ASUS RT-N56U "Black Diamond" Wireless Router Review
ASUS RT-N56U Firmware and Software
I have to admit, I was originally unimpressed by the ASUS RT-N56U firmware, as I had gone to ASUS’ RT-N56U website and grabbed the latest firmware (126.96.36.199l) available when I received the unit from their download page. While it wasn’t bad, it just didn’t compare with what I had seen on the RT-N66U router.
Yet a relatively short time later I noticed that they had yet another firmware update, version 188.8.131.52.260, which completely overhauls the interface and bring in the great UI we found on the ASUS RT-N66U. I happily downloaded and installed it to find that it was just as good as we had seen on the higher end NT-66U.
The default landing page is the Network Map, which gives you a quick status overview of all the main functions including your WAN /Internet ports, Wi-Fi Security/Networks, Connected Clients and USB devices that are attached. A click on any of them gives you more details about them on the right hand side of the screen.
Next up is the Traffic Manager where you can set QoS (Quality of Service) settings to prioritize your traffic streams as well the ability to dive into actual traffic monitoring. The traffic monitoring in particular is great and can break things out by types of traffic as well as by time frame. You can show Real Time, the last 24 hours, or even daily stats for the last 30 days. This will certainly be a welcome tool for anyone stuck with bandwidth caps.
Parental controls lets you lock machines (by MAC address) down and enable/disable their Internet access during specific times of the day, or by session times. Say for example you only want your child to access the Internet from 6 PM to 9 PM and never let them stay on longer than 2 hours at a time, just input their MAC address, set the time settings and you’re good to go. Also works great for bandwidth hogging roommates with a torrent addiction.
Some of my favorite features are all the “USB Application” options that are available when attaching USB devices to the two USB 2.0 ports on the back of the router. The “AiDisk” application allows you to attach USB based storage and share it through the internet, somewhat like a PogoPlug device. How awesome is that? The “Servers Center” application lets you share files on USB storage to a local network/samba share or through FTP. A “Network Printer Server” application let’s you attach a USB printer to the router and share it to anyone on your local network. The “3G/4G” application will give you the capability to connect a 3G/4G USB modem to the router and use that as a backup internet connection should your main internet connection on the WAN port go down. The “Download Master” application will let you use the router to download/host torrents and finally the “Media Server” gives you the capability to stream content from an attached USB device to DLNA compatible devices.
Moving into the “Advanced Settings” you have your basic wireless configuration, WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) settings and the capability to put the router in Wireless bridge mode. Additionally you can filter devices for access to your wireless networks based MAC.
The next batch of advanced settings let you configure settings for your local network (LAN) such as IP addresses, DHCP Pool/Leases, Routing, and others. Interestingly enough there’s an “IPTV” option to relay IPTV through the router.
WAN settings allow you to configure settings for your internet connection (such as using a Static IP, PPPoE, etc.), port triggering/forwarding, setting up a DMZ host, configuring Dynamic DNS host names and NAT passthrough for VPN access.
I was surprised to find a tab for IPv6, and while it’s only basic settings, it’s great to see it’s supported.
The ASUS RT-N56U can actually function as a VPN server, allowing you to connect to your home network securely from remote locations. Considering a month ago I spent a few hours fighting to make OpenVPN work, this is a great addition.
As with most routers nowadays the RT-N56U comes with a fairly robust firewall built in. DDoS protection, URL Filtering, Keyword Filtering and Network Services (Port) filtering are all available.
The Administration page allows you to configure various high level settings for the router including router name and passwords as well as allowing you to configure the router as either a true Wireless Router or function as an Access Point (AP).
Last but not least, you have access to various system logs showing you data on DHCP leases, wireless activity, as well as port forwarding and routing.
As with the ASUS WRT-N66U, I love this ASUS firmware. There are a lot of powerful functions and features built in, yet it’s easy to navigate. The RT-N56U does not appear to support flashing to DD-WRT, or any of the Tomato variants but there does appear to be some basic OpenWRT support, even though it looks like you lose some functionality on the router. The lack of full 3rd party firmware is definitely a con, but honestly, I don’t see why you would want to flash the router with something else and not use the excellent firmware offered by ASUS.