Asus RT-AC88U Revisited: Even Better Three Years Later

After three years, my RT-AC88U cleans up really well.
After three years, my RT-AC88U cleans up well.

Today marks my 3rd anniversary of having used the Asus RT-AC88U almost non-stop. It’s the only router I’ve continually used for such a long time.

I originally reviewed this router (in my previous life) at its launch and called it the Nexus of wireless routers. Soon after, I got one for my personal use. In the years that followed, I reviewed many other routers. So when I say I now still find mine one of the best, I speak from experience.

READ NOW:  Asus RT-AX88U vs. RT-AC88U: The Same Router of Two Wi-Fi Standards

Indeed, via firmware updates, Asus has managed to keep the RT-AC88U’s performance and features on par (and even better in many cases) with the latest Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) routers, including the recent RT-AC86U of its own.

That plus the unique eight LAN ports and the support for AiMesh make this router worth every penny of its current $235 price tag.

Asus RT-AC88U Wi-Fi Router

9

Performance

9.0/10

Features

9.5/10

Design and Setup

8.5/10

Value

9.0/10

Pros

  • Fast Wi-Fi performance with excellent coverage
  • Tons of useful features including the ability to guard the network against online threats
  • Eight LAN ports with Dual-WAN and Link Aggregation
  • Excellent support for Asus's AiMesh
  • Merlin firmware support

Cons

  • Awkwardly placed USB 3.0 ports
  • Slow network storage speed when coupled with an external hard drive

Asus RT-AC88U: Almost perfect for nerds

Like all routers, the RT-AC88U is far from perfect. It has a USB 3.0 port right on the front and mediocre network storage performance when coupled with a portable drive. It was also a bit buggy with early firmware versions.

But to compensate, the router has top 4×4 Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) specs and sports a 1.4 dual-core CPU, among most potent for routers at its time. However, what makes it unique is the eight Gigabit LAN ports (as opposed to just four in most routers).

As a result, out of the box, it can host more wired devices before you need to resort to a switch. Even by today’s standard, the extra LAN ports are still a novelty.

(Note on RT-AC88U vs. RT-AC3100: Asus also makes the RT-AC3100 that is very similar to the RT-AC88U, which is an AC3100 router. The two look almost identical, except from the back where the RT-AC3100 has the usual four LAN ports.)

But there’s more. The RT-AC88U was one of the first home routers with Link Aggregation, allowing users to combine two of its LAN ports into a single 2Gbps connection. I have used this feature from day one with my Synology NAS server and loved it. Link Aggregation is one of the main reasons I kept using this router despite having so many opportunities to replace it.

And there’s even more! You can also turn one of its LAN ports into a second WAN port. If you have two broadband connections, such as DSL and Cable, you can use both at the same time to increase speed (load-balancing) or to have high availability (fail-over).

I tried this feature out, too, and it worked well. By the way, for load-balancing, make sure you use two broadband connections of similar speed grades. If that’s not the case, it’s better to use them in the fail-over mode.

Specifications

Asus RT-AC88U’s photos

The Asus RT-AC88U has quite a few things to show off. From the beautiful design to its generous amount of network port, to its quite cool removable antennas. Here are a few photos for your enjoyment.

Coming in a traditional router design, the RT-AC88U still manages to look quite right.

The router’s four antennas are easily removable.

The RT-AX88U looks good from the front with a design that resembles a racing car.

This USB port is awkwardly placed on the front of the RT-AX88U

The RT-AX88U has eight LAN ports but no multi-gig port.

AiMesh allows users to customize hand-off and band-steering to their liking.
The RT-AC88U looks good from the backside, too.

All things considered, the Aus RT-AC88U is arguably one of the best Wi-Fi 5 routers out there.

Useful features

With the latest firmware, the RT-AC88U has all the features available in new Asus routers. These include AiProtection, Adaptive QoS, Game Boost, and so on. Over the years, I’ve used all the features of the router, and they have become the base standard for me to evaluate other routers.

Asus RT-AC88U’s features in screenshots

Once restored with the setting of my RT-AC88U, the RT-AX88U took over the AiMesh network without a hitch
Once restored with the setting of my RT-AC88U, the RT-AX88U took over the AiMesh network without a hitch

With Wake on LAN, you can turn on a computer in the network without having to be physically close to it.
With Wake on LAN, you can turn on a computer in the network without having to be physically close to it.

AiProtection keep the entire network safe from online threats in real-time.
AiProtection keeps the entire network safe from online threats in real-time.

The support for AiMesh is by far the most valuable feature of the RT-AC88U.
The support for AiMesh is by far the most valuable feature of the RT-AC88U.

When coupled with an external drive, the RT-AC88U can do all you can imagine with that drive, including the support for Time Machine backup.
When coupled with an external drive, the RT-AC88U can do all you can imagine with that drive, including the support for Time Machine backup.

The Traffic Analyzer feature will come in handy when you're curious about your home network's online activities.
The Traffic Analyzer feature will come in handy when you’re curious about your home network’s online activities.

The RT-AC88U's QoS feature is easy to use and effectively.
The RT-AC88U’s QoS feature is easy to use and effective.

With Game-Boost you can rest assured that your network is connected to the best server for online gaming.
With Game-Boost, you can rest assured that your network connects to the best server for online gaming.

What I like the most, however, is the Wake on LAN function, which is part of the Network Tools. I use this regularly to turn on other computers or servers within my network remotely.

I also frequently use the VPN server to connect to home while traveling. The router can also work as a VPN client if you want your home network to be part of another home’s or office’s network.

Excellent support for AiMesh

AiMesh, introduced via a firmware update earlier this year, is by far the best feature of Asus routers. The RT-AC88U is one of about a dozen routers that support this feature, and it does so really well, both as the primary router and as a node.

READ NOW:  AiMesh Review: Asus's Ongoing Journey to Excellent Wi-Fi Coverage

Speaking of AiMesh, during the review of the RT-AC86U, I used the RT-AC88U as one of the AiMesh nodes. After that, I wanted to use it as the main router, and to my pleasant surprise, that was easy.

I just needed to upload the settings of the RT-AC86U (from a backup file) on to the RT-AC88U, and the latter will take over, retaining all user configurations, including those of the AiMesh feature (other nodes and so on). There was no need to build the mesh from scratch.

Asus RT-AC88U: Excellent performance

I tested the RT-AC88U with its latest firmware available at the time of this review, and it did even better than a few years ago.

Fast Wi-Fi speeds

On the 5GHz, at a close range of shorter than 10 feet, it registered the sustained rate of almost 850 megabits per second. When I increased the distance to 40 feet away, it now still averaged more than 600 Mbps.

On the 2.4GHz, the router wasn’t as impressive but still comparatively fast with almost 200 Mbps and more than 110 Mbps for close and long distances, respectively.

The router also has excellent coverage, being able to cover a home of 2000 ft² (186 m²) on its own when placed close to the center. It’s also reliable. I did need to restart it a few times unexpectedly in the past few years, but that was it.

By the way, for best performance, I’d recommend restarting your router, whichever you use, once in a while. The RT-AC88U (as well as most Asus routers) allow you to you schedule a periodical restart at the time of your choosing.

Still mediocre USB-based network storage

I also tested the network storage, and there was no improvement. I connected a Samsung T5 to the router’s front USB 3.0 port, via a Gigabit connection, it registered less than 30 MB/s of copy speeds.

This type of performance is not good enough to handle the router’s vast amount of storage features. Also, during my storage testing, the router’s interface became sluggish. It seems its 1.4GHz dual-core CPU and 512MB of RAM aren’t enough to handle the latest firmware’s demand for multi-tasking.

It’s a good thing that I’ve always had a dedicated NAS server, and so should you if you want to enjoy network storage with this router.

Conclusion

Considering my line of work, it’s not usual for me to keep using a router for a long time, but RT-AC88U is a keeper. I think I’ll use it for a while longer before having to finally replace it with a Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) router.

Since Wi-Fi 6 will take a few years to mature, if you’re looking for a reliable router now, I still recommend the RT-AC88U. It’ll serve you well for many years to come.

46 thoughts on “Asus RT-AC88U Revisited: Even Better Three Years Later”

  1. Hi

    Thanks for this post. Is this router suitable for FTTP?

    I have a large 3 floors, 6 bedroom house, what is the WIFI like, does it drop regularly? My Talktalk super router keeps dropping WIFI.
    Thanks

    Reply
  2. Hello Dong,

    Finding a good router is so confusing! Even on the manufacturer’s own website, their models seem to overlap and when I finally find one that might suit, it’s no longer a current model!

    Your article made me consider the RT-AC88U. My only hesitation being a local (Australian) forum suggesting iffy 2.4GHz performance. I hope that was a limited hardware fault and not a wider design or manufacturing issue.

    Have you replaced yours yet?

    Cheers,
    Norton

    Reply
    • I have moved to Wi-Fi 6, Norton, (I have to) but still use mine at some capacity. It’s a great router. Get it! You can also put Merlin firmware on it.

      Reply
  3. Hi Dong!

    Thank you so much for all of the information on your site. I have recommended it to some co-workers recently that were interested in upgrading their wifi setup.

    I recently purchased 2 Asus AC86U units that have been working well in an AI mesh setup, one of which is the main router. I’m thinking of adding another node and I saw you recommended above that it’s a good idea to use the AC88U as the main router if you already have 2 Asus AC86U units and wish to expand.

    Any benefits to having an AC88U as the main router and having the existing AC86U units as nodes, as opposed to just getting another AC86U? From the tests above, it looks like the AC86U has better long range performance on 2.4 and 5 GHz, and comparable performance for close range. Regarding the price, it seems the AC86U is cheaper currently.

    Thanks again!
    -Mike

    Reply
  4. Hey Dong, Been reading your stuff for a while thx for all the advice. Now I need to bother you! Want to update from my old Linksys setup was thinking of stepping into the Ubiquiti universe. The UDM really interests me due to the all in one approach and like all the network protection adjustments you can make. Like creating separate network to place all Iot devices. Ive also been checking the AC-88U and you have high regard for it. But am hesitant due to all the posts about problems with the UDM. hey are similar but different, which would you recommend? Thanks again!

    Reply
  5. Hello Dong
    Its really great route – I am using in mesh system with RT-1900U. Recently – like 2 days ago my wifi speedtest went down pretty bad – I had on some pages around 550Mb/s, now I am getting 150Mb/s max.
    I didn’t change anything. Beside I disconnect RT-1900U from mesh and tested again – no improve.
    I am assuming that my ISP did some changes – of course they are saying all is fine. They got fiber router Halny in bridge mode connected to my Asus RT-88U via 1Gb cable (WAN). I try different channel after checking which one has no users….
    What do you think? What else I can check it?
    I dont trust ISP at all now what they are saying 🙂

    Reply
  6. RT-AC5300 is Triband router, which can use one 5ghz for AImesh Connection and still get great speeds if you cannot it wired. Keep the 68u, thats a great boxe. AX88U is again nice one. Or you can go all different with Google First Gen WIFI, you can get it cheap in Facebook market place or other online place. Google wifi is also a great mesh router which can be connected using Wired in the first Gen. Good Luck.

    Reply
  7. Hi Dong! I recently discovered your site, and how much I’ve been doing wrong. My house provides untold complications with signals. Exterior brick walls in between rooms due to additions, large single floor footprint,(2650 sq ft, former 4 room motel) etc . I’ve been using an AC88u as the main mesh and an ac 68u in our bedroom some 60 ft as a wired backhaul node. Using the Wi-Fi SweetSpots app I noticed crazy drops in between even losing connection to Wi-Fi which could explain why calls while moving around drop. ( we have little to no service in our rural area) and our connected tv in the kids playroom constantly loses the network. I decided to get the zen Wi-Fi ax pair to fill in the gaps. The 88u is in my den (years before I purchased it was the outdoor car park so surrounded by exterior brick walls from the rest of the house) which houses my home office, our theater, and gaming central. It is also where the cable comes in for connection. But I have wires running to where I’d like to put a zen to fill the gap.

    I read later that I should try to keep to similar models, but I would like to try this out since I have a lot time on my hands.

    Should I keep my 88u as the main aimesh and use the zens as nodes?

    If I have Wired backhauls running do I need to worry about star topography?

    Should I consider forgetting running a mesh and just do AP?

    I also had a crazy plan to replace the 68u with a zen, and throw the 68 in the garage either through a wireless back haul, or I got a powerline to test. I realize it’s not the most efficient, but really would just like to stream music and YouTube how to videos at my workshop In there. lots of questions I know and I wish I could upload a pic of this floor plan it’s pretty crazy.

    Reply
    • Glad you’re here, Alex.

      1. Walls are always problematic, and you have figure out how problematic yourself, though. But this post will help.
      2. If you have wired backhaul, the current hardware will work fine, though you might need more of them considering the walls. And no, you can place the hardware unit however you want. More on that in this post.

      A Router + AP setup is very similar to a mesh. But a mesh allow you to control all hardware unit in one place. But if you want to go this route, you can keep the RT-AC88U and get a couple of TP-Link APs, like these ones.

      Reply
  8. Hi Dong, Do you think AC88U is still worth it now? Still thinking if I will get an AC88U or an Archer AX50 though my mobile phone support Wifi 6.

    Reply
  9. So I first posted back in Jan 2019 and have taken advantage of being stuck at home to tweak my system. Findings: I have an AC88u and four AC86u spread throughout the house. Updated all firmware and full reset to factory. Set up the 88u as AI Mesh router with 86u as AIMesh nodes, star topology, all connected with gigabit ethernet backhaul. I have separated the 2.4 and 5ghz bands into separate SSIDs. 2.4 for IOT devices and 5 g for streamers, phones, and iPads and computers. You would think this is the perfect setup but I have only had grief. Within 2-6 hours, one by one the 5 ghz bands start to die until there are no more. You can tell they’ve died because the 2.4g LED still flicker with traffic, but the 5g LED is frozen solid. 2.4ghz traffic still works though. A reboot of the router won’t fix the problem but rebooting the nodes (power cycle) will reactivate the 5g bands again—temporarily. At first I thought this was a hardware failure but 3 nodes all having the same problem is too much of a coincidence. So, I did another full factory reset and dumped AIMesh. I have the 88 as router and the 86u in AP modes. Things are humming again without failure for two days now. I may add that I have a total of about 100 devices on the network in combination of half LAN and half Wifi. I wonder if the router simply can’t handle the traffic of 100 connected devices and directing mesh handoffs whereas AP nodes seem to be more of a simple task for the 88u.

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing, Chris. AP mode is a lot more simple so I’m not surprised it works better. If you don’t mind having to manage each router individually, that’s fine. AiMesh can be buggy in certain router combos.

      Reply
  10. Hi Pimples, Please do the following. Try to use wired connection from the main router to all the child mesh routers. Also go to Adminstration/System/Enable Reboot Scheduler=Yes, select monday thru friday and set time to reboot at 03:30. LOL I have QNAP attached to ac88u and have 2 ac68u as child, but these childs are wired from the main one. (Backhaul). Let me know if you have any questions. if you using stock firmware, try to use ASUS merlin firmware.

    Reply
  11. Dong,

    What are your settings for your router? My house is 2000 sq ft and I am getting nowhere near your speeds. I have AT&T fiber that clocks 950mbps via ethernet. But my wifi is only clocking 60/100mbps on 5ghz (short/long range) and 40/60 on 2.4. I need to unlock my router and get something in the ball park of your speeds!
    Thanks in advanced!

    Reply
    • Hi Tony. First of all, you won’t get high speed ALL around the house. But yes, you should get very good speed upto some 40 feet away from the router within line of sight. That said, make sure you upgrade the router to the latest firmware and use a 2×2 Wi-Fi 5 (or faster) Wi-Fi client.

      Reply
    • Dong,

      Yes, I am testing only 5 feet away and 20 feet away so just trying to get better speeds at relatively reasonable distances. My router has been up to date with the firmware. Still clocking similar speeds. I have tested 400+ on devices wifi so not sure what the issue is.

      Reply
      • Try resetting it and set it up using Smart Connect. You might have changed some settings. Not sure what else you can do. My RT-AC88U definitely has much faster speeds. By the way, you can find out how I test on this post.

        Reply
  12. Hi, Dong. Looking to purchase a new Asus router and thinking about either the AC88U or the AX88U. I have a 6-year old AC66U, and a 3-year old AC68U (T-Mobile). Both are flashed with Merlin. I use the 68U as the primary router and the 66U has VPN (we live in China). If I’m going to buy the 88U AC or AX, should I continue using my setup using an older router and then flashing the newer one with VPN or the other way around? Thanks.

    Reply
    • You should get the RT-AC88U, use it as the main router and the RT-AC68U as an AiMesh node. Ditch the Merlin firmware and use Asus’s stock firmware instead. The 88U should take care of the VPN for you.

      Reply
  13. Hi Dong, Have a question about aimesh. If I have 2 routers, one expensive and fast, one cheap and slow, Is it better for the fast one to be host or node? Thanks in advance 🙂

    Reply
    • Generally, the faster/better one should be the router since it’ll give you more features. But if you just want to share the internet access, and your broadband connection is modest, it doesn’t matter which one you use as the router.

      Reply
  14. Hi Dong, thanks for the reply, my rt-ac88u mesh node is connected via utp cable to the main mesh gt-ac5300, so I’m using a utp cable backhaul, right? So, where would that leave the third band on my gt-act5300?

    Reply
  15. Hi Dong,

    Great review! I decided to buy the ROG GT-AC5300 and the RT-AC88U and set then up with aimesh.

    But what I don’t understand now is that the ROG is a tri-band router and the RT-AC88U is a dual band router, so how does that work when I use these two in an aimesh setup? Does it mean the tri-band option is useless in aimesh when not all of the routers are tri-band?

    Heroe

    Reply
  16. I’ve had the Asus RT-AC88U router over 2 years but would never buy it again. It’s been a fairly good router but the special features Asus boasts of never worked properly and Asus Technicians 1) Couldn’t figure out the problem, and 2) Their remedies tech support tried to get me to perform on my Asus router were DESTRUCTIVE and would have caused me to lose all my network configuration settings and bring down my whole network – forcing me to start-over from scratch if I tried implementing them. One great router feature that never worked is Asus’s iCloud Smartphone App. The iCloud App should let you remotely upload/download files from your smartphone to a NAS drive on the Asus router – the iCloud App never worked and their technical support couldn’t figure out why. Another way to access files on the NAS is through Asus’s web interface, the web interface did work, but, because of the large screen real-estate of the web interface, attempting this connection from a smartphone is impossible. Another thing that never worked was sharing the NAS drive directly on my personal network. I could always “see” the drive on the network, but, clicking on it to access the files always caused an error on both Mac and PC and it was another issue that Asus tech support couldn’t solve. Additionally, the indicator lights on Asus router stopped working. Though the router still functions, the indicator lights on the front panel stopped working completely and once again tech support didn’t have a clue on what to do. Because of the issue with the front panel lights, I’m half expecting the entire unit to fail shortly. When this happens, I will be seeking another router from a different manufacturer – I will not buy Asus again.

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Darryl, and sorry that the router didn’t work out for you. If you want to be serious about network storage, though, you should get a dedicated NAS server. The storage features of the router, any routers for that matter, are limited by its processing power — it’s not a computer, just a router — and therefore can be a pain to use, especially if you have high expectations. As for tech support, I don’t work for Asus so I have no comment on that. I personally haven’t had the need to call them when I have issues. 🙂

      Reply
  17. I apologize for the simplistic question, but is there a big difference between the RT-AC88U and the RT-AC3100? Should I be avoiding the router version? What features will I be losing if I get the router version? I am very impressed by your review but I don’t want to miss out on anything. Thank you in advance!

    Reply
    • Apology accepted! 🙂 The RT-AC88U has more LAN ports (8 vs. 4) and that’s the only difference. It can be a big difference, though, if you want to use Link Aggregation which will take up two LAN ports.

      Reply
  18. Hey Dong,

    I have a the old 68U from 2014. It recently started dropping connection issues so I’m looking to upgrade. I have a 2000 sf home with a family of 4, a 10TB qnap server and we game alot. I’m assuming the 88 would be preferable over the 86 for me and a huge upgrade to the old 68U?

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Yes, the 88U (https://amzn.to/2uH1O6R) is a big upgrade compared to the 68U and better than the 86U for your needs. By the way, you can probably just upgrade the 68U to the latest firmware and it might work well again, or you can then use it as part of an AiMesh mesh.

      -Dong.

      Reply
  19. Great review. I have had this router for 2 1/2 years and love its dual band performance, especially when multiple people in the house are streaming simultaneously with zero issues. I do have some range issues in the opposite end of the house and would like to get a all wall plug-in extender. Any recommendations for under $100?

    Reply
  20. Hi there. Great review, thanks. I am seriously looking at purchasing this unit to couple up to my Virgin Super Hub 3.0 which is giving very patcy performance and drops WiFi regularly.

    My question is – The Router needs to support a family of 6 with multiple streaming and constant gaming uses (3 full gaming PCs, a PS4 and XBOXone), plus i have a Synology DS918 connected to the network. So initially i was looking at the ASUS RT-AC3200 as its triband but started to look at the RT-AC88U becuase of the much needed 8 LAN ports (though i can get around this with my gigabit switch) and the fact that it supports Link Aggrigation. Do you have any thoughts on whats best or words of advice.

    Many Thanks

    Rob

    Reply
    • All routers you mentioned can support your big family, Rob. However, considering your NAS, I’d recommend the RT-AC88U. Link Aggregation is really helpful in this case. Don’t get the RT-AC3200, it doesn’t support AiMesh or does it have Gaming features. Plus Tri-band is still overkill for a family of 6.

      Reply
  21. Thanks, Dong. I have them all connected through ethernet right now. Just wondering, when you reboot the AP router, do the nodes know to reboot as well or do I have to manually power cycle them? You can’t reboot them individually through the web interface once they’re nodes. Lastly do you use smart connect? I have one SSID for 2.4 and one for 5.8 because I have some IoT devices like Roombas that only connect to 2.4 and seem to have a fit with one SSID for all connections.

    Reply
    • No, you need to reboot them manually. (unplug the power cable). Also, yes I use it SmartConnect. You can configure the SC rules – on the right of the SC switch – to force clients to connect to a specific band.

      Reply
  22. I have an 88u as the main AP router and four 86u as nodes for a big house but surprisingly I have a lot of dropped connections. Is it possible that I have too many APs in the house and they’re interfering with each other? My harmony one bases and amazon echo keeps dropping connections on 2.4 ghz. Would you use the 88 or the 86 as the main AP? I have an QNAP NAS I have plugged into the 88u app with link aggregation.

    Reply
    • Hey Cuong,

      I haven’t used more than 3 hardware units (one router, two nodes) so I can’t really relate to your situation. However, it’s unlikely the amount of units is the reason for the disconnection. Also, it’s a good idea to use the RT-AC88U as the main router. That said, I’d recommend the following:

      1. Update all units’ firmware. Download the latest firmware from Asus’s website and manually update all of them using the router’s unit’s interface. After the update, make sure you manually restart all of them, too.
      2. When possible use network cables to connect the units together.
      3. Change the value of Wireless -> Professional (tab) -> Roaming Assistant to a different value (probably higher than the current one). That’d change the threshold that make a client to jump from one node to anther. The higher the value the more sticky a connection is.
      4. Re-arrange the nodes so that all of them have a direct connection to the router unit (star topology).

      Hope this helps, 🙂

      -Dong.

      Reply

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