Even though the 802.11ax wireless standard, also known as Wi-Fi 6 is not yet finalized, we already see wireless routers with support for it being launched. The first consumer 802.11ax wireless router comes from ASUS. Its name is ASUS RT-AX88U, and this router is a beast, regarding size, hardware, and features. If you want to know what the first AX wireless router has to offer, read our review for ASUS RT-AX88U:
ASUS RT-AX88U: Who is it good for?
ASUS RT-AX88U is a great choice for the following types of users:
- People who want to invest in the Wi-Fi 6 standard and plan to buy devices with support for it
- Users who want the best security for their smart home devices
- Users who want advanced firmware that offers complete control
- People who want task automation services from their wireless router, through IFTT (If This, Then That)
- Users who want to control their home network using the Alexa voice assistant
- People who desire an advanced mobile app from which they can personalize almost everything the router has to offer
Pros and cons
There are many positives about the ASUS RT-AX88U:
- Support for the newest wireless standard - 802.11ax
- Very fast WiFi on the 2.4 GHz band
- Excellent security features that secure your smart home
- Useful features for gamers who play multiplayer games online
- Powerful hardware that can handle many clients and simultaneous connections
- Super-fast USB 3.0 ports
- Advanced smartphone app for administering your wireless router
- Great multilingual support and easily accessible Help documentation
- It can be mounted on walls
- It has eight Ethernet ports - a rare sight on consumer routers
There are some downsides to consider:
- If you have laptops and devices with Intel wireless adapters, you must update your drivers; otherwise, your WiFi connection does not work with this router
- The wireless coverage on the 5 GHz band is not that reliable in locations with two or more walls separating the network clients from the router
- The price is not for everyone
ASUS is the first manufacturer to launch a wireless router that is compatible with the new 802.11ax/Wi-Fi 6 wireless standard. The result is a massive router, with powerful hardware, eight Ethernet ports, as well as advanced firmware the caters to the needs of many users: gamers, parents, security-conscious users, IT professionals, and small businesses. If you purchase it, you future-proof your home network before the rest of the world. However, this also means that you pay more for being the first, and you confront a few glitches and incompatibilities that are going to be fixed in time, as the Wi-Fi 6 standard gets the final approval and compatible devices appear on the market. ASUS RT-AX88U is the kind of wireless router whose potential is going to be revealed in time, as the rest of the IT world gets onboard with the new Wi-Fi 6 standard.
Unboxing the ASUS RT-AX88U wireless router
ASUS RT-AX88U comes in a massive black box, with a picture of the router on the top cover, as well as a list of its most important features. The unboxing experience is pleasant and worthy of a premium device. Watch the video below to see what you are going to find inside the box.
Inside the packaging, there are the following items: the wireless router, its external antennas, the power adapter, an Ethernet cable, the Quick Setup guide, troubleshooting information for laptops with Intel wireless network cards, a guide for connecting to the WTFast service, the warranty and other legal information.
Hardware specifications and design
ASUS RT-AX88U looks similar to the popular ASUS RT-AC88U, a wireless router that was appreciated by many users (including us) when it was launched a few years ago. Visually, the new model uses a different accent color: gold instead of red. The ports are found in the same places, the ventilation grids are similar, and so on.
The uniqueness of ASUS RT-AX88U lies in its modern and powerful hardware. This wireless router is powered by a 64-bit Broadcom BCM43684 quad-core System on a Chip (SoC) running at 1.8 GHz, 1 GB of DDR3 RAM, and 256 MB of storage space for the firmware.
The Broadcom BCM43684 SoC it uses brings support for the latest Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax wireless standard), which aims to improve the speed of your wireless connections, the number of clients it can serve simultaneously, and the power consumption of network clients. An interesting feature of Wi-Fi 6 is that it improves the useful MU-MIMO transfer technology. Now it is more efficient, and also handles uploads, not only downloads, like it did in its first incarnation. However, the Wi-Fi 6 standard is so new that it is not finalized yet, and the final approval is expected for late 2019. Also, there are no client devices on the market. The only thing we know is that the iPhone is rumored to enable support for the Wi-Fi 6 standard sometime in 2019.
ASUS made a wireless router that you can use today, so RT-AX88U incorporates support for all the existing wireless networking standards 802.11ac Wave 2, and 802.11 b/g/n.
ASUS RT-AX88U is a dual-band wireless router with a total maximum theoretical bandwidth split as follows: 1148Mbps for the 2.4GHz band and 4804Mbps for the 5GHz band. That adds up to 5952 Mbps, hence the 6000 Mbps approximation you see in the marketing materials about this router. Keep in mind that these bandwidth approximations are valid only when using the new Wi-Fi 6 standard, which you cannot use with today's network clients.
When it comes to ports, ASUS RT-AX88U is very generous. On the back, you get eight 1 Gbps Ethernet ports, a USB 3.0 port, the WAN port, the WPS button, the Reset jack, the Power jack, and the Power button.
On the front, there are two buttons: one for turning the LEDs on and off, and another for controlling the WiFi broadcasting. There is also a door that hides another USB 3.0 port. The positioning of this port is not that well thought out, and it makes it more difficult to connect a second USB device to the router. It also has four external antennas, which enable 4x4 MU-MIMO wireless transfers.
A router with such powerful hardware and many ports is always large, and relatively heavy. ASUS RT-AX88U has a size of 11.8 x 7.4 x 2.4 inches or 300 x 188 x 61 mm in length x width x height. It also weighs 2.2 pounds or 1.01 kg.
The firmware on the ASUS RT-AX88U is the same as on other routers from the company. It includes the latest version of AiProtection Pro (which provides commercial-grade security from Trend Micro, and cloud-based parental controls), and support for ASUS AiMesh.
If you would like to learn more about the official specifications of this wireless router, go to this page: ASUS RT-AX88U Specifications.
Setting up and using the ASUS RT-AX88U wireless router
Setting up the ASUS RT-AX88U is easy: plug it to the powerline, connect it to the internet, connect it to a computer using the Ethernet cable found in the packaging, and access its configuration wizard in a web browser. First, you are asked to enter the details of your internet connection. Then, you configure the name(s) and password(s) for the wireless network, enable 802.11ax HE frame support (turning on the Wi-Fi 6 standard), and set the username and password for managing the router.
After you provide the initial details, the router connects to the internet and checks for firmware updates. This is a proactive approach, and you should let ASUS RT-AX88U update its firmware so that you can benefit from performance and security improvements. At the end of the quick setup wizard, you are shown a summary of your settings.
Now you can access the administration user interface. It is the same as on other ASUS routers, meaning that it is well organized and easy to use. All the settings are split into logical sections and finding your way is easy. You can configure everything that matters in detail, and advanced users are going to appreciate this fact.
Also, user documentation is well done and accessible. One neat trick is to move the mouse cursor over a setting that you do not understand, and a question mark is shown. Click on it, and you see information explaining that setting. One downside to this Help feature is that it has not been updated to include information about the novelties introduced by this router, like the 802.11ax HE frame support.
A positive is the multilingual support: the firmware for ASUS RT-AX88U is available in 24 languages. Most router manufacturers do not offer their firmware in so many languages.
If you want to control your wireless network from your smartphone or tablet, including when you are not at home, you can use the ASUS router app. It offers many advanced customization options, including the ability to check on your children' devices, and set up rules for parental controls. The remote network diagnostics can be useful too when your family has problems with their WiFi, and you are not home to help.
We connected about twenty devices to the network managed by ASUS RT-AX88U, including two desktop PCs, laptops, tablets, several smartphones, one wireless printer, two smart plugs, one smart bulb, and an Xbox One console. Then, we started sharing data and making transfers. In the room where the router was placed, and in those with a direct line of sight to it, we enjoyed very fast WiFi and stable network transfers. Below is an example of a typical network transfer on the 5 GHz band.
However, in the rooms that were separated by two walls from the router, with no direct line of sight to it, the variability of the transfers increased significantly. While increased variability is normal, other wireless routers from the same company, including the less expensive ASUS RT-AC86U offer better performance in this regard. This is an aspect that should be improved in future firmware updates. Below, you can see a network transfer on the 5 GHz band, in a room separated by two walls from the router:
Another important aspect of good wireless networking experiences is the compatibility of your router with network clients. ASUS RT-AX88U is a router with support for a new wireless network standard (Wi-Fi 6) that is not yet finalized, and there are no network clients on the market to support it. Unfortunately, this also brings some compatibility issues.
If you have a laptop, tablet or device with an Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC wireless network card, you might experience compatibility problems. We have a laptop with an Intel Dual Band Wireless AC-8260 adapter. At first, we could connect to the wireless network, but experienced frequent freezes and disconnects. We could not even stream a movie on Netflix or HBO GO. As documented by ASUS here, and in the packaging of the router, this problem goes away only if you update your drivers to Intel PROSet/Wireless WiFi version 20.70.0 or higher. After we updated the drivers, everything worked smoothly, and we no longer experienced problems.
If you want to know more about the real-world performance offered by ASUS RT-AX88U, go to the next page of this review.