The increasing sophistication and performance of 802.11ac technology means using wireless as an alternative to a wired network is no longer unrealistic. In recent years the market has witnessed the advent of high-performance AC routers capable of delivering high throughput to single clients with 200 mbps or more and to multiple clients with well over a Gigabit of total throughput. Pricing on said routers is no longer outrageous either, AC routers based on the AC1900 (3T3R) design can be had for close to £100 here in the UK.
Yet even with all the progress made 802.11ac hasn't been able to come close enough to matching the mainstream Gigabit Ethernet standard that is now so common on desktops and laptops. However, late last year another significant step was made with the introduction of the AC2400 (4T4R) standard that is capable of pushing speeds close to Gigabit levels when used with appropriate receiving hardware. On that theme we have the Asus RT-AC87U router in for review which is based on the fastest AC2400 platform. Readers should note that while there is an AC3200 standard available this number is based on an aggregation of two separate 5GHz wireless radios using 3T3R designs (600 + 1,300 + 1,300 mbps) meaning AC2400 still has the fastest 5GHz radio on offer with a single 4T4R design (600 + 1,733 mbps).
At a fundamental level the benefits of scaling from an AC1900 (3T3R) router, such as the Asus DSL-AC68U, to an AC2400 (4T4R) router can only be realised when the client devices are capable of harnessing the speed. With four transmitters and four receivers (4T4R) on the router the client device must also have four receivers and transmitters to receive the maximum amount of throughput since a 3T3R or 2T2R will miss out on 25 and 50 per cent of the available 5GHz throughput, respectively.
With that in mind we conducted our testing of the Asus RT-AC87U using the Asus EA-AC87 which is a Media Bridge and Access Point device with a 4T4R 802.11ac design. The EA-AC87 allows an ultra-fast wireless router to be harnessed and re-broadcasted as an Access Point or converted into a wired connection using the Media Bridge mode. This makes the EA-AC87, when paired with the RT-AC87U, an ideal candidate for creating a wired-grade network without the wires.
The Asus RT-AC87U is, in simple terms, a feature-packed wireless router. It boasts four external antennas, four Gigabit LAN ports, a WAN port, a front USB 3.0 port and rear USB 2.0 port as well as a reset button and a WPS button. Internally the RT-AC87U has two physical processors - the Broadcom BCM4709 (1GHz, 2 cores) and the Quantenna QT3840BC (500MHz, 2 cores) as well as 128MB of flash storage and 256MB of DDR3 RAM. The router can operate in three different modes - as a router, an Access Point (AP) or media bridge and supports up to 1,734 mbps on the 5GHz band as well as 600 mbps on the 2.4GHz band with the use of TurboQAM technology.