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Asus AiMesh Setup Step-by-step Guide: Hardware and Hand-off Management

This post will walk you through the steps of turning two or more routers into a well-performing and seamless Asus AiMesh setup. You’ll also find some tricks for better roaming.

It’s part of my series on Asus’s AiMesh, which has been a popular way to build a robust home Wi-Fi mesh system in the past few years. That said, make sure you check the related box below if you have any AiMesh-related questions.

Dong’s note: This post was once part of the overview piece on AiMesh, and I moved it out on February 11, 2022, to clarify the topics and add more up-to-date information.

Asus ROG Rapture GT-AX6000 vs RT-AX86U
AiMesh hardware: The Asus ROG Rapture GT-AX6000 and the RT-AX86U make an excellent pair of AiMesh routers.

Getting an AiMesh system of your own: The hardware arrangement

You need at least two routers to create an AiMesh system. No matter what combo you get, the setup process is generally the same, and it will work — it’s a matter of degrees.

No matter which combo you get, which I detailed in this post, the hardware arrangement is the same. Here’s the diagram:

Internet source -> Primary AiMesh router -> AiMesh satellite nodes.

Specifically, you connect the primary router’s WAN port to your Internet terminal device, namely a Cable modem or a fiber ONT. After that, add your AiMesh satellite to the router.

This is always the case in a wireless setup since the satellite connects to the primary router’s Wi-Fi network.

In a wired backhaul setup — that’s when you use network cables to link them — things need to be a bit more specific.

AiMesh with wired backhaul: How to connect the hardware units

When you choose to use a wired backhaul, there are two scenarios.

Extra: Current AiMesh-ready hardware

Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) AiMesh broadcasters

Most of these are legacy broadcasters that might not support the latest version of AiMesh.

Wi-Fi 6/6E (802.11ax) AiMesh broadcasters

These non-complete lists only include the latest broadcasters already covered on this website.

Standard scenario: Primary AiMesh router + AiMesh satellite nodes.

This configuration is generally recommended, and it works the best.

In this case, the way you link the hardware units together follows the same rules as that of a standard router:

The router unit must be in your local network’s frontmost position, with the rest of the nodes behind it. Now use a node’s WAN port to connect it to the existing network, namely a LAN port on the router, a switch, or another node.

In other words, the satellite units have to be at a level below (or on top) of the router unit.

So let’s say you have a mesh of one primary router and two nodes. Here’s how you’d use network cables to link them up:

  1. Hook the router’s WAN port to the Internet source (modem/gateway).
  2. Connect the nodes to the router by:
    • Link each node’s WAN port to a LAN port of the router. OR
    • Connect the first node’s WAN port to the router’s LAN port, then connect the 2nd node’s WAN port to the 1st node’s LAN port. Or
    • Place a switch (or two) in between them. This switch can be between the router and the node(s) or between the nodes themselves. But it also must be behind the router — or on top of the router, depending on your imagination.
  3. Now let the router works as an AiMesh router mode (default).

In a fully wired backhaul setup, you should explicitly use Ethernet Backhaul Mode via the AiMesh section of the router’s web interface — detail steps below.

Multi-Gig Backhaul AiMesh Combo: Asus ZenWiFi ET8 Multi-Gig Backhaul
AiMesh hardware arrangement: Here’s a ZenWiFi ET8 AiMesh set working in the AP mode.

If the Internet source is a gateway, you also can change the router and, therefore, the entire system to work in the Access Point mode. That brings us to the second scenario.

Mesh system in AP mode scenario: Existing (non-AiMesh router) + AiMesh satellite nodes

This configuration applies to the situation where you already have an existing router (like an ISP-provided gateway) and want to avoid double-NAT.

In this case, you can arrange the hardware the same as the standard configuration above. Or you can also connect each AiMesh satellite directly to the existing router. In other words, all AiMesh units can be at the same level.

So let’s say you have an existing gateway and three AiMesh nodes. You first set up the AiMesh system the standard way, with double NAT. After that, from within the web interface of the primary unit, change the mesh into the AP mode.

Now you also have the option of connecting all three units’ WAN ports to the existing gateway (or a switch.) It might work better for certain wiring situations where you can’t put the satellite behind the main unit.

This configuration is also an option to build a Multi-Gig wired AiMesh system of mixed Dual-band and Tri-band hardware — more here.

Standard access point scenario: AiMesh router(s) in the AP mode

In a wired home, you also have the option of using each AiMesh node in the Access Point mode — it’s now no longer an AiMesh node but just a regular access point.

Specifically, you use each of the satellites as an individual AP — not to be confused with the AP mode of the entire system as mentioned above.

In this case, you don’t have a true mesh system since you’ll have to manage the node separately using its web interface. Specifically, if you change the Wi-Fi name and password on the router, that won’t be replicated to the satellites automatically.

The signal hand-off is probably not working very well, either, if at all. And keep in mind that the hardware loses all of its features and settings available in the router roles.

But in return, you can rest assured that any hardware combo will work, and you can directly control the AP’s USB port and its Wi-Fi bands. Moreover, you can also use non-AiMesh routers, including those from a different hardware vendor.

Using the satellite units in the AP role, which is wired, is far more reliable than using them as wireless AiMesh nodes in my trial. So, consider this as an alternative when you have issues with a pure AiMesh setup.


With that out of the way, let’s find out how to build an AiMesh system in detail.

Asus AiMesh Setup: The step-by-step guide

Generally, AiMesh comes in different flavors. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • If you get a ZenWiFi set, chances are the hardware units are pre-synced. Consequently, you only need to set up the router unit the way you do any standard router, and your mesh is ready — you won’t need to add the other units manually.
  • If you get multiple stand-alone routers, or if you use ZenWiFi hardware of different sets, the process is the same.
  • If you use a standalone router as the main unit and a ZenWiFi mesh set as satellite nodes. Keep in mind that you need to add one satellite unit at a time and make sure the other satellite(s) are turned off during the process.

With that out of the way, below are steps on getting your own AiMesh setup, no matter what hardware combo you use.

As a rule, I’d recommend the web user interface for these steps. While the Asus Router mobile app is helpful, it might create inconsistency in the setup process.

There are three main steps in setting up an AiMesh system. By the way, for this post, I use the GT-AX6000 as the primary router and a few others as satellite nodes. However, if you use any other combo, the process is the same.

A. Set up the main router

These steps apply when you set up a home network from scratch. If you’re already using an AiMesh-enabled router, you can jump to step #2.

Asus Router Setup Wizard
AiMesh setup: The initial setup wizard will walk you through the process of setting up an Asus router.
Create a new network: Pick this option to set up the device as a standalone router.
Advanced Settings: This option lets you choose different roles, including picking its role as an AiMesh router or satellite node. You can also upload the backup settings of a different router.

Again, you can set up an Asus router the way you do any standard router with a web user interface. Here are the general steps:

  1. Connect the router’s WAN port to the Internet source, be it a modem or a Fiber ONT.
  2. Connect the computer to the router’s LAN port, or its default Wi-Fi open network which is “ASUS_xx”.
  3. On the connected computer, launch a browser (Chrome, Firefox, or Edge) and navigate to the router’s default IP address which is 192.168.50.1 or router.asus.com.
  4. Follow the onscreen wizard to set up the router as a standalone router, or you can pick the AiMesh router role — the two are the same.

B. Prepare the satellite node unit(s)

  1. Reset: If you use a relatively new Wi-Fi 6 router, all you have to do is reset it to the default setting, which is already the case if you get a brand-new unit.
  2. Firmware update: In some cases, you might want to update the firmware first, which is especially helpful if you’re using a Wi-Fi 5 router, such as the Blue Cave, or RT-AC86U — their initial firmware might not even support AiMesh fully if at all. In this case, you can do that via the web user interface. When you’re done, you might want to run through the setup steps above, starting with A.2, and put the router in the AiMesh node role.
  3. Placement: Plug the node or nodes into power and place them some 10 feet (3m) from the main router. Alternatively, you can also connect their WAN port to the router’s LAN port.

Again, as mentioned above, if you use a ZenWiFi pack as nodes, make sure you add one hardware unit at a time, with the other being turned off.

C. Adding a satellite node to the main router to form the mesh

This step is entirely on the router unit’s web interface.

1. Search for satellite node(s)

On a connected computer, navigate to the main router’s web interface — as shown in step A.3 above.

AiMesh Setup Step
AiMesh setup: To start, click on Network Map, then on the AiMesh icon, and then on Search as circled in the screenshot above. The screenshot below will show what happens next.

Click on Network Map on the menu, then on the AiMesh icon. Now click on Search. After a few seconds, the node(s) will appear, as shown in the screenshot below.

(Alternatively, you can use the AiMesh section of the interface, but in my experience, using the network map is much better and more consistent.)

AiMesh Setup Step
AiMesh setup: Within a few seconds, you will see all available AiMesh satellite nodes upon clicking on Search. However, you can add only one at a time — now click on the one you want to add.

2. Add a satellite node to the mesh

Click on a node and a pop-up prompt will appear. Click on Apply to confirm. Now, wait about a minute for the adding process to complete. This step’s progress is in the three screenshots below.

Note: During this time, in my experience, you must not navigate to a different part of the web interface. Doing so might cause the setup to fail, and you’ll need to try again from step #2.

AiMesh Setup Step
AiMesh setup: Click on a node and then on Apply to confirm adding it to the mesh system. In this example, I picked the RT-AX89X. The following screenshot shows what happens as a result.
AiMesh Setup Step
AiMesh setup: Here, the node is now being added. This process generally takes about a minute.
AiMesh Setup Step
AiMesh setup: At the end of the process, you’ll see this message if the node has been added successfully. Click on OK to finish. (If the process fails, the message will show you the reason, and you can try again.)

And that’s it! Repeat from step #1 to add more nodes if need be. Otherwise, mission accomplished. All you have to do now is place the satellite(s) around the house strategically for the best coverage.

After that, you might want to manage them properly, too.

3. AiMesh setup: Satellite management

A couple of things to note here.

3.1. Remove a node

If you want to remove a satellite note from the system, click on the trash bin icon next to its name, as shown in the screenshots below. That will also reset the node to factory default.

AiMesh Setup Step
AiMesh setup: Here’s a complete mesh system with one main router (GT-AX6000) and four satellite nodes (RT-AX89X, RT-AX82U, RT-AX86U, and another GT-AX6000). Note the trash bin icon by their names to remove them from the mesh.
3.2 Manage a node’s backhaul and other settings

Each satellite node uses the Auto setting for the backhaul by default, which should work in almost all situations.

(And generally, you should use wired backhaul for dual-band hardware. I detailed that in this post on how to pick an AiMesh combo.)

However, if you use a router with a Multi-Gig LAN port and no Multi-Gig WAN port — namely the RT-AX86U and RT-AX89X — you might want to manually pick that port as the backhaul priority in a wired home.

To do that, go to the AiMesh section of the primary router’s web interface and change the setting accordingly. Here you can also manage a few other aspects of the satellite, including its LAN ports, LEDs, and USB ports.

Asus GT AX6000 Multi Gig Wired AiMesh Setup
In the AiMesh section of the interface, you can pick a node to view its information and change other settings.
3.3 Use the Ethernet Backhaul Mode (when applicable)

If you use a network cable to link the router and the satellites throughout, it’s best to explicitly choose the Ethernet Backhaul Mode. (Don’t use this mode if you mix wired and wireless backhauls.)

Here are the steps:

Asus RT AX89X Explicit Wired Ethernet Backhaul Mode
In a fully wired backhaul setup, it’s best to use the Ethernet Backhaul Mode.
  • Log in to the router’s web interface
  • Go to the AiMesh section, then to Systems Settings
  • Move the slider of Ethernet Backhaul Mode to the On position (right).

This mode allows for better performance and easier management of the system’s Wi-Fi settings. If you use Tri-band hardware, you’ll also be able to lump all bands into a single SSID known as Smart Connect.

3.4 Firmware update

The last but most important thing is to make sure all hardware units use the latest firmware.

AiMesh Firmware Update
In an AiMesh network, you use the primary router’s web interface to manage the node(s), including firmware updates. You can update the firmware of each hardware unit manually, or you can opt for auto-update.

For that, go to the firmware section of the main router — you can jump directly there by clicking on the router’s firmware version. Here, you can check for new firmware, update each unit manually, or opt for auto-update — pick a time when nobody is online.

Finally, and optionally, you might want to change the roaming assistance so that the mesh network delivers the best signal hand-off.

Extra: How to set up roaming assistance in an AiMesh setup

As we move around the house, we generally want our phone (or laptop) to automatically connect to the closest Wi-Fi broadcaster to get the best connection speed, instead of to the one that’s farther away.

Generally, that’s called hand-off or seamless hand-off in a mesh Wi-Fi system. With AiMesh, that’s called roaming assistance.

Before continuing, remember that signal hand-off is complicated and almost always hit or miss, as I detailed in this mesh explainer.

Another thing is most of the time, the default hand-off settings will work out, and most canned systems don’t even allow you to change the settings at all.

So, having the option to manage hand-off can be nice but might bring about adverse results if not done correctly.

Step to adjust AiMesh’s roaming assistance

Like everything in an AiMesh system, you adjust this setting on the primary router unit. The screenshot below belongs to an RT-AX89X, but the process is the same if you use any router.

Seamless Hand Off
To customize the seamless hand-off, you need to understand dBm.

1. Log in to the primary router’s interface, navigate to the Wireless section (under Advanced Settings), then to the Professional tab.

2. Pick the band you want to customize (2.4GHz or 5GHz)

3. Locate the Roaming assistant setting; you’ll note that there’s a default value already in place, something like -70 dBm.

4. Change the value to a new number that fits your situation — more on this below.

To know what dBm number works best, you first have to understand what dBm means, and I explained separately in this post about received Wi-Fi signal strength.

Read this  Wi-Fi Signal Strength, Broadcasting Power, and that Cool -70 dBm RSSI Value

However, generally, you should keep the dBm value between -60 (more sensitive, clients favor fast speed and roam faster) and -75 (less sensitive, clients tend to remain to the original broadcaster).

Important note: If you make the roaming too sensitive, a device placed right in the middle of two nodes of the same signal strength (or weakness) might have problems staying connected — it might keep jumping between the two.

5. Click on Apply. Repeat step #2 for other Wi-Fi bands when applicable. Then manually restart all hardware units.

And that’s it. Your system should deliver the best signal hand-off now.

It’s important to note that there’s no precise measurement for Wi-Fi range and signal strength since they vary greatly depending on the environment.

That said, what mentioned above are my estimates applicable to my situation. The numbers that work for you depend on your environment and the routers you use. It’s a matter of trial and error.

Also, roaming is tricky since it depends more on the clients than the router. Networking vendors can’t test their products with all existing equipment. As a result, at times, it’s a matter of luck.

One thing that almost always works: You can always turn your device’s Wi-Fi off and then back on to get it connected to the closest broadcaster.

Final thoughts

An AiMesh setup is not the easiest way to build a mesh system, compared to other canned alternatives like Orbi, TP-Link Deco, or Amazon’s eero.

However, if you get it done right, it’ll give you an excellent mesh with little or no privacy risks, and that’s a rare commodity these days.

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16 thoughts on “Asus AiMesh Setup Step-by-step Guide: Hardware and Hand-off Management”

  1. I have purchased a WiFi 6 router and a set of three aimesh nodes. An IT guy is insisting I MUST assign individual channels to each node. I am not finding that requirement in this system. Unfortunately, the new system did not like my many-year old password. It is taking a while to change the password in all of my connected devices. I am having trouble accessing one smart plug. Instructions say my smart phone and the device must be on the same band, in order to change its settings. My phone is connecting to 5g, whereas the device only runs on 2.4g. I am using smart connect in my sysrem, and am not able to change my phone’s connection. Any thoughts?

    Reply
  2. Hi,
    I have an ASUS RT-AX86U which perfectly covers my whole house except for one room, the guest bedroom.
    Luckily I have an ethernet socket in this room and I decided to implement what is described in this post by adding an ASUS XD4 AIMesh node.
    And it works perfectly, thank you Dong.
    Just an issue with Guest Network when I disable intranet.
    It works perfectly on AIMesh router but don’t give IP adress on AIMesh node. If I enable intranet, it works fine on both but that’s not the point for a guest network.
    Any idea ?
    Perhaps a bug of firmware ? Both router and node use 3.0.0.4.386_46061-g9a06866
    On WEB interface ASUS propose to update AIMesh router with 3.0.0.4.386_48377-g3e428e2 but it’s not available for XD4.
    I always heard that with AIMesh all nodes need to have the same firmware to work properly. What do you think ?

    Many thanks
    Jean-Marc

    Reply
    • The firmware versions of different hardware units tend to have different build numbers, JM, so that’s normal. It looks like what you experienced might have been a bug. But I’d recommend restarting manually the hardware after you’ve made the changes. That can help sometimes.

      Reply
      • Hi Dong,
        Thanks for your answer.
        In the meantime new firmware for main router disappeared from ASUS interface, so strange.
        ASUS support is in mute mode.
        Anyway, I forgot to say that there is a Netgear Switch GS108E (manageable Plus Series) between RT-AX86U and XD4.
        Perhaps I need to parameter something on it or just use an unmanageable one.
        Please suggest.
        JM

        Reply
  3. I am trying to set up aimesh and have a AX86U as the main router and today got an AX5400 as the add on. We have set it all up and when I went into the router page I have noticed in the systems status on wifi. the 2.4ghz and 5ghz have the same password now and all the details are identical apart from the titles of 2.4 and 5. The 2.4 is no longer showing when i search with my phone to find it. I’m really struggling my way around this. Is this normal? I have tried googling and am i missing something obvious? Sorry if this is on the wrong page, i have read so much and confusing myself more!

    Reply
    • Sorry but it’s unclear what you were talking about, KH. I guess you’re using the system as SmartConnect. You can turn that off if you want to use the 2.4GHz and 5Ghz as two different networks (SSIDs).

      Reply
      • Hello Dong. thanks for your reply,
        I’m sorry for the confusion. I think I have confused myself googling for so long and I am not describing very well.
        Smart connect is off and I have rebooted just in case
        Before I added the AX5400 I had both 2.4 and 5ghz showing in the settings on ASUS router page. Different SSID names and passwords.
        Now when I log in I see them listed separately on the network map page, system status. but the 2.4 has exactly the same details as the 5 with the SSID name and password. When I search WIFI on my iPhone only the 5g and guest channel comes up. By adding the node does this mean its using 2.4 and that’s why i cant see it? It was definitely there earlier and the only difference is we added the AX5400.

        Reply
        • Then just change the name of the two bands to whatever you like. Your phone won’t tell you which band an SSID is and it seems you have the two bands sharing the same name (SSID). If you don’t want to get confused, just add “2.4Ghz” and “5GHz” to the SSID of the bands accordingly.

          Reply
          • Thank you. I will change them. They were differently named earlier, I just couldn’t understand why they would change when i didn’t change them. I thought i had done something wrong.
            Karen

          • Take your time and pay some attention, Karen. Note that the name change will take up to 5 or 10 minutes to apply, especially on the 5GHz band.

  4. Hi,

    I have an RT-AX88U as the primary router and two RP-AX56 units as nodes.

    The Topgraphy Map in the RT-AX88U router MESH interface, shows the RP-AX56 node that is furthest away from the main router, connected in satelite postion one, followed by the RP-AX56 that is just a meter from the RT-AX88U, in satelite postion two.

    I have tried connecting the node that is nearest first and then the node that is further away later, but the visual Topgraphy map continues to show the connections as the furthest away node first and the nearest node in second place.

    Does the Topography Map show the real order of netwrok connection?

    Do you have any comments?

    Many thanks,

    Stevie

    Reply
    • That map is not always immediately correct, Steve — I’ve experienced that many times even in wired backhaul, but eventually it’d correct itself after some time. Make sure you use the star topology. After that, you can also force a satellite to connect to the router or the other satellite by clicking on it then choosing the preferred Uplink AP, or using the Optimization button.

      Reply

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