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Asus RT-AX86S vs RT-AX86U vs RT-AX86U Pro: What’s the Deal?

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This post is a quick matchup of the Asus RT-AX86S vs RT-AX86U vs RT-AX86U Pro. Together they make up confusing Dual-band Wi-Fi 6 options.

In mid-August 2020, I published an in-depth review of the RT-AX86U and called it “arguably the best Dual-band Wi-Fi 6 router” for a good reason — the router has been one of the best.

Things moved along rather quietly until mid-2021 when Asus released the RT-AX86S, which looks the same as the RT-AX86U yet is very much a different router on the inside. The company called them the RT-AX86 series — lumping both on the same product page — making things even more confusing.

And then, in late 2022, Asus did it again by introducing the RT-AX86U Pro, which is basically the RT-AX86U plus a slightly faster CPU.

I’ve received many questions about the RT-AX86U vs RT-AX86S and then about the RT-AX86U vs RT-AX86U Pro.

Initially, folks seem to want me to say that the first pair is the same, possibly so they’d feel better getting the S due to availability or cost difference. And with the second pair, many were confused — rightfully so.

This post will help with those questions. The gist is if pricing is the same, then there’s no reason not to get the Pro version. And The RT-AX86S can be a good choice for a non-demanding home.

But overall, the RT-AX86U is the safest choice. I will not test and review the S and Pro versions separately.

At the time of publication, in the US, the RT-AX86S costs $250 (before the discount), the RT-AX86U goes for $280, and the RT-AX86U Pro is not yet available.

Dong’s note: I first published this post on February 3, 2022, and updated it on December 3 to add information about the latest variant, the RT-AX86U Pro.

The Asus RT-AX86U is one of the best Wi-Fi 6 routersThe Asus RT-AX86U is an Excellent Gaming Router
Asus RT-AX86S vs RT-AX86U vs RT-AX86U Pro: From these angles, you certainly can’t tell which one is which.

Asus RT-AX86S vs RT-AX86U vs RT-AX86U Pro: Identical-looking, but one is an (almost) entirely different router

By the look, most of us can’t distinguish the RT-AX86S from the RT-AX86U, and it’s even harder to tell the RT-AX86U vs RT-AX86U Pro apart.

All three share the same shape, color, number of antennas, etc.

And the resemblance goes beyond the look. They also share the same set of network features and settings. Apart from Asus’s core feature set, they both include valuable gaming-related features.

I detailed their similarities in this post on Asus Wi-Fi broadcasters, but here are some highlights of these three:

  • AiMesh 2.0 support: Either can work as the primary router or a satellite node in an AiMesh setup.
  • AiProtection: Built-in free online protection for life.
  • Flexible port configuration: Both support Dual-WAN, Link Aggregation (WAN and LAN), and a Game Port.
  • Adaptive QoS: Both have a robust QoS feature.
  • AX5700 Wi-Fi specs: 3×3 AX on the 2.4GHz band (861Mbps) and 4×4 AX on the 5GHz (4804Mbps).

That said, just like all Asus Wi-Fi 6 routers, these three routers seem to have more in common than they do in differences.

But when you look closer, especially at their hardware specs, you’ll see how they are quite distinct, especially in the case of the RT-AX86S.

Asus and your privacy

Before turning on some features, an Asus router shows a warning, as shown in the screenshot below.

Asus Privacy Message
Asus routers’ ominous privacy warning you need to consent to before using some features.

The said features only work because a third-party scans the router’s traffic. That’s the nature of any protection — a security detail will include somebody who watches over you — there’s no way around that.

So, these features inherently cause privacy risks, which is why they are turned off by default, and you can leave them that way. If you choose to use them, you must sacrifice some privacy aspects.

Privacy and security are a matter of degree, and data collection varies from one company to another. Here’s the Taiwanese hardware vendor’s Privacy Policy.

Asus RT-AX86S vs RT-AX86U vs RT-AX86U Pro: Hardware specifications

NameASUS RT-AX86SASUS RT-AX86URT-AX86U Pro
Wi-Fi TechnologyDual-band AX5700Dual-band AX5700Dual-band AX5700
2.4GHz Wi-Fi Specs
(channel width)
3×3 AX: Up to 861 Mbps
(20/40MHz)
3×3 AX: Up to 861 Mbps
(20/40MHz)
3×3 AX: Up to 861 Mbps
(20/40MHz)
5GHz Wi-Fi Specs
(channel width)
4X4 AX: Up to 4804 Mbps
(20/40/80/160MHz)
4X4 AX: Up to 4804 Mbps
(20/40/80/160MHz)
4X4 AX: Up to 4804 Mbps
(20/40/80/160MHz)
Backward Compatibility802.11a/b/g/n/ac802.11a/b/g/n/ac802.11a/b/g/n/ac
AP ModeYesYesYes
AiMesh-readyYesYesYes
Gigabit Port4x LAN 
1x WAN
4x LAN 
1x WAN/LAN
4x LAN 
1x WAN/LAN
Multi-Gig PortNone1x 2.5Gbps LAN/WAN1x 2.5Gbps LAN/WAN
VLANNoNoYes
Link AggregationYes
(LAN and WAN)
Yes
(LAN and WAN)
Yes
(LAN and WAN)
Dual-WANYesYesYes
USB1x USB 2.0,
1x USB 3.0
2 x USB 3.01x USB 2.0,
1x USB 3.0
Mobile AppAsus RouterAsus RouterAsus Router
QoSYesYes Yes 
Parental ControlYesYes Yes 
Processing Power1.8GHz dual-core CPU,
256MB Flash,
512MB RAM
1.8GHz quad-core CPU,
256MB Flash,
1GB RAM
2GHz quad-core CPU,
256MB Flash,
1GB RAM
Built-in Online ProtectionYes 
(AiProtection)
Yes 
(AiProtection) 
Yes 
(AiProtection)
Dimensions
(with antennas)
9.52 x 3.93 x 12.79 inc. 
(242 x 100 x 325 mm) 
9.52 x 3.93 x 12.79 inc. 
(242 x 100 x 325 mm)
9.52 x 3.93 x 12.79 inc. 
(242 x 100 x 325 mm)
Dimensions
(without antennas)
9.52 x 3.93 x 6.45 inc. 
(242 x 100 x 164 mm)
9.52 x 3.93 x 6.45 inc. 
(242 x 100 x 164 mm)
9.52 x 3.93 x 6.45 inc. 
(242 x 100 x 164 mm)
Weight1.8 lbs (814.5 g)1.8 lbs (814.5 g)1.8 lbs (814.5 g)
Release Date
(US market)
September 22, 2021August 11, 2020TBD
US Price
(at launch)
$250$280TBD
Hardware specifications: Asus RT-AX86S vs RT-AX86U vs RT-AX86U Pro

RT-AX86S vs RT-AX86U: Some gaming-changing differences

Indeed, flip them around, and you’ll notice that the RT-AX86S does not have a 2.5Gbps Multi-Gig port on the back. Instead, all its network ports (one WAN and 4 LANs) are all Gigabit.

sus RT-AX86S vs RT-AX86U: It's quite clear which is which when you look at their back.
Asus RT-AX86U vs RT-AX86S (bottom): It’s pretty clear which is which when you look at their backside.

This extra Multi-Gig port is a significant difference because it allows the RT-AX86U to work as a satellite in a wired Multi-Gig AiMesh setup. You can’t do that with the S version. Also, if you have Gigabit or even Gig+ broadband, the U version can fully handle that.

What is Gig+

Gig+, or Gig Plus, conveys a speed grade faster than 1Gbps but slower than 2Gbps. So, it’s 1.5Gbps, give or take, and it’s not fast enough to be qualified as Multi-Gig or multi-Gigabit.

Gig+ generally applies to the sustained speeds of Wi-Fi 6 or 6E (via a 2×2 at 160MHz connection) or Internet speed and is not used to describe wired network connections.

What’s more, the RT-AX86U has much more powerful processing power, running a quad-core CPU and double the amount of RAM. That sure will translate into better performance and responsiveness.

And finally, the RT-AX86U has two USB 3.0 ports, while one of the S version’s ports is USB 2.0.

RT-AX86U Pro vs RT-AX86U: VLAN plus some minor differences

The RT-AX86U Pro is somewhat on the other side of the RT-AX86U from the RT-AX86S. It’s a slightly more powerful router (with 2GHz of extra clock speed on the CPU) yet has only one USB 3.0 port.

Asus RT AX86UAsus RT AX86U Pro
Asus RT-AX86U vs RT-AX86U Pro (right): From the back, you’ll note that the latter’s 2nd USB port is a USB 2.0 instead of USB 3.0. That’s the only noticeable visual difference between the two.

I haven’t tested the Pro, but it’s safe to say, in real-world usage, chances are it will be the same as the older version.

The faster CPU doesn’t hurt, but it won’t help much, considering the small increment. And the second slower USB port cancels out whatever little extra that CPU offers.

But the Pro version has one extra feature that can be a boon to a business user: the support for VLAN which enables users to build a separate logical network within the router’s physical network ports. For most home users, however, this feature generally plays no practical role.

Asus and VLAN

VLAN, short for virtual local area network, is a business feature that allows users to create a logical network on an existing physical network. It’s similar to building a mini mother-in-law guest house within your property.

All Asus routers have Guest Wi-Fi networks, a form of VLAN, or SDN (software-defined network).

The company’s select models — including RT-AX86U Pro, RT-AX88U Pro, GT-AX11000 Pro, GT-AXE16000, GT-AX6000, ZenWiFi Pro ET12/XT12, and ExpertWiFi Series — also support a more advanced VLAN feature allowing users to customize their network ports accordingly. Additionally, these models generally share the same Pro-only features on top of the standard set available in all Asus routers.

The takeaway

Asus didn’t confirm this, but my take is the S in the RT-AX86S is short for “stripped-down.” This new router has way less to offer than the RT-AX86U.

This type of router release has happened before, though.

Years ago, I reviewed the RT-AC88U and thought it was the coolest thing ever, primarily because of its 8 Gigabit LAN ports.

Subsequently, Asus released the RT-AC3100, which shares the same Wi-Fi specs but has four fewer LAN ports. Since the RT-AC88U is an AC3100 router, folks were confused between the two at the time — and probably still are today.

Like the RT-AC3100, I’m confident the RT-AX86S is a good router. If you don’t need the Multi-Gig port or care about extra processing power, it will give you the same experience as the RT-AX86U.

But if you ask me to say that these two are the same, the answer is always a hard no. And I’d pick the RT-AX86U in a heartbeat, even if it’s more expensive.

As for the fight between the RT-AX86U vs the RT-AX86U Pro, the “Pro” notion of the latter is a bit arbitrary. There’s not much extra to qualify the new hardware for the moniker. But that’s just semantics. Chances are the two are the same in real-world usage, and I wouldn’t consider the Pro if it costs noticeably more.

It’s worth noting, though, that you can use all three and use them in an AiMesh setup for a large home — if so, get your home wired first for the best performance. In that case, you know which you should use as the primary router.

Looking for other matchups in Wi-Fi solutions? Check them all out here.

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70 thoughts on “Asus RT-AX86S vs RT-AX86U vs RT-AX86U Pro: What’s the Deal?”

  1. Excellent coverage and articles. After reading thru I can’t decide if I should get the AX82 or the AX86S or The TUF AX5400? I am using a AC3200 thats dying as I need to reboot to get an IP address. Thank you.

    Reply
  2. Good Day,
    I want to upgrade my Asus RT-AC68P to a wifi 6 router. I’m considering the RT-AX88u and the RT-AX86U-Pro. The reason for the 86U is that it will fit on the shelf currently occupied by the AC68. Is there a compelling reason I should go with the 88U or 88U-Pro instead (I would just have to modify the shelf)?

    Reply
  3. With routers, when does having more cores come into play?
    Using it as a Nas, VPN, excessive amount of devices?

    For reference I currently have a AC68U running a VPN client and 15-20 devices so either would be an upgrade.

    Reply
    • The more features you use, the more recourses are needed generally, James. So yes, NAS, QoS, Protection, etc., will benefit from high processing power. VPN by itself doesn’t require much, but more power doesn’t hurt.

      Reply
  4. Hi, thanks for the nice review.
    Does RT-AX86U PRO and RT-AX86S supports TX power adjustment?

    I know the RT-AX86U has this setting “wireless->professional”, but I’m not sure about the other two models.

    Thank you.

    Reply
  5. Hello Dong,

    First of all thank you so much for your work, I love these reviews and refer to them often.

    I have the opportunity to buy a new RT-AX86U Pro a few dollars cheaper than a new RT-AX86U. Given that the RT-AX86U Pro version has only one USB3 port this would be a better choice? On the other hand, the second USB is usually used to connect less demanding devices such as printers that probably do not require fast USB3. Perhaps it is better to focus on processor power (1.8GHz vs. 2GHz Pro). Could you please help me solve my dilemma?

    Reply
  6. Hello doug,

    in Canada where I live the routers are on sale and I live in a mid sized appartement. The RT-AX86s is at 180 CAD and I’m considering picking it up since it’s a good bang for the buck. But wouldn’t the RT-AX82U at 200$ be a more balanced alternative since I don’t need super long range? Thanks

    Reply
    • sorry for misspelling your name haha. So the big difference between the AX86S and the AX82U is the one less core on the AX-86S. But the WiFi performance and range are better on the AX86S. so what’s better? More core performance or better wireless performance and range?

      Reply
  7. Hello, what is recommended? AX86U in Operation or AX86U Pro without Operation. Think you will serve me for a few more years thanks

    Reply
    • I don’t know what you meant by “Operation,” but if you read the post, you’d know what I’d recommend.

      Reply
      • The Pro version supports VLANs. The other two models do not.

        VLAN capability on the LAN side was added with the release of Firmware: 9.0.0.6.102.3506 (Beta Version)

        Other ASUS routers that will eventually support VLAN on the LAN side include: GT-AX11000 Pro, GT-AX6000, ROG Rapture GT-AXE16000, RT-AX88U Pro, ZenWiFi Pro ET12, ZenWIFI Pro XT1

        There’s now a FAQ for it, showing you how to set it up.
        => https://www.asus.com/support/FAQ/1049415/

        So far, only RT-AX86U Pro and GT-AX11000 Pro have Beta version updates for this capability.

        They’ve also introduced “Guest Network Pro” capability.

        1. Add Guest Network Pro:
        β€’ Kids WiFi: Create a network for kids that blocks access to adult content and has a schedule to control when the network is available.
        β€’ VPN WiFi: Create a VPN network that connects to 3rd party VPN services or with ASUS site to site VPN(https://www.asus.com/support/FAQ/1048281/) to encrypts your internet connection and hides your IP address to protect your online activities from being tracked or monitored.
        β€’ IoT WiFi : Create an IoT (Internet of Things) network that blocks malicious traffic* and only allows 2.4GHz devices to connect.
        β€’ Guest WiFi: Create a guest network with a WiFi schedule and access rights to control when and how guests can use the network.
        2. Add VLAN in LAN settings.

        Reply
        • Addendum: Guest Network Pro is VLAN-based. (Completely different to Guest Network option in current firmware)

          Reply
        • Sometimes finding information from Asus can be difficult.
          I have been clamoring for even rudimentary VLAN support on a well-regarded consumer-level router for some time now. If the RT-AX86U-Pro indeed supports this, I’d happily acquire one. I just want one ethernet port isolated this way. There are still devices that I prefer to connect via a wired connection but that I don’t want on my LAN. This would allow me to connect a switch to an ethernet port with access to/from WAN only and use it for my TVs, streaming devices, etc. to keep them off my LAN.
          The interesting thing in the FAQ you referenced, @stmok, (thank you, by the way!) is that Asus mentions two supported routers and more coming. I can’t help but wonder which others this might include.
          I also can’t help but wonder if/how much the incremental CPU upgrade helps with this traffic management.

          Reply
          • Just a friendly note here that my AC-86U has been just fine for over a year now and delivering just on wi-fi alone (my studios are ethernet connected) in excess of my ISP’s 500 down/20 up,
            with no ‘hiccups’ or issues .. Thanks for the recommendation of this model! I trust, based on the exchanges I’ve seen here about other Asus versions – I’m not really missing out on anything thus far LOL. : )

  8. Hi Dong. Thanks a lot for the review. I have a question. I live in a two story house (three if you consider the basement). Currently, I am using two AC68U in Wireless AiMesh on a 60Mbps line (They both have Merlin installed). Our main use at home is some video streaming for the kids (either from Netflix and the like or from a shared storage via USB in the main router), work from home, a VPN server with light load and a couple phones connected to the network. The signal is not bad in the far corners of the house but some times we have occasional disconnects which I think are due to the AiMesh setup (after all that is not supposed to be perfect especially on wireless backhaul). This sales season, I have the option to get the AX88U (CAD250), AX86S (CAD180) or the AX86U (CAD280) (all +taxes which is %15, and yes we pay %15 taxes!).
    So my question is, first, do you recommend upgrading to WiFi6 (is it going to give me improvement in connection quality assuming most of my clients are still WiFi5?) and if yes, which one of those would you recommend?

    Reply
      • Thanks Dong. So let’s assume I am upgrading to WiFi6 (which I have to do sooner or later), which one of those three routers (considering the price) you would recommend? Here are the conversions to USD:

        AX88U: USD 210
        AX86U: USD 240
        AX86S: USD 150

        Reply
  9. Hi, ive been using the RT-AC86U for the past few years and generally happy with it. Was thinking of upgrading to a wifi 6 router, but since my internet plan is only 300mbps am looking more for connection stability and range rather than speed. Would changing my router to AX86S or TUF AX5400 be an upgrade (or any others you would recommend) or should i keep using my current router until i can afford the AX86U? thanks

    Reply
  10. Hey Dong

    Really enjoy your website, keep up the good work.

    I understand your opinion that you don’t like a striped down version.
    However, I am finding the S version for €169 vs €262 compared to the U

    Normally I wouldn’t mind paying more for better gear but I feel at such a big difference it might not be worth it to go for the U.

    Generally my usage is not extreme, the only heavy usage might be Instant Guard but not sure if it would qualify as heavy usage.

    Would appreciate your opinion. I am leaning towards the S but don’t want to regret it in the future

    Reply
    • With that big of a difference, I’d go with the S, Hamoud. As for regret, there shouldn’t be any when you make an informed decision. πŸ™‚

      Reply
        • Hi Dong, do you still feel the RT-AC86U is an excellent router? I have been using one for close to a couple of years now and have not noticed any major issues. My primary needs are wired/ethernet for a studio and office in home…secondarily, the wifi… It seems pretty stable. Is the AX86U or anything subsequently released significantly better as far as performance and stability vs the AC86U – especially as far as throughput and robustness of the ISP speeds? ISP speed tests Wifi averages anywhere from 300 to 450 down, and 20-22mbps up and I have Spectrum broadband that is rated to be 500 mpbs (“ultra” plan) – I use port forwarding for audio streaming for a broadcast network which seems pretty stable. Thanks for any thoughts! Mike in Mich.

          Reply
  11. “As for the fight between the RT-AX86U vs the RT-AX86U Pro, the β€œPro” notion of the latter is a bit arbitrary. There’s not much extra to qualify the new hardware for the moniker.”

    The Pro uses a different CPU – BCM4912 vs the 4908 of the non-pro. It also uses a different radio chip for 5Ghz – BCM6715 for the pro vs the BCM43684 for the non-pro. Supposedly, these should result in a slight performance improvement.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the info, Sander. The Pro sure is better, as I mentioned. Still, it doesn’t have much to be really a “Pro”. But it’s just semantics anyway.

      Reply
  12. Dong. Have been reading your posts since CNET days
    I had issues with my velop, even in wired mesh configuration.
    Thanks to you, I spent $700 in 3 ASUS AX86U Back in 2020 and use them in a wired mesh configuration. I could not be happier. I like to upgrade hardware every 3-4 years but reading about new routers and price, I like what I have. Thank you !!!

    Reply
  13. For someone that currently has a 86u but wants to add a 2nd router via AImesh to beef up signal is some far reaching spots in the house where multiple walls interfere with the signal (doorbell camera, bedrooms on far side of house from router, etc.), would you see much benefit in a 2nd 86u over a cheaper 86s? Or are there other lower cost alternatives for a 2nd router you’d recommend, maybe something lower profile (lan ports not needed, just extending the wifi coverage)? Thanks!

    Reply
  14. Hi Dong,
    between the AX86S and the AX92U, what would you pick for a mid-sized apartment? thanks.
    Best
    Tiago

    Reply
  15. Newegg dropped the price of the Ax86s to around $180 and I picked it up for $164 (before tax) using my Walmart associate discount as Walmart’s website dropped their price for a day or so. I have never paid more than about $190 for a router. I’m coming from the Asus Ax58u. I can’t wait for it to arrive so I can compare. It will mostly be used for two OnePlus 10 Pro phones, a Playstation 5/Xbox Series X and a Sony TV. With only two people in the home, I doubt we will push it much.

    Reply
  16. Hi Dong, Create review as always.
    Which is the better router for home use and gaming between ASUS TUF AX5400 and the ASUS RT-AX86S?

    Reply
  17. You missed one major difference between U & S models. S can work from 12 vdc, meaning I can run it mobile without the power brick, unlike the U model, which is 19vdc only

    Reply
  18. I really wanted the AX86U after seeing the results and testing coming from your source. However the model has just disappeared and I can not longer get in Australia. I know you haven’t tested the AX86S but would the results be different with only the processing power of a dual processor and half the RAM. My concern it would not be the powerhorse it is to compare to the AX86U to produce those speeds.

    If I am wrong, I will take your advice or can you suggest the best alternative in ASUS and would that be the GT-AX6000?

    Reply
    • The GT-AX6000 is defnitely a better alternative, Dave. However, if you don’t care much about the 2.5Gbps port and don’t intend to use lots of features, my take is the RT-AX86S will work out fine.

      Reply
  19. Hi Doug,
    I had been happily using this AX86S router for many months with 45Mbps internet. Great value alternative to AX86U.
    But just got 1Gbps up+down internet installed. ISP provided a Linksys MX4200.

    The AX86S is dual core
    (This would affect WAN to LAN speed?) but great WiFi.
    The Linksys MX4200 is a mesh-first tri-band router, quad core SoC, but slower 1200+2400 5GHz bands WiFi.

    Which one would you use as main router?
    I’m leaning towards the Asus, for more configurable firmware. But fear I’m leaving bandwidth on the table.

    Reply
  20. Hi Dong,

    I’ve previously contemplated XD6, but the limited ports (plus the thought of adding an extra switch) is pushing me towards getting a pair of RT-AX86U (in mesh) but backhaul using the 2.5Gbps LAN.

    I can’t get RT-AX89X here (all pre-order, unknown ETA) – I presume these would work just as well and I can use the satellite’s first two ports for Link Aggregation NAS?

    Thanks in advance

    Reply
      • Thanks Duo,

        I was going for XD6 for the mesh capability, as I needed 2 devices also for their ports.

        I ended up with 2x RT-AX86U, wired backhaul between the two (2.5G) and running link aggregation for my NAS πŸ™‚

        Also thanks to Dong! πŸ™‚

        Reply
  21. Hi, i’m curious, i replaced an aging AIrport Extreme with an RT-AC86U not long ago and I thought that was a model that you had reviewed very favorably here…Did I get my model #’ wrong on this? Is there a major difference between RT-AX86U vs the AC86U? Thanks!! Mike

    Reply
      • Ok thanks. My first priority with the modem is for Macs in an in-home pro studio that has to communicate with broadcast facilities for streaming audio and everything is ethernet connected – and in that respect, and correct me if i’m missing something – i’m not seeing a major difference based on your reviews between the AC86U and AX86U… The wifi for home and office with the AC86U seems plenty stable and solid enough. Thanks!

        Reply
        • If the current router is working well now, Mike, I’d say keep it. The RT-AC86U is an excellent Wi-Fi 5 router.

          Reply
          • Although I only have one WiFi 6 client, and my Asus1900p is working perfectly, I might consider replacing it with the ax86s now that it’s on sale at Amazon. https://amzn.to/3krdDb1 512 MB is more then enough ram for me since I’m only using about 55 to 60% of my current router’s 256 MB memory. I also have no use for multi gig ports. I’m also considering the AC86U which for some reason your test shows even faster longer range speeds with 5G.

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