The RT-AC66U 802.11ac Dual-Band Wireless-AC1750 Gigabit Router is the first wireless router from Asus to support the new 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard. Other than that it's basically the same as the Asus RT-N66U router.
That said, the RT-AC66U offers very fast Wi-Fi on the 5GHz frequency band, both with Wireless-N clients and AC clients. In fact it's the fastest of the few 802.11ac routers currently available on the market. The router also has very good range and its USB ports provide more than just the support for external storage and printers.
Like the RT-N66U, the RT-AC66U initially suffered from bad firmware and showed terrible performance on the 2.4Ghz band. With the latest update, version 18.104.22.168.246, however, the router now much better, offering 2.4Ghz Wi-Fi data rate on bar with other routers of its tiers. The router's latest firmware also brings to life its cloud-based storage features, call AiCloud, which comes in handy for anyone to access/manage their storage remotely.
If you're looking for a top-notch 802.11ac-ready router and don't mind its rather hefty street price of about $190, the RT-AC66U make an excellent choice. Similarly, you can also consider the Netgear R6300.
Design and ease of use
The RT-AC66U looks exactly the same as the RT-N66U with a sleek casing that more resembles a jewelry box than a networking device, though it's still clearly a router due to the detachable external antennas sticking up from its back.
The router is flexible in terms of placement: it can be mounted on the wall, put flat on a surface, or, when coupled with its detachable base, stay in a semivertical position. In any of these positions, the router looks good and rugged, hinting that it's a hard-core networking device.
On the back, (or on top, depending how you set it up), the RT-AC66U has four LAN ports for wired clients and one WAN port to connect to an Internet source, such as a broadband modem. All of these ports are Gigabit Ethernet, meaning you'll also be able to get a fast wired network. In addition to working as a router, the RT-AC66AU can be used as an access point or a media bridge, (you can choose among these roles via its Web interface), and when it's not working as a router, the WAN port can also be used as another LAN port.
Near these ports are the reset button, two USB 2.0 ports, the power button, a tiny power port, and the Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) button, which starts a 2-minute window in which other WPS-enabled clients can enter the wireless network. That's a lot of buttons and ports, but items are distributed well, so it's less cluttered than you would imagine.
On the front, the router has an array of LEDs that show the statuses of the ports on the back, the connection to the Internet, the USB ports, and the wireless networks.
The router comes with a CD of setup software that walks you though every single step, so setting up the router should be very easy for home users. In fact, you'll probably want to skip this CD entirely and use the router's Web interface for the setup process, by pointing a connected computer's browser to 192.168.1.1, which is the router's default IP address. The first time you go there, the interface will greet you with a Web-based wizard with steps similar to those of the desktop setup software. Using this wizard, you can also quickly choose to use the RT-AC66U as a router, an access point (if you already have a non-wireless router and want to add Wi-Fi to your network), or as a media bridge (in case you want to connect other Ethernet-ready devices to an existing Wi-Fi network.)
No matter how you want to use the RT-AC66U, you're unlikely to run into problems. While it's not the easiest router to set up, if you have some idea about computers, you'll probably get it up and running in just about 10 minutes.
Like all other 802.11ac routers, the Asus RT-AC66U is basically a true dual-band N900 Wireless-N router -- one that simultaneously offers up to 450Mbps Wireless-N standard on each of the two 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency bands. On top of that, it also supports the latest 802.11ac standard, which is only available on the 5GHz band. This means regardless of what type of Wi-Fi clients you have at home, the RT-AC66U will support them all, and when you get 802.11ac clients, the router will support them, too. In other words, the RT-AC66U offers everything the RT-N66U does, plus 802.11ac.
In addition to the two main Wi-Fi networks, one for each band, the new router also offers up to six guest Wi-Fi networks, three for each band. To turn these networks on (if for some reason you need all of them), you'll need to use the router's Web interface, which is well-organized, responsive, and reasonably simple. At the same time, I found that the interface could still use some improvement, in terms of both features and clarity.
There are three major parts of the interface that you access from the left part of the page. The top part is the Setup wizard, which you can use to rerun the initial setup process; the middle is for General items; and the bottom is the Advanced Settings.
General offers a Network Map for viewing currently connected devices, including those connected to the router via the USB ports. You can click on one of the connected devices to interact with it. For example, you can quickly block a Wi-Fi client or set up a network storage feature of an external hard drive. For the most part this works out very well, but sometimes I found that the router took a long time to register a connected device. This means there could be more connected devices than those displayed on the map.
Also in the General area are other nifty features such as a Parental Control feature, a Traffic Manager, and management of the router's USB ports. The Parental Control feature is very easy to set up; you can quickly add a device to the managed list and quickly pick time slots when these devices can access the Internet. Unfortunately, you can't refine the restriction beyond having or not having access to the Internet. For example, you can't control access to particular Web sites.