Introduction

External design and hardware

Firmware upgrade

Web-interface

Command line

Testing

Summary

P.S.

Introduction

Today ASUS RT-AC5300 wireless router appeared in our test lab. At first we were slightly afraid to approach such a monster. RT-AC5300 model looks like the inverted crab, the strong similarity is caused by the shape and layout of antennae. But the declared characteristics were so promising that curiosity overrode. The wireless formula AC5300 means that the maximum theoretical data transmission speeds in the wireless segment equal to 5.3 Gbps will be available to users – absolutely incredible value. ASUS RT-AC5300 wireless router incorporated the best from the two predecessors: three sets of the frequency channels (in both wireless ranges) and NitroQAM/1024-QAM. We have already seen these characteristics separately in the RT-AC3200 and RT-AC88U models, however RT-AC5300 supports both specified capabilities at the same time.

Let's consider the device in more detail.

External design and hardware

ASUS RT-AC5300 wireless router comes in a black plastic case with a red horizontal stripe. The shape of the case can be roughly described as a parallelepiped with beveled edges. The device has eight external detachable antennae located on all four side panels. To work properly the device needs an external power adaptor (comes in the box) with the following characteristics: 19V and 3.42A. It should be noted that 65 Watts is rather big power for home network equipment without PoE function (measurements show that 7 Watts are consumed while booting, and 15-18 Watts are consumed during normal operation of the router with no USB-connected devices). Also dimensions of the device in any way don't allow to call it of home kind – 245х245х65 mm (without antennae) with weight 1,36 kg. Such a considerable weight is caused by existence of a large number of heat sinks inside the case, but first things first. One more remark which we would like to make is connected to device power supply unit. The voltage and the connector of the external power supply unit of RT-AC5300 router match with the same for ASUS notebooks, i.e. the user can replace the router adapter with notebook power supply unit. The converse is incorrect as notebooks for the power supply usually require adapters of greater power.

Almost the entire upper surface of the device is occupied by a ventilation grate with a logo of the vendor.

On the bottom of the case there are four triangle rubber legs, a ventilation grate and a sticker with brief information about the device.

Antennae are placed on all four side panels of the case (by two on each).

Six LEDs indicating status of the entire device as a whole, as well as the status of its wired and wireless interfaces, are located on the front panel.

On one of the side panels there are a USB 2.0 port and three buttons responsible for switching on/off the wireless module, switching on the WPS mode, and also switching on/off LEDs on the front panel. On the other side panel only antennae slots are placed.

The rear side has five Gigabit Ethernet ports (4 LAN and 1 WAN), a USB 3.0 port, a power socket with ON/OFF button, as well as sunken Reset button.

Now let's have a look at the insides of ASUS RT-AC5300 wireless router.

The electronic stuffing of the device is one textolite card which has all essential elements located on both of its sides. The best part of the card is covered with heat sinks and protective screens also placed on both of its sides. The only chip accessible for review is a 128 Mbyte Spansion S34ML01G200TFI00 flash memory module. ASUS RT-AC5300 wireless router has a Broadcom BCM4709C0 CPU with two cores operating at a frequency of 1.4 GHz and Nanya NT5CC256M16CP-DI RAM with the size of 512 Mbytes. It is worth noting that the hardware stuffing of the model under review is very similar to that in ASUS RT-AC88U wireless router. Support of a wireless network is performed by Broadcom BCM4366 chip with the following antennae configuration: 4х4 for the range of 2.4 GHz and 4х4 for the range of 5 GHz.

That is where we bring the brief review of the router hardware to a conclusion and pass on to examining capabilities of its software component.

Firmware upgrade

Firmware upgrade is carried out in Firmware Upgrade tab, Administration menu item. Firmware upgrade may be performed both in a manual and semi-automatic mode. It is worth noting that during the automatic search of the new versions beta versions of a firmware also can be considered.

The whole firmware upgrade process takes about eight minutes and does not require any specific proficiency from the user.

In case of a failure during the firmware upgrade process, the router may change to the rescue mode, slowly flashing power indicator will show this. Indirect indicator of such a mode will be TTL equal 100 in ICMP echo replies. In the normal mode of the router TTL equal 64. One can restore the device firmware in traditional way (by using ASUS Firmware Restoration utility) or manually (without the named utility).

For manual restoration one of the two following methods can be used: using a web-server embedded into the bootloader, or with the help of TFTP. The restoration process by using a web-server built-in in the bootloader is very easy: specify the file with the firmware and press Upload.

The restoration process with the help of TFTP is not the least bit harder.

C:\>tftp -i 192.168.1.1 put c:\RT-AC5300_3.0.0.4_380_3341-g25420f5.trx
Transfer successful: 42557440 bytes in 138 second(s), 308387 bytes/s

The router needs to be rebooted after the restoration is completed.

Our story about the firmware for ASUS RT-AC5300 would not be complete if we did not mention availability of an alternative firmware version by Merlin. Transition to the alternative version is similar to the traditional update. To return to the original firmware one needs to go to Firmware Upgrade tab, Administration menu item.

That is where we bring review of the firmware upgrade and restoration processes of ASUS RT-AC5300 wireless router to a conclusion and pass on to examining its capabilities.

Web-interface

The web interface of ASUS RT-AC5300 wireless router is very similar on that in RT-AC88U model, and the majority of functions is standard for ASUSWRT firmware therefore we will not consider explicitly all capabilities of the device, but only turn our attention to the most interesting features. The web interface of the device is available in 18 languages.

Network Map menu item features information about the list of connected wired and wireless clients, USB-devices, settings of each of the three radios, as well as information about the CPU and RAM usage.

ASUS RT-AC5300 has three radios therefore administrator can create guest networks for each of them independently (three for every module).

It is also worth noting that all other wireless settings are available for each of wireless modules independently, unless Smart Connect technology is used, which lets automatically distribute the clients between radios. Smart Connect technology can be utilized for all radios of the router, or just for those which use  5 GHz range. In our opinion, it is a very useful tool for those who want to have full control over the wireless network.

We must admit that we are a little bit surprised by placement of a page for Smart Connect rules settings in Network Tools menu item. Also fly in the ointment will be existence of a space limitation on operation of modulation of NitroQAM/1024-QAM or, more precisely, very strict requirements of modulation to quality of the received signal which can be satisfied only in the relative proximity to the router.

ASUS RT-AC5300 wireless router has possibility of bundling LAN interfaces in LAG. The corresponding setting is available in Switch Control tab, LAN menu item.

All leading-edge ASUS routers support dual WAN feature. The corresponding settings are available in Dual WAN tab in WAN menu item.

IPv6 fans should definitely refer to the same-named menu item – firmware developers have added support of a new type of connection to providers.

Features of VPN menu item are traditional for ASUSWRT firmware: administrators can configure built-in VPN server/client with its help. Connections via PPTP and OpenVPN for the embedded server, and PPTP, L2TP and OpenVPN for the client are supported.

The wireless router under testing allows filtering not only for IPv4 traffic, but also for IPv6 data. The corresponding setting is available in IPv6 Firewall tab, Firewall menu item.

ASUS RT-AC5300 can operate not only as a wireless router, but also as an access point and Media Bridge. Operation mode can be chosen using Operation mode tab, Administration menu item.

The main system settings are collected in the System tab in the same-named menu item. It is worth mention about the presence of «Enable Reboot Scheduler» option that enables users to reboot the device according to the schedule, of course, in case of time synchronization with the NTP server.

ASUS network equipment users can send the vendor their wishes and suggestions related to the devices of the vendor using Feedback tab in Administration menu item.

By means of Network Tools menu tabs the administrator can perform a number of diagnostic actions, set up Smart-Connect, and also turn on the computer remotely using WoL technology A nice addition to this function is automatic saving of MAC addresses of the devices connected to the local network segment.

That is where we bring a brief review of the device web-interface to a conclusion and pass on to examining its command line.

Command line

Switching the access to the command line on and off is performed using System tab, Administration menu item.

ASUS RT-AC5300 wireless router allows carrying out connections not only with the use of the insecure telnet protocol, but also by means of SSH. In order to access the command line one must use the same credentials as for the connection to the router web-interface. Firmware of the model under review is built on Linux 2.6.36.4 OS with BusyBox 1.17.4.

RT-AC5300 login: admin
Password:
ASUSWRT RT-AC5300_3.0.0.4 Tue Aug  2 09:26:35 UTC 2016
admin@RT-AC5300:/tmp/home/root# cd /
admin@RT-AC5300:/# uname -a
Linux RT-AC5300 2.6.36.4brcmarm #1 SMP PREEMPT Tue Aug 2 17:35:28 CST 2016 armv7l GNU/Linux
admin@RT-AC5300:/# busybox
BusyBox v1.17.4 (2016-08-02 17:26:33 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, ping6, 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, traceroute6,
 true, tune2fs, udhcpc, umount, uname, unzip, uptime, usleep, vconfig, vi, watch, wc,
 which, zcat, zcip
admin@RT-AC5300:/#

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. The output of specified utilities is located in a separate file.

Contents of /bin, /sbin, /usr/bin and /usr/sbin catalogs, as well as the output of sysinfo utility, are located in a separate file. For example, /sbin catalog features tcpcheck utility that lets the administrator find out whether a TCP port is open in a certain host.

admin@RT-AC5300:/# tcpcheck
usage:  tcpcheck <timeout> <host:port> [host:port]
admin@RT-AC5300:/# tcpcheck 10 192.168.1.1:23
192.168.1.1:23 is alive
admin@RT-AC5300:/# tcpcheck 10 192.168.1.2:23
192.168.1.2:23 failed

Now let's turn to /proc catalogue to view its contents 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@RT-AC5300:/# cd /proc
admin@RT-AC5300:/proc# ls
1              4              553            735            execdomains    partitions
10             432            555            736            filesystems    scsi
11             434            556            737            fs             self
118            439            558            8              interrupts     slabinfo
165            443            559            9              iomem          softirqs
173            445            56             bcm947xx       ioports        stat
1989           5              563            bcm_chipinfo   irq            swaps
2              508            565            brcmnand       kallsyms       sys
2103           517            573            buddyinfo      key-users      sysrq-trigger
250            523            576            bus            kmsg           sysvipc
255            525            577            cmdline        loadavg        timer_list
260            53             578            cpu            locks          tty
265            540            587            cpuinfo        meminfo        uptime
290            542            595            crypto         misc           version
293            543            6              devices        modules        vmallocinfo
295            546            614            diskstats      mounts         vmstat
3              55             7              dmu            mtd            zoneinfo
380            551            733            driver         net
389            552            734            emf            pagetypeinfo
admin@RT-AC5300:/proc# cat uptime
19845.37 39508.70
admin@RT-AC5300:/proc# cat loadavg
0.00 0.01 0.05 1/62 2109
admin@RT-AC5300:/proc# cat cpuinfo
Processor       : ARMv7 Processor rev 0 (v7l)
processor       : 0
BogoMIPS        : 2798.38
processor       : 1
BogoMIPS        : 2798.38
Features        : swp half thumb fastmult edsp
CPU implementer : 0x41
CPU architecture: 7
CPU variant     : 0x3
CPU part        : 0xc09
CPU revision    : 0
Hardware        : Northstar Prototype
Revision        : 0000
Serial          : 0000000000000000
admin@RT-AC5300:/proc# uptime
 08:31:08 up  5:31, load average: 0.00, 0.01, 0.04
admin@RT-AC5300:/proc#

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

admin@RT-AC5300:/proc# nvram
usage: nvram [get name] [set name=value] [unset name] [show] [commit] [save] [restore] [erase][fb_save file] ...
admin@RT-AC5300:/proc# nvram show | grep admin
http_username=admin
acc_list=admin>password
acc_webdavproxy=admin>1
size: 69244 bytes (61828 left)
admin@RT-AC5300:/proc#

So, for example, by means of nvram utility it is possible to disable STP for RT-AC5300 LAN ports.

admin@RT-AC5300:/proc# nvram show | grep stp
lan_stp=1
size: 69244 bytes (61828 left)
lan1_stp=1
admin@RT-AC5300:/proc# nvram set lan_stp=0
admin@RT-AC5300:/proc# nvram commit
admin@RT-AC5300:/proc# nvram show | grep stp
lan_stp=0
size: 69244 bytes (61828 left)
lan1_stp=1
admin@RT-AC5300:/proc# reboot

On top of that the user can obtain information from the thermosensors, installed next to the CPU and wireless modules using the command line.

admin@RT-AC5300:/# cat /proc/dmu/temperature
CPU temperature : 56 C
admin@RT-AC5300:/# wl -i eth1 phy_tempsense
48 (0x30)
admin@RT-AC5300:/# wl -i eth2 phy_tempsense
61 (0x3d)

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

Testing

The first testing procedure we usually begin our testing section with is estimating the booting time of the router, which is a time interval starting with the moment when the power is on until the first echo reply is received through ICMP. ASUS RT-5300 wireless router boots in 84 seconds. We believe that this result is normal.

The second no less than standard test was a security scanning procedure, which has been carried out using security scanner. On the whole, there were 16 open ports discovered. The most interesting data are presented below. Naturally, we reported about the found and suspected vulnerabilities to the vendor. Technical experts of the vendor notified us that the found vulnerabilities (and even some other) are already closed in current versions of firmware. XSpider utility detects suspected vulnerability using software version number, reported by the system in a banner, no other checks are executed at the same.

Before getting down to the 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

 

The first test we done was throughput measurement in wired segment between LAN and WAN upon execution of NAT/PAT. In order to generate traffic we used JPerf utility, 2.0.2 version. The tests were carried out with 1, 5, and 15 concurrent TCP connections.

By default, all modern ASUS routers use a hardware acceleration of NAT translations, so in the diagram above transmission speeds are close to the wire speeds. We decided to find out what transmission speeds will be available to users in case of disabled hardware acceleration.

Device performance in this case is restricted to performance of its CPU: one of two cores was 100% utilized. It is also worth noting that in case of disabled NAT/PAT, i.e. when RT-AC5300 executes routing without translation, the received speeds will be comparable with those in the diagram above which is connected to the fact that during normal routing the hardware acceleration isn't used.

On the territory of ex-Soviet bloc countries tunnels still remain one of popular methods of connection to providers. We couldn't help but test the Internet connection speed using PPTP. The router's performance using PPTP tunnel without encryption is presented on the diagram below. We need to admit that we were pleased with the received speeds during this test. We also managed to set up the encrypted VPN (PPTP with MPPE), however no data were transferred through it.

ASUS RT-AC5300 wireless router can operate as VPN server and client. We decided to find out what speeds will be available to users on the basis of OpenVPN tunnels with the default settings.

It should be noted that these constraints are due not to the performance of the router itself, but due to OpenVPN client drivers, limiting the throughput of the virtual NIC installed in the user's computer.

Another wired test was QoS mechanism check. We limited the speeds for the inbound and outbound traffic and measured with the help of JPerf utility, version 2.0.2, with ten concurrent TCP streams. As can be seen from the diagram below, this mechanism is effective only for relatively small speeds up to 100 Mbps which will be more than enough for most of the users exploiting slow WAN connections.

We decided to present the performance of QoS mechanism for small transmission speeds on a separate diagram.

Apart from the support of IPv4, ASUS RT-AC5300 wireless router also supports operation with the next generation protocol - IPv6. The device performance while using the new version of the protocol is presented below.

Now it's time to measure the wireless segment throughput of ASUS RT-AC5300. ASUS PCE-AC68 NIC was used as a wireless client. Unfortunately, ASUS PCE-AC68 is unable to utilize completely all the possibilities of ASUS RT-AC5300 wireless router in any of the wireless ranges. It should be noted that ASUS has already released an appropriate wireless NIC - PCE-AC88, we expect it appearance in our test laboratory in the nearest future.

Also we decided to find out what speeds will be available to users when using ASUS RT-AC5300 in Media Bridge mode. For carrying out this test we used ASUS RT-AC88U model as a wireless router.

The model under testing is fitted with USB 2.0 and USB 3.0, which can be used not only for connection of a multifunctional device, but also for external drives with the appropriate interface. We connected 256 GByte Transcend TS256GESD400K SSD and measure access speeds to the user data stored on the SSD. Intel NASPT utility, version 1.7.1, was used for testing. Before measurement we have reduced the RAM volume available to OS to amount that is required by the utility vendor. Such reduction of RAM volume is necessary for mitigating of the local cache.

In conclusion, it should be noted that ASUS RT-AC5300 wireless router has the ability to bundle LAN1 and LAN2 wired interfaces. Unfortunately, we could not get this option to work with Cisco access level switches. We have already discovered this issue in ASUS RT-AC88U model review.

We decided to measure the temperature of the device case during our performance tests using our lab's ADA TempPro-2200 pyrometer. The highest temperature that we managed to measure has been 41°С while average temperature in the room was equal to 23°С.

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

Summary

Overall, we were satisfied with ASUS RT-AC5300 wireless router. The tested model has demonstrated extremely high speeds in the wired and wireless segments. The wireless formula AC5300 will provide     high access speed to network resources to all wireless clients. Obviously, such a high speed is possible to be utilized only by means of at least three clients who are connected to different radios and in close area to the device (for NitroQAM/1024-QAM modulation). Distribution of clients between wireless networks can be executed either in a manual mode or automatically with use of the Smart-Connect mechanism. ASUS RT-AC5300 wireless router has another useful feature - MU-MIMO technology support. In the near future, after the appearance of wireless clients with MU-MIMO support, ASUS RT-AC5300 will be able to manage the transmission media even more efficiently, carrying out a simultaneous exchange of traffic with multiple clients within a single radio.

Among the strength areas of ASUS RT-AC5300 wireless router are the following:

  • high traffic transmission speeds in both wireless frequency ranges;
  • three radios;
  • port bundling ability;
  • high IPv6 routing speeds;
  • QoS feature presence;
  • MU-MIMO support;
  • high access speeds to the data which are stored on an external USB-drive;
  • high efficiency client and VPN server;
  • NitroQAM support;
  • powerful CPU.

Unfortunately, we cannot help but mention some of its drawbacks:

  • port bundling capabilities are very limited;
  • the web-interface is not completely translated;
  • relatively high price.

At the time of this writing, the average price in Moscow online shops was 24773 roubles.

As of this writing, the best price for ASUS RT-AC5300 in German-speaking Europe countries, according to website Geizhals Preisvergleich, was 415 euro.

P.S.

After the testing was fully completed and the review was published, we have received ASUS PCE-AC88 wireless NIC. Features of this model are higher transmission speeds and MU-MIMO technology support. Fortunately, the router was still in our laboratory therefore we requested from representatives of the vendor permission to carry out additional tests. Unfortunately, it is impossible to hold on testing of MU-MIMO technology using the single card therefore we have decided to test the performance of ASUS RT-AC5300 router wireless module with PCE-AC88. Testing was held for both wireless ranges. Results of measurements are presented on the diagrams below.

From the provided diagrams it is visible that ASUS PCE-AC88 wireless NIC allows to utilize the possibilities of the router better (in comparison with the previous model – PCE-AC68).

Also we decided to carry out one more test, but this time wired, - to measure RT-AC5300 L2TP throughput. Connections to the Internet via L2TP are no less popular in comparison with PPTP on the territory of ex-Soviet bloc countries. Results of performance measurements of L2TP without encryption are presented on the diagram below.

This concludes our additional testing of ASUS RT-AC5300 wireless router, it is time to finally return the equipment to the vendor.

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