AiMesh is a free feature Asus has brought to most of its routers since the beginning of 2018 — starting with the RT-AC86U.
Over the years, it has proved to be one of the most versatile ways to build a home Wi-Fi mesh system. The feature itself has gone through a lot of changes, with the latest being dubbed as AiMesh 2.0.
As of early 2022, AiMesh 2.0 has been the norm for all Asus Wi-Fi 6 routers and will be that way for all of its new routers in the foreseeable future.
You’ll learn all about this flexible mesh feature in this post — and others of the same series as shown in the box below.
Dong’s note: I first published this post on February 24, 2018, and have updated it numerous times since to keep it up-to-date with the development of the feature. This latest update, posted on February 11, 2022, aims to consolidate all the information and reorganize the coverage in a way that’s easier for first-time readers to follow.
Asus AiMesh: A robust mesh approach like no others
Available in all Asus Wi-Fi 6 (and later) routers and most of its Wi-Fi 5 routers, AiMesh combines two or more hardware pieces into a single mesh network, similar to the many other mesh brands.
Initially released as an add-on update, AiMesh has proven to be Asus’s most impactful home networking feature over time. For a couple of years now, it’s been the most important part of the company’s core router features.
Still, AiMesh is not a plug-n-play Wi-Fi solution like other canned systems on the market. It requires some work — or maybe even a lot of work in certain situations — before you get it the way you want.
In other words, it’s not for everyone. But if you don’t mind tinkering with your hardware, chances are you’ll love it.
To take advantage of AiMesh, you need to get a couple of supported broadcasters. Most Asus routers have this feature, but that’s also where the trouble starts — there are just too many combinations.
Like most mesh systems, you use one as the primary router (or primary node, per Asus), and the rest will be satellites (or satellite nodes).
At the very basic, an AiMesh satellite automatically replicates the Wi-Fi settings of the primary router and extends the coverage, either wirelessly or via network cables.
After that, the router unit determines the features and settings of the entire network. And thanks to that an AiMesh system can offer a lot more than virtually all other home mesh brands on the market, for now.
List of Asus’s current AiMesh routers
There are tri-band and dual-band broadcasters.
As a rule, for the best performance, in a Wi-Fi mesh system, you want Tri-band hardware for a wireless setup. In a home wired with network cables, generally, it makes sense to use Dual-band Wi-Fi 6/Wi-Fi 5 or Tri-band Wi-Fi 6E hardware.
Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) AiMesh broadcasters
Most of these are legacy broadcasters that might not support the latest version of AiMesh.
- Tri-band: GT-AC5300, RT-AC5300, Lyra, and ZenWiFi AC.
- Dual-band: RP-AC1900, RT-AC1900, RT-AC1900P/U, RT-AC2900, RT-AC3100, RT-AC5300, RT-AC68P/R/RW/U/UF/W, GT-AC2600, Lyra Trio, Blue Cave, RT-AC86U, RT-AC88U, and possibly more.
Wi-Fi 6/6E (802.11ax) AiMesh broadcasters
These non-complete lists only include mostly the latest broadcasters already covered on this website.
- Tri-band (Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E):
- Dual-band (Wi-Fi 6): RT-AX88U/RT-AX88U Pro, RT-AX89X, RT-AX3000 / RT-AX58U, RT-AX56U, ZenWiFi XD4, RT-AX86U/S/Pro, RT-AX82U, RT-AX68U, RP-AX56, GS-AX3000, GS-AX5400, ZenWiFi XD6, GT-AX6000, ZenWiFi AX Hybrid XP4, ROG Rapture GT6 and more.
Flexible hardware setup
First of all, AiMesh enables you to scale up your Wi-Fi network as your needs grow.
You can start with a single router; then, later on, add a satellite or two. It’s also an excellent way to re-use your old Asus router as a node when upgrading to a newer one.
Best of all, AiMesh allows you to pick and choose a mesh system that fits your needs and budget.
You can get two affordable Asus routers and build a budget mesh. Or get two high-end ones to create a high-performing system. And, of course, you can also mix routers of different tiers.
Generally, all AiMesh routers will work with one another, but certain combos will perform better than others unless you choose to use wired backhaul.
You’ll find more information on this below, but I also wrote a separate detailed post on picking the right AiMesh combo that explains more.
All the features you’d need and more
Again, an AiMesh system has all the features and settings of the primary router. And since Asus routers currently offer the most features on the market, none of the other home Wi-Fi systems can compete on this front.
In short, AiMesh is the only way to have a mesh that gives you the same feature set as even the most feature-rich standalone router. So if you pick a gaming router as your primary AiMesh node, you’ll get yourself, well, a gaming mesh system — something Netgear has been working on via a premium add-on for its Orbi line.
There are also tons of networking settings and tools that you can use via the web interface. Some are quite unique, such as Wake-on-LAN, or the support for Merlin firmware.
What’s more, you have the option to use the Asus Router mobile app to manage your network on your phone. It’s the only app on the market that has the option for remote management without you having to register an account and log in with the vendor.
(After reviewing lots of Asus routers, I wrote this primer post on Asus broadcasters that first-time readers should check out.)
But the point is whatever you can do with a single Asus router, you can with an AiMesh system. All you have to do is pick the right router to be your mesh primary node.
On top of that, as a mesh system, AiMesh gives you a lot of flexibility, compared to other canned stems on the market, depending on the hardware you use.
What you can expect from an AiMesh system
Following is what you can expect from an AiMesh setup:
- Flexible backhaul: Starting with AiMesh 2.0 — available starting with firmware version 188.8.131.52.386.000 — an AiMesh system has flexible backhaul support. Specifically:
- Dedicated wireless backhaul: When you use traditional tri-band routers, like RT-AX92U, or GT-AX11000, one of its 5Ghz bands, the 5GHz-2, will work as the dedicated backhaul band by default — this band works solely as the wireless link between the router and satellite — not applicable when you mix Tri-band and Dual-band hardware or use wired backhaul.
- User-selectable backhaul: You can manually set any band (6GHz, 5GHz, or 2.4GHz) or network ports as backhaul priority. When left at Auto (default), the system will use the fastest band, for the distance between the main router and a particular satellite, as the backhaul. Auto also prioritizes wired backhaul (when available).
- Wired backhaul: Generally, the WAN port of the satellite unit must be used for the backhaul. Even when that’s not the case, Link Aggregation, which is available in most Asus routers, never works for AiMesh wired backhauling. However, with a router that has a Multi-Gig LAN port (such as RT-AX86U or RT-AX89X), the high-speed port of the satellite node can be used for a Multi-Gig wired backhaul.
- Mixed backhaul: Generally, it’s best to use wired backhaul consistently throughout the system — you can daisy-chain the units. However, AiMesh does allow for mixing wired and wireless backhaul.
- Daisychain, third-party switch supported: For wired backhaul, you can daisy-chain the main router and nodes or use switches between the hardware units. For best performance, make sure you use Gigabit (or faster) unmanaged switches.
- Auto-sensing network ports: On the router unit, the WAN port functions in its designated role — it needs to connect to an Internet source. After that, the rest of the network ports in the mesh system, including the WAN ports on the satellite units (nodes), work as LANs. That’s generally true in either a wired- or a wireless-backhaul setup.
- Up to 10 hardware units: Asus says realistically, a system shouldn’t have more than seven units, though you can use up to 10, including the router. And I’ve indeed tried that many units in a wired backhaul setup with success. In a wireless configuration, though, I’d recommend no more than three hardware units, especially with dual-band hardware.
- No vendor account required: Just like any Asus router, no login account with Asus is necessary to use AiMesh, even when using the Asus Router mobile app. For remote access, Asus uses Dynamic DNS. So, AiMesh is less of a privacy risk (if at all) compared with other systems.
- Access point (AP) mode: As a system, an AiMesh setup can work in the access point mode — not to be confused with an individual router’s AP mode. In other words, you can use an entire AiMesh system (consisting of multiple nodes) that works solely as a network/Wi-Fi extension on top of an existing (third-party) router. Among other things, it helps avoid the use of double NAT.
And finally, AiMesh is here to stay. So far, all Asus routers released since 2018, including its latest Wi-Fi 6E hardware, support this feature right out of the box. It’s safe to say future Asus routers will support it, too.
Asus routers and privacy
Before turning on some features, an Asus router shows a warning, as shown in the screenshot below.
The said features only work because a third-party scans the router’s traffic. That’s the nature of any protection — a security detail will include somebody who watches over you — there’s no way around that.
So, these features inherently cause privacy risks. But they are turned off by default, and you can leave them that way to use an Asus router without sharing data with the vendor.
How tri-band routers work in an AiMesh system
Generally, you want to use the most powerful (newer) router as the main AiMesh router and a lesser (older) router as a node. But if you choose to use tri-band routers, there are a couple of things to consider.
First, for best performance, consider tri-band routers if you intend to have a wireless AiMesh setup. And in this case, use tri-band hardware throughout, both as the primary router and node(s).
Important note on “Tri-band”
“Tri-band” only applies to Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 routers with one 2.4GHz band and two 5GHz bands. In other words, these are routers that have an additional 5GHz band to deliver extra bandwidth.
This type of “tri-band” is not part of what we’re talking about here since the Tri-band in Wi-Fi 6E is similar to the Dual-band — there’s no additional band among the three.
How to manage the dedicated backhaul band (5GHz-2)
As soon as you set up a tri-band unit as the primary AiMesh router, it will automatically dedicate its second 5GHz-band (a.k.a 5GHz-2) as the dedicated backhaul.
It does this by:
- Creating a separate network on this band exclusively for the job of linking the routers in the mesh system. And:
- Keeps the SSID (network name) hidden so that general users won’t see it.
As a result, the 5GHz-2 band is generally not available to clients, even when:
- A dual-band router participates as a node. (In this case, this node will connect to the 5GHz-1 band for its backhaul link.)
- You choose to use wired backhauling for the entire system. In this case, the 5GHz-2 remains a standby backup backhaul that kicks in if you remove the network cable (unless you explicitly put the system in the Ethernet Backhaul Mode.)
You can leave this 5 GHz-2 band alone, and all is well. However, you can make it work for end clients, too, especially in the case of wired backhaul. Here’s how:
- Unhide the 5GHz-2 SSID and give it a meaningful name — (unless the system is in the Ethernet Backhaul Mode,) this name has to be different from that of the 5GHz-1 and 2.4 GHz bands even when you use these two in a Smart Connect setup. And:
- Pick an easy-to-remember password for the 5 GHz-2 band’s SSID. The default password, again, is a long string of random numbers and letters. It’s too impractical to use.
Now, this band (5 GHz-2) can still work as a wireless backhaul, but it’s no longer a dedicated one.
When you use wired backhaul, this band works only for clients and is available throughout all Tri-band hardware units within the mesh. When you use all Tri-band hardware in a mixed wired and wireless backhaul, keep the 5GHz-2 band as the dedicated backhaul for the best performance.
By the way, if you want to switch from wired backhaul back to using the 5GHz-2 as the dedicated backhaul band, make sure no clients connect to it anymore. You can do that by changing the SSID and hiding it. And then unplug the wired backhaul cable.
Starting in late 2021, with AiMesh 2.0, there’s an option to use wired backhaul, called “Ethernet Backhaul Mode“, and completely free the 5GHz-2 band in a Tri-band AiMesh system to serve clients — you can even combine it with the rest of the bands in a Smart Connect network.
And AiMesh 2.0 rings in a few more improvements, too.
AiMesh 2.0 and the ZenWiFi family
Asus announced the ZenWiFi family in early 2020. Since then, it has introduced the following member in the US: ZenWiFi XT8, ZenWiFi CT8, ZenWiFi AX Mini, ZenWiFi ET8, ZenWiFi Pro ET12, ZenWiFi Pro XT12 and ZenWiFi XD6.
ZenWiFi products are those built with AiMesh from the ground up. Within this product line, the feature is the core and not an add-on one. It’s also the beginning of the AiMesh 2.0 upgrade mentioned above.
Generally, ZenWiFi systems come with pre-synced hardware — you won’t need to add the nodes manually. But individually, each unit can work as a standalone router or as a satellite of any other AiMesh-enabled router.
Conversely, you can also manually add any AiMesh router as a satellite of a ZenWiFi set.
Among other things, an AiMesh 2.0 setup includes the following added benefits:
- Better interface: There’s a new AiMesh, which makes managing the feature easier. There’s also a new one-button optimization
- Guest network: Most, if not all, combos will get the Guest network throughout and not just at the router unit. (Applicable to only one Guest network per band — you can create three per band, but the other two are only available at the primary router.)
- Better wired backhaul implementation: The 2nd 5GHz band of a Tri-band system will be made available to clients when the wired backhaul is used (only applicable to when a Tri-band router works as the primary node.)
- Better node control: You can now use the router’s web interface to control certain aspects of a node, including USB applications and Link Bonding (LAN Link Aggregation), when applicable.
- Preferable backhaul: When using multiple wireless nodes, you can force the node’s backhaul to connect to another node or the main router.
AiMesh 2.0 and Guest networking
AiMesh 2.0 started out as a slow and fluid process. But by the end of 2021, its improvements have generally been available to almost all Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E broadcasters.
Of the improvements listed above, the support for system-wide Guest networking is the most anticipated. Prior to this, the Guest Wi-Fi network is only available at the router unit.
It’s worth noting, though, that AiMesh 2.0 is not available fully to all routers. Specifically, Wi-Fi 5 routers might only get part of the benefits listed above, if at all. Generally, a router must run firmware version 184.108.40.206.386 or later to have any AiMesh 2.0 benefits.
But most if not all Wi-Fi 6 and later will get AiMesh 2.0 in full. But even then, AiMesh is still far from perfect. Most notable is the clunky support for Wi-Fi bands. And that brings us to the shortcomings of AiMesh.
While most flexible among all mesh systems, AiMesh is quite terrible in managing the situation where you need to mix broadcasters of different numbers of bands, Wi-Fi tiers/standards, or backhaul types.
Specifically, if you use Dual-band and Tri-band routers together, mix wired and wireless backhaul, or use routers of different Wi-Fi tiers, there’s no good way to manage them. The mesh will still work, but not as straightforward as I’d like.
Here are some specifics.
Mixing Wi-Fi tiers or standard
If you use hardware of different Wi-Fi tiers (or standard), there’s no way to manage the Wi-Fi settings of the satellite.
For example, if your router features DFS channels and the satellite doesn’t, the two will not share the same Wi-Fi settings, which are adjustable only at the router.
It’s important to note that if you configure the backhaul band at the router with the settings not supported by the satellite, the two might not work together — use compatibility mode at the router in this case.
Tri-band and Dual-band mix: It can be a bit of a mess
There are two scenarios.
Tri-band primary router + dual-band satellite
In this case, there’s no dedicated backhaul band.
The router’s third band will be on its own, and the satellite still connects to its first 5GHz band, which is available to clients as backhaul unless you use wired backhaul.
In other words, you gain nothing from using a Tri-band router, in this case, other than having an additional band at the router itself.
Dual-band router + Tri-band satellite
In this case, there’s no way you can manage the satellite’s third band, no matter if you use wireless or wired backhaul.
In other words, you gain nothing from using a tri-band satellite in this case — you can’t use its third band anyway.
On this front, Asus’s AiMesh is really behind Synology’s Mesh approach. The latter can create a virtual band when need be so that you can mix the hardware of different bands together consistently. At the very least, that helps with the management.
AiMesh’s other shortcomings
On top of the band mixing issues, AiMesh has a few other shortcomings, too, including.
- Some router combinations can be buggy. Considering so many routers are involved, it’s quite hard for Asus to work in all scenarios consistently.
- At times, a new firmware release that fixes one combo might cause issues in others. In most cases, though, I find that resetting your router and setting up your mesh from scratch helps.
- The system-wide Guest network generally could use some improvement. Among other things, when available, it’s limited to the first Guest SSID for each band. That’s a big downer considering each Asus broadcaster can have up to three Guest SSIDs per band when working as a standalone router.
Asus AiMesh: Excellent performance
An AiMesh system’s performance varies depending on the hardware you use and how you set it up.
In the past few years, I’ve tried dozens and dozens of hardware combinations. In fact, I tried AiMesh with virtually all Asus routers I’ve reviewed.
In my experience, AiMesh has gotten better over time, and it’s safe to say any hardware combo can beat other similarly-priced purpose-built systems in both performance and features.
Below are the real-world performance charts showing many AiMesh satellite nodes against the satellites of some other mesh systems, both Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 5. I tested all of these systems in a wireless setup.
In all, performance-wise, AiMesh is a sure thing. You don’t need to worry about it.
Asus AiMesh's Rating
The most flexible way to build a robust, scalable home Wi-Fi mesh system
Excellent performance, top-notch feature set
Built-in online protection
No vendor login is required, or other privacy risks
Certain router combos can be buggy or have issues with new major firmware releases.
Rigid Wi-Fi management when mixing hardware of different Wi-Fi tiers, standards, or number of bands
Only one Guest SSID (instead of three) per band can be made system-wide
In my experience, AiMesh is one of the best — and fun — solutions for advanced users who wants to build a scalable, robust Wi-Fi mesh system without compromising their privacy.
Most importantly, again, it can beat all other similarly priced purpose-built systems on the market in both performance and features.
If you have gotten your home wired, a couple of Dual-band Wi-Fi 6 (or Tri-band Wi-Fi 6E) AiMesh routers are a sure way to get a robust mesh system.
In fact, in my opinion, the only true competitor to AiMesh, in terms of features, privacy, and management, is Synology mesh. Unfortunately, Synology hasn’t released any new routers for years now — there are only two, the RT2600ac and the MR2200ac. It did announce the RT6600ax earlier this year so that might change soon.
Until then, AiMesh is the way to go for now. At least for those feeling adventurous.