And again, I wanted to love it as a fully wireless system but couldn't due to the innate short range of the 6GHz band. By now, it's clear that you generally can not count on this band as the wireless backhaul.
That said, if you intend to use the ZenWiFi Pro ET12 in a fully wireless configuration, this expensive system -- $900 per its suggested retail price -- is similar to the much cheaper ZenWiFi ET8.
You'll find this review somewhat of a ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs ZenWiFi ET8 matchup, but to cut to the chase: Don't get either if you intend to expand your Wi-Fi coverage wirelessly. You'd likely waste your hard-earned cash.
"Likely" because I wanted to tread lightly here. The new mesh might work out well without wires if you can place the hardware units close to each other or have a line of sight between them. However, even then, it's not faster than many cheaper traditional Tri-band systems.
On the other hand, this 2-pack might be the best investment if you have wired your home. You'd get yourself a powerful Multi-Gigabit-Internet-ready system with a Multi-Gig wired backhaul.
And you can even combine it with the GT-AXE11000 to turn your mesh into a gaming Wi-Fi system. In this case, the ZenWiFi Pro ET12's cool-looking hardware will also fit nicely.
Dong's note: I first published this post on January 23, 2022, as a new piece and updated it to a full review on February 28, 2022, after thorough hands-on testing.
Asus ZenWiFi Pro ET12: First purposed built AiMesh system with true Multi-Gig wired backhaul
Like previous ZenWiFi sets, the Pro E12 is a 2-pack that includes two identical mesh routers.
You can use each as a standalone router for a relatively large home or add the second one to form a system to extend the Wi-Fi coverage for a sprawling one, either wirelessly or via a network cable.
That's generally how an AiMesh system works anyway.
It's worth noting that having the same number of streams doesn't mean the routers are of the same hardware specs. That depends on their bands and Wi-Fi standards.
But, specifically, here are the readouts of Asus's Tri-band ZenWiFi routers:
- This ZenWiFi Pro ET12 is a 12 stream Wi-Fi 6E router: 4x4 (2.4GHz) + 4x4 (5GHz) + 4x4 (6GHz).
- The ZenWiFi ET8 is an 8-stream Wi-Fi 6E router: 2x2 (2.4GHz) + (2x2 5GHz) + 4x4 (6GHz).
- The ZenWiFi Pro XT12 is a 12 stream Wi-Fi 6 router: 4x4 (2.4GHz) + 4x4 (5GHz-1) + 4x4 (5GHz-2).
- The ZenWiFi XT8 is an 8-stream Wi-Fi 6 router: 2x2 (2.4GHz) + (2x2 5GHz-1) + 4x4 (5GHz-2).
The new Pro ET12 has four streams on each band - currently the highest among Wi-Fi 6E. Consequently, it's top-tier among this new type of Tri-band router.
Nice design, two Multi-Gig ports, no USB
The ET12 comes with an all-new look. And for an Asus, it's a beaut.
Each router looks like a large square tower topped with a transparent section. Through the clear plastic, you'll note the eight internal antennas at the corners and sides in positions supposedly optimized for the coverage.
From top to almost bottom, one corner of the router is beveled to carry a little LED that bears the vendor's name and the model of the router.
If that's not obvious enough as an ID, the top of the router houses a big corona vision LED light with the word "Asus" in the middle -- there's no way you'd have to guess who made this router.
But I love the design. The lights are subtle and have a pleasant hue -- the top one changes colors or flashes to indicate the status of the hardware. You can quickly turn them off via the Asus Router mobile app or the web interface -- you can't dim them.
On one side, the ET12 has four network ports. There are two Gigabit LAN ports, one 2.5Gbps Multi-Gig WAN port and another 2.5Gbps LAN port.
On the downside, considering the router's large physical size, I wish it had more network ports -- most routers have five ports. There's no USB port, either, which will make fans of router-based mini NAS servers disappointed.
Everything you can expect from an Asus AiMesh router, with pre-synced hardware
The new design aside, on the inside, the ZenWiFI Pro ET12, as a single router, is similar to all other Wi-Fi 6 routers from the company.
If you have used an Asus router before, you'd know what I mean. If not, check out this post, where I lay out their common settings and features. Among those, the ET12 has all the core features -- it's not a gaming machine.
That said, the extra content below will give you some quick highlights. If you're familiar with the Asus routers, you can skip it.
ZenWiFi Pro ET12: Sharing all Asus router core features
While most of this extra content was available in the general post on Asus Wi-Fi broadcasters, it contains specific information about the ZenWiFi Pro ET12.
Universal setting restoration
As a result, you won't need to program the new router from scratch in an upgrade or replacement. Instead, most of your network's configurations -- including those of an AiMesh system -- will migrate from the old router to the new one.
This feature is a huge optional time saver if you have many settings, such as IP reservation and port-forwarding entries.
Note, though, that it's always better to set up the router from scratch to avoid possible setting conflicts.
In the case of the ET12, it's not a good idea if you load the backup files of very different routers, like a traditional Tri-band one, such as the GT-AX11000 or RT-AX92U. I've tried that, and it worked, but only after I did some tweaks.
Tip: After the migration, adjust applicable specific settings, such as the router model name, bands, etc., to make sure they match the new router and perform a deliberate backup and restore. This step will make the old setting "native" to the new router.
A robust web user interface
Asus is one of a few networking vendors that stays true to the web interface and doesn't coerce users into a cloud-based web portal, which is excellent for those caring about privacy.
(All Asus routers allow remote management, which is turned off by default, via Dynamic DNS mentioned below.)
The interface allows access to a router's tons of settings and features -- some are listed below. Savvy networking enthusiasts will love that though it can be overwhelming for novice users.
Dynamic DNS (DDNS) is a relatively common feature of all home routers. It's excellent for those wanting to dial home remotely via other advanced features, including remote access or VPNs.
What sets Asus's Dynamic DNS apart is that the networking vendor also includes an entirely free DDNS domain -- you won't need to get a third-party one. On top of that, this domain also comes included with an SSL certificate.
That said, if you need DDNS, Asus is by far the best option. (Read more about DDNS in this post.)
Standard setup process
Thanks to the web interface, all the ZenWiFi Pro ET12 share the same standard setup process as I detailed in this post on building a home network from scratch.
However, here are the general steps:
- Connect your router's WAN port to the Internet source, be it a modem, an existing gateway, or the Fiberoptic ONT. Turn it on.
- Connect a computer to the router, either via a network cable to one of its LAN ports, or the default open Wi-Fi network, generally named "Asus xx".
- Open a browser and navigate to the router's default IP address which is 192.168.50.1 (or router.asus.com).
The rest is self-explanatory. The first time you get to the web interface, you'll run into a wizard that walks you through a few steps.
(Alternatively, you can also use the Asus mobile app in step #3 if you use a phone or tablet instead of a computer. However, I recommend the web user interface even when you use a mobile device for the setup process.)
Helpful mobile app, no login account required
Again, the Asus mobile app works for both the setup process and ongoing management.
This app is common for all Asus routers and is quite comprehensive. It's one of the best mobile apps for routers you can find on the market. But, still, it's not as in-depth as the web interface.
The best thing about it is that you can use it to manage the router remotely without a login account. Instead, just like the web interface, it operates the remote management via the router's built-in support for Dynamic DNS feature that includes a free SSL certificate.
However, one thing to note is that using the app can inadvertently turn on or off specific settings that could cause the router to behave unexpectedly. In this case, you'll have to reset the router and set it up from the beginning.
So, while this app is convenient and fun to use, it can cause issues if you mess around too much.
The AiProtection is a feature that adds so much value to an Asus router.
It includes a free-for-life real-time Network Protection powered by Trend Micro and a Parental Control engine.
Network Protection is designed to keep the entire local network safe. In many ways, it's somewhat like a strip-down version of an add-on firewall, like the Firewalla or the subscription-based Armor from Netgear.
Still, for a free product, it's excellent. I've used it for years in multiple networks, and it has proven effective against many malicious websites and malware. Don't expect it as total protection (there's no such thing!), but just a helping hand, and you'll love it.
On the other hand, the Parental Control portion has been a bit too rigid, in my opinion, and the way Asus defines categories for web filtering is a bit vague. On top of that, you can't use it to block a particular website. This simplistic approach is not a big deal for me since I don't believe in Parental Controls anyway.
(While AiProtection is available in all Asus routers, some get a stripped-down version due to their limited processing power. The XDR, which is the router unit of the XD4 mesh set, is an example. Its Network Protection and Parental Controls are neutered.)
The Adaptive QoS is a common feature available in all Asus routers and is one of the most easy-to-use QoS features among all home routers.
"QoS" stands for the quality of service, and it enables users to prioritize Internet traffic to support different applications or services.
Asus's Adaptive QoS requires minimum work from the user and is quite effective. It also includes Bandwidth Monitor, Web History, and an Internet Speed test if you want to know more about your resources and keep tabs on your network's online activities.
Flexible port configuration: WAN vs LAN, Dual-WAN, Link Aggregation, and wired backhaul
Asus routers generally have a lot of flexibility in their port configurations.
On this front, the following is what you can do with a ZenWiFi Pro ET12 working in router mode. (In other modes -- AiMesh satellite node, access point, repeater, etc. -- all ports work as LANs.)
- As a standalone router, its default 2.5Gbps WAN always works as the WAN port, there's no way to change this.
- In a Dual-WAN setup, you can use any other LAN port including its 2.5Gbps LAN as the secondary WAN.
- In a WAN Link Aggregation, you must use both of its 2.5Gbps ports, to deliver a combined connection of up to 5Gbps.
- The router supports LAN Link Aggregation. In this case, you can combine the two Gigabit LAN ports (LAN1 and LAN2) to deliver a 2Gbps connection. In a mesh setup, you can also do that on the satellite unit.
- In a wired backhaul mesh setup, you can daisy-chain the hardware units (if you use more than one satellite node), but always use the 2.5Gbps WAN port to connect a satellite to the main router, the (Multi-Gig) switch, or another satellite (at the lower level.)
Other useful features
Other than the above, you can also expect the following from all Asus routers:
- Networking tools: Wake on LAN, Ping, Netstat, and Smart Connect Rule can come in handy for advanced users.
- Auto-reboot: You can set your router to restart by itself on a schedule.
- Traffic Analyzer: A set of tools and statistics for those wanting to find out what's happening in the network.
- The standard set of network settings and features: These include IP reservation, Port-forwarding, VPN server, and some Alexa Skills.
- Frequent firmware update: Asus pushes out firmware updates regularly to fix issues and improve its routers' performance and function. You can choose to update manually or turn on auto-update.
By the way, like previous ZenWiFi sets, the 2-pack Pro ET12 is pre-synced. As a result, all you have to do is set up one as a standalone router. After that, plug the other into power at a reasonable distance, or connect the satellite's WAN port to the router using a network cable, and your mesh is ready.
AiMesh 2.0 fully supported
If you're new or have questions, again, hit the button below for the highlights.
ZenWiFi Pro ET12: All you can expect from an Asus AiMesh system
- Flexible backhaul: Starting with AiMesh 2.0 -- available starting with firmware version 184.108.40.206.386.000 -- an AiMesh system has flexible backhaul support. Specifically:
- Dedicated wireless backhaul: When you use traditional tri-band routers, like RT-AX92U, or GT-AX11000, one of its 5Ghz bands, the 5GHz-2, will work as the dedicated backhaul band by default -- this band works solely as the wireless link between the router and satellite -- not applicable when you mix Tri-band and Dual-band hardware or use wired backhaul.
- User-selectable backhaul: You can manually set any band (6GHz, 5GHz, or 2.4GHz) or network ports as backhaul priority. When left at Auto (default), the system will use the fastest band, for the distance between the main router and a particular satellite, as the backhaul. Auto also prioritizes wired backhaul (when available).
- Wired backhaul: Generally, the WAN port of the satellite unit must be used for the backhaul. Even when that's not the case, Link Aggregation, which is available in most Asus routers, never works for AiMesh wired backhauling. However, with a router that has a Multi-Gig LAN port (such as RT-AX86U or RT-AX89X), the high-speed port of the satellite node can be used for a Multi-Gig wired backhaul.
- Mixed backhaul: Generally, it's best to use wired backhaul consistently throughout the system -- you can daisy-chain the units. However, AiMesh does allow for mixing wired and wireless backhaul.
- Daisychain, third-party switch supported: For wired backhaul, you can daisy-chain the main router and nodes or use switches between the hardware units. For best performance, make sure you use Gigabit (or faster) unmanaged switches.
- Auto-sensing network ports: On the router unit, the WAN port functions in its designated role -- it needs to connect to an Internet source. After that, the rest of the network ports in the mesh system, including the WAN ports on the satellite units (nodes), work as LANs. That's generally true in either a wired- or a wireless-backhaul setup.
- Up to 10 hardware units: Asus says realistically, a system shouldn't have more than seven units, though you can use up to 10, including the router. And I've indeed tried that many units in a wired backhaul setup with success. In a wireless configuration, though, I'd recommend no more than three hardware units, especially with dual-band hardware.
- No vendor account required: Just like any Asus router, no login account with Asus is necessary to use AiMesh, even when using the Asus Router mobile app. For remote access, Asus uses Dynamic DNS. So, AiMesh is less of a privacy risk (if at all) compared with other systems.
- Access point (AP) mode: As a system, an AiMesh setup can work in the access point mode -- not to be confused with an individual router's AP mode. In other words, you can use an entire AiMesh system (consisting of multiple nodes) that works solely as a network/Wi-Fi extension on top of an existing (third-party) router. Among other things, it helps avoid the use of double NAT.
Other than the lack of a USB port, the ZenWiFi Pro ET12 has all AiMesh 2.0 has to offer -- including the support for a systemwide Guest Wi-Fi network. On top of that, thanks to the two Multi-Gig ports, it's the latest option in the list of Multi-Gig wired backhaul combos.
Asus routers and 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 ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs ZenWiFi ET8: A new breed of “Dual-band” mesh routers
Similar to the case of the ET8, the new ZenWiFi Pro ET12 is a Tri-band router. However, it doesn't have an additional 5GHz band as found in a traditional Tri-band router.
As a result, there's no band to use as a dedicated backhaul in a wireless configuration -- the hardware needs all the bands to support all clients of different Wi-Fi standards.
Both systems, by default, use the 6GHz band as the (dedicated) backhaul. When that works, this band suffers from signal loss and delivers just half the speed on the front end, at best. That's the case with all Wi-Fi bands working as a non-dedicated backhaul.
And that doesn't work most of the time since the 6GHz band's range is short with little wall penetration. When you place the hardware units far from each other or with a wall in between, the systems likely automatically switch to the 5GHz or 2.4GHz band for backhauling resulting in even slower performance.
I explained this wireless backhaul dilemma in detail via the review of the ET8 and the Wi-Fi 6E explainer piece. But the gist is: get your home wired! For best performance, don't use either of the two, or any Tri-band Wi-Fi 6E hardware for that matter, in a fully wireless environment.
ZenWiFi Pro ET12 vs ZenWi-Fi ET8: Hardware specifications
|ZenWiFi Pro ET12|
|ZenWiFi ET8 |
|Mesh-Ready||Yes (2-pack)||Yes (2-pack)|
(6GHz as default)
(6GHz as default)
|Multi-Gig Wired Backhaul||Yes||Only as satellites|
|4.53 x 4.53 x 9.45 in|
(11.5 x 24.1 x 11.5 cm)
|6.29 x 2.95 x 6.35 in |
(16 x 7.5 x 16.15 cm)
|Weight||3.3 lbs (1.5 kg)||1.56 lb (716 g)|
|Wi-Fi Designation||Tri-band AXE11000||Tri-band AXE6600|
|1st Band |
|4 x 4 AX |
Up to 1,148Mbps
up to 574 Mbps
|2nd Band |
|4 x 4 AX |
Up to 4800Mbps (20/40/80/160MHz)
Up to 1200 Mbps
Up to 4800Mbps
Up to 4800Mbps
|Mobile App||Asus Router||Asus Router|
|Web User Interface||Yes||Yes|
(as a router or a mesh)
(as a router or a mesh)
|USB Port||None||1 x USB 3.2 Gen 1|
|Gigabit Port||2x LAN||3 x LAN|
|Multi-Gig Port||1x 2.5Gbps WAN|
1x 2.5Gbps LAN
|1x 2.5 Gbps WAN|
(WAN and LAN)
|Processing Power||2.0GHz quad-core CPU, |
256 MB Flash, 1GB RAM
|1.5GHz quad-core CPU, |
256 MB Flash, 512 MB RAM
(router unit, over 24 hours)
|≈ 310 Wh||Not tested|
|Release Date||February 2022||July 2021|
|US Retail Price|
|899.99 (2-pack)||$530 (2-pack)|
As you can see on the table, the ZenWiFi Pro ET12 is in many ways an upgrade to the ET8, but only with a wired backhaul.
When set up as fully wireless using the 6GHz band as backhaul, the ZenWiFi Pro ET12 will be similar to the much cheaper ET8 due to the backhaul band's signal loss -- more in the performance section below.
Asus ZenWiFi Pro ET12: Detail photos
The Asus ZenWiFi Pro ET12 is currently the most powerful Wi-Fi 6E hardware.
Asus ZenWiFi Pro ET12: Exciting performance with caveats
I've been testing (and using) the ZenWiFi Pro ET12 for almost a month and, for the most part, am happy with it. I'll continue to use it and will update this review if I run into anything worth mentioning.
For the testing, I used the hardware both as a standalone router and a mesh system, and, in the latter case, both with wireless and wired configurations.
For a wireless mesh, it's important to note that the scores in the charts here are those of the best-case scenario, per the way I do my standard testing. Specifically:
- I used the 6GHz band or 5GHz band as the backhaul.
- The satellite node was 40 feet (13 m) away from the main router, within a line of sight.
With that, let's check out some specifics.
ZenWiFi Pro ET12 as a standalone router: All-around excellent
As a standalone router, the ZenWiFI Pro ET12 did exceptionally well. The router delivered excellent coverage, rivaling that of the GT-AX6000.
It's hard to put the coverage in a concrete number -- it varies depending on the environment -- but if you have a house of fewer than 3000 ft2 (279 m2), place it in the middle, and chances are one of its bands will reach every corner.
And the performance was excellent, too, as you can see on the charts. Thanks to the 2.5Gbps LAN port, the Asus ET12 proved to be one of the fastest Wi-Fi routers to date.
ZenWiFi Pro ET12 as a mesh satellite: Excellent with wired backhaul
I tested the Asus ET12 as a mesh in all possible ways using the 6GHz (default), and 5GHz bands, and its 2.5Gbps connection as the backhaul. And as expected, the mesh performed at its best when I used a Multi-Gig wired connection to link the two units.
I manually pick either the 6GHz or 5GHz for the testing in a wireless setup. In either case, the backhaul band is not dedicated, meaning it also worked as the fronthaul to host clients.
That said, whichever band works as backhaul would have significantly lower performance compared to when it's not -- for the official scores, I used a single client at a time.
I also tested the mesh in the Auto setting for its backhaul and the standard setup -- again, the satellite is 40 feet away from the main router within a line of sight. In this case, the 6GHz band always worked as the backhaul. And it worked well.
However, in real-world anecdotal tests, as I moved the satellite father or behind a wall, the mesh now mostly used the 5GHz or 2.4GHz band as the backhaul. And it switched between these two somewhat randomly, causing the performance to fluctuate a great deal.
In any case, when there was a wall in between the two, I never could use the 6GHz as backhaul. This band's range was just too short, and most importantly, it just didn't penetrate walls well, if at all.
The good news is, no matter what setup, be it a standalone router, wireless, or wired mesh, the ZenWiFi Pro E12 proved reliable. During my week-long testing, I had no issue with disconnections, both locally and with Internet access.
A bit of advice: Don't force the mesh to use the 6GHz band as a backhaul in a wireless scenario. That might not work. Generally, it's best to leave the backhaul settings at Auto.
The ZenWiFi Pro ET12 is a new Tri-band router -- all of its bands are needed to host 2.4GHz, 5Ghz, and 6GHz clients.
As a result, it'll work very well if you use just one unit as a standalone router. When using two or more units in a mesh system, though, you can't expect any of the bands to work as a dedicated backhaul.
That said, keep these three mesh scenarios in mind:
- It's ideal to use a wired backhaul. In this case, the 2.5Gbps ports will give you the best performance consistently on all bands.
- Use the 6GHz band as backhaul. In this case, the mesh will cap at 2400Mbps or 50% of the speed of the backhaul band due to signal loss. This case is good when:
- You can place the routers no farther than 60 feet away within a line of sight.
- You have mostly 5GHz clients.
- Use the 5GHz band as backhaul. In this case, the mesh will cap likely at 1200Mbps, or 50% of the speed of the backhaul band at 80MHz -- due to the use of DSF, you can't always count on the 160MHz channel width. This case applies when:
- You have a wall or two between the hardware units.
- You have mostly 6GHz clients.
The takeaway is this: If you use the ZenWiFi Pro ET12 in a wireless setup, there's no way to get the best performance out of it. Whichever band that works as the backhaul will lose at least 50% of its efficiency, and that's the speed cap of all clients connected to the satellite.
Like all Wi-Fi 6E mesh systems, you might hear the ZenWiFi Pro ET12 advertised with the 6GHz performance and 5GHz (or even 2.4GHz) range. That combo doesn't exist.
Asus ZenWiFi Pro ET12's Rating
Wi-Fi 6E-ready, extensive Wi-Fi coverage with top performance in specific setups with possible fas Wi-Fi performance in certain setups
Dual Multi-Gig ports with multi-Gigabit wired backhauling, flexible port configurations
Excellent performance and coverage as a standalone router
Tons of useful features and settings, flexible Wi-Fi customization
Helpful mobile app, no login account required
Bulky, no USB, only four network ports
Fluctuating performance as a fully wireless mesh due to the lack of a dedicated backhaul band
Short 6GHz range
Expensive, not wall-mountable
At the current hefty price tag of $899.99, the new ZenWiFi Pro ET12, as a 2-pack mesh, can be a bit of a disappointment in cost over performance ratio or an excellent buy, depending on if you have gotten your house wired.
In the latter case, which is recommended, you'll get yourself one of the best Wi-Fi systems that will last you years.