Introduction

External design and hardware

Firmware upgrade

Web-interface

Command line

Testing

Summary

Introduction

When representatives of the ASUS company communicated with us and offered to test another wireless repeater, we were ready to receive a small network device that is stuck directly into the socket... However ASUS RP-AC68U model exceeded our even the wildest expectations. In this review we tried to consider not only external design and functional capabilities of the device, but also its performance. RP-AC68U model will be ideally suited for users who need to expand the coverage of the existing high speed wireless network in case of placement of the repeater in a visible place. But first things first!

External design and hardware

The designers who created the RP-AC68U model have tried wonderfully well. In our opinion the case has turned out rather big for an access point, dimensions of 181х106х106, but at the same time looks very nice and unusual.

The name of the model and logo of the vendor are located on the front panel of the repeater. Here it should be noted, one element of the front panel, which is hidden from the eyes of users, is the sensor reacting to a touch: an easy contact allows turning on or off the light of the device.

The upper and side panels are not remarkable, except, perhaps, the built-in light.

Five Gigabit Ethernet ports, USB 3.0 port, LEDs indicating operating of the wireless modules, power slot with and ON/OFF button, the WPS button and two stickers with brief information about the device are located on the rear side of the case.

On the bottom side there are four rubber legs, ventilation grate, as well as Reset button to reset the user configuration.

Now let's have a look at the insides of the device.

The hardware platform of ASUS RP-AC68U model is represented by two green textolite plates: the motherboard and the wireless module. The system is based on SoC processor Realtek RTL8198C, DDR2 module ESMT M15F2G16128A of 256 Mbytes serves as RAM. Flash memory is presented by microchip ESMT F59L1G81LA with the capacity of 128 Mbytes.

Two chips Realtek RTL8814AR and RTL8194AR, responsible for the wireless network, are located on the second plate.

That's where we proceed to completion of the review about the hardware of the repeater and access point and pass directly on to studying software capabilities of the device.

Firmware upgrade

Firmware upgrade is carried out in Firmware Upgrade tab, Administration menu item. The firmware upgrade process may be carried out both in the manual and semi-automatic modes.

Regardless of the mode chosen any specific technical proficiency will not be required from the user. The whole process takes about three minutes (not considering the time necessary for downloading the firmware file from the vendor servers).

One can make sure that the upgrade procedure has been performed successfully by looking at any page in the web interface, at the top of which the current firmware version will be shown.

In case of a failure during the firmware upgrade process, the vendor suggests to use the utility Firmware Restoration by means of which it is possible to find the devices which are in the recovery mode and to recover on them the firmware in semi-automatic mode.

Now let’s see what the device web-interface features.

Web-interface

Any current browser can be used for access to the web-interface of the ASUS RP-AC68U model. It is necessary to enter login and password.

Right after entering correct credentials, the user is navigated to the homepage of the device, which displays the brief information about the device status: operation mode, number of connected clients, wireless module settings, current firmware, etc.

In the System Status item located on the right side of the page, not only the basic settings of the wireless module are presented, but also CPU and RAM load of the whole device.

In addition to the data above, this element can contain information about wired and wireless clients of the device, global network connection status, as well as the presence of external USB-devices.

USB Application menu item lets the user set up RP-AC68U for operation with the connected USB-device. Currently supports the following device types: external hard disks or flash drives with USB interface, as well as printers.

The USB-attached storage device can be used not only for storage of files and providing access to them to devices on the LAN. AiCloud 2.0 menu item allows setting up remote access to the information placed on the external drive. Besides, AiCloud function allows executing data synchronization with another network device of the ASUS company. Shall admit, it was the first time we saw USB port in an access point/repeater of this vendor. And also we have not met before the dual-core processor in the devices of such a class.

Tabs of the Wireless menu item are traditional for the ASUS wireless equipment.

The only tab of LAN menu item lets one specify the IP parameters of the device.

The model under review ASUS RP-AC68U can operate in one of three main modes: Repeater, Access Point, Media Bridge. Modes Express Way 2.4 GHz and Express Way 5 GHz in essence execute the repeater function, but repeatable signal is only transmitted to a different frequency range.

System tab of the same menu item allows one to change user name and password, to select time zone, to enable or disable access through telnet and HTTPS protocols.

System log menu item tabs contain log information as about operation of the entire device as a whole, and its wireless module in particular.

By using Network Tools menu item tabs one can check operability of a network, view the list of the current connections, as well as make remote waking up of the computer on the LAN.

Here, perhaps, it is worth noting that during operation of RP-AC68U in other modes, the model web-interface slightly changes.

That is where we bring the review of the device web-interface capabilities to a conclusion and move on to the command line review.

Command line

Enabling and disabling the access to the ASUS RP-AC68U command line is performed using System tab, Administration menu item in the web-interface. As of when this review was being written, the connection through the SSH protocol was not supported.

In order to access the command line one must use the same log-on information as for the connection to the device web-interface. Firmware of ASUS RP-AC68U access point is built on Linux 3.10.24 OS using Busy Box 1.17.4.

RP-AC68U login: admin
Password:
ASUSWRT RP-AC68U_3.0.0.4 Mon Nov 16 07:43:52 UTC 2015
admin@RP-AC68U:/tmp/home/root# cd /
admin@RP-AC68U:/# uname -a
Linux RP-AC68U 3.10.24 #4 Mon Nov 16 15:44:26 CST 2015 mips GNU/Linux
admin@RP-AC68U:/# busybox
BusyBox v1.17.4 (2015-11-16 15:43:50 CST) multi-call binary.
Copyright (C) 1998-2009 Erik Andersen, Rob Landley, Denys Vlasenko
and others. Licensed under GPLv2.
See source distribution for full notice.
Usage: busybox [function] [arguments]...
   or: function [arguments]...
        BusyBox is a multi-call binary that combines many common Unix
        utilities into a single executable.  Most people will create a
        link to busybox for each function they wish to use and BusyBox
        will act like whatever it was invoked as.
Currently defined functions:
        [, [[, arp, ash, awk, basename, blkid, cat, chmod, chown, chpasswd, clear, cmp, cp, crond, cut, date, dd, df,
        dirname, dmesg, du, e2fsck, echo, egrep, env, ether-wake, expr, fdisk, fgrep, find, flock, free, fsck.ext2,
        fsck.ext3, fsck.minix, fsync, grep, gunzip, gzip, head, ifconfig, insmod, ionice, kill, killall, klogd, less,
        ln, logger, login, ls, lsmod, lsusb, md5sum, mdev, mkdir, mke2fs, mkfs.ext2, mkfs.ext3, mknod, mkswap,
        modprobe, more, mount, mv, netstat, nice, nohup, nslookup, pidof, ping, printf, ps, pwd, readlink, renice, rm,
        rmdir, rmmod, route, sed, setconsole, sh, sleep, sort, strings, swapoff, swapon, sync, syslogd, tail, tar,
        telnetd, test, top, touch, tr, traceroute, true, tune2fs, udhcpc, umount, uname, unzip, uptime, usleep,
        vconfig, vi, watch, wc, which, zcat, zcip

Let's see what processes are currently running using ps command. By using top utility one can obtain information on the current activity of the launched processes. We decided to put the output of both commands in a separate file. Also contents of /bin, /sbin, /usr/bin, and /usr/sbin catalogs are located in a separate file.

Now let's turn to /proc catalogue to view its files and find out the system uptime, its average utilisation, information on the CPU installed, and the amount of RAM. Actually, system uptime and average system utilisation can also be learnt using uptime command.

admin@RP-AC68U:/# cd /proc/
admin@RP-AC68U:/proc# ls
1                          315                        crypto                     net
10                         34                         custom_Passthru            pagetypeinfo
11                         35                         custom_Passthru_wlan       partitions
12                         36                         devices                    peth0
13                         37                         diskstats                  phyPower
134                        38                         driver                     phyRegTest
138                        39                         eee                        pptp_conn_ck
14                         4                          enable_dos                 qos
15                         40                         eth0                       rtk_vlan_management_entry
158                        41                         eth1                       rtk_vlan_support
16                         42                         eth2                       rtl865x
162                        43                         eth3                       rtl_dnstrap
164                        44                         eth4                       sched_debug
17                         47                         eth7                       scsi
18                         5                          execdomains                self
19                         50                         fast_l2tp                  softirqs
2                          6                          fast_nat                   stat
20                         61                         fast_pppoe                 sys
21                         619                        fast_pptp                  sysvipc
214                        7                          filesystems                timer_list
216                        8                          filter_table               tty
22                         821                        fs                         uptime
224                        822                        gpio                       usb
227                        9                          hw_nat                     version
23                         StormCtrl                  igmp_proxy_wan_dev         vmallocinfo
233                        alg                        interrupts                 vmstat
236                        asus_ate                   iomem                      watchdog_kick
242                        br_igmpDb                  ioports                    watchdog_reboot
245                        br_igmpProxy               irq                        watchdog_start
246                        br_igmpQuerierInfo         kallsyms                   wl0
247                        br_igmpVersion             kcore                      wl0-vxd
248                        br_igmpquery               kmsg                       wl0.0
249                        br_igmpsnoop               kpagecount                 wl0.1
250                        br_mCastFastFwd            kpageflags                 wl0.2
253                        br_mldQuerierInfo          load_default               wl0.3
257                        br_mldVersion              loadavg                    wl1
268                        br_mldquery                locks                      wl1-vxd
276                        br_mldsnoop                meminfo                    wl1.0
278                        buddyinfo                  misc                       wl1.1
280                        bus                        modules                    wl1.2
3                          cmdline                    mounts                     wl1.3
313                        consoles                   mtd                        yaffs
314                        cpuinfo                    nandinfo                   zoneinfo
admin@RP-AC68U:/proc# cat uptime
2477.82 4895.50
admin@RP-AC68U:/proc# cat loadavg
0.05 0.12 0.13 1/68 824
admin@RP-AC68U:/proc# cat cpuinfo
system type             : Sheipa Platform
machine                 : Unknown
processor               : 0
cpu model               : MIPS 1074Kc V2.4
BogoMIPS                : 498.89
wait instruction        : yes
microsecond timers      : yes
tlb_entries             : 64
extra interrupt vector  : yes
hardware watchpoint     : no
isa                     : mips32r2
ASEs implemented        : mips16
shadow register sets    : 1
kscratch registers      : 0
core                    : 0
VCED exceptions         : not available
VCEI exceptions         : not available
processor               : 1
cpu model               : MIPS 1074Kc V2.4
BogoMIPS                : 498.89
wait instruction        : yes
microsecond timers      : yes
tlb_entries             : 64
extra interrupt vector  : yes
hardware watchpoint     : no
isa                     : mips32r2
ASEs implemented        : mips16
shadow register sets    : 1
kscratch registers      : 0
core                    : 0
VCED exceptions         : not available
VCEI exceptions         : not available
admin@RP-AC68U:/proc# uptime
 03:41:35 up 41 min, load average: 0.04, 0.11, 0.12

We can't help but mention nvram utility that allows changing certain important device operation parameters.

admin@RP-AC68U:/# nvram
usage: nvram [get name] [set name=value] [unset name] [show] [save file] [restore file]
admin@RP-AC68U:/# nvram show | grep admin
size: 19906 bytes (41534 left)
admin@RP-AC68U:/# nvram show | grep password
size: 19906 bytes (41534 left)
http_passwd=password
acc_list=admin>password
admin@RP-AC68U:/# nvram show | grep http_username
size: 19906 bytes (41534 left)
http_username=admin

That's where we proceed to completion of the brief review of the command line interface capabilities of the device and pass directly on to its testing.

Testing

The first testing procedure we usually begin our testing section with is estimating the booting time of the device, which is a time interval starting with the moment when the power is on until the first echo reply is received through ICMP. Wireless repeater and access point ASUS RP-AC68U boots in 70 seconds. We consider this result normal.

The second test, which was no less traditional, became a security scanning procedure, which has been carried out using Positive Technologies XSpider 7.8 network security scanner. On the whole, there were eighteen open ports discovered. The most interesting data are presented below. Naturally, we have reported about the found vulnerabilities to the vendor. Technical specialists of the vendor have notified us that the found vulnerabilities (and even some other) are already fixed in current versions of the firmware. Then we asked for an explanation to the XSpider utility producers. It has become clear that detection of suspicions on vulnerability is made according to the version reported by the system in a banner, no other checks are made at the same time. Thus, the RP-AC68U model is free from the vulnerabilities listed below.

Before getting down to performance tests we would like to get our readers familiar with the key specifications of the test stand we used.

Component PC Notebook
Motherboard ASUS Maximus VIII Extreme ASUS M60J
CPU Intel Core i7 6700K 4 GHz Intel Core i7 720QM 1.6 GHz
RAM DDR4-2133 Samsung 64 Gbytes DDR3 PC3-10700 SEC 16 Gbytes
NIC Intel PRO/1000 PT
ASUS PCE-AC68
Atheros AR8131
ASUS RT-AC88U
OS Windows 7 x64 SP1 Rus Windows 7 x64 SP1 Rus

 

We decided to begin the performance tests with measuring device performance upon operation in the access point mode. ASUS PCE-AC68 wireless NIC was used as the client. JPerf utility, 2.0.2 version, was used for tests with 1, 5, and 15 concurrent TCP connections in both frequency ranges.

Then we decided to find out throughput of the device under test in the Media Bridge mode, which is very similar to the wireless client mode. The operation of the wireless network was provided by the ASUS RT-AC88U router, which is also on testing in our laboratory.

One more operation mode of ASUS RP-AC68U which drew our attention, is the wireless repeater. We built a network on the basis of the wireless router ASUS RT-AC88U, functions of the wireless client were undertaken by the NIC ASUS PCE-AC68.

Since ASUS RP-AC68U has USB 3.0 port, we couldn't but test the performance of the device with external drives, connected to this interface. For testing we used our standard external SSD drive Transcend TS256GESD400K 256 Gbytes. To our surprise, we were able to measure only two file systems (NTFS and FAT32) while connected in USB 2.0 mode. Operation in USB 3.0 mode or with other file systems was extremely unstable and led either to the impossibility of recording to an external device or to reboot RP-AC68U. Naturally, we reported about it to the vendor, and we hope that this problem will be fixed in the next firmware. As of when this article was being written, the following file systems were officially supported: NTFS, HFS+ and FAT32.

That's where we draw the testing chapter to a close and move on to summing it all up.

Summary

After testing the wireless repeater and access point ASUS RP-AC68U we were left with mixed feelings. On the one hand, we liked the design solution used in the model, as well as the resulting wireless performance; but on the other hand, the current version of the firmware seems slightly unfinished.

The strength areas are presented below.

  • High wireless speeds
  • The presence of the dual-core processor
  • Futuristic design
  • The presence of five Gigabit Ethernet ports
  • Support of several operation modes
  • Support of both frequency ranges
  • The presence of the signal power indicator on the case.

Unfortunately, we cannot help but mention drawbacks we have discovered.

  • Unstable work with USB-drives
  • The web-interface is not completely translated.

As of when this review was being written, the repeater ASUS RP-AC68U wasn’t sold in Russia, that’s why it is too early to speak about the price.

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