features worthy of the breed. There’s also beamforming on tap, though MU-MIMO support is omitted.
Under the hood, it looks like the RT-AC1900P is a minor upgrade of Asus’ RT-AC68U—not that that’s a bad thing at all. Compared to its predecessor, the model at hand sports a slightly upgraded processor with clock speed up to 1.4 GHz, and double the flash memory, going from from 128 MB to 256 MB. The wireless radios are also unchanged, although the 5 GHz signal amplifier got a little boost from the previous model, possibly improving the signal further on this frequency. As an AC1900 router, the RT-AC1900P promises 600 Mbps throughput on the 2.4 GHz band and 1300 Mbps on the 5GHz band.
On the outside, you’ll find a device that looks very similar to the RT-AC68U and features the same carbon-fiber-meets-stealth stylings as the other “Dark Knight” routers. The router measures in at 6.2″ tall by 8.6″ wide by 3.2″ deep. Three removable antennae extend from the top, and 10 blue LEDs dot the bottom of the router’s face. The lights can be disabled with a button located around the back in case you find the strong blue glow as eye-searing as I do. The backlit Asus logo on the RT-AC86U is gone on the RT-AC1900P to begin with.
Along with that button, the back side has four Gigabit Ethernet ports, a WAN port, one each of USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports, and a power button. The router’s right side has a WPS button and a Wi-Fi toggle button. Both USB ports can play host to external hard drives or other USB storage, cellular networking devices, and printers.
The router looks pretty svelte at first glance, although it has a pretty severe mounting limitation that some router geeks are going to find a turnoff. The router sits vertically, and the stand that holds it up is not detachable unless you own a Dremel and a dose of courage. There aren’t any mounting holes on the router, either. This thing wants to sit up straight and on a flat surface. That’s ostensibly for improved performance, but it’s an unusual restriction compared to to many other routers out there that can be placed in at least two orientations.
Although the RT-AC1900P can be laid flat, I’d be leery of doing so since only the back of the unit has vents. Although they won’t present challenges for everybody, these characteristics made the RT-AC1900P a tight fit in my router cabinet, and they’re worth noting before you go out and grab one. To its credit, the router is fairly discreet and wouldn’t look too out of place with other home electronics.
Setup and software
Like so many other modern quality routers, setting up the RT-AC1900P is an absolute breeze. If you have a simple network configuration, the setup process will likely be as straightforward as clicking “next” a few times. From there on the software is straightforward for the most part, since most of the features are easy to find and access.
I did run into a couple minor oddities while working through the initial setup. This is probably a minor quibble, but I found it frustrating that I couldn’t copy and paste hardware addresses from the router’s device list into the static DHCP setup. Having to type out those addresses by hand doesn’t take long, but there shouldn’t be a copy-and-paste restriction on those fields to begin with. The other problem I encountered was particularly bizarre. The router password is limited to a mere 16 characters, and neither the Synology RT-2600ac nor my old Asus router with Tomato firmware have any such limitation.
This should be a familiar sight to a lot of people
Asus’ extra features include a traffic analyzer, a separate guest Wi-Fi network, support for sharing data on external drives, and Time Machine backups. The router supports file sharing through the FTP and Samba protocols, and it can also act as a media server for DLNA-compatible devices. Asus also bakes in a feature called AiCloud, which gives you the option to set a USB-attached drive up as an internet-accessible device. Asus offers access to this feture through its AiCloud app on mobile devices or with any web browser using a custom URL.
Asus’ AiProtection suite includes parental controls, website blacklists, and deep packet inspection (DPI). The DPI functionality is powered by TrendMicro databases, and it’ll try and stop common malware infections from spreading around the network. Additionally, AiProtection includes a security assessment test that offers advice on setting up a secure network environment.
The router’s Adaptive QoS section will let you monitor real-time bandwidth usage not just by device, but also on a per-application basis. With the default settings, the router will identify and track common sites like Amazon or Facebook. Other traffic will fall into more generic categories like General, SSL/TLS, and HTTP. If you have a complicated home network and connectivity is suddenly sluggish, the traffic monitoring could come in handy for narrowing down just which device is chewing up all the bandwidth. The traffic monitoring can also keep track of web browsing history by device.
QoS priority can be set on a per-device or per-application basis, in either adaptive (automatic), traditional, or bandwidth-limiting modes. I have to note that while the basic setup of the router is pretty clear, I found the QoS section a bit less user-friendly. The Bandwidth Monitor screen looks like a mere information page at first glance. However, there’s actually drag-and-drop functionality for estabilishing traffic priorization—except you’d never know if you didn’t hover the mouse pointer over some of the UI elements.
Meanwhile, the Traffic Analyzer keeps track of traffic in a manner similar to the QoS section, but presents historical reports. Given a time period, you can see which device used how much data, and break it down to which application and which day. If you wanted to see, for example, how much traffic your Xbox used playing Netflix after you fell asleep halfway through binge-watching the new season of Archer, that’s definitely possible.
This section is pretty easy to read and work with, and there’s even a tutorial video available to get a better idea of how the reports work. There’s only one snag, here. There’s no way to export report data, something that would come in handy or even be necessary in a business environment. The overal functionality of the Traffic Analyzer is still effective and simple all the same, though.
If you checked out our review of the Synology RT-2600ac, you’ll see that we’re testing in the same environment:
I live in a small apartment building with anywhere from 20 to 28 wireless networks of various types in range at any given moment. In short, this isn’t the sort of environment where we’ll be pushing the router to its upper limits of top speeds. Instead, we’ll find out how it does in a realistic environment with high interference.
Test point A, my office, has a few walls and corners between it and the router, and is about 25′ away from the router in a straight line. Test point B, my bedroom, has one wall between it and the router and is just under 20′ away. Test point C, my living room, is about 5′ away from the router with only a thin sheet of particle board obstructing the connection.
To put each router to the task, I ran a few tests from each location above. First, I ran internet speed tests through Speedtest.net and ran iPerf with the default settings. After that, I performed two different file transfer tests. A group of ZIP files totalling 9.53GB made up the large file transfer test. For smaller files, I pulled together a 4.63 GB folder comprising 998 JPG images.
The machine for the wired networking tests is my personal desktop, a Core i5-4590S-powered system with a Samsung 840 EVO SSD. That PC sits behind a Netgear ProSafe GS105 switch connected to one of the Asus’ gigabit ports. The laptop on hand is my Lenovo X1 Yoga notebook with a 128 GB SSD. Transfers were done from the desktop to the wireless device in each case.
As we discovered when we reviewed the Synology RT-2600ac, tinkering with wireless channels didn’t result in any significant difference in wireless throughput. Here’s what we found after running each speed test and iPerf test twice, and each file transfer once.
When running some basic tests with iPerf, I saw some variable results. When testing 802.11ac on 5 GHz, I was surprised to see a pretty negligible amount of variation. The Synology unit performed a bit better at closer ranges, while the Asus router won out slightly from my office. On the 802.11n tests on the 2.4 GHz band, however, the Synology router handily outperformed Asus’ RT-AC1900P both at close range and at further distances.
I proceeded to run some internet speed tests with the two routers. There’s a little wiggle room here, as I can’t account for inconsistency in the servers at the other end. Nevertheless, the Asus router won out by a slim margin more often than not. On the 5 GHz 802.11ac tests, the Asus router outperforms the Synology unit by a little bit—though similarly to what happened with the iPerf rounds, Synology’s router seems to offer consistenly better mid-range throughput. As for the 2.4 GHz band, the Asus router did a solid job at long distance, while shorter-distance tests painted both units in a similar light.
Let’s take a look at file transfer tests now, a task that more closely replicates a user’s real-world usage scenario. Coincidentally, this is also the point where we start seeing significant differences between both routers on hand.
In every head-to-head comparison, the Asus AC1900P outperformed the RT-2600ac, in some cases contradicting the behavior observed on previous tests. Despite the fact that the Synology box pulled much better iPerf results on the long-range 802.11n tests, actual file transfers went faster on the Asus side. In both the 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz tests, the Synology showed some mysteriously long transfer times in a couple cases, while the Asus router kept showing improved times as the distances were reduced. The tests seem to reveal that variations in obstacles between the test laptop and the router affected the Synology unit more than the Asus one, as well.
Overall, the AC1900P hangs right with the Synology RT-2600ac in our synthetic tests, and its real-world performance often proved noticeably swifter than the Synology’s. The Asus’ slightly better to moderately better performance than the Synology at long ranges is worthy of note, as well. Both of these routers are fine performers, but the Asus takes the edge.
The Asus RT-AC1900P offers a solid value proposition. My speed comparisons between this unit and the Synology RT-2600ac suggest that the Asus router offers better performance, at least in my crowded, wireless-heavy apartment. When it comes to light usage—working, streaming video online, and gaming—the difference between the two is practically non-existent. However, the Asus RT-AC1900P won out in our real-world file transfer tests, and it seems to handle long ranges and walls between devices a little better.
Asus’ firmware and setup processes are easy to navigate, and the monitoring panels are comprehensive and collect plenty of useful info. We just wish it was possible to export the logging data the AC1900P collects. As matters stand, you’re required to look at traffic reports through a web browser. The limited 16-character length for the router’s main administrator password is a little befuddling, as well, but it’s hardly a deal-breaker.
If you keep your router on a desk or shelf, the RT-AC1900P is likely going to be a space-saver and offer a nice boost over an ISP-provided unit. If you’d like to mount the router to a wall, though, you might want to look elsewhere. The RT-AC1900P’s vertical configuration and antennas mean the router sits pretty tall, so it could have trouble fitting into a network cabinet or a particularly high shelf.
Despite the Asus’ many virtues, the Synology RT-2600ac still has its merits, as well. Its firmware is more comprehensive, better organized, and has a broader set of functionality, including the ability to export traffic reports. Plus, it can be wall-mounted. Those characteristics might make it the better choice for an office environment, even if its asking price is higher.
For home users, however, the Asus RT-AC1900P easily justifies its $180 asking price. It offers steady, solid throughput across the board and throughout our testing environment, something that a basic ISP-supplied router might not be able to do. In addition, its feature set should satisfy most users both during daily use, and when there’s a need to troubleshoot network usage or set up file sharing, owners should have little trouble taking advantage of those advanced features. We have no qualms about slapping a TR Recommended label on it.