If you look at the Asus RT-AC86U as a single AC2900 Wi-Fi 5 Gaming router, you'll overlook a lot, even though, as one, it works well and has a lot to offer.
With the support for AiMesh, the router is now part of Asus' pool of routers that can work together to create a Wi-Fi system. This mesh aspect is where it gets a whole lot more interesting, especially for those who already own an Asus router and are looking to upgrade.
In all, the Asus RT-AC86U is an easy recommendation. Currently, at about $200, this router is a steal. If you have a large home, get a pair. You won't regret your decision!
Asus RT-AC86U: Powerful hardware in a traditional design
Other than the fancy-looking front, the RT-AC86U resembles its older brother, the RT-AC68U which came out four years ago. However, the new router is much more powerful, running a dual-core 1.8GHz processor, 512MB of RAM, and 256MB of flash memory.
As for Wi-Fi, the router has 3x3 802.11n (up to 450 Mbps) and 4x4 802.11ac (up to 1733Mbps). However, it supports 1024QAM (Broadcom's new non-standard modulation technique), so for qualified clients, it can deliver up to 750 Mbps (2.4 GHz) and 2100 Mbps (5 GHz), simultaneously, hence the AC2900 designation.
Asus RT-AC86U: hardware specifications
|Wi-Fi standard||3 x 3 2.4GHz 802.11n: Up to 750Mbps|
4 x 4 5GHz 802.11ac: Up to 2167Mbps
|Processor||1.8GHz dual-core processor|
|Memory||256MB of Flash and 512MB of RAM|
|Dimensions||8.7 x 6.3 x 3.3 inch|
|Weight||1.9 lbs (860 g)|
|Ports||1x USB 2.0, 1x USB 3.0, |
1x Gigabit WAN, 4x Gigabit LAN
|Prominent features||Adaptive QoS, Ai Protection, |
WTFast Gamers VPN, Media Server
Asus AC2900 router: Detail photos
Easy setup, universal setting restoration
The RT-AC86U shares the same well-organized, easy-to-use web interface as previous Asus routers and has the same general setup process as any router with a web interface.
Thanks to a well-thought-out initial setup wizard, though, the RT-AC86U's setup process is quick and straightforward. It took me just a few minutes to get my test network ready.
What's most interesting is the RT-AC86U can be restored with a backup file of any other Asus router, going back as far as the RT-N66U. As a result, if you're using an older Asus router, you can just backup the setting of that router, then upload it to the RT-AC86U during the initial setup wizard.
And that's it! There's no need to program your new router to accommodate your existing network, which is a tedious process you will have to do if you get a new router from a different vendor. If your old router has many specific settings -- such as port forwarding, reserved IPs, Dynamic DNS, and so on -- this will save you a lot of time.
The RT-AC86U has all the settings and general features you'd expect to find in a router. These include but are not limited to port forwarding, dynamic DNS, VPN, etc. The router can work as a VPN server or a VPN client.
When coupled with an external hard drive plugged into its USB 3.1 port, it can function as and as a versatile storage server, including the ability to host Time Machine backups.
In all, whatever settings you expect from a home router, the Asus RT-AC86U has them and probably more.
Asus RT-AC86U: Generous set of helpful features
The Asus RT-AC86U comes with almost everything previous Asus routers have collectively had over the years.
Impressively, this includes the gaming feature once available only in much more expensive routers, like the flagship GT-AC5300. The screenshots below will walk you through its main features. All of them worked well in my testing.
Generally, home users will appreciate AiProtection, which protects the entire network from online threats in real-time. There's also Adaptive QoS that automatically distributes Internet bandwidth to deliver the best user experience.
Asus RT-AC86U’s features via screenshots
I had two RT-AC86U units and personally had a lot of fun with AiMesh, a feature Asus introduced earlier this year.
AiMesh allows for combining two routers into a kick-ass Wi-Fi mesh system. One works as the primary router, and the other automatically extends the Wi-Fi network.
Among other things, an AiMesh network has all the features of the primary router. Also, you won't need to register an account with Asus for it to work.
Note that the AiMesh is an ongoing feature and, for now, is still in an early stage and might not have everything you'd find in other purpose-built mesh systems. Still, I believe this feature is a considerable development and dedicated an entire post to it. Follow the link for more.
Asus RT-AC86U: Stellar performance
The RT-AC86U's performance was stellar in my testing, both as a single router and part of an AiMesh network.
As a single router on the 5Ghz band, it has a sustained speed of 837Mbps in close range and 801Mbps when I move the Wi-Fi client 40 feet away with a thin wall in between.
It even did well in the 2.4GHz band, especially in the long range. Though most clients nowadays support a 5GHz band, a fast 2.4GHz never hurts.
Again, I used two RT-AC86U units in an AiMesh Wi-Fi system, and they blew other systems I've tested away in performance. The hand-off also worked well: Clients automatically connected the closest node. What's more, from the main AiMesh router interface, you can view what node a client belongs to in real-time.
Since AiMesh is available in many routers, the scores below only represented a case of two RT-AC86U units. Depending on what Asus routers you put in the mesh, you might get even faster or slower performance.
By the way, I tested the mesh setup in a full-wireless configuration, which is not ideal due to the inherent signal loss. For the best performing mesh, it's recommended that you link the unit via a network cable (wired backhaul).
The RT-AC86U has an excellent range, too. In my testing, a single unit can deliver about 1,800ft² (167m²) of reliable Wi-Fi coverage. And with a second unit, the AiMesh system now easily covered some 4,000ft² with a strong signal.
Remember, though, that Wi-Fi performance depends on the environment, and other factors, so your mileage will vary.
During this time, I set it to transfer a large amount of data non-stop between multiple clients. It didn't disconnect once.
When coupled with a USB 3.0 portable drive, the RT-AC86U, via a gigabit wired connection, has a sustained copy of around 40Mbps, not as fast as the Netgear XR500 but still fast enough for casual network storage needs.
Asus RT-AC86U: Minor shortcomings
The RT-AC86U does have a few drawbacks.
For example, you can't mount it, so make sure you have a surface to put it on. Also, it has only four LAN ports. I prefer routers with more LAN ports and support Link Aggregation to combine two LAN ports into a single super-fast connection.
Asus RT-AC86U's Rating
Excellent performance both as a single router and as part of an AiMesh system
AiProtection security for the entire network
Plenty of useful features for home users as well as gamers
Can be restored using backup files of other Asus routers
No extra network ports like other high-end Asus routers
Not wall mountable
The Asus AC2900 RT-AC86U Wi-Fi 5 Gaming router is a stellar Wi-Fi router for anyone. The router is fantastic by itself.
Thanks to AiMesh, it also makes excellent use out of your old Asus router and will be helpful for a long time in the future when you buy another Asus as an upgrade. No similarly-specced routers from other networking vendors can come even close to the number of features and value it has to offer.
If you're in the market for a great, scalable Wi-Fi solution, look no further than the RT-AC86U (or one of its AiMesh-ready cousins).