The RT-BE96U is Asus's first Wi-Fi 7 router but far from the first of its type. Yet, it turned out to be the most exciting among its peers in my experience. It has the most to offer, including a real Wi-Fi 7 experience, though, like the rest, still lacks some major features.
Here's the bottom line: Even when considering the current draft stage of Wi-Fi 7, the RT-BE96U is an excellent buy for those wanting Gig+ and faster connections, both wired and wireless. The new router is the first Wi-Fi 7 machine I'd recommend, albeit with some reservations. It's well worth the effort and the suggested $699.99 retail price.
If you're looking for a powerful cutting-edge broadcaster that can work as a robust mesh member, check out Asus RT-BE96U today! It'll likely work out great, especially if you have multi-Gigabit broadband and a couple of Wi-Fi 7 clients to match.
Asus RT-BE96U: A powerful Tri-band Wi-Fi 7 router
The Asus RT-BE96U has been available since late August, but I took my time testing it for several reasons.
First, I wanted to wait for firmware updates. That's generally a wise thing to do with Asus routers, especially a version of major changes. And it's indeed major in this case. The new router uses a new Linux kernel, version 188.8.131.52, instead of the 184.108.40.206 used in existing Asus Wi-Fi 6E routers and older.
The second and more important reason is that I was on a quest to get some real computer-based Windows clients. Some smartphones support the new standard, and I've had a couple, but the way I test routers, phones generally don't cut it.
After a couple of months, the RT-BE96U recently got its post-release firmware, and this month also marked the time I managed to build my own Wi-Fi 7 test clients using the new Intel BE200 chipset via Wi-Fi 7-ready motherboards and add-on adapters.
Before the RT-BE96U, I already used these new test clients with other Wi-Fi 7 broadcasters, including those from TP-Link that I already reviewed, the ARRIS SURFboard G54 Cable Gateway and the Links Velop Pro 7, but they all still treated them no better than a Wi-Fi 6E device, (which would likely soon change with future firmware updates). The RT-BE96U is the first that did them right, to an extent, and you'll note below. The fact that Asus is one of the early adopters of Intel's Wi-Fi 7 chips — in its motherboards — might have had something to do with this.
So, the wait is finally over, and it proved to be worth it. But before we get there, let's address the elephant in the room, the GT-BE98.
Asus RT-BE96U vs. GT-BE98: Likely a better alternative
In January, Asus announced the RT-BE96U and the GT-BE98, the Quad-band gaming version, at the same time. If you wonder why I didn't pick the latter for a review, its release date is still up in the air. The hardware is not available yet.
However, judging from my experience with the Archer BE800, similar to the RT-BE96U and the Archer BE900 (the GT-BE98's counterpart), I would say that the GT-BE98's Wi-Fi will likely not be worth the hype for a couple of reasons.
First, it gets to the Quad-band status by having the 5GHz split in two, like in the case of the GT-AXE16000 or any Tri-band Wi-Fi 6 router. Band splitting might increase the theoretical bandwidth — you can use two portions of the 5GHz band at a time — but that limits the flexibility of the entire frequency. Specifically, each portion is much narrower, lowering the chance of building a wide channel in practice.
As I mentioned in this detailed post on band-splitting, Quad-band hardware has to sacrifice the bandwidth in its sub-bands, and at the end of the day, it is just not worth the extra cost and the headache in configuration. In the case of Wi-Fi 7, that will be compounded with the new Multi-Link Operation feature, making things complicated. This is likely why the GT-BE98 is not available yet.
Most importantly, considering the vastly greater bandwidth of Wi-Fi 7, splitting a band seems unnecessary.
What the GT-BE98 will decidedly have more than RT-BE96U (as well as the TP-Link Archer BE900 in some aspects) is its network ports and gaming features. While more Multi-Gig ports are always great, the gaming features can be hit or miss — they apply to only certain types of games. You'll be able to play most games just fine with the RT-BE96U, thanks to its robust QoS. So, on this front, the fancy red theme and Aura RGB lighting are the GT-BE98's only advantages over the RT-BE96U. And they are just bling.
Tip: You can turn the RBG light off and have the option to use the regular theme has always been available in Asus gaming routers running Merlin firmware.
That said, on the Wi-Fi front, I'd preemptively call the RT-BE96U better. That can be premature, and we'll cross that bridge when the GT-98 is out. For now, the table below shows the similarities and differences between these two.
Asus RT-BE96U vs. GT-BE98: Hardware specifications
|Asus RT-BE96U BE19000 Tri-band Wi-Fi 7 Router
|Asus ROG Rapture GT-BE98 Wi-Fi 7 Gaming Router
|8 x external
(2.4GHz + 5GHz + 6GHz ≈ 19000Mbps)
(2.4GHz + 5GHz-1 + 5GHz-2 + 6GHz ≈ 25000Mbps)
|2.4GHz: up to 1376Mbps
|5GHz: up to 5762Mbps
|5GHz-1: up to 5762Mbps
|6GHz: up to 11,525Mbps
|5GHz-2: up to 5762Mbps
|IEEE 802.11a, IEEE 802.11b,
IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.11n,
IEEE 802.11ac, IEEE 802.11ax,
IEEE 802.11be, IPv4, IPv6
|Web User Interface
Asus Mobile App
Asus Core Features
|Web User Interface
Asus Mobile App
Asus Core Features
Asus Gaming Features
|Quad-core 2.6GHz CPU,
256MB Flash, 2GB DDR4 RAM
|1x 10GBASE-T WAN/LAN
1x 10GBASE-T LAN
|1x 10GBASE-T WAN/LAN
1x 10GBASE-T LAN
1x 2.5GBASE-T WAN/WAN
3x 2.5GBASE-T LAN
|4 x Gigabit LAN
|1x Gigabit LAN
|1 x USB 3.0
1 x USB 2.0
Quick Start guide
|ROG Rapture GT-BE98
Quick Start guide
|13.8 x 13.8 x 8.57 in
(350.6 x 350.6 x 217.59 mm)
|14.12 x 14.12 x 8.77 in
(358.6 x 358.6 x 222.8 mm)
|4.12 lbs (1.87 kg)
|4.41 lbs (2 kg)
|DC Power Adapter
|AC Input: 100~240 V
DC Output: 19V with max.
19.5V with max 3.33A current
(per 24 hours)
|≈ 375 Wh
|not yet tested
|not yet tested
|US Release Date
|August 18, 2023
Asus RT-BE96U: Detail photos
Asus RT-BE96U: A familiar (bulky) AiMesh router
While the name might remind you of the RT-AX86U, the RT-BE96U looks more like Asus's top-tier Wi-Fi 6 and 6E gaming routers, including the GT-AXE16000. It comes in the familiar bulky, squarish design first introduced with the RT-AC5300 Wi-Fi 5 router, with 8 external antennas sticking out from its sides.
You can swivel each of these antennas some 200 degrees around and open it up to 45 degrees outward. They are not detachable, and there's no way to use the router without making it an eyesore to some. Keep that in mind if you are married to somebody who likes pretty things — this router doesn't have that coveted "wife-acceptance" element.
But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and personally, I don't mind this massive physical size. And this thing is large for a good reason. It has lots to offer.
But before we get to the goods, let's get one thing out of the way, literally.
Lots of plastic
For some reason, the RT-BE96U comes with lots of unnecessary plastic wrapping. More than previous Asus routers I've worked with.
Specifically, everything is placed inside a plastic bag — the power adapter alone uses two --, and each of the eight antennas is covered in not one, not two, but three layers of wrap. The two inner layers were so tightly attached I needed a small knife to pry them out. It took me over 10 minutes to remove all the plastic from the hardware. And I had to try very hard not to cause scratches.
The process was time-consuming and, frankly, quite upsetting. I kept thinking these little pieces of trash would eventually end up in the landfill or the ocean. They will almost certainly outlast this router.
The good news is, getting past the pile of trash, you'll get to the RT-BE96U itself, which has virtually all you can expect from a top-tier Wi-Fi router, as detailed in this primer post on Asus hardware. Basically, you'll get anything you'd want for a robust home network from this router, including VPN, QoS, AiProtection, Parental Controls, Traffic/data cap monitoring, and much more, at no additional cost.
Considering it's Asus's first Wi-Fi 7 router, here are a few things to note.
Standard setup process with universal restoration
If you have used an Asus router before, chances are you can back up its settings to a file and load it on the RT-BE96U. I did that during the setup process, and all the settings of an RT-AX86U Pro were ported over nicely.
However, it's worth noting that it's best to set up the new router from scratch. If you indeed want to reuse the settings of an old router, after uploading the settings, follow these simple steps:
- Adjust certain details — model name, SSID, Wi-Fi settings, port configurations, etc. — to match the new router.
- Do a setting backup to a new file and reset the router to the default setting.
- Restore the new router with the backup file in step #2.
In my experience, these extra steps will remove the kinks and make the new router work smoothly with the previous router's settings.
The second thing to note is that you should avoid using the Asus mobile app for the setup process. Instead, follow this detailed guide using the web user interface. I tested the app briefly with the initial setup of the RT-BE96U and ran into different issues — I gave up after a few tries.
Super-flexible network ports, only two Multi-Gig connections
The RT-BE96U comes with two 10Gbps Multi-Gig ports — one is the default WAN port, the other is a LAN port — and four Gigabit LAN ports labeled LAN1 to LAN4. However, you can use the web user interface to configure these ports in many ways.
For example, when applicable, you can:
- turn a Gigabit port into the primary WAN port and use the two 10Gbps ports as LANs.
- combine the default WAN port with the LAN4 port to form a WAN Link Aggregation.
- combine the LAN1 and LAN2 ports into a LAN Link Aggregation
- In a Dual-WAN, you can use any two network ports to host two separate broadband connections or use a USB port to host a cellular as the backup.
Overall, the router has the most flexible port management I've seen, even among Asus routers. This flexibility makes the fact it has only two Multi-Gig ports a bit restrictive. Specifically, if you want a Dual-WAN setup with two multi-Gigabit broadband connections, you'll have no Multi-Gig port left for the local network, which cancels out the benefits of extra Internet bandwidth.
So, on this port front, the RT-BE96U would be perfect if its Gigabit ports were all Multi-Gig (like the case of the Archer BE800) or if it had at least another Multi-Gig LAN port. This area is where the upcoming GT-BE98 is decidedly better.
Excellent support for AiMesh
AiMesh helps turn any supported router into a mesh member, and the RT-BE96U had that in its arsenal.
In my brief testing, I used the RT-AX89X as a satellite node, and the two worked well together, wirelessly (not recommended) or via a 10Gbps backhaul link (yay!). That was a nice surprise, considering the RT-BE96U used a much newer firmware version than the once-cream-of-the-crop Wi-Fi 6 router. So, if you're using the RT-AX89X and thinking of upgrading, you can use it as a mesh node.
Note: The RT-AX89X is one of a few Asus routers that doesn't support universal cross-model backup and restoration.
Asus RT-BE96U: All-around excellent performance with real Wi-Fi 7 speeds
For this review, I tested the RT-BE96U over a week, and it was a pleasant surprise.
The router worked well with existing Wi-Fi 6E and older clients. Its 5GHz and 2.4GHz support the legacy WPA authentication method and will allow clients as old as Wi-Fi 4 to connect.
When I used my newly-minted Wi-Fi 7 Windows clients with it, they, for the first time, connected at higher than the speed of Wi-Fi 6E. Specifically, my 2x2 Intel BE200 could negotiate at around 4Gbps and deliver sustained rates over 2Gbps. That was the fastest I've seen with my testing methodology.
And over 2Gbps was the highest Internet speed I got on the test laptop out of my 10Gbps fiber-optic line. So, it's safe to say the RT-BE96U is the fastest Wi-Fi router I've seen. It might not hold this title for long, considering there are more similar routers on the horizon, but for now, the fastest it indeed is.
I went back and briefly retested other Wi-Fi 7 broadcasters I had reviewed, and none delivered the same Wi-Fi 7 speeds. But that might soon change via firmware/driver updates.
However, the speed on this 6GHz band fluctuated. Generally within distances up to 50 feet in range, my test laptop negotiated somewhere between 1.4Gbps to 4.1Gbps and never sustained faster than 2.3Gbps of real-world rates. Still, that was enough to see how Wi-Fi 7 was a clear improvement over Wi-Fi 6E.
It's important to note that MLO wasn't available during my testing, nor was AFC — these two important features of Wi-Fi 7 will need to wait until well into 2024. Still, the RT-BE96U passed my three-day stress without disconnection, and it had excellent range, one of the best for a single broadcaster.
It's hard to measure the coverage precisely, but if you live in a home of around 2500 ft2 (232 m2) without thick walls, place it in the middle, and chances are you'll get Wi-Fi at every corner. Your mileage will vary.
The RT-BE96U also did well as a mini NAS server when hosting a portable SSD. Via a wired 10Gbps connection, it sustained over 150MB/s for writing and over 200MB/s for reading. While these weren't the best I've seen, they were generally fast enough for a single family's simple file-sharing or media-streaming tasks.
I also tested the router's two 10GBASE-T ports the way I do Multi-Gig switches, and as usual, they didn't deliver close to 10Gbps. Instead, I got around 6200Mbps at most. But that's consistently been the case for all 10Gbps routers I've tried, and that's more than fast enough for any home.
The RT-BE96U ran cool and completely silent during my trial. It seemed to have no internal fan, though I didn't open it to make sure.
Asus RT-BE96U's Rating
Wi-Fi 7 support; excellent performance; AiMesh-ready
Lots of free, in-depth, and useful networking features and settings (VPN, AiProtection, Parental Control, Bandwidth monitoring, etc.)
Two 10Gbps Multi-Gig ports with excellent port flexibility; supports Dual-WAN and LAN/WAN Link Aggregations
No vendor required login account; run cool and quiet
Only two 10Gbps ports; Wi-Fi 7 is still in draft
Bulky design, not wall-mountable
Lots of unnecessary plastic wraps
Thanks to the recent availability of the Intel BE200 chip, the Tri-band Asus RT-BE96U is the very first Wi-Fi 7 router on the market that could demonstrate the new standard's 2x2 connection grade to a consumer-grade Windows computer. It certainly won't be the last.
Besides Wi-Fi, the new router also has an excellent set of features and two 10Gbps ports. Coupled with a Multi-Gig switch, it helps you build a complete multi-Gigabit network in your home.
Just like Wi-Fi 7, which is not even all there yet, the Asus RT-BE96U is not a must-have, and I wouldn't be surprised if it had firmware bugs or more significant changes from now until the new wireless standard is ratified. However, if you're looking for a powerful router that potentially has virtually everything today, it's one of the best candidates. Have $700 lying around? Give it a try!