A trip into the Blue Cave
Asus' Blue Cave looks like something you might get if the Portal gun could dispense miniature front-loading washing machines. I really dig the aesthetic. I'm surprised by how much I appreciate the complete lack of active indicator lights in favor of just a glowing blue ring (for which you can adjust the brightness or turn off entirely). The Blue Cave just sits stoically on the shelf and does its job.
To do that job, the Blue Cave employs an Intel AnyWAN GRX350 SoC. In the web interface, the SoC appears as a three-core CPU paired with 512MB of RAM, but the chip that powers it is advertised as just a dual-core affair. Regardless, it's clear that the brains of the Blue Cave are not just a variant from one of the usual suspects in the market. You'll find four Gigabit Ethernet ports and one USB 3.0 port hooked up to the semi-mysterious guts of the router.
The Blue Cave has a similar compliment of software features compared to the ROG Rapture. However, as clearly indicated by the change of color scheme, it drops some of the gaming-specific ones, or at least renames them. The Trend Micro security system, the basic QoS implementation, and the nifty traffic analyzer all stick around. There's also Amazon Alexa support and AiMesh support was added in a recent firmware update. Of course, all the fundamentals are in place too.
Meshing up the Lyra Trio
Asus may have broken the mold with the Blue Cave, but they re-used an old one for the Lyra Trio. The design of the Lyra Trio nodes was clearly lifted from the Asus EA-N66 (just like how I remember some of my 80s Dino-Riders toys magically becoming Jurassic Park toys in the 90s). The diminutive stature of Trio nodes means that there's only room for two Gigabit Ethernet ports on each one, and no room for USB at all. Any Trio node can be used as the primary node that connects to the WAN interface. The other nodes can use their ports to connect other devices to the network or for wired backhaul.
Crammed inside each of the tiny pyramids is a Qualcomm QCA9563 SoC. The QCA9563 is a single-core affair that runs at 750-775 MHz and has access to 128 MB of RAM. Clearly, these little guys are working with different constraints than the Rapture and the Blue Cave. The features available in the web interface are similarly constrained. The traffic analyzer I've became a fan of on the other routers is gone. With no USB ports on the nodes, there's obviously no mention of attached or cloud storage. However, the Lyra Trio still supports Alexa integration and the lifetime Trend Micro security offering.
The Lyra Trio advertises PC-free setup, thanks to the Lyra app for iOS and Android. I stuck with the traditional through-the-web-interface setup process, though. I didn't feel like I was missing out on anything critical, but if you like apps, it's an option. The web interface doesn't provide information about CPU usage or allow you to have separate SSIDs for your 2.4-GHz and 5-GHz networks, although that may be an artifact of band-steering being on by default in the Lyra's interface. It could also be because one of the 5 GHz channels is already dedicated to communicating between the nodes.
For reference, here's some specs from my old router. It's running a pokey 600 MHz Broadcom BCM4706 CPU and has 256 MB of RAM. The USB port on the back is just the 2.0 variety. As I mentioned previously, it's running the Merlin firmware, version 380.70, the latest version this model will ever see. Thanks to the Merlin firmware, this old router had many of the features of the newer models and, despite its age, was in the best shape of its life during testing.
All of the latest Asus routers boast support for Amazon Alexa integration. I wasn't particularly enamored with the options afforded by it. Call me a Luddite, but I'm just not ready for a world where voice commands can kick off a firmware update or pause all internet traffic. Now, if I could group someone's devices under a friendly name and say, "Alexa, shut so and so off from the internet" then maybe I'd be more impressed. The Blue Cave and ROG Rapture do have IFTTT support, though, which seems a lot more practical even if I didn't have reason to make use of it.