With the first generation of 802.11ac wireless routers, the Asus RT-AC68U stands apart from many of its competitors, with both great wireless performance and superb built-in software that offers plenty of functions and an intuitive, well-designed interface.
Even today, it still costs a bit more than other routers, but arguably it's worth paying a bit extra for the benefits of great performance and useful and functional software.
The competition is catching up now though. For example, TP Links' superb Archer D9 can just about match the AC68U for wireless performance, and its software is pretty good too.
So to maintain its advantage, Asus is under considerable pressure to deliver the goods once again with an updated flagship model, the RT-AC87U.
It's still relatively expensive with a UK price of £179 ($240 in the US, which translates to AU$315).
The big headline feature is a fourth antenna, making it capable of 4x4 802.11ac wireless speeds. The theoretical wireless throughput it can manage is now 1733 Mbit/sec, dubbed AC1750. In practice, it should correspond with roughly 25% better performance. Combined with up to 600Mbps 802.11n wireless speeds, Asus is calling it AC2400-compliant.
But the big caveat here is that right now, barely any devices have a built-in wireless adaptor that can handle quad-stream 802.11ac. It's still quite rare to even find one with 3x3 wireless, Apple's laptops being the exception, rather than the rule.
However, Asus has also released a new quad-stream wireless bridge to compliment the RT-AC87U. Dubbed the EA-AC87, it's just about the only way to get those 4x4 speeds from the new router, aside from investing in a second 4x4 router set to bridge mode.
The RT-AC87U has a flat angular design, similar to Netgear's Nighthawk X4 but with all four of its quite massive antennas positioned at the rear, making it look less like a giant robot insect than some routers (as many people have casually commented).
It retains some elements of the AC68U's unique checkerboard pattern, something I rather like, with the left and right sides of the chassis decorated in this way. At the front of the device are two chunky buttons on the left, to enable the LEDs and wireless access, and on the right a USB 3.0 port is hidden behind a removable cover.
Inside, it uses a dual-core Quantenna 500MHz chip for 802.11ac, with a second dual-core 1GHz Broadcom chip for 2.4 GHz wireless, which also manages all the other router functions. It also has 256MB of system memory, plenty for a router.
A USB 2.0 port joins the four gigabit Ethernet ports at the rear, along with a hard power switch and device reset button. Nine blue LEDs flicker on and off at the front to show the status of various aspects of the router, such as power, internet status, 2.4GHz and 5GHz connectivity and each Ethernet port.
Once again it uses well-designed, useful and clearly labelled built-in software. There are countless examples of where Asus has the leg up on competitors' efforts, and it's still the best software from any router manufacturer.
As before, the main page layout is divided into sections that show, at a glance, the status of various aspects of the network – how many clients are connected, which wireless networks are up, whether you have a hard disk connected to the USB ports, and so on. It's simple to navigate.
One example is the notifications system. Anyone with knowledge of networking and computer security will say one of the first things you should do is change your default router login password. Most people forget, never bother, or don't know how to. The RT-AC87U displays a reminder in the form of a flashing exclamation mark in the corner, with a quick link to take you to the right page.
It's a small touch, but this is an example of the extra attention Asus has lavished upon its new router's software. And you get other similar warnings and notifications too, such as when a firmware update is available.
The main menus on the left lead to the more advanced sections of the interface, and there are plenty of them. There's a full system log, VPN server, IPv6 support and dynamic DNS, all of which you would expect to find on any modern router now.
The new Adaptive QoS mode deserves a mention too. Venture into the menu and each computer on the network is listed, with a real-time update of the bandwidth they are consuming. You can drag and drop coloured labels to rearrange their priority, and it's all easy peasy. But it's also useful to diagnose whether one of your computers is hogging all your upstream bandwidth, for example.
In here there's also a handy Web History section, logging the domains each computer on your network has been accessing. Useful to see when the kids are using Facebook rather than doing their homework, for example.
The AiProtection section has both parental controls and a general overview of the router's security. You can run a security assessment which lists everything that could be a risk, from the strength of your wireless password to malicious website blocking and disabling WPS, UPnP and guest logins. With one click it sets all the relevant options to secure the RT-AC87U.
It's worth pointing out even these settings might not stop a truly determined and well-equipped hacker, but they're about as good as it gets for a consumer-class router.
The USB Application option has full support for not just hard disks, but 3G/4G wireless modems, and a range of NAS-like features such as a Samba media server, Apple Time Machine functionality, and AiDisk cloud file backup.