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

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This post is about the Asus RT-AX86S vs RT-AX86U. Together they make an odd pair of Wi-Fi 6 routers.

A year and a half ago, I reviewed the latter and then called it “arguably the best Dual-band Wi-Fi 6 router“, for a good reason — the router has been one of the best.

And 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 has since called them both the RT-AX86 series, which makes things even more confusing.

I’ve received many questions about these two. Folks seem to want me to say that they are the same router, possibly so that they’d feel better getting the S due to availability or cost difference.

Speaking of which, it’s interesting that at the time I published this post the two shared the same price on Amazon in the US. In this case, there’s no reason you should get the S version.

But if it costs less where you are, this post will help you understand the differences between the two, so you can decide for yourself. I’m not going to review the S separately.

Asus RT-AX86S vs RT-AX86U
Asus RT-AX86S vs RT-AX86U: From this angle, you likely have no idea which one I’m using here.

Asus RT-AX86S vs RT-AX86U: Two different routers (almost) entirely

By the look, most of us can’t distinguish the RT-AX86S from the RT-AX86U. They share the same shape, color, number of antennas, etc.

On top of that, the two share the same set of network features and settings. Apart from Asus’s core feature set, they both include a few valuable gaming-related features.

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

  • AiMesh 2.0 support: Either can work as the primary router or a satellite note 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: That’s 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, the two seem to have more in common than they do in differences. Or do they? Let’s take a look at their hardware specs.

Asus RT-AX86S vs RT-AX86U: Hardware specifications

NameASUS RT-AX86S AX5700 
Dual-Band Wi-Fi 6 Router
ASUS RT-AX86U AX5700 
Dual-Band Wi-Fi 6 Router
Wi-Fi TechnologyDual-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)
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)
Backward Compatibility802.11a/b/g/n/ac802.11a/b/g/n/ac
AP ModeYesYes
Mesh-readyYes (AiMesh)Yes (AiMesh)
Gigabit Port4x LAN, 1x WAN4x LAN, 1x WAN/LAN
Multi-Gig PortNone 1x 2.5 Gbps LAN/WAN
Link AggregationYes (LAN and WAN)Yes (LAN and WAN)
Dual-WANYesYes
USB1x USB 2.0,
1x USB 3.0
2 x USB 3.0
Mobile AppAsus RouterAsus Router
QoSYesYes 
Parental ControlYesYes 
Processing Power1.8GHz dual-core CPU,
256MB Flash,
512MB RAM
1.8 GHz quad-core CPU,
256MB Flash, 
1GB RAM
Built-in Online ProtectionYes 
(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)
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)
Weight1.8 lbs (814.5 g)1.8 lbs (814.5 g)
Release Date
(US market)
September 22, 2021August 11, 2020
US Price
(at launch)
$250$280
Hardware specifications: Asus RT-AX86S vs RT-AX86U

Asus routers and privacy

Upon turning on some features on an Asus router, you will run into this scary warning:

“By using AiProtection, Traffic analyzer, Apps analyzer, Adaptive QoS/Game boost, Web history, you agree to the Trend Micro End User License Agreement. Please note that your information will be collected by Trend Micro through AiProtection, Traffic analyzer, Apps analyzer, Adaptive QoS, and web history.”

Asus Privacy Message
That ominous privacy warning

If you read the entire EULA, you’d understand what it entails. But since nobody wants to read that boring, yet important, document, and some might not appreciate its wording, let me put this in simple terms:

These features only work because their provider scans the router’s traffic. That’s like if you want to be protected in real life, you will need to have somebody, like a bodyguard, to watch over you. In networking, protection requires extra connections — there’s no way around that.

I won’t pretend I know what TrendMicro or Asus does with the information it might have access to — I don’t know — but (personally) I’d be more worried about how and what Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, or Google (in that order) does with my data, which is collected the moment I turn a particular device on.

But yes, using these features will inherently cause privacy risks. The good news is that they are turned off by default, and you’re never coerced into turning them on.

So, use them or not use them, it’s your call. Just remember, you can’t have them both ways. Generally, privacy and security are a matter of degree.

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 host that in full.

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.

Gig+ generally applies to the sustained speeds of Wi-Fi 6 or 6E (via a 2×2 connection) or Internet speed, not wired local 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.

The takeaway

Asus hasn’t confirmed 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 primary because of its 8 Gigabit LAN ports.

Soon later, Asus released the RT-AC3100, which shares the same Wi-Fi specs but has four fewer LAN ports. Since the RT-AX88U is an AC3100 router, folks were confused between the two at the time — and probably still are today.

Like the RT-AC3100, I’m sure the RT-AX86S is a good router. If you don’t need the Multi-Gig port or care about extra processing power, chances are it might 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 latter in a heartbeat, even if it’s more expensive.

It’s worth noting, though, that you can get both and use them in an AiMesh setup for a large home. (If so, get your home wired first for 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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24 thoughts on “Asus RT-AX86S vs RT-AX86U: What’s the Deal?”

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. 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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