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.
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.
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, all three 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: Each can work as the primary router or a satellite node in an AiMesh setup.
- AiProtection: The built-in free online protection for life.
- Flexible port configuration: Dual-WAN, Link Aggregation (WAN and LAN), and a Game Port.
- Adaptive QoS: A robust QoS feature.
- AX5700 Wi-Fi specs: 3x3 AX on the 2.4GHz band (861Mbps) and 4x4 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.
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. But they are turned off by default, and you can leave them that way to use an Asus router without sharing data with the vendor.
Asus RT-AX86S vs RT-AX86U vs RT-AX86U Pro: Hardware specifications
|Name||ASUS RT-AX86S||ASUS RT-AX86U||RT-AX86U Pro|
|Wi-Fi Technology||Dual-band AX5700|
|2.4GHz Wi-Fi Specs|
|3x3 AX: Up to 861 Mbps|
|5GHz Wi-Fi Specs|
|4X4 AX: Up to 4804 Mbps |
|Gigabit Port||4x LAN |
|Multi-Gig Port||None||1x 2.5Gbps LAN/WAN|
|Link Aggregation||Yes |
(LAN and WAN)
|USB||1x USB 2.0, |
1x USB 3.0
|2 x USB 3.0||1x USB 2.0, |
1x USB 3.0
|Mobile App||Asus Router|
|Processing Power||1.8GHz 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 Protection||Yes (AiProtection)|
|9.52 x 3.93 x 12.79 in (242 x 100 x 325 mm)|
|9.52 x 3.93 x 6.45 in (242 x 100 x 164 mm)|
|Weight||1.8 lbs (814.5 g)|
|September 22, 2021||August 11, 2020||August, 2022|
|US Price |
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.
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 2x2 at 160MHz connection which has the 2400Mbps theoretical ceiling speed -- 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.
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.
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.
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.