The Asus RT-AX56U is the entry-level model from the new WiFi 6 series and it’s most likely the router that the large majority of people will consider due to it being fairly priced. Even at its current price point, it does go against some of the best 802.11ac routers (which includes the Netgear X4S and the RT-AC86U), so Asus wanted to push its WiFi 6 series past the draft stage as soon as possible and quickly polish some of the new features that are characteristic to the new standard.
|ASUS RT-AX56U (AX1800)|
But, similarly to the RT-AX58U, the Asus RT-AX56U is not WiFi 6 certified and instead, it’s part of the draft stage. Even so, the router does use 1024-QAM for a better wireless connection, it takes advantage of the OFDMA tech to improve the multi-user access but there is no 160MHz channel bandwidth (the AiMesh support is still there).
The thing is that unless you have compatible clients (aka devices with WiFi 6 cards or adapters), you will not see a difference in performance, but it’s only a matter of time until this technology gets widespread (the newer phones and laptops are already equipped with WiFi 6 cards).
I have recently also tested the Asus RT-AX58U and the wireless performance was impressive (there were some notable compatibility issues), so let’s see if it’s worth considering the entry-level Asus RT-AX56U or if you should go for a more expensive option.
Note: The Asus RT-AX56U was updated to the firmware version 188.8.131.52.384.8253.
Design and Build Quality
When you release a new series of routers using a new technology and you’re ASUS, it means that the devices will stand out and indeed they do, with the higher-end devices resembling some cyber royal crowns, but I noticed that the RT-AX58U and the RT-AX56U are nowhere near as flashy. And that’s actually a good thing since I doubt the regular user will want some menacing arachnoid robot staring at them from the living room. It’s also worth noting that besides the difference in the amount of antennas and the ports on the rear side, the RT-AX56U and the RT-AX58U are pretty much the same device. Only design-wise, of course, since the internal hardware is a bit different. So, you can expect the same ultra-compact plastic case covered by a black matte finish (which is soft to the touch), but from the back, there are now only two antennas which are also non-removable and a bit more cheaply-looking than the four antennas of the RT-A58U (they’re also longer, measuring 7.24 inches).
Since it’s more compact than most other routers from the competition (it measures 8.79 x 5.09 x 1.87 inches), you do gain more space from your desk and I know that it’s not as aesthetically pleasing as most WiFi systems, but it’s still unobtrusive enough to not attract too much attention towards itself; you also get the option to mount the wireless router on the wall or ceiling using a couple of dedicated holes from the bottom of the device. It’s interesting to see that it weighs 16.0, so the router is only a bit more lighter than the RT-AX58U which means that along with the four silicone feet, it will help keep the device form moving on the desk regardless of the number of connected cables. On the top of the router, besides the logo and the LED indicators, there are a couple of stylishly positioned ventilation grills, the same as on the rear side, immediately above the ports area and on the side panels.
But that’s not all, because, as I said before, Asus pretty much recycled the case between the two models, so the bottom side is also almost entirely covered by various types of ventilation cut-outs (except for the four feet and the info label) – you can clearly see the internal hardware from the bottom of the device, but, strangely enough, there is barely any flex when you push on the case. Are all these ventilation holes enough to keep the internal temperature at a suitable level? While running some tests, the Asus RT-AX56U did get warm all around the bottom of the case (and a bit on the top), but it did not get hot or shown any signs that it may overheat.
Asus still values the intuitive nature of the multiple LED indicators, so, at the top, towards the front side, you can find four LAN LEDs, each for one LAN port, followed by the WAN LED (it will be red when there is no Internet connection and will become white as soon as it establishes a link), one LED for the 5GHz network and one for the 2.4GHz network (these two LEDs will flash when the data is sent/received) and lastly, there’s the Power LED.
Moving to the rear side of the Asus RT-AX56U, we see the two antennas connected to the left and right extremities and in between them, there’s a DC-In Power port, an On/Off switch, a RJ45 Ethernet Gigabit WAN port, four Ethernet Gigabit LAN ports, a USB 3.0 port, a USB 2.0 port (most likely for a direct printer connection since it’s an older standard), a recessed Reset button (press and hold it for about 10 seconds in order to return the router to its factory default settings) and a WPS button.
While the exterior is nearly identical to the Asus RT-AX58U, the interior is not and, after removing the four silicone feet and the four screws that were hidden underneath them (don’t do it unless you want to void your warranty, as I did), I could see the PCB which was covered by a flat metallic plate and next to it, I could identify the 256 MB of flash memory from Macronix (MXIC MX30LF2G189C-TI a185109 8E52230001).
After I removed the metallic plate, and the additional protective pieces, I could also see the quad-core Broadcom BCM6755KFEBG chipset (clocked at 1.5GHz), the 512 MB of RAM from Nanya (NT5CC256M16ER-EK), a Broadcom BCM531340KFBG switch chip, a couple of 1930 HN36201DG ICs and a swap B1901 net NS892402 10/100/1000Base-T single port transformer module.
Furthermore, for the WiFi performance, the RT-AX56U makes use of the Broadcom BCM6755 chip (2×2:2 b/g/n + ax) along with a couple of 85331-11 (237064.1 1848) highly integrated front-end modules for the 2.4GHz band and the Broadcom BCM6755 chip (2×2:2 a/n/ac/ax) along with a couple of Skyworks 85743 (557348.1 1919) highly integrated front-end modules for the 5GHz band.
Note: The Asus RT-AX56U is advertised as an AX1800-class router, which means that it features a maximum theoretical data transfer rate of 1,201 Mbps on the 5GHz radio band and a maximum theoretical data transfer rate of 574 Mbps on the 2.4GHz radio band.
Features and Performance
I doubt most of you are keen on being early adopters of any type of technology, since you’re not only going to pay a premium, but you’re also going to be treated as beta testers. Fortunately, Asus has tried its best at perfecting its early implementation of the WiFi 6 technologies, so, besides the missing 160MHz bandwidth support (which is kind of a big deal only if you have compatible clients and, since not much has changed in this regard from the old days of the Linksys WRt3200ACM, there still aren’t that many available), you do get the new OFDMA support.
The Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access works both downstream and upstream and it helps divide a channel in multiple sub-carriers that are afterwards shared by a maximum of 30 devices simultaneously, therefore making sure that the bandwidth is not wasted – before, each client got its own channel and the other devices needed to wait their turn until the transmission was done.
Furthermore, the RT-AX56U does support the NitroQAM (1024-QAM) technology which apparently can improve the data rate up to 25% when compared to the usually used 256-QAM (with most older routers), but Asus has been using it for a while implemented into it’s medium to higher tier wireless routers and the same requirement remains available now as it was before: you need compatible clients. And that’s really the current problem with the WiFi 6 technology because the expensive devices do support it to a certain extent, but anything medium or entry-level will either remain on the AC standard or even the far older 802.11n – the consumer-focused networking technology has always worked in this manner, which is why early adoption is mostly suitable for tech enthusiasts.
Mark is a graduate in Computer Science, having gathered valuable experience over the years working in IT as a programmer. Mark is also the main tech writer for MBReviews.com, covering not only his passion, the networking devices, but also other cool electronic gadgets that you may find useful for your every day life.