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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. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

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

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

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 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 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 about 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. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

The router’s four antennas are easily removable. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

The RT-AX88U looks good from the front with a design that resembles a racing car. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

This USB port is awkwardly placed on the front of the RT-AX88U Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

The RT-AX88U has eight LAN ports but no multi-gig port. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

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

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

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 Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

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. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

AiProtection keep the entire network safe from online threats in real-time.
AiProtection keeps the entire network safe from online threats in real-time. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

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. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

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. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

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. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

The RT-AC88U's QoS feature is easy to use and effectively.
The RT-AC88U’s QoS feature is easy to use and effective. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

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. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

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.

READ MORE:  AiMesh: Asus's Ongoing Journey to Excellent Wi-Fi

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 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.

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.

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About the Author: Dong Ngo

Before Dong Knows Tech, I spent some 18 years testing and reviewing gadgets at CNET.com. Technology is my passion and I do know it. | Follow me on Twitter, or Facebook!

27 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

    3. 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.

  3. 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.

    1. 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.

  4. 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 🙂

    1. 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.

  5. 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?

  6. 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

  7. 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.

    1. 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. 🙂

  8. 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!

    1. 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.

  9. 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

    1. 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.

  10. 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?

  11. 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

    1. 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.

  12. 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.

    1. 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.

  13. 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.

    1. 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.

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