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Asus EA-N66 Wireless Gigabit Ethernet Adapter review

Sections

Introduction
What you get for your money
Connecting the EA-N66 in default Ethernet adapter mode
Connecting the EA-N66 in Wireless Access Point (WAP) mode
Connecting the EA-N66 in Wireless Repeater mode
IPv6 and the EA-N66
Performance
Conclusion

Introduction

The EA-N66 is a single device with three identities, but at the core is a dual-band wireless network adaptor with a theoretical speed of 450 Mbps. The three modes of operation supported by the device are:

  1. Traditional wireless access point
  2. Wireless repeater to receive wireless signal and extend network
  3. Ethernet adapter to connect devices to a wireless network
Wireless Gigabit Ethernet Adapter in Retail Packaging
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The EA-N66 is therefore a bit of a Swiss Army knife in terms of connectivity, and as it offers dual band 2.4GHZ and 5GHz wireless connectivity, it should offer both high speeds and good coverage for people wanting to connect their smart TV, tablets and the bundle of other devices we all seem to own these days.

What you get for your money

The retail price for the unit varies between £80 and £100, and therefore is more expensive than the wireless USB adapters you can get for many devices, but the design of the EA-N66 should mean you get much better wireless reception, and with the different modes, a much greater versatility.

Asus EA-N66 unboxed
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For something so functional, the design of the adapter is pretty amazing, and for those who like blue lighting when the unit is in use, the unit is blessed with three blue light strips that point down towards the stone drop ripple effect on the base unit.

There is no CD, the device is truly self contained with all configuration happening via the adapters built in web page. You get a small 5V (2A) power supply, short Ethernet patch lead and the Quick Start Guide, which while it looks chunky is only so long because of all the languages featured.

Asus EA-N66 dismantled to reveal wireless antenna
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The tripod design has a simple functional use, as each arm houses one of three wireless antennae. The blue lights are the result of three light pipes fed by bright blue LED’s on the reverse of the circuit board.

Asus EA-N66 dismantled to show circuit board
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Connecting the EA-N66 in default Ethernet adapter mode

The default mode is Ethernet adapter mode, which means you can plug the unit into your TV or any other device with an Ethernet socket.

Asus EA-N66 Ethernet Port
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When using Ethernet adapter mode, you will need to position the unit in a location where it can pick up the existing wireless signal, and this is where using Ethernet to connect back to the device is a boon, as there is no problem with having a 10m Ethernet cable if needed so the EA-N66 can be in the best place.

The Ethernet port supports Gigabit, so we should hopefully see very high throughput speeds in our testing later in this review.

Once you have plugged the Ethernet and power in, then you simply need to pick the unit up, turn it over and find the slightly hidden WPS button. Hold the WPS button in until the blue lights start to blink indicating it is trying to connect to the wireless network using WPS. At this point you need to rush over to where your wireless router is and press its own WPS button so the two devices can link together.

Asus EA-N66 WPS switch on underside
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The slightly larger than usual hole in the base of the EA-N66 next to the WPS button is the reset button which can be reached by using a pin/paperclip. Just hold the switch in until the blue lights flash to reset the unit back to factory defaults.

Once the WPS negotiation is complete the lights go back to a solid blue, and the Ethernet connected device will get a DHCP address from the main router, or use the static IP address you had previously set it up on.

Asus EA-N66 Configuration Complete

The blue lights do have a use beyond being a style statement, as in weak signal areas they will blink and fade to almost off when not connected to any wireless network.

Using as an Ethernet Adapter without WPS


If your wireless router does not support WPS authentication, you can connect the EA-N66 using the Ethernet cable to your PC or Mac and navigate to http://www.asusnetwork.net in your web browser, assuming you are using DHCP from the device. The username and password by default is admin and after entering that you can manually set any wireless security parameters, or switch the EA-N66 to one of the other modes.

When connected directly to a computer, the EA-N66 hands out an IP address in the range 10.0.1.2 to 10.0.1.254, and if you cannot access the device by its name it should be visible at http://10.0.1.1 If your computers network interface is configured to use a static IP address you will need to alter its configuration to getting its IP configuration automatically (DHCP).

In practice accessing the EA-N66 proved more interesting. Unlike the majority of network hardware, it appears Asus hardware redirects all the DNS lookups back to the devices own IP address. The result of this is that on one machine the EA-N66 configuration pages were very slow to open, but strangely another machine (also running Windows 7 64 bit was the speed we would expect). We traced the problem, it appeared to be Windows Live Family Safety, that was essentially switced off, but by disabling the Windows Service and rebooting the machine got everything working beautifully.

Asus EA-N66 Setting New Admin Password
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Rather than asking for username and password when fresh out of the box we were invited to set a new admin password, which is always a safe thing to do. The next step is picking which of the three modes you want to operate in, we will select the first mode, which is connect to an existing wireless network.

Asus EA-N66 Quick Internet Setup Wizard
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The EA-N66 on clicking Next will scan for any visible wireless networks and you simply need to click on the wireless name of the network you want to connect to and enter the Security Key.

Asus EA-N66 Setting Key To Connect To Network
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Once you click connect the key you provided is used to try and connect to the network, you are warned that this may take two minutes, which is about the time it took.

Asus EA-N66 Finished Configuring Adapter Mode
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We would recommend that you check the wireless connectivity, by trying to access the Internet via EA-N66 while it is still connected to the computer, before rushing off and plugging it into your TV or blu-ray player.

After the configuration is complete you should notice that your computer is now getting its IP configuration from your main DHCP router, rather than the EA-N66. The EA-N66 can still be accessed via http://www.asusnetwork.net if you want to change any of the settings at a later date.

The settings are stored in the EA-N66 until you reset it to the factory settings, so you can happily unplug the device and move it to another place in your home.

While the documentation shows you connecting the EA-N66 in Ethernet adapter mode to a single computer, there is nothing stopping you connecting it to an Ethernet switch and using as many devices as the switch supports. We certainly have used the EA-N66 in this mode, running Netflix on an Xbox 360 while using a PC to browse the internet at the same time.

Connecting the EA-N66 in Wireless Access Point (WAP) mode

We recommend connecting via an Ethernet cable for the configuration again, and going to http://www.asusnetwork.net and selecting ‘I wish to establish a new wireless network‘ in the Quick Internet Setup.

Asus EA-N66 Wireless Access Point Configuration
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When setting up the EA-N66 into Access Point mode you have full freedom to choose between 2.4GHz and 5GHz modes, and can pick a network name and security key of your own choosing. The reason 2.4GHz is recommended by the device is that more devices support the standard Wi-Fi frequency, but with that part of the spectrum becoming ever more crowded, if your devices support 5GHz we recommend using that (this does have the downside of less range compared to 2.4GHz.

Asus EA-N66 Configuring Wireless Network
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Once you click next, the EA-N66 goes into its configuration mode for two minutes. Once complete the summary page shows what settings you selected, and also reminds you that you need to switch the Ethernet cable from the computer to connect to the existing network.

Asus EA-N66 Access Point Tutorial Completed
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Changing the access point settings at a later date is very simple, connect the EA-N66 directly to a computer by an Ethernet cable and access the web configuration and the network map exposes all the parameters that can be changed.

Asus EA-N66 Changing Wireless Settings for Access Point Mode
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Connecting the EA-N66 in Wireless Repeater mode

The procedure for configuring this range extender mode is very similar to the basic Ethernet adapter, and the recommended method is to connect the EA-N66 directly to your computer via Ethernet again. Once connected to the EA-N66 web interface, select the Quick Internet Setup and choose ‘I wish to extend my existing wireless network’.

Asus EA-N66 Configuring as a Wireless Repeater
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The scan for visible wireless networks will run, and once complete select the network you wish to repeat (i.e. extend its range) and enter its security key.

Asus EA-N66 Setting Wireless Repeater Security Key
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By default the EA-N66 will add _RPT to the end of the SSID of the existing network, and also re-use the security key. If you want to chance the settings simply un-tick the Use Default setting box and enter what you want. Once happy with the settings (and if you used a different security key we recommend making a note of it) clicking Next takes you into the EA-N66’s usual two minute cycle while it configures itself.

Asus EA-N66 Wireless Repeater Configuration Summary
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Once finished you are presented with a summary page that displays your security key, just in case you had forgotten it. Now is the time to unplug the EA-N66 from your computer and see if you can connect to it using the correct wireless network name, and get access to the internet.

The network we extended was a 2.4GHz one, but if we had picked up a 5GHz network we could have extended that, and the extension would have been in the 5GHz range. Unfortunately it is only possible to extend a network that is in the same frequency range.

When using repeater mode, remember there is no point placing the EA-N66 too far from the parent network, as if you do this the EA-N66 will see a weak and slow signal (blinking blue lights on the EA-N66). We will cover the performance of the repeater mode later and look at the difference it can make.

One undocumented feature, but very useful one, is that when the EA-N66 is in repeater mode, the IP network it is connecting to is also visible via the devices Ethernet port. Which means you can use the EA-N66 to connect a device that does not have wireless connectivity of its own, at the same time as extending your wireless network.

IPv6 and the EA-N66

The configuration of the EA-N66 never mentions IPv6 anywhere, but as it just acts as a transparent IP device mainly, it happily runs on an IPv6 network, though you will need to still run IPv4 locally to be able to access the device to configure it.

Asus EA-N66 Running an IPv6 Speed Test

Performance

Once our initial problems with the EA-N66 were solved, which appears to have been a conflict with Windows Live Family Safety (the free parental controls software by Microsoft), the EA-N66 has performed flawlessly. Of course what the majority of you will be interested in is the performance of the device in its three operation modes.

Performance as an Ethernet Adapter

This testing is fairly easy, and we have used our standard locations for testing wireless signals. The source wireless network was provided by an Asus RT-N66U, which provides both 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks. The PC to PC test without wireless was used to verify that the Ethernet cable we would use between the EA-N66 for the actual wireless tests was Gigabit capable.

Figures are an average of both upload and download tests, with so many ways to use the EA-N66 we wanted to try and avoid too many pages of results. The base line test of connecting two PC’s via a gigabit Ethernet switch checked that any cables and computers would not limit the tests, gave us an average speed of 778 Mbps.

Location Network Frequency Average Speed
Top floor 5GHz 96 Mbps
1st floor (nominal 450 Mbps) 5GHz 97 Mbps
Ground floor 5GHz 95 Mbps
Conservatory 5GHz No signal
Garden Shed 5GHz No signal
Top floor (nominal 170 to 190 Mbps) 2.4GHz 68 Mbps
1st floor (nominal 217 Mbps) 2.4GHz 56 Mbps
Ground floor (nominal 217 Mbps) 2.4GHz 56 Mbps
Conservatory (nominal 52 Mbps) 2.4GHz 31 Mbps
Garden Shed 2.4GHz 12.5 Mbps

Of course throughput is not everything; many people want to ensure latency is kept to a minimum. Using the EA-N66 in Ethernet adapter mode linking to a 5GHz network in a location with good signal, latency was a stable 1 ms.

Performance as a Wireless Access Point

Location Network Frequency Average Speed
Top floor (nominal 300 to 450 Mbps – varied constantly) 5GHz 83 Mbps
1st floor (nominal 450 Mbps) 5GHz 86 Mbps
Ground floor (nominal 400 to 450 Mbps) 5GHz 71 Mbps
Conservatory 5GHz No connection
Garden Shed 5GHz No connection
Top floor (nominal 170 to 190 Mbps) 2.4GHz 41 Mbps
1st floor (nominal 217 Mbps) 2.4GHz 47 Mbps
Ground floor (nominal 217 Mbps) 2.4GHz 44 Mbps
Conservatory (nominal 52 Mbps) 2.4GHz 8.4 Mbps
Garden Shed 2.4GHz 5 Mbps

Performance as a Wireless Repeater

Testing in wireless repeater mode is more complex, and we decided to locate the EA-N66 at a couple of our usual testing locations and test throughput through its Ethernet port and the wireless it has created at various distances.

EA-N66 located on ground floor
Location Network Frequency Average Speed
Connected via EA-N66 Ethernet Port on ground floor 2.4GHz 34 Mbps
Direct to Wireless router on ground floor 2.4GHz 46 Mbps
Using extended wireless network close to EA-N66 2.4GHz 20.5 Mbps
Using extended network in Conservatory 2.4GHz 1 Mbps (yes very slow)
Using extended network in shed 2.4GHz No connection
Connected via EA-N66 Ethernet Port on ground floor 5GHz 105 Mbps
Direct to Wireless router on ground floor 5GHz 79 Mbps
Using extended wireless network close to EA-N66 5GHz 41 Mbps
Using extended network in Conservatory 5GHz 11.9 Mbps

The fact that the wireless signal was so poor horizontally is probably because three brick walls were in the way, whereas when the wireless router is on the top floor, the floors are simple floor boards, or for outdoor access there is just one wall or the roof in the way.

EA-N66 located in Conservatory
Location Network Frequency Average Speed
Connected via EA-N66 Ethernet Port in conservatory 2.4GHz 15.6 Mbps
Direct to Wireless router 2.4GHz 6.7 Mbps
Using extended wireless network close to EA-N66 2.4GHz 11.3 Mbps
Using extended network in shed 2.4GHz 14.3 Mbps
Using extended network 10 m beyond shed 2.4GHz 5.8 Mbps
Connected via EA-N66 Ethernet Port in conservatory 5GHz 15.3 Mbps
Direct to Wireless router 5GHz 3.7 Mbps
Using extended wireless network close to EA-N66 5GHz 8.8 Mbps
Using extended network in shed 5GHz 2.5 Mbps

The improved performance when utilising the EA-N66 shows that the antenna of the EA-N66 are making a difference, and the range of the network has been extended some 10m further down the garden.

EA-N66 Located in Shed
Location Network Frequency Average Speed
Connected via EA-N66 Ethernet Port in shed 2.4GHz 9.9 Mbps
Direct to Wireless router 2.4GHz Pings but not able to run speed tests
Using extended wireless network close to EA-N66 2.4GHz 12.9 Mbps
Using extended network 10m from shed 2.4GHz 8.8 Mbps
Using extended network 20 m beyond shed 2.4GHz 3.7 Mbps
Using extended network 30 m beyond shed 2.4 GHz 3.5 Mbps
Using extended network 40 m beyond shed 2.4GHz .3 Mbps

This is the best wireless coverage I have ever had in this garden, and there were plenty of shrubs in the way, so over open ground you may be able to get a better throughput or longer range. The reason we did no testing at 5GHz was because in the shed there was no useful 5GHz signal available to extend.

Conclusions

The performance of the 5GHz capabilities in terms of having shorter range than 2.4GHz is to be expected. The wireless performance as an access point was a little below what we have seen from the best kit, but still very good. High street prices at the time of the review are running around £80 to £100.

Overall the flexibility of the EA-N66 is the key to its usefulness. We suspect that many people will use it in repeater mode, which has the advantage of also supporting a connection via Ethernet at the same time.

The performance in extending a 2.4GHz network was impressive, but our testing also reveals that you need to experiment with positioning to find the most optimal position.

The variety of choices now for people wanting to ensure their house is totally covered by broadband are expanding, and while devices like the echoBox and HomePlugs are great, with the rise of the smartphone and tablet, the need for good wireless in every room, means that range extenders like the EA-N66 are a common requirement. The proof that the EA-N66 is a good choice was that when our laptop could not runs tests across the parent network, we still managed 9 to 13 Mbps over the EA-N66. This speed is more than adequate for streaming Netflix or BBC iPlayer onto a tablet.