The ASUS EA-N66: A firmware upgrade doesn't translate into a fix

-August 25, 2014

At the beginning of May, I wrote about my underwhelming hands-on experiences with the ASUS EA-N66 dual-band "N900" (more accurately "N450") 802.11n access point/bridge/repeater. One month (and a couple of days) later, EDN published my teardown of the EA-N66, where I attempted to discern the degree to which the device's potential was held back by fundamental hardware shortcomings versus (presumably easier to fix) software limitations. In both writeups, I mentioned that ASUS had subsequently released firmware v1.0.1.8k, newer than the v1.0.1.8h that I tested (and still the latest and greatest as I write these words in mid-June).

I'd actually installed and tested the newer firmware in early May, with an eye toward a follow-on writeup. And, when I noticed that Newegg had the refurbished EA-N66 on sale for $44.99, I was reminded of my earlier evaluation and decided the time had come to put fingers to the keyboard and translate my writing aspirations into reality. First off, here's a screenshot confirming that I am indeed running firmware v1.0.1.8k:

and here's one confirming that I am indeed using the device in bridge (i.e. "Ethernet Adapter") mode:

Last time, you may recall, I emulated the capabilities of a switch-inclusive XAV5004 HomePlug AV powerline adapter by tethering the EA-N66 to a five-port GbE switch, then connecting the various devices in my home theater stack to the switch. Even though I'd previously only attempted to stream data to and from only one home theater LAN client (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Roku HD-XR and SoundBridge) and through the EA-N66 at a given time, this time I decided to eliminate one possible source of error by bypassing the LG-Ericsson iPECS ES-1105G 5-port GbE external switch and direct-connecting the EA-N66 to my Xbox 360:

Firmware v1.0.1.8k still doesn't seem to support DHCP address assignments, at least when the EA-N66 is being used in bridge mode, but I was able to hard-assign an IP address to the EA-N66 outside of my router's DHCP range:

While I really wish I could tell you that the firmware upgrade led to error-free wireless streaming of HDTV recordings from my Media Center PC server to the Xbox 360, the latter acting as a Media Center Extender, as is (generally) the case over HomePlug AV powerline networking ... I unfortunately can't. The following screenshots were taken at the PC, when running a network bandwidth test with the Media Center application. As you can see, after a few seconds the connection to the Xbox 360 abruptly drops:

Followed by the inevitable descriptive error message:

Reattempts are equally unsuccessful:

The EA-N66 offers a system log facility, which definitely indicates that something's gone amiss, but the descriptive specifics are cryptic (at least to me ... if you have any ideas, please post them in the comments):

Call me stubborn, but I still haven't given up on trying to figure out what's going on with the EA-N66. User feedback I've seen on Amazon, Newegg and elsewhere indicates that the device works best with a matched ASUS router, so even if true this is (as I wrote at the beginning of May) "only the latest in a long string of case studies I've documented pointing to 802.11n's underwhelming translation of promise into reality." I've picked up a refurbished ASUS RT-N65R router for additional-testing purposes. Stay tuned.

And I also still haven't given up on finding a wireless streaming alternative to HomePlug AV. As such, I've also snagged a refurbished Linksys WUMC710 AC1300 802.11ac Wireless Gigabit Ethernet Media Bridge Adapter. Unlike the EA-N66, it's 5 GHz-only, but that's the frequency band I'm trying to stream over anyway. It's also notably less expensive than the EA-N66, and embeds a four-port switch. And even though it claims to support the newer IEEE 802.11AC standard, it's supposedly also backwards compatible with 802.11n. Stay tuned for that as well. And for now, as always, I welcome your feedback.

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