ASUS RT-AC5300 review

Like other so-called ‘tri-band’ routers, ASUS’s chunky, mediaeval-styled RT-AC5300 reaches its claims of 5,300Mbps transfer speeds by adding up the individual speeds of its three radios. In this case, that means a 1,000Mbps 802.11n radio plus two 2,167Mbps 802.11ac ones.

ASUS has been one of the more aggressive brands when it comes to rolling out higher-speed AC gear, with additional spacial streams (or blocks) increasing speed.

We saw the 1,734Mbps RT-AC87U in 2015, and two new routers (this unit and the dual-band RT-AC88U) now promise 2,167Mbps speeds through a bit of proprietary Broadcom Wi-Fi tech called NitroQAM.

The AC5300 still technically has a 4×4 MIMO radio setup, meaning it combines four spacial streams to achieve its 2,167Mbps speeds. Rather than the standard speed of 433Mbps per stream, NitroQAM basically overclocks each of those up to about 542Mbps, which when combined give you that 2,167Mbps result.

Now, while all those high numbers might look cool on a spec sheet, they’re not often as useful in real-world scenarios.

The problem is that there are few client devices can actually use these kinds of speeds — it’s still rare for laptops, tablets or smartphones to have more than 2×2 433Mbps setups (i.e. 867Mbps), so having 2.5x that is arguably a bit of a waste. To get 2,167Mbps, you’ll basically need to be using another ASUS router to connect to this one, forming what’s called a wireless bridge between the two.

And in fact, that’s exactly how we tested this unit, switching ASUS’s own RT-AC88U into bridging mode. The bad news is: we had difficulty getting — and moreover maintaining — those top speeds.

While we did occasionally see spikes up to 1,950Mbps, the signal more commonly sat at around 1,625Mbps, even with the routers just 3m apart with a clear line of sight. And on 867Mbps client devices, like our 2013 MacBook Air, transfer speeds peaked at the same 55–60MB/s that we see on most other 802.11ac routers.

Now, that doesn’t make the RT-AC5300 a bad device — just an expensive one with a rather specialised claim to fame.

Running ASUS’s custom router OS, the features on offer blow most other brands’ high-end routers out of the water, with useful connectivity to ASUS cloud services and unique options like a built-in VPN client (that makes anonymising your whole network easy) and a great status page that lets you see what’s happening with the router at a glance.

Those OS features are all available on the RT-AC88U, however, so it’s worth seriously considering if you really need the extra 2,167Mbps radio that this one offers over the latter.

There are situations where this AC5300 might be a better option — like in very busy, multi-device wireless environments where you constantly need to transfer lots of data — but few homes or offices will qualify.

Most people will probably be better off saving a bit of money and opting for the ASUS RT-AC88U instead.

Verdict: Great features and fast speeds, but a bit pricey.

Price: $439
From: ASUS

Rating: 4 stars out of 5