Introduction

External design and hardware

Initial setup and firmware update

Web-interface

Command line

Testing

Summary

Introduction

Fairly recently the review of the flagship device – ASUS RT-AC88U wireless router has appeared on our pages. Presence of eight LAN ports was an outstanding feature of the model. Such a number of wired interfaces may be required in the presence of a wide range of the devices having wire connection: desktop computers, network storages and MFPs, videoplayers and so on. However only geeks and computer enthusiasts usually have so much equipment. Often even four standard wired ports can be far too many to normal users. Today our network laboratory got the model with two LAN and one WAN interface for testing. ASUS RT-AC53 – truly a budget router.

So, let's get started!

External design and hardware

ASUS RT-AC53 wireless router comes in black plastic case with the following dimensions: 320х190х35 mm (not including antennae) with weight of only 285 grams. For its working the device needs an external power adaptor (included in the box) with the following parameters: 12 V and 1 A.

The upper panel, consisting of two parts, is opaque. It has a vendor name and key parameters of a product together with LEDs indicating status of wired and wireless interfaces of the device and power supply.

The side panels do not have anything remarkable on them apart from a ventilation grate located on them.

On the bottom panel of the router there are a sticker with brief information about the device, four rubber legs, two technological holes for mounting the device on the wall and, of course, a ventilation grate.

Three non-detachable rotatable antennae, three Gigabit Ethernet interfaces (one WAN and two LAN), power socket with ON/OFF button, WPS and sunken Reset buttons are located on the rare panel.

Now let's have a look at the insides of the case. The electronic stuffing of ASUS RT-AC53 wireless router is one green textolite card which has all essential elements located on one of its sides. The only exception is the flash-memory module GigaDevice 25Q64CSIG with the capacity of 8 Mbytes.

Functions of Gigabit Ethernet wired switch are performed by Realtek RTL8367RB chip. The system is powered by MediaTek MT7620A CPU that operates at 580 MHz frequency. We have already met such a CPU in ASUS RP-AC52 and RT-AC51U models earlier. Winbond W9751G6KB-25 DDR2 with the size of 64 Mbytes performs functions of the RAM. Support of 2.4 GHz wireless range (2T2R) is built in the CPU whereas for the range of 5 GHz the separate MediaTek MT7610EN wireless chip is used.

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

Initial setup and firmware update

After the first switching on ASUS RT-AC53 wireless router a user need to perform the initial setup of the device. The initial setup is extremely simple – it is required only to specify the main settings of Internet connection, to set admin password, to select an operation mode.

Firmware upgrade is traditional for all ASUS wireless routers and does not require any specific proficiency from the user. One need to use Firmware Upgrade tab, Administration menu item and select the file with the new firmware version to carry out firmware upgrade. It is also worth noting that upgrade can be made also in a semi-automatic mode what, naturally, requires Internet connection.

The whole process requires about three minutes (not considering time necessary for downloading a file with a new firmware from Internet).

Here, in our opinion, it is appropriate to mention the utilities delivered together with the router because usually need for them arises in the course of initial setup of the device. So, complete with ASUS RT-AC53 there are three utilities: Device Discovery, Firmware Restoration and ASUS Printer Setup. To admit, we do not really understand how the vendor assumes to use ASUS Printer Setup utility as RT-AC53 model has no USB ports.

With Device Discovery utility the user can detect ASUS RT-AC53 wireless router in his local network.

In case of a problem during the firmware upgrade process, RT-AC53 may change to the rescue mode during which the Power indicator starts slowly flashing. Unfortunately, the tested wireless router has no web-server built-in in the bootloader, therefore it is possible to recover a firmware by means of the Firmware Restoration utility or manually, by downloading the firmware to the device via TFTP.

It should also be noted that while in the rescue mode, RT-AC53 is not responding to ICMP echo requests (ping).

C:\>ping 192.168.1.1
Pinging 192.168.1.1 with 32 bytes of data:
Request timed out.
Request timed out.
Request timed out.
Request timed out.
Ping statistics for 192.168.1.1:
    Packets: Sent = 4, Received = 0, Lost = 4 (100% loss),

However, TFTP recovery is also not so simple. At first, we tried to send a file with the new firmware to the router, but unsuccessfully.

C:\>tftp -i 192.168.1.1 put c:\RT-AC53_3.0.0.4_380_6038-g76a4aa5.trx
Timeout occurred
 Connect request failed

Then we ran Wireshark and began to analyze the traffic between the test PC and the router. It was found that RT-AC53 periodically sends ARP-request to the address 192.168.1.75.

We have changed the address on the test PC to 192.168.1.75/24, and then the firmware file transfer has occurred successfully. A few seconds after RT-AC53 has received the file, it rebooted using the new firmware.

C:\>tftp -i 192.168.1.1 put c:\RT-AC53_3.0.0.4_380_6038-g76a4aa5.trx
Transfer successful: 7475296 bytes in 2 second(s), 3737648 bytes/s

That’s where we proceed to completion the brief review of firmware upgrade and initial setup and pass on to reviewing web-interface capabilities of the device.

Web-interface

The web interface of ASUS RT-AC53 wireless router can be accessed by means of any modern browser. Device web interface is made in the traditional gray and black colors and is available in thirteen languages.

We will not review all capabilities of the model, but only turn our attention to the most interesting of them.

RT-AC53 model, as well as all remaining modern wireless ASUS devices, supports creation up to three guest networks in each frequency band. The appropriate setup is available in the Guest Network menu item.

The settings which are responsible for Quality of Service support are collected in the Traffic Manager menu item. Here the user can manually limit data transmission speed for certain hosts, or use traditional QoS. Also by means of this menu item it is possible to receive the diagram of wired and wireless interfaces utilization.

If it is necessary to restrict time of wide area network usage, refer to Parental Controls menu item.

Wireless Network settings collected in Wireless menu item tabs are traditional for the majority of ASUS wireless routers, so we will not review them in detail.

Switch Control tab in LAN menu item has drew our attention. Except of switch-on/switch-off option of NAT acceleration, there is a possibility of limitation the speed of a certain (usually undesirable) traffic here.

ASUS RT-AC53 can use static and dynamic IP addresses for connection to providers, and also the following tunnels: PPTP, L2TP and PPPoE. The appropriate settings are available on Internet Connection tab WAN menu item. Perhaps, the couple of words should be told here about Extend the TTL value and Spoof LAN TTL value options. Both options are intended for simplification of the user operation on networks of operators, limiting subscribers by the number of the connected devices. Spoof LAN TTL value option allows to send packets to the Internet with the fixed TTL field in IP packet header whereas Expand TTL Value option influences traffic in the opposite direction, allowing not to discard those packets which TTL shall be set to zero when passing through a router.

Unfortunately, the Dual WAN function isn't supported by RT-AC53 model.

IPv6 settings are collected in the same-named menu item.

ASUS RT-AC53 wireless router has built-in VPN client and server. Unlike in flagship models, support of the OpenVPN is absent here.

Traffic filtering is made by means of tabs in Firewall menu item.

The choice of an operation mode of the device is made by means of Operation mode tab Administration menu item.

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

Command line

Control of access to command line of the device is made by means of System tab Administration menu item. It is worth noting that access is supported by means of Telnet and SSH protocols.

In order to access the command line one must use the same log-on information as for the connection to the router web interface. Firmware of the model under review is built on Linux 2.6.36 OS using Busy Box 1.17.4.

RT-AC53 login: admin
Password:
admin@RT-AC53:/tmp/home/root# cd /
admin@RT-AC53:/# uname -a
Linux RT-AC53 2.6.36 #1 Fri Sep 23 12:05:55 CST 2016 mips GNU/Linux
admin@RT-AC53:/# busybox
BusyBox v1.17.4 (2016-09-23 12:02:33 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, cat, chmod, chown, chpasswd, cmp, cp, crond, cut, date, dd, df,
        dirname, dmesg, echo, egrep, env, ether-wake, expr, fgrep, find, free, grep, gunzip,
        ifconfig, insmod, ionice, kill, killall, klogd, ln, logger, login, ls, lsmod, md5sum,
        mdev, mkdir, mknod, modprobe, more, mount, mv, netstat, nice, nohup, nslookup, pidof,
        ping, ping6, printf, ps, pwd, readlink, renice, rm, rmdir, rmmod, route, sed, sh, sleep,
        sort, strings, sync, syslogd, tar, telnetd, test, top, touch, tr, traceroute, traceroute6,
        udhcpc, umount, uname, 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. 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-AC53:/# tcpcheck
usage:  tcpcheck <timeout> <host:port> [host:port]
admin@RT-AC53:/# tcpcheck 10 192.168.1.1:23
192.168.1.1:23 is alive
admin@RT-AC53:/# 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 utilization, information on the CPU installed, and the amount of RAM. Actually, system uptime and average system utilization can also be learnt using uptime command.

admin@RT-AC53:/# cd /proc
admin@RT-AC53:/proc# ls
1              193            267            bus            kpagecount     stat
10             194            3              cmdline        kpageflags     sys
11             196            30             cpuinfo        loadavg        sysrq-trigger
115            2              301            crypto         locks          sysvipc
116            20             306            devices        meminfo        timer_list
12             201            4              diskstats      misc           tty
13             204            41             driver         modules        uptime
135            208            430            execdomains    mounts         version
136            21             5              filesystems    mt7620         vmallocinfo
164            212            6              fs             mtd            vmstat
17             22             7              interrupts     net            zoneinfo
172            226            76             iomem          nvram
175            23             8              ioports        pagetypeinfo
18             261            82             irq            partitions
180            263            9              kcore          self
19             265            buddyinfo      kmsg           softirqs
admin@RT-AC53:/proc# cat uptime
1746.00 1673.66
admin@RT-AC53:/proc# cat loadavg
0.07 0.07 0.02 1/47 432
admin@RT-AC53:/proc# cat cpuinfo
system type             : MT7620
processor               : 0
cpu model               : MIPS 24Kc V5.0
BogoMIPS                : 386.04
wait instruction        : yes
microsecond timers      : yes
tlb_entries             : 32
extra interrupt vector  : yes
hardware watchpoint     : yes, count: 4, address/irw mask: [0x0000, 0x0878, 0x0ff8, 0x0ff8]
ASEs implemented        : mips16 dsp
shadow register sets    : 1
core                    : 0
VCED exceptions         : not available
VCEI exceptions         : not available
admin@RT-AC53:/proc# uptime
 03:29:19 up 29 min, load average: 0.05, 0.06, 0.02

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

admin@RT-AC53:/# nvram
usage: nvram [get name] [set name=value] [unset name] [show] [save file] [restore file] [fb_save file]
admin@RT-AC53:/# nvram show | grep admin
size: 20283 bytes (41157 left)
http_username=admin
admin@RT-AC53:/# nvram show | grep password
size: 20283 bytes (41157 left)
http_passwd=password
admin@RT-AC53:/#

So, for example, by means of nvram utility it is possible to disable STP for RT-AC53 LAN ports.

admin@RT-AC53:/# nvram show | grep stp
size: 20283 bytes (41157 left)
lan_stp=1
lan1_stp=1
admin@RT-AC53:/# nvram set lan_stp=0
admin@RT-AC53:/# nvram commit
admin@RT-AC53:/# nvram show | grep stp
size: 20283 bytes (41157 left)
lan_stp=0
lan1_stp=1
admin@RT-AC53:/#

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 traditionally 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-AC53 wireless router boots in 42 seconds. We believe that this result is decent.

The second traditional test was a security scanning procedure, which has been carried out from the LAN using Positive Technologies XSpider 7.8 utility. On the whole, there were nine open ports discovered. The most interesting data are presented below.

Before getting down to performance tests we would like to get our reader 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-AC88
Atheros AR8131
ASUS RT-AC88U
OS Windows 7 x64 SP1 Rus Windows 7 x64 SP1 Rus

We decided to start measuring of device performance from discovering throughput on performing NAT/PAT with hardware acceleration (default setting). The tests were carried out with one, five and fifteen simultaneous TCP connections. Results of measurements are given on the diagram below.

It can be seen from results of this test that routing is made at the wire speeds, the device CPU at the same time remains underutilized. The only thing we want to mention, the limitation by operation in a full duplex: total speed of data transmission in both directions didn't exceed 1 Gbps that, in our judgment, is connected to internal wiring of the device.

We decided to disable hardware acceleration and repeat the previous measurements. Device performance in this case is restricted to performance of its CPU.

In case of a classical routing without NAT the hardware acceleration isn't used therefore the speeds received as a result of the test are similar to what we received in the previous one.

On the territory of ex-Soviet bloc countries tunnels (VPN) still remain one of popular methods of connection to providers. We decided to test the wireless router throughput using two types of such tunnels: PPTP and L2TP. ASUS RT-AC53 supports both encrypted (MPPE128), and unencrypted PPTP tunnels.

We decided to continue wired tests by performance measurement of ASUS RT-AC53 model by operation with upcoming version of IP – IPv6.

Processing of IPv6 packets is made by the CPU therefore restriction of speeds is caused by the performance of the CPU, in other words the transmission of IPv6-traffic with a speed about 200 Mbps leads to 100% utilization of the CPU.

ASUS RT-AC53 wireless router has the ability to support quality of service of the transferred traffic. So, for example, it is possible to setup limit of the maximum bandwidth available to a certain device. We decided to find out how real transmission speed corresponds to configured values. On the diagram below three curves are given: blue corresponds to the configured values, green – to the traffic transferred from the user to the Internet, and red – in the opposite direction.

For speeds up to 150 Mbps the received values correspond quite well to configured, but since this speed increases the available to the user bandwidth stops, again due to the performance of the CPU, - for support of QoS the CPU is used. All devices for which the restriction of speed rule while QoS is switched on isn't configured receive a throughput about 175 Mbps. It is worth noting that we don't count the found limits as a problem as QoS mechanisms usage usually is required in case of relatively low access rates to the global network, and the majority of providers in Russia doesn’t offer rates with a speed over 100 Mbps.

QoS support mechanisms are not the single means allowing to limit the data transmission speed. It is about the settings located in Switch Control tab LAN menu item. However, here it is worth speaking more about the protective mechanisms allowing to stabilize network functioning in cases when, for example, the NIC of one of the PC failed and sends a large number of defective frames. We couldn't help but test operation of this mechanism on the example of Unknown Unicast frames restriction. Measurements were done for the speeds up to 700 Mbps – the restriction mechanism perfectly coped with the traffic generated by our test PC. It seems that such Storm Control in RT-AC53 model is implemented in hardware. Here, however, it is necessary to tell about the fly in the ointment which we found in the course of testing. If restrictions configured rather high, then the traffic which receiver is unknown will lead to 100% loading of the CPU at a speed about 500 Mbps therefore we extremely don't recommend to change values by default.

Finally, it's time for the wireless tests. Measurements were taken in case of layout of the router and the client in close proximity from each other, distance between them was from one to three meters. At first we found out what speeds will be available to the users in 2.4 GHz frequency range.

The next test was measurement of the wireless throughput in 5 GHz frequency range. The range of 5 GHz continues to remain less utilized in comparison with the range of 2.4 GHz therefore we as always recommend to users to draw the closest attention to it.

In conclusion of this section we decided to find out to what maximum temperature the device case heats up during intensive use. We measured the temperature of the device case using our lab's ADA TempPro-2200 pyrometer. The highest temperature that we managed to measure has been: the top panel – 37 °C, the bottom panel – 41 °C. During measurements temperature in the room was equal to 25°С.

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

Summary

We were satisfied with the tested ASUS RT-AC53 wireless router. This model belongs to the low-end class: you shouldn't expect the record speeds or the maximum set of features from it. However to most of home users the functionality of RT-AC53 will be more than enough. For connection to the Internet of one desktop computer, the top box and several notebooks with smartphones, it isn't required to buy the network monster, - normal inexpensive wireless router will be just enough. ASUS RT-AC53 model is an example of such a solution – nothing extra, just everything you need.

The strength areas of ASUS RT-AC53 wireless router are presented below:

  • high traffic transmission speeds in both wireless frequency ranges;
  • QoS feature presence;
  • support of up to three guest networks in each wireless frequency range;
  • high speeds of IPv6 traffic handling;
  • possibility of time constraint on use of the Internet (parental monitoring);
  • a built-in PPTP client and server;
  • fast boot of the device;
  • possibility of undesirable traffic restriction in LAN;
  • reasonable price.

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

  • the web-interface is not completely translated;
  • only two LAN ports.

As of when this article was being written, the average price for ASUS RT-AC53 wireless router in Moscow online shops was 3700 roubles.

As of this writing, the best price for ASUS RT-AC53 in German-speaking Europe countries, according to website Geizhals Preisvergleich, was about 50 euro.

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