Stylish and router; two words in the English lexicon that rarely find themselves in together in a sentence without a negative modifier before the former. And yet stylish is what the Asus RT-56U wants itself to be thought of as. Not that its aesthetics are all the RT-56U is touting, there's an impressive feature set beneath that glossed-up exterior, but it's definitely the look of the thing that will catch your eye initially.
The design won't be to everyone's tastes; we think the glossy, crosshatch effect is quite tasteful. We think it looks worth its £99 asking price. The shape of the RT-56U means you'll either have to stand it upright on its vertical stand, or have it laying flat on a desk; the problem with this is the placement of ports on the right-hand edge could leave wires visible. We'd have preferred to see rear-facing inputs.
Still, we can't fault the RT-56U for its provision of five Gigbit Ethernet ports (four for adding computers, one for connecting to your modem), alongside two USB ports. If that's not enough connectivity for you, then dual-band 802.11a, b g and n Wi-Fi should be. Not only is the RT-56U able to run two Wi-Fi networks at once, it also features no fewer than two antennae for 2.4GHz networks and three for 5GHz. What's more, the RT-56U has a feature called Ai Radar that purports to focus its radio in the direction of connected clients, boosting both signal strength and range.
There’s an LED for power, each Wi-Fi network, wired network activity and the USB ports; plus the Ethernet ports have their indicator LEDs integrated, so there’s no risk of not knowing what the RT-56U is doing at any given moment. We're pleased to note that the LEDs are surprisingly unobtrusive - Asus seems to understand that running these at full brightness isn't mandatory.
The admin interface is visually unchanged on the RT-56U, the only differences between this router and others of Asus’ we’ve looked at being the options available. That’s nothing to moan about, though, because other than finding the occasional bit of ‘Engrish’ here and there, we found the interface intuitive and easy to use.
There’s a huge range of configuration options, which is unsurprising as the RT-56U has a huge feature set. There are almost too many Wi-Fi options to choose from. Unsurprisingly you can set-up the different frequency networks independently, with separate SSIDs, passwords and levels of encryption. WPS is available if wanted, and you can even hook up to a RADIUS server. The option to select the days and times when the Wi-Fi will be active or not will probably be of limited appeal, but it’s patently better to have it than not.