Design & Features
Demystifying The Dark Crusader
Metaphorically speaking, you can say that the ASUS Dark Diamond has a louder dress sense than the Dark Knight. If you recall, the RT-N56U flaunted a rather glossy frame compared to the RT-N66U's more subdued finishing. ASUS, on the other hand, has retained the criss-crossing patterns on the N56U which works very well with the N66U's matte frame. The N66U can be placed in a traditional horizontal position, or mounted vertically when affixed with the bundled stand. Cosmetically, the biggest differentiating factor between the two models has to be the three external antennas sported by the N66U. ASUS took us by surprise when they opted for internal antennas with the N56U, but they've since gone back to regular detachable (and upgradable) offerings with their latest release. The blue LEDs laid out on top of the router are mostly standard fare with indicators namely for the LAN ports, WAN (Internet), the two wireless bands, and USB slots.
The same standard setup can be said about the N66U's back panel. We found a regular line-up of four Gigabit LAN and a single Gigabit WAN port. The Reset button isn't too recessed so it's possible to activate it with your fingernails. Apart from these, we also spotted a power button and a WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) button. And given that this router supports printer-sharing, file-sharing, and 3G features, it's only logical that it carries two USB slots instead of one. However, the close proximity of the two USB slots also makes it harder to attach thicker USB peripherals for concurrent use. You might want to keep this in mind when choosing your USB drives or cables. Sized like a 7-inch tablet, the flagship router also feels significantly heavier than conventional ones with its weight factor of 450 grams. Another perk of the N66U is ASUS' inclusion of a flat LAN cable, as opposed to thick and stiff wires bundled with entry-level models.
ASUSWRT Dashboard - Dark Theme for the Dark Knight
One key update which follows the N66U is a brand new web browser interface, also known as the 'ASUSWRT Dashboard'. Instead of a light blue theme found in previous stock firmware (RT-N16 and RT-N56U), the revamped Dashboard is now garbed in a darker dress code like the N66U itself. Positively, ASUS has retained their finesse at creating an attractive yet comprehensive GUI to pander to both novices and enthusiasts. Key selections are placed on the left column of the Dashboard, divided into two subsections - 'General' and 'Advanced Settings'. Files stored on USB or NAS drives can be shared via the router's FTP or Samba services. We also noticed that newly-minted user accounts are replicated across both services, although specific file permissions on the drive's volume needs to be manually set. Another interesting feature of the N66U is its 3G Backup Mode. Simply put, the router would switch to 3G if there's anything askew with your WAN or Internet connection. That's provided, of course, your 3G USB modem is already installed and configured. Presets like APN names and Dial Numbers for local ISPs like M1, Singtel, and Starhub are readily available.
Like most N-routers, the ASUS N66U supports both 'Wireless Router' and 'AP (Access Point)' modes. Needless to say, IP Sharing and NAT functions are disabled by default when the N66U is programmed to function as an AP. A 'Wireless Bridge' mode is also available if you need to connect the N66U to an access point wirelessly. Quick tip: use the 'Hybrid' option if you want to enable both wireless bridge and wireless AP settings. For those of you who want to create guest IDs, you will find it under the 'Guest Network' button on the left column. You can set up to three discrete SSIDs (with configurable access times) for each band. Security wise, the N66U has no lack of features, ranging from Parental Controls to firewalls with URL and Network Services filters. Streaming media files from an attached USB drive to mobile devices is also possible with the router's integrated DLNA media server. As for print services, the N66U actually requires a 'Network Setup Utility' to be installed before you can manage your printers. Thankfully, this utility can be downloaded online via the link provided. In short, the ASUS N66U is easily one of the most formidable routers we've seen, given its comprehensive functions and future-proofed IPv6 support. However, ASUS might want to consider stabilizing its stock firmware by a notch, taking into account that the Dashboard hung on us on two occasions while we fiddled with its settings.