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 at its launch and called in 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.
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 W-Fi Router
- 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
- Awkwardly place 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 powerful 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.)
And there’s more; the RT-AC88U was one of the first home routers that have 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 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.
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.
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 in case 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.
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 settings, including those of the AiMesh feature (other nodes and so on). There was no need to build the mesh from scratch.
Fast Wi-Fi performance
I tested the RT-AC88U with its latest firmware, and it did even better than a few years ago. On the 5GHz, at a close range of shorter than 10 feet, it registered the sustained speed 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 vast amount of storage features the router has. 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.
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.