Phew! After eight months of hosting my sister-in-law's family, it's hard to believe they are moving out of our basement and into their new home this week. When dealing with a home invasion of such magnitude, I think most people would find a coping mechanism of some kind. It turned out that mine was chronicling the adventure in the form of a three-way router review. In all seriousness, it's been great to have so much family so close by, but having that many people under one roof did put a lot of pressure on our already-a-bit-more-taxed-than-average home network.
After the first few weeks, it became exceedingly apparent that my trusty Asus RT-AC66U, purchased in late 2013, wasn't cut out for the new demands we'd placed upon it. I did the best I could to keep it in the game. It was already running the Merlin firmware to resolve a DDNS-related WAN disconnect problem with the stock firmware. I also disabled the RT-AC66U's QoS so that NAT acceleration could do its thing. Otherwise, one person downloading from Steam would kill everyone else's connection.
Despite those measures, the RT-AC66U was swamped. I started looking into the many new wireless options on the market, trying to decide what would be the best fit for a household packed with 12 bandwidth hogs, surprisingly linearly distributed from ages 1 to 36.
Did I simply need the modern equivalent to my RT-AC66U? Or did that many people in one house mean that something a bit more souped-up was called for? Maybe a mesh Wi-Fi solution would spread the load and yield the best result. Choosing the way to go wasn't an easy decision, and the longer I waited to get something new, the grumpier everyone was getting.
Thankfully, just like it did with the TR BBQ a couple years ago, Asus was willing to help out. The company sent me a router to match up with each question above, so I could figure out the answers myself and share them with you. It wasn't long before I took delivery of the Asus Blue Cave, Lyra Trio, and ROG Rapture GT-AC5300 routers.
Everybody's going through the Rapture
Let's kick things off with the eight-legged elephant in the room: the ROG Rapture GT-AC5300. I could say a lot about its aggressive styling, but you'd be better served by heading over to Amazon and reading the hilarious Q & A banter about it over there. Honestly, once the Rapture was perched in place up on the shelf by my TV, it didn't look nearly as strange as the top-down isometric press photos. In fact, the tiny white indicator LEDs on the front are more subdued than any of the other routers' lighting packages.
Under the hood, the word subdued does not apply. The router sports a Broadcom BCM4908 quad-core processor running at 1.8 GHz. Obvious architectural differences aside, that's the same number of cores and 75% of the clock speed of a Core2 Quad Q6600 from days gone by. Let that sink in. Coupled with 1 GB of RAM and a Broadcom BCM4366E CPU dedicated to each of the Rapture's three wireless bands (one 2.4 GHz and two 5 GHz), we're talking about a serious effort to shut up anyone that blames net lag for being terrible at online gaming.
Making room for all that hardware and mounts for the Rapture's eight antennas means the router itself is quite large, bigger even than some mini-ITX PCs I've built. Asus takes advantage of the space by filling out one side of the unit with eight Gigabit Ethernet ports instead of the usual four, as well as a pair of USB 3.0 ports for storage and printer sharing instead of just one. Two of the Ethernet ports are described as "gaming ports" and traffic running through them gets extra-special QoS treatment.
On the software side... wow. The Rapture throws in everything except the virtual kitchen sink (and, of course, the interface is official gamer black and red). We'll go over the highlights. The built-in Trend Micro security suite can block all sorts of internet badness as an up-front layer of protection to all the devices on your network. You might think you've transcended such frivolities, but we all know how mothers everywhere feel about layers, so don't write it off just yet. In a similar vein, parental controls and filters—not to mention per-device internet access scheduling—are also available.
The Game Boost menu is where the QoS details can be configured. There's a wizard for setting overall priorities for gaming, streaming, and surfing, or you can rank activities in your own order. If you enable Game Boost, you can even drag and drop all the devices connected to your network in exactly the order you want their traffic priority to be. From this menu you can also see the real-time upload and download bandwidth for each device and what protocols it's using.
There's a bit more gaming-centric functionality to cover. The Rapture includes support and a lifetime subscription for the WTFast Gamers Private Network, a VPN service that attempts to route traffic through optimal servers for your location. I'll admit upfront that I'm just not sensitive enough to lag to make this a compelling feature to me. With so much else to test, WTFast didn't make the cut, but it might excite the aspiring professional gamer in your household. The Game Profile menu contains a list of pre-baked profiles for setting up port forwarding (powered by portforwarding.org, no less) but I didn't use it since I manually configured port forwarding in a different menu. Lastly, Games Radar lets you select from a short list of games and see what the ping time is to their various servers around the globe.
Moving on to the more general-purpose menus and settings, there's a sophisticated traffic analyzer that can be interesting to dig into after you've had it running for a couple weeks. I didn't turn on any history for web-tracking, but the analyzer was still able to give me a general idea of what devices in the house were using the most bandwidth and what services they were using to do it. Holy moly, do people ever love YouTube. Who knew?
From here we get into the utilitarian stuff like basic LAN and WAN configuration, DHCP settings, wireless configuration, the firewall, guest networks, port forwarding, and options for the use of the USB ports. You know the drill. The only exceptions from the mundane are the recently added Asus AiMesh support and the Amazon Alexa and IFTTT support. We'll talk about the Alexa support a bit later, but AiMesh will have to wait for another article.