Monday, October 11, 2010

Asus RT-N16 -- my new home Wifi router

This is a long pending post. I had bought this router for my home a month back and never got to write about it.

Picture first:

I had been looking for a Wifi router at my home before I could narrow down on this. Here were my requirements:
  1. Good range: The current wifi router that came with my Internet connection can barely cover 25% of my house. I needed something that can cover every corner of my duplex flat. Otherwise the exercise is of little use.
  2. Thirdparty-firmware: I was mainly eying at dd-wrt for the firmware. It *has* to be dd-wrt compatible so I can play around with the firmware and add services to it. dd-wrt has multiple versions of the firmware based on the flash size available. Most routers these days have <=4MB flash (some of them only 2MB). Those will need to run mini or micro versions of dd-wrt which have limited capabilities and extensions. I was looking at a router with at least 8MB flash, so the mega version of dd-wrt fits.
  3. 802.11n: I wanted 802.11n draft support. I was actually more inclined towards simultaneous dual-band vs just dual-band. Also, I was fine with 2.4GHz 'n' if 5.8GHz 'n' isn't available.
  4. USB mass storage: I wanted the router to also be my NAS. So I can just attach a USB HDD to the router and can access it anywhere else in the house. Currently my EEEBox does this for me, but that's one more device to run.
Selecting a good range was the difficult task because there is no benchmark that fits all for this. When some one says *good* it is relative and not absolute. That doesn't help me in anyways to select mine. As it was an important factor me, I had to overshoot my expectation and get a really good one.

Eventually, I narrowed down on 2 routers:
  1. Cisco Linksys WRT610N
  2. Asus RT-N16
Both seem to claim very good range. WRT610N has 3 internal antennas, whereas the RT-N16 has 3 external antennas. Anytime, the external ones are more powerful. The Cisco one looks really cool though. No, but range was more important. Both are of similar price range (~10K INR). Both have USB support. Both are supported by dd-wrt. The biggest differentiating factor between these two that helped me decide, is the hardware. RT-N16 has an awesome processor at 533MHz, 128MB of RAM and more importantly 32MB of flash. The Cisco one has just 8MB flash. 32MB flash is too good that I don't have to worry about space while enhancing the router for other tasks. The powerful processor should also come in handy to support multiple operations in parallel. There are more comparisons on the specifications, but that's too much to be here.

Went ahead and bought RT-N16. Even though I didn't intend to use the official firmware, the Asus official firmware for RT-N16 is pretty good (except for the NAS part). In fact the official firmware supports 1TB disks and NTFS file system. Even the dd-wrt doesn't have proper support for NTFS (yes, ntfs-3g driver is available, but is still error-prone on large partitions, that I had to move to ext3 for my NAS). Any time a journal'ed file system like ext3 is better for NAS. Anyways, in 2 days, I upgraded the firmware to the unofficial dd-wrt. It's very handy, specially as it exposes the whole Linux underneath. The extra flash memory can be mounted via JFFS2 file system and that's the place to make wonders.

This router has served all my purposes. It has terrific range that my earlier mobile (ASUS P320) which is the weakest Wifi client I have, connects from the farthest point within the house. Before I could wink, I already have 8 wifi devices at home -- enjoying the n/w all around my house. It's an useful luxury!