The Asus RT-AX88U is one of the first Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) routers on the market, and I was quite excited to get my hands on it. So excited, I decided to test it for a second time — I didn’t have any Wi-Fi 6 clients the first time around. So, this is an updated review to include the router’s Wi-Fi 6 performance, using some Intel AX200-based devices.
It’s important to note that RT-AX88U has no multi-gig network port. As a result, there was no way to find out how fast its Wi-Fi is. At most, you’ll get 1Gbps wireless speed out of it. But that’s enough for most of us, including those few who are lucky enough to have a Gigabit Internet connection.
So, if you have upgraded your computers to Wi-Fi 6, for around $300, the RT-AX88U is a sensible purchase.
Dong’s note: I first published this review on January 6, 2019, and updated it on October 22 with 2×2 Wi-Fi 6-based test results.
ASUS RT-AX88U AX6000 Dual-Band Wi-Fi 6 Router$310.99
- Fast Wi-Fi performance
- Tons of useful features
- Eight network ports with Dual-WAN and Link Aggregation
- Universal setting backup and restoration
- Fast network attached storage speed when coupled with an external drive.
- Merlin firmware support
- No multi-gig network port
- Buggy firmware (at review)
Asus RT-AX88U: The RT-AC88U’s clone with a significant twist
In many ways, the new RT-AX88U router is like a souped-up version of the RT-AC88U that came out almost four years ago.
The two share the same physical design, feature set, and network ports (8 LANs and one WAN). It even carries over the awkwardly placed USB 3.0 (or USB 3.2 Gen 1) on its front. On the back, though, the second USB port is also USB 3.1 (and not 2.0 in the RT-AC88U) case. By the way, the two routers also share the same power adapter.
While the Gigabit network ports are enough for the RT-AC88U, they are not for the RT-AX88U. As a Wi-Fi 6 router, the latter’s wireless speed can easily surpass 1Gbps. Consequently, in a wired-to-wireless connection, the router’s LAN ports are the bottlenecks.
On the inside, the new router is much more powerful than its older cousin. For one, it features 802.11ax with a top Wi-Fi speed of up to 4333 Mbps on the 5GHz band and up to 1148 Mbps on the 2.4GHz band. It also sports a beefier 1.8GHz quad-core CPU and has double the amount of RAM (1GB).
Note that the Wi-Fi speeds mentioned above are theoretical, and you need a 4×4 Wi-Fi 6 client to see. Chances are the real-world speeds will be lower, but still much faster than that of Wi-Fi 5.
Asus RT-AX88U’s specifications
Straightforward setup process
Setting up the RT-AX88U is precisely like that of any previous Asus routers. It’s similar to that of any routers with a web interface. Here are the steps:
- Connect the router’s WAN port to an Internet source (such as a cable modem)
- Connect a computer to one of its LAN ports (or its default open Wi-Fi network.)
- From the connected machine, open a browser and navigate to the router’s IP address, which is 192.168.50.1, or router.asus.com, you’ll get to the initial setup process. You’ll first need to create a new admin password (for the router’s Interface) and a secure Wi-Fi network before you can connect to the Internet.
And that’s it. Now you can use the interface to manage the router’s settings and features.
Universal setting restoration
During the setup process, you’ll have a chance to upload settings from a backup file. In this case, you can upload settings of almost any other Asus routers. Like most Asus routers released in the past five years or so, the RT-AX88U supports universal setting restoration.
For those having a network with lots of settings (like port-forwarding, IP reservations, AiMesh, and so on), being able to transfer the settings from one router to another saves a lot of time since they won’t need to program the new router from scratch.
In my trial, I uploaded the settings of an RT-AC86U and then an RT-AC88U to the RT-AX88U, and it worked each time flawlessly.
Note: You can’t transfer all settings from one router to another. Special features, like a VPN server, may require to be set up from scratch.
Familiar feature set
The RT-AX88U has the same feature set as that of the RT-AC88U, which is among the best among home routers. Here is the list of significant and useful features:
AiProtection: Powered by TrendMicro, this free feature protects the entire network from online threats. For example, when you’re about to browse a malicious website, the router will stop your browser and display a warning.
AiProtection also includes a useful and easy to use Parental Control function. You can block individual clients from specific online categories (Adult, Social media, and so on) based on a schedule. It’s interesting to note that while Parental Controls works well, albeit vague in categorizing, the router’s URL Filter function (part of its Firewall) can’t block secure (https) websites.
Adaptive QoS: This prioritizes Internet traffic for clients or applications of your liking. QoS is not new, but Asus’s Adaptive QoS is both easy to use and effective. It also includes a bandwidth monitor — in case you want to know who’s been hogging the Internet — and web history.
Game Boost: This aims toward gamers. Game Boost includes a free client for WTFast GPN, a VPN gaming network, and a one-click tuneup for the QoS setting.
AiMesh: This feature turns the router into a part of a robust mesh network. It’s so cool that it deserves a separate post. Note, however, that AiMesh has been quite buggy in my testing with Wi-Fi 6 routers and might take Asus a while to develop better firmware for it.
Other than that, the router has a host of other features. For example, you’ll find a ton of things host you can do with its USB ports that support external storage devices or cellular dongles. You can also turn the router into a powerful VPN server or a VPN client. And there are all other advanced settings you might need to customize your home network to the max.
Asus RT-AX88U’s detail photos
Asus RT-AX88U: Gigabit-class performance
I tested the RT-AX88U using a couple of home-made 2×2 Wi-Fi 6 clients, and it did well, though not as well as the GT-AX1100.
Wi-Fi 5-like Wi-Fi 6 performance
The reason, again, was because it has no multi-gig port. To find out the top Wi-Fi speed of a router, you need to use a single wired-to-wireless connection so that its Wi-Fi bandwidth is not shared. And in the case of the RT-AX88U, its Gigabit network ports are the bottleneck. Indeed, its performance with Wi-Fi 6 clients was almost the same as when I used a high-end Wi-Fi 5 client.
Specifically, on the 5Ghz, the router got around 900 megabits per second at close distance. When I increased the range to 40 feet (12.2 m), it averaged some 810 Mbps. Note that I used a 2×2 Wi-Fi 6 client, but even when you have faster 4×4 clients, the result won’t be different.
I did an anecdotal test by using two 2×2 Wi-Fi 6 clients and copy data from one to another and got an average speed of about 650Mbps. That means the RT-AX88U has the sustained 2×2 Wi-Fi 6 speed of about 1300Mbps, on par with the Netgear RAX120.
Average 2.4GHz Wi-Fi speed
On the 2.4Ghz, the router was about the average, with some 198 Mbps and more than 110 Mbps for close and long-distance, respectively. Note that the performance on this band tends to suffer gravely from interferences and backward compatibility. That’s been the case for many routers, at least where I live, in the past many years.
In terms of coverage, the router was about the same as the RT-AC88U in my testing. When placed in the middle, it can handle a single home of 1800 ft² (167 m²) to 2000 ft² (186 m²) easily with Wi-Fi speed at every corner fast enough to deliver an average broadband connection in full (70 Mbps to 250 Mbps).
This second time around, I tested the RT-AX88U with the newest firmware (version 184.108.40.206.384.6436), and for the most part, the router worked well. However, it wasn’t flawless.
One thing I noted is that it took quite a long time — up to five minutes — for the 5GHz band to be ready each time I made any changes to the Wi-Fi settings. During this time, the network wasn’t available — you might think something is wrong. Also, Wi-Fi 6 clients’ speeds fluctuated a lot when older clients were present.
Another thing is that the RT-AX88U worked well as an AiMesh router in my testing, but it wasn’t reliable as a node. I had to restart once in a while. At times, its Wi-Fi network wasn’t available for the mesh.
I have no doubt Asus will soon release firmware updates to improve the router. That said, you should wait for a bit if you intend to get this router to use in an AiMesh setup.
Also, until new software drivers are available, you might need to disable the router’s 802.11ax HE frame support for the router to work well with legacy clients.
Fast network-attached storage
I expected the RT-AX88U to have better network storage performance when coupled with an external hard drive, and it did.
I used a SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD for the test. Via a Gigabit connection, it registered more than 72 megabytes per second and some 111 MB/s for writing and reading, respectively.
These are excellent speeds among routers with similar network storage feature. But, due to the lack of a multi-gig port, the RT-AX88U trails behind the RAX120, or the GT-AX11000 on this front.
Note that the router’s USB ports tend to default to USB 2.0, likely to reduce the impact on the router’s 2.4GHz Wi-Fi performance. To make sure you get the best network storage performance, you need to manually switch them to work in USB 3.0 mode. You can do this via the Network Map section of the router’s web interface.
By the way, in USB 2.0 mode, the router’s NAS performance was 35MB/s and 38MB/s for writing and reading, respectively.
Supporting 4×4 Wi-Fi 6 yet without a multi-gig port, the Asus RT-AX88U is half of a router it can be in terms of performance. Specifically, even when 4×4 clients are available, there’s virtually no scenario in which you can enjoy its faster wireless speeds.
But Gigabit is plenty fast, and for now, there are only 2×2 Wi-Fi 6 clients on the market. That plus the generous set of useful features, make the RT-AX88U it a sensible upgrade for those wanting a robust router that can for sure deliver Gigabit-class Internet in full.