Asus ZenWiFi AC Review: A True, and Improved, AiMesh System

Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech The ZenWiFi CT8 mesh Wi-Fi system includes two identical routers.

The ZenWiFi AC (model CT8) is not the first canned Wi-Fi system from Asus, but in my opinion, it’s the first built with the popular AiMesh feature in mind. The mesh is part of Asus’s new ZenWiFi family, announced earlier this month at CES 2020, which also includes a Wi-Fi 6 version, the ZenWiFi AX (XT8).

In all, the new mesh Wi-Fi system worked well in my testing, as a standard setup or an add-on to an existing AiMesh router. If you have a home of 4000 ft² (372 m²) or so, this 2-pack sure will take care of it. But if you have a larger home, you can use this with more AiMesh router(s) to create a mesh that delivers even more extensive coverage.

No matter how you plan to use it, at less than $350 the ZenWiFi AC is worth the investment. Just make sure you’re comfortable with tweaking its settings. If you’ve been holding up on an AiMesh setup, this is the one to get.

ASUS ZenWiFi AC CT8 Whole-Home Tri-Band Mesh System

8.4

Performance

8.5/10

Features

9.0/10

Design and Setup

7.5/10

Value

8.5/10

Pros

  • Significantly improved AiMesh feature
  • Fast performance, excellent Wi-Fi coverage
  • Tons of useful features and settings, including free network real-time online protection for life
  • Fast dedicated backhaul, wired backhaul supported
  • Helpful mobile app

Cons

  • Web user interface doesn't always work as intended (bugs)
  • No Guest networking throughout when working with non-ZenWiFi AiMesh routers
  • Only 3 LAN ports per router
  • Not enough setting instructions

Asus ZenWiFi: The next level of AiMesh support

I had the opportunity to test the ZenWiFi AC back when it was still in the beta state and witnessed Asus’s effort on improving it — especially the AiMesh aspect — from one firmware version to the next. With the latest firmware, version 3.0.0.4.386_21281, it’s safe to say this is the first official AiMesh Wi-Fi system on the market.

At the core, though, the ZenWiFi CT8 is similar to most Asus routers. Also, it seems all ZenWiFi routers share the same settings, features, and setup process. That said, the differences between this Wi-Fi 5 ZenWiFi AC and the Wi-Fi 6 ZenWiFi AX are only in their hardware specs, and, therefore, the real-world throughputs and costs.

READ MORE:  Asus ZenWiFi AX Review: The Best AiMesh System to Date

Familiar design and interface

The ZenWiFi AC comes with two identical routers. Each looks like a compact single-slot toaster standing 6.35-in (16.15 cm) tall and 6.29-in (16 cm) wide. The hardware is not wall-mountable. On the front, there’s one tiny color-changing status light. On the back, the unit has three gigabit LAN ports, one WAN port, and a USB 3.2 Gen 1 port.

Like most Asus routers, the ZenWiFi AC supports Dual-WAN — you can turn one of its LAN ports, or the USB port, into a second WAN port. However, there’s no Link Aggregation. As a result, don’t expect to combine any two of the network ports to deliver an aggregated 2Gbps connection with it. By the way, when used as an AiMesh node, the router’s WAN port works as a LAN.

If you have used an Asus router before, you’ll find yourself right at home with the ZenWiFi. It has the same web interface, feature sets, and set up process.

Asus ZenWiFi AC CT8’s detail photos

Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech The Asus ZenWiFi AC CT8’s retail box.

Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech The Asus ZenWiFi AC CT8 includes two identical routers.

Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech All of the routers’ ports are on their back.

Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech The ZenWiFi AC CT8 router has only three LAN ports (instead of four) and one WAN port.

Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech A ZenWiFi AC CT8 next to a ZenWiFi AX XT8. Can you tell them apart?

Standard setup procedure, universal setting restoration

Pick one of the two hardware units to use as the router, and the other will work as a satellite unit (or node). And just like any mesh systems, you perform the setup process and manage your network on the router unit; the node will automatically replicate relevant settings to deliver a single seamless Wi-Fi network.

By the way, the setup process is the same as that of all other Asus routers. It’s a standard one found in the most router with a web interface. At the gist of it, point a browser on a connected computer to the router’s default IP address (which is 192.168.50.1) or router.asus.com, and the rest is self-explanatory.

READ MORE:  How to Properly Build a Home Wi-Fi Network - The Ultimate Guide

Alternatively, you can also use the Asus mobile app if you don’t have a real computer anymore. I like the web interface, and it took me just about 15 minutes to get the ZenWiFi AC up and running, using the default settings.

Like most AiMesh-ready routers, the ZenWiFi supports universal restoration as an option. In case of an upgrade, you can restore it with the backup file of your old Asus router and your network settings, for the most part, will remain the same. Note that it’s always better to set up the system from scratch to avoid setting conflicts.

An improved AiMesh feature

Out of the box, the two units of the ZenWiFi are pre-synced. As soon as you finish setting one up as a router, you’ll find the other already part of the system, via AiMesh.

Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech The ZenWiFi AC CT8’s web user interface has a brand-new AiMesh section.

So, there’s no need to do a manual setup. The bond between the two is strong, too. You can do whatever you want with either of the two ZenWiFi units — like using each as a router of a different network. (Yes, you can buy a 2-pack and separate the hardware units as two standalone routers for different households). But as soon as you reset them to the default factory setting, one will automatically become part of an AiMesh system hosted by the other working in router mode.

You can also add routers of a different ZenWiFi pack, or any AiMesh router for that matter, to the ZenWiFi’s system. Or, conversely, you can use the ZenWiFi routers as nodes of an existing AiMesh system. In this case, the setup process is the same as when you add any other AiMesh router.

Finally, when working as a router, the ZenWiFi AC CT8 now has a brand new AiMesh section within its web interface that makes managing and extending the mesh more comprehensive. What’s also new, you now can still a ZenWiFi router’s USB port, even when it’s working as an AiMesh node.

READ MORE:  AiMesh Review: Asus's Journey to Fast Wi-Fi and Excellent Coverage

Specced for a robust mesh

The ZenWiFi AC’s hardware specs remind me of the original Orbi RBK50. Each of the hardware units is a particular tri-band AC3000 router.

Specifically, it has a 2×2 (400Mbps) 2.4GHz band, a 2×2 (886Mbps) 5GHz-1 band, and a 4×4 (1733Mbps) 5GHz-2 band. The 5GHz-2 band, being the fastest, works as the dedicated backhaul that links the routers. This design allows the system to have a strong signal connecting the hardware units with low or no signal loss.

Thanks to this reliable backhaul, users have the option of placing the hardware unit further away from each other without worrying too much about signal degradation. As a result, the ZenWiFi AC can deliver quite extensive coverage with just two hardware units.

Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech The ZenWiFi AC CT8 routers work well as add-on AiMesh nodes for an existing system hosted by another Asus router.

And you can use wired backhaul with the system, too. In this case, you can configure the 5GHz-2 band as a separate network for end-users. It will not work as part of the primary Wi-Fi network in a SmartConnect setup.

ZenWiFi AC CT8’s specifications

ZenWiFi AC CT8: Lots of features and settings

Like other Asus routers, the ZenWiFi comes with lots of settings and features.

There is a network map that shows you connected clients in real-time. Clicking on a client will allow you to view its information and perform a few actions on it. These include blocking it from the Internet, setting up a schedule for internet access, and binding its MAC address with a particular IP address.

There are a lot of options to customize the Wi-Fi networks, the LAN settings as well as the Internet connection. For security, the ZenWiFi features WPA2, but it’s just a matter of time before WPA3 is available via firmware updates.

There are quite a few notable features that allow you to do even more with the system.

Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech The Asus Router app is sleek and a pleasure to use. It has limited access to the router’s settings and features, compared to the web interface, however.

Everything you want to do with the USB port

You can do all you can think of the ZenWiFi’s USB port.

When hosting an external drive, for example, you now can make the router work as a media streaming server, a server for local data sharing as well as syncing over the Internet. You can also turn on the support for Time Machine backup, or make the router download large files on its own.

Alternatively, you can also use the USB port to host a cellular modem or a printer. In reality, though, it’s not a good idea to use the ZenWiFi AC’s USB port for anything other than hosting a cellular dongle or a printer. That’s because the USB port has rather modest performance when hosting a portable drive — more on this below.

AiProtection: Free and useful real-time online protection

Like other Asus routers, the ZenWiFi AC comes with the popular AiProtection feature that includes a Network Protection engine, powered by TrendMicro, and Parental Controls.

The Network Protection guards the network against online threats in real-time, and it’s free to use for the life of the system. I’ve used this feature for years in many Asus routers and found it useful and practical.

The Parental Controls, on the other hand, is a bit rigid in my testing. It can shield specific clients from a few online categories (Adult, File Sharing, Social Networking, etc.), or control their internet access via a schedule. There’s no way to block a specific website, unfortunately.

Alexa and IFTTT support

The ZenWiFi AC has a smart home feature, which is the support for Alexa and IFTTT. With these, you can set up the router to respond to a voice command.

In all, supported Asus routers, including the CT8, can handle some 14 Alexa commands and about a dozen of IFTTT applets. They worked in my brief testing. I don’t think voice commands are a great idea for a router, though, since anyone can accidentally, or deliberately, mess things up.

Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech The ZenWiFi AC CT8’s real-time bandwidth monitor is a handy tool.

Adaptive QoS and other useful features

Asus’s Adaptive QoS is one of the easiest to use. It enables the user to prioritize the Internet traffic for their needs, be it gaming, Voice over IP, or other services.

There are also a host of other things you can do with the ZenWiFi AC. For example, the router unit can work either as a VPN server or a VPN client, and its Dynamic DNS feature is by far the best among home routers — it’s super easy to set up and includes a free SSL certificate. The combination of the two means it’s one of the best routers on the market for those wanting to build a VPN of their own.

Another thing I like about the ZenWiFi is a set of networking tools that includes a Wake-on-LAN function. Imagine you can remotely turn on your server after a power outage.

So in all, almost anything you’d want to do in terms of network customization, you’ll find it with the ZenWiFi CT8, as well as most Asus routers.

ZenWiFi AC CT8’s performance

I tested the beta version of the ZenWiFi AC CT8 for more than a month and then the official hardware release for about a week and was quite happy with it.

Excellent Wi-Fi speeds and coverage

Keep in mind that, even though it’s a tri-band system, from the Wi-Fi clients’ perspective, this is a dual-band 2×2 Wi-Fi 5 system, with the top ceiling speed of 867 Mbps. And I tested in the default wireless setting, with the two hardware units using the 5GHz-2 band as the dedicated backhaul.

Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

The CT8’s router unit did quite well with the top speed of almost 570 Mbps at the close range. At 40 feet (12 m) away, it still registered at some 480 Mbps.

And the system was even more impressive at the satellite unit, likely thanks to the robust and dedicated backhaul band. Clients connected to the ZenWiFi AC working as an AiMesh node got the average speed of more than 510 Mbps at close range and some 420 Mbps at 40 feet away. These were among the fastest.

Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

The ZenWiFi AC CT8 proved to be reliable, too. It passed my 3-days tress test with no disconnection. And the range was quite excellent. Again, the two units can handle some 4000 ft of residential space quite easily. But you can adjust the distance of the two hardware units to deliver more coverage, at the expense of the node’s Wi-Fi speed.

Mediocre NAS performance

Considering the tons of things you can do with the ZenWiFi AC’s USB port, its network-attached storage performance was very disappointing.

Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

When hosting the SanDisk Extreme portable SSD, via a Gigabit connection, the router registered the copy speeds of just 17 MB/s and 27 MB/s for writing and reading, respectively. These were among almost at the bottom of the charts and weren’t fast enough for a real network storage solution. You should get a NAS server instead.

Some shortcomings

Other than the slow NAS performance mention above, the ZenWiFi AC has a few more flaws. For the most part, these are also the shortcomings of Asus routers in general.

Buggy firmware

Due to a large number of settings and features, the firmware can be buggy at times.

For example, when you want to, say, enable or disable the Wi-Fi setting from SmartConnect — where it combines the 2.4GHz band and 5GHz-1 band into a single network — you need to do that without changing the Wi-Fi network’s name. If you choose to do both at the same time, the name change won’t stick.

Also, the firmware update process itself is buggy. The system showed notification there’s a new firmware, but when did a check, it says that all routers in the mesh had the latest firmware, even though that wasn’t true. So the only way to make sure you have the latest firmware is to check for that at Asus’s website manually.

It’s interesting to note that the Asus mobile app is much better at firmware updates. In my trial, it detected new firmware correctly, and I could perform the update, for both the router and satellite units, via a few taps. But the app has limited access to other features and settings of the system.

No Guest network in a mixed setup

The guest networking issue has been an issue of AiMesh from the get-go. Specifically, the Guest networks are only available at the router unit and not replicated to the nodes. In the case of the ZenWiFi AC, it’s a bit different.

If your network consists of entirely ZenWiFi hardware, then the Guest network feature is available throughout.

However, if you use a non-ZenWiFi AiMesh router, then the Guest network remains at the router. If you use a ZenWiFi as the main router and a non-ZenWiFi router as a node, then the node doesn’t replicate the Guest network.

It’s a bit confusing but the gist is if you want a consistent Guest network feature, you’ll need to use ZenWiFi hardware throughout.

Asus told me it planed to fix this issue and make the Guest network consistent throughout the entire AiMesh ecosystem in the future.

Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech You’ll need to turn on SMBv1, which is disabled by default, in the latest versions of Windows 10 to support the router’s NAS feature.

SMBv1 required for connected storage

This has been the problem with all Asus routers. When hosting an external drive for the network storage feature, the ZenWiFi still uses SMBv1. That’s the original and ancient version of the popular Server Message Block protocol for the Windows network environment.

For security reasons, this version has been replaced by SMBv2, or newer versions, for more than a decade. Most importantly, nowadays, most modern operating systems disable SMBv1 by default.

In short, until Asus adds the support for a newer SMB version to its routers, using the USB port for network storage purposes translate into security risks. Note, though, that future firmware updates will likely fix this issue.

Not enough instruction

While I love the ability to customize a network, the excessive amount of Wi-Fi and networking settings of the ZenWiFi can be daunting for home users. There are just too many of them.

This is partly because there are not enough instructions on how to configure certain settings. That’s especially true for band-steering (or SmartConnect rules), which help clients pick that best band (5GHz vs. 2.4GHz) to connect to at any given time. The only way to figure this out is via trial and error.



Conclusion

After having worked with so many AiMesh routers from Asus, I find the ZenWiFi AC CT8 is a breath of fresh air. The system manages to bring a new and improved way to manage Asus’s popular mesh feature.

Though it still falls short of being a perfect mesh — the lack of support for Guest networking when working with other AiMesh routers itself is not acceptable — it’s a step closer. And Asus will continue to try to improve it via firmware updates, though, that could mean it might break a thing or two along the way.

That said, as its current state, the ZenWiFi AC CT8 is an exciting mesh system for those who are willing to spend time and tinker with all the settings and features it has to offer. Wondering if the Wi-Fi 6 version will fare better? Check out its full review.

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About the Author: Dong Ngo

Hello! My name is Dong Ngo. Technology is my passion, and I do know it. | Follow me on Twitter, or Facebook!

73 Comments

  1. Hi Dong,
    Thank you for the detailed article.
    I recently bought the ASUS Zenwifi AC router which has the software 3.0.0.4.386_21573.
    I want to enable the Smart Connect feature but I do not see the settings under Network Tools.
    I reflashed the firmware to the latest one on the website, 3.0.0.4.386.21291, as advised by ASUS but still face the same issue.
    Are you able to see the Smart Connect settings in your version?
    Thanks.

  2. Hi Dong. Based on the performance numbers above – it seems that RT-AC86U is better than this “ZenWiFi AC”. If I to choose what to buy for NEW mesh setup – what would you recommend? 2 of RT-AC86U (~$380) or ZenWiFi AC ($330)?
    I have 1G fios and cables on all floors. Also, considering, to add wifi6 (3rd one) in the future
    Thanks!

  3. I am on the last firmware 3.0.0.4.386_21291, yet very disappointed with the reliability… Out of memory errors occurs daily (from the system log…), router become unreachable and clients disconnecting. Partially solved by scheduled daily night reboot. Far from a ideal solution. QoS switched off, didn’t help either.
    My old RT-AC68U was like a rock, with a very similar configuration months between reboots.
    It’s seems that ASUS didn’t finish the firmware before releasing to public, out of memory errors are a pretty big deal…
    Also despite having a wired backhaul, not having the option to add the Wireless – 5GHz-2 to the same SSID Smart Connect is not a very smart choice from ASUS.
    I’m starting to wonder if I chose wise. The RT-AX92U 2 Pack is similar price to CT8 (Newegg) and WiFi6.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Jon. It’s quite strange. I actually set mine up again more than a week ago, and it’s been running no problem at all since, with QoS turned on as well as a bunch of other customization. There must be something about this model that makes it work well for some and quite terrible for others… I’ve been talking to Asus about this, so the company is aware. Hopefully, they can figure this out.

  4. Has anyone else ran into the issue where the internet keeps dropping (every few minutes), it started happening today on the latest firmware on the ct8? I was thinking of downgrading firmware, not sure if i just apply the same firmware file to the router then later do the aimesh secondary unit.

  5. Great review! I bought the 2 pack because of this 🙂

    One question though : I created a wired backhaul setup with the Asus AC68U (oldie) in the closet near the front door functioning as router (Where there are many steel pipes and systems for water, gas, etc that seem to block the signal, that why i needed a wired backhaul). With 2 mesh nodes one in the living room and one on the second floor. They seem to cover the house quite nicely, but I can only seem to tweak the setup of the AC68 router, and not the seperate nodes. The router also does not support MU-MIMO, is the router being a limiting factor in this setup, and should I get another one that DOES support all of the AiMesh features in order to be able to use it properly, or is there a different way to adjust the setup of the nodes seperately?

    Thank you for your great site, really helpfull!

    1. You shouldn’t be able to tweak the setup of any nodes at all, Robin. So it seems you set up the AC68 in AP mode. If that’s working out, though, don’t worry about it. Also, MU-MIMO only matters when you have lots of clients connecting to that particular router.

  6. Thanks, Pretty sure its showing as gigabit, i did however only put in one of the lan ports not the wan port, ill try that next. I see it actually as 5ghz2 on a separate ssid, i was under the impression it could work under the single ssid as triband though, and i assumed by not being triband im losing throughput, maybe not. Worst case i guess i could just use that ssid for 5ghz dedicated devices, less ideal without roaming though

  7. One thing i’ve run into with the ct8, not sure if its affecting speeds, is that i’m using wired backhaul on the second ap, but in the system its now set to dual band with wifi backhaul (latest firmwares). Only the mobile app seems to give an option to turn wireless backhaul off, and when you toggle it, it doesnt let you apply, so it never sticks and goes to triband anymore. I think its a bug?

    Secondarily, when i was using the 5ghz option instead of triband, i did get my s8 to connect on 5ghz even at medium range, but if you leave it on dual or triband, the phone will end up on 2.4ghz quite often, which is only about 30 mbps at that range. I see no way to tell it to prefer 5ghz for devices, the 5ghz option is gone because wireless backhaul is enabled (the mesh unit does say wired ethernet backhaul, so not sure why this is the case)

    1. 1. Make sure the cables connecting the two units are working properly (and Gigabit or faster).
      2. Use the WAN port on the node to connect to the main router.
      3. Change the 5GHz-2 to work as a separate network, it will work only for 5GHz devices and you can connect your phone (or whatever) to that SSID. More on that in this post — check out the Tri-band section.

  8. Thanks for the reply this is excellent, i guess the ax200 i bought for the laptop is wifi6 in fact. My biggest issue is testing via a cell phone, nothing seems to match up with file transfer tests i do on the pc. I’d probably need to do some sort of android file transfer over the network if i want to know how fast the phone (s8) really is performing. Seems an s8 next to the laptop, the s8 might report 170 mbps while the file transfer on the laptop wifi5 is around 600mbps (unsure which wifi the s8 has)

    1. Phones mostly use Wi-Fi to access the internet and their Wi-Fi adapters are likely tuned to work in the most energy-efficient mode. In other words, don’t use a phone to test Wi-Fi.

  9. Hey Dong.
    First thanks for excellent reviews.

    I am using my ISP mesh right now. It works partially. I have nodes connected directly to ISP modem/router in a “star network”. It works partially. I need to restart router and nodes few times a week, as nodes goes into loop.
    Second, I can not switch off 2.4GHz on my current mesh. Clients are connecting to 2.4GHz despite located couple of meters away from node. As a result transfer is slower vs. 5Ghz and I am not benefiting from my 500/100 Mbit internet.

    I am hoping to avoid these issues with XT8.
    I would benefit from ethernet backhaul, as I have multi-storey flat. I have only one UTP cable in each room, where XT8 would be standing. For that reason I can only connect each node directly to my ISP router/modem. Would such (star network) wiring allow ethernet backhaul?
    Is it possible to switch off 2.4GHz on XT8?

    Do you have any alternative suggestion for a mesh system, given my specifics?

    Thanks, Klemen

    1. Sure, Klemen.

      1. Yes, you can turn off either of the bands on an Asus router (it’s in the Professional tab). Or you can name them as two separate networks.

      2. Wired backhaul is always the best. Make sure your UTP can handle 1Gbps or faster, though. With wired backhaul, there’s no need to use a star topology. You can place the hardware units however you want. More on that here.

      3. If you have to keep the ISP-provided router/gateway, you might want to read this post, too.

  10. Hey there, good article. Curious in the graphs showing speed, what mechanism did you use to speedtest.

    I’ve initially set up my ct8 though maybe the wifi needs tweaked on the router. I’m seeing 350mbps on speakeasy on wifi 5 client ax200 card with 400 though for the connection). My s8 galaxy speedtest shows 160 (this is all within 10 feet), meanwhile on a laptop with ax200 wifi 5 client i’m getting On the wifi 5 client if i do a file transfer i hit 70 MB/sec for a single large file, so roughly 560 mbps, and old school qcheck shows 235 mbps, but it may be limited in some way.

  11. Have found the same. Have tried different VPN providers (chosen local servers). It is unusable, ping time outs, web sites timing out. I have logged a ticket with ASUS support (they want me to factory reset and send system logs over.

    I checked the cpu on the CT8, and all cores were just ticking over too.

  12. Hi Dong,
    I have 4xCT8 to cover my home and am very happy with them. Usually the 3 nodes are connected directly to the main box via WiFi but sometimes the nodes Daisy chain. I’m not really able to move the nodes as I use them for wired devices so is there any way of forcing each node to connect directly to the main box rather than through another node as the internet speed suffers when they go Daisy chained.
    Unfortunately I don’t have the option of easily using wired backhaul so have to rely on WiFi.
    Hope you can help?
    Cheers, Ian

  13. Hello, for starters I am not tech savvy. but thanks to your reviews I am learning little by little. anyway, I have an old Asus RT-AC88U that worked really well for us but the range is horrible so when the zen wifi ax6600 came out I took a chance because of its advertised coverage of 5500 square feet. my house has two floors and its only 2700 square feet. with that said my ISP frontier gives me 200/200 but since I change to zen wifi my speed has been inconsistent and kids are complaining that there is a constant lag in their video games. I never had this issue when I only have the RT-AC88U. why is that? is my zen wifi system I bought faulty or is there a setting I need to do to correct this issue? thank you in advance

    1. That RT-AC88U is my most favorite router, Oscar.

      As for your kids’ issue, that’s because a wireless mesh is NEVER good for gaming. Signals jump from the main router to the node and then to the game console. The extra bridge creates lags. To fix this you can use a network cable to connect the two units or connect the game console to the node using a network cable.

      You can also try out the QoS setting to optimize the system for gaming to see if that helps.

  14. Thank you for the reply, Dong! Makes sense. Would you suggest me not use AIMesh for real-time communication even though I need to be far from the primary router or is AIMesh the better alternative until I find a hardwired option?

    Until I can figure out a wired solution (not sure if my ISP can help me get a hardwire running to the top floor), if I did want to try the ZenWifi CT8 as part of AIMesh, does the order I detailed matter? I would have one of the ZenWifi CT8’s as the primary router then use the rest as nodes. I was thinking the following – ZenWifi CT8 (Primary) / AC68U (2nd) / AC86U (3rd) / other ZenWifi CT8 (4th).

    1. I’d suggest that you run a cable from the router to the node or connect your computer with video conferencing to the node using a network cable (if that’s possible). If your office is too far away from the main router, the signals might be too week to be useful for anything at all. That AiMesh order is fine, but keep in mind how tri-band works. More on that in the part about tri-band in this post. Good luck, Rich! 🙂

  15. Hi Dong, Thank you for all you do. I live in a 3-story home and presently have Asus routers (all wireless and no option of wires backhaul). My AC86U is my primary and my AC68U is my node. I must work from home on the third flow and both routers have to remain on the first floor to keep the 68U within a reasonable distance to the 86U.

    I have noticed performance issues on the third floor, including video conferencing lag even though my internet speeds avg between 250-300 mbps and low latency (even when I do speed tests from the top floor). I’ve turned on QoS and prioritized WFH and that hasn’t helped. Toggled Dual-Ban Smart Connect on and off, still the same issues.

    If I were to purchase the ZenWiFi AC CT8 could that solve my issues since I’d be able to spread the nodes and get one much closer to my third floor office? Also, if I were to do this what order would you recommend? I was thinking the following – ZenWifi CT8 (Primary) / AC68U (2nd node) / AC86U (3rd node) / other ZenWifi CT8 (4th node closest to my third floor office).

    1. The quick answer is no, Rich. Generally for real-time communication to work well, the device need to have a direct connection to a wired broadcaster. If the signals have to hope a couple of times, lag is inevitable. More on that here. That said, a tri-band system might improve situation but it’s not a sure thing.

  16. I am really enjoying your articles and have been reading them since moving to an AIMESH system. My main router is an rt-ac86u with two rt-ac68us as nodes. None of them are backhauled and I don’t really have the ability to backhaul them. With everyone home during our sequester our internet is not performing well. I think this is because the units aren’t backhauled. I am looking at the ZEN WIFI AC because it is tri band. My question is would this be overkill? Should I just look at another rt-ac86u and place all the units closer? (our house is two stories, 2200 sf). If I did get the ZEN WIFI AC how would the dual band routers I currently have work with the triband ZEN in AIMMESH?
    Thank you for your time. I am sorry if this is such a noob question.

    1. It was not a noob question, James.

      Note that your Internet speed itself might be the reason why things are not going well. More on that here.

      But in any case, the ZenWiFi AC will definitely help. You can still use the existing routers if you wish in the same network. The dual-band routers will just work the way they do right now (with signal loss). You’ll need to first setup the ZenWiFi and reset the existing dual-band routers and ad them to the mesh one by one.

  17. Thanks for the reply Dong… Of the options you mentioned, which will give me the best coverage and stability? I’ve heard the Lyra units are hit or miss. I also looked at the CT8. Sounds like, in general, you prefer the Asus options over Synology or Ubiquiti. Do you think WiFi 6 is worth it right now, or better to wait a couple of years?

    1. Sure, Matt. Yes, the Lyra Trio (not Lyra) can be a bit of work, you’ll probably have to upgrade its firmware multiple rounds, but it’ll work well via a wired backhaul. CT8 is great, too, but it’s a tri-band and you don’t really need it. Also, it’s actually slower than the Trio in terms of Wi-Fi specs (2×2 vs. 3×3). You don’t need Wi-Fi 6 now but it doesn’t hurt to get it either.

  18. Hi Dong, thanks for providing all the information and unbiased reviews on this site. It is extremely helpful. Unfortunately, after reading and reading, I just get more confused. I have a fairly large two story home (about 3500 sf). Right now I’m using the V1 Google Wifi, with the router located towards the back of the house upstairs (connected to my modem), and then two wired backhaul satellites located downstairs at the very front of the house (in my office) and the very back of the house (in master bedroom). I have a 600Mbps internet connection, but right now, even it I am right on top of the wifi router, I get around 150Mbps max. I would like to improve that. One thing that is frustrating is that the Google Wifi system doesn’t let me choose which devices connect to 5GHz vs which connect to 2.4GHz. I also don’t think the range on the Google units is that great. I have several wifi devices in the house – Lutron, Thermostats, 4 laptops, 2 cellphones, an iPad, a Kindle, Sonos music system, 4 Rokus, etc. As far as I know, none of them us using WiFi 6. What system would you recommend for me? I’d like something with good range and bulletproof reliability/performance. Please let me know your thoughts. I have considered the Synology RT2600 plus two wired AP’s, as well as Ubiquiti and Asus systems. I had an Asus router many years ago, and it was superb – by far the best I have ever owned.

    1. Sure, Matt. Glad you are here. And thanks. 🙂

      Almost any system would be better than the Google Wifi. Since you have wired backhaul, you can use any dual-band Wi-Fi 5 system and use the network cable to connect the hardware units. I’d recommend the Asus Lyra Trio (it’s a bit of work) or a couple of units of the Asus RT-AC86U or 68U, or Blue Cave, you can mix them up. A set of Linksys Velop dual-band works too. You can also go with a Wi-Fi 6 system. It doesn’t hurt to have a tri-band system but for your house, that’s not necessary.

  19. Hi, can you mix and match Zenwifi AC8 and later add Zenwifi AX8 nodes? Buying Ac8 system now and upgrading to AX8 later when wifi6 becomes more mainstream and using the AC8 system as additional satellites?

  20. Dong, if setting a brand new mesh network with ethernet backhaul, would you recommend this or the synology RT2600AC + MR2200 AC setup? Retail price to me is pretty similar, I’m leaning towards the synology solution as I only have positive experiences with my syngology NAS and their customer support.

  21. Hi Dong,

    Thank you for your review. We are in australia and our nbn -national broadband network here is only up to 100Mbps. It believe it’s fibre to node and then to the premise. The ISP provider provide a VDSL modem/router. I am thinking of upgrade my routers which have been 3 years old. I’m thinking of the ASUS zenwifi CT or maybe AX92U. But after read ur review, it appears AX92U is dodge. I live in a double storey house of about 200sqm each floor. Would you recommend a router/s? I got CAT5 cables from the modem to each floor. So either wired or wireless could be an option. Thanks a lot.

  22. Hi Dong,
    Nice review ! I was wondering if the AC adaptors are universal 110-220V as usual with ASUS routers. Can you confirm? An US to EU prong adapter will be enough to make it work over the pond?

  23. Thanks Dong, I ended up finding a deal on the CT8 and I much prefer their appearance. Since I have wired backhaul and all three have Tri-bands, will this cause any issues? I have a lot of smart devices and other tech(about 30 devices) and the dual 5GHz seems to help, but I’m not sure how it will work with the mesh routers.

  24. Hi Dong, great reviews! I have just purchased CT8 Zen and think i need another router to add to the mesh. I have 100mbs internet and a multilevel old stone house. On the groundfloor is the ISP connection and i have ethernet connection to another ground floor room 20 metres away. I want to put another ASUS router upstairs as a node but it will be wireless connection. I was thinking Blue Cave but i know its only dual band. The groundfloor wired backroom needs to be a CT8 node for visual impact as i dont want to see antennas. What would you recommend adding and where? Should i put in a new hub and use the CT8s as nodes (1 wired, 1 wireless) or 2 x CT8 on groundfloor wired and a new node upstairs? Your thoughts?

  25. Sorry typo, meant a *wired backhaul*. A second question I have is that my isp router has a coaxial in. The coax coming into the house is split and runs into the modem and router, do you see this being a problem to work around/replace?

    1. With wired backhaul, Matthew, you go with dual-band routers. Get the RT-AX86U and/or Blue Cave. They will work out great. You just need to keep the Coaxial modem (it’s a cable modem) and connect it to your Asus router. You can forget about the IPS’s router. But if for some reason you must keep the IPS’s router then use a double NAT setup. More on that here.

  26. Since I have essentially the same question, I thought I would reply here. I have an isp router that won’t cover my home. I have 300 mbps internet and was looking to add mesh routers. Would you recommend 2 86U or Blue Cave routers over a pair of CT8 with wireless backstop? I’m in Canada and the CT8 is backordered. 2 Blue cave will be a hair cheaper and 2 86U will be a hair more expensive.

  27. Hi Dong, I’ve been noticing a performance drop for OpenVPN connections using ZenWifi. It’s almost unusable. Even though everything is pretty much the same as my AC86U + AC66U_B1 setup. I would’ve thought the ZenWifi would outperform the AC86U since it’s quad core rather than dual. Anyways, curious to know if you might have encountered a similar issue.

  28. Hi Dong, I have the RT-AC5300 and gigabit ethernet. I’m wanting to increase my coverage on the far ends of my house and I was also wanting to see if I can get better speeds since I haven’t seen speeds over 500 Mbps. I would used wired backhaul for my setup and want to know which router combination would give me the best speeds in combo with my current router. I’m leaning toward getting the Zenwifi AC as nodes, but was wondering if a different combo might increase my speeds?

  29. Hey Dong, thanks for the write up. Looks like a nice system. I was wondering what you thought of two of these compared to a ROG GT-AC5300 x2. I didn’t see one in the benchmarks. The 5300’s have beefier specs, and I wonder how these two systems would compare, especially in awkward tri-level house setups, where the 5300 have antennae that can be positioned. I’d love your perspective on it. Thanks!

    1. Strictly from Wi-Fi performance point of view, I think the ZenWiFi is better, Zack. I reviewed the GT-AC5300 before I started Dong Knows Tech. AiMesh wasn’t available then. The ZenWiFi, on the other hand, was built around this feature.

  30. Hey Dong, another great review with a helpful list of shortcomings.
    I noticed in one of your screenshots that you set up your AX88 as a node in your AiMesh, any particular reason why? I thought with combination dual/tri-band components in a mesh, there was no real advantage to routers with tri-band. Also, curious to know, if you had set up the AX88 as the router, what happens to the 5Ghz-2 channel from each ZenWifi node? And how you managed to configure your Smart Connect rules – I have not been able to find the Smart Connect Rule page (it’s supposed to be either next to the Smart Connect toggle in the Wireless page or in the Network Tools section, right?).

    1. Thanks, Adrian. It was just part of my testing. I wanted to add different AiMesh routers to the mix to see if that worked. And yes, it’s not a good idea to combine tri-band and dual-band routers in a wireless AiMesh setup. You can read more about that here. To get to the SmartConnect rules, you can click on the link next to the setting, or you can click on Network Tools (on the menu) and choose SmartConnect Rule. As for how to actually change the settings of the rules, that depends on the router and, honestly, it’s quite tough for figure out with Asus’s interface.

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