For the first time, the ASUS RT-AX88U router was announced back at IFA 2017, but it hit store shelves only at the end of 2018, and even then not everywhere. There is not even a page with a description of RT-AX88U on the Russian ASUS website yet. Formally, the certification of the new 802.11ax standard, or, according to the new classification, Wi-Fi 6, begins only this year. And, as always, there are solutions for access points, but client devices still have to wait and wait, so even for testing it’s not the first time you have to return to the scheme with two routers, one of which works in media mode -bridge. All this, however, does not prevent marketers of all companies from actively talking about the benefits of Wi-Fi 6. True, omitting some details and bringing to the fore, of course, “clean” wireless connection speeds: up to 287 Mbps per channel in band 2, 4 GHz and up to 1201 Mbps per 5 GHz channel. In the case of the four-channel ASUS RT-AX88U, this allows us to attribute the new product to the AX6000 marketing class: 1148 + 4804 Mbps. However, the rest of the RT-AX88U is no different from other top models of ASUS routers.
Continuity can be traced in everything, starting with the appearance. The wide wedge-shaped case with large, sharp edges on the top cover is made of black plastic. It is matte, although this does not protect against fingerprints and dust — they are still clearly visible. On the front bevel in the center is a ventilation grill. On the left side of it, you can see a flip cover, behind which the USB 3.0 port is hidden, and on the right there are two large buttons. One is needed to quickly turn off the wireless network, and the second turns off the LED indicators on the top cover. Although the indication here is not very intrusive anyway: the LEDs are not too bright. All of them are milky white, and only the WAN connection indicator can glow red when there are problems. On the top cover there are a couple of slots and a rather large barred cutout, under which a large metal plate with a golden tint is visible.
There are also small ventilation slots on the sides and back, but the bottom is a continuous ventilation grill. The design of the legs is such that the device is always raised above the surface by an average of half a centimeter. Obviously, this was done for a reason — the router heats up noticeably during operation. Built-in sensors indicate temperatures of 60°C for SoCs and about 50°C for radios in idle mode, and under load these figures rise. Perhaps the vertical mounting of the case to the wall, which is provided here, will be more optimal than the classic installation somewhere on the table, since natural ventilation, in theory, will be better. But in this case, the question of the convenience of supplying all cables will arise, since all other ports are placed on the back wall: eight gigabit LAN ports, one WAN port, another USB 3.0 port, a power supply socket. There is also a standard set of three buttons: power switch, reset, start WPS.
The dimensions of the case are approximately 30 x 17 x 6 cm. Add to that the 5 cm outriggers on the sides and back of the antennas, as well as the antennas themselves 17 cm long. Feel the scope? Despite the dimensions, the device does not weigh that much — a little less than a kilogram. We have seen SOHO routers and heavier ones. And more voracious — a complete power supply in the form of an already familiar square «bar» with a side of 63 mm and a thickness of 28 mm produces 45 watts. In addition to the PSU, in just a giant box, the buyer will find a patch cord, a pack of documentation, a warranty card and a leaflet for the WTFast service, the client of which is built into the firmware. You can read more about this highly specialized gaming VPN provider in the ASUS GT-AC5300 review. In this case, the manufacturer still gives a perpetual basic subscription to the service for free for one device: a PC or a game console, for example. In general, you can understand that the RT-AX88U belongs to the premium series, not only thanks to the antennas with “gold-plated” cutouts and the ASUS logo of the same color.
|Router ASUS RT-AX88U|
|Standards||IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax (2.4GHz + 5GHz), 802.3ad|
|Chipset/controller||Broadcom BCM49408 (4 × ARM Cortex-B53 @ 1.8 GHz) + BCM53134 + 2 × BCM43684|
|Memory||RAM 1024 MB/ROM 256 MB|
|Antennas||4 × external; 4×4:4; length 170 mm|
|WiFi encryption||WPA/WPA2 (Enterprise 802.1x), WPS; 6 × guest network; WDS|
|WiFi settings||5GHz speed: 802.11ax (5GHz) up to 4804Mbps, 802.11ac up to 4333Mbps.|
|Speed 2.4GHz: 802.11ax up to 1148Mbps 802.11n up to 1000Mbps.|
|Smart Connect, Aimesh|
|Interfaces||9 × 10/100/1000 Mbps Ethernet; 2 x USB 3.0|
|Indicators||Power/Status, 2 x Wi-Fi, WAN, LAN, 2 x USB, WPS|
|Hardware buttons||Power, Wi-Fi off, Factory reset, WPS, Lights off|
|Nutrition||DC 19 V 2.37 A|
|Internet access||Static IP, DHCP, PPPoE, PPTP (MPPE), L2TP; 802.1x; USB modem/Android smartphone; HW/SW NAT|
|Services||DLNA, iTunes, FTP, SMB server; print server; IPv6 (DHCP, Static, Passthrough 6to4, 6in4, 6rd); time machine; download manager (BitTorrent, NZB, HTTP, ED2K); AiCloud 2.0 SSH access (password/key)|
|Protection||Trend Micro Game IPS module, DPI and traffic filtering, parental control, blocking traffic from infected devices, router protection; logs of visited URLs; traffic statistics by clients/protocols|
|Port forwarding||Game Profile (profiles for games); Virtual Server, Port Triggering, UPnP, DMZ; IPTV (bridge, IGMP Proxy/Snooping, udpxy, VLAN)|
|VPN||WTFast (GPN) client; L2TP, PPTP, OpenVPN client; PPTP server, OpenVPN|
|QoS/Shaping||Game Boost: adaptive, manual QoS, MAC shaping; WMM|
|Dynamic DNS Services||ASUS, Google Domains, DNS-O-Matic, DynDns, NO-IP, ORAY, Selfhost, Tunnelbroker, ZoneEdit; Let’s Encrypt certificates|
|Working mode||Router, access point, media bridge; AiMesh node|
|Forward VPN, ALG||PPTP, L2TP, IPSec, PPPoE; H.323, RTSP, SIP|
|Firewall||DoS protection, SPI; filtering by MAC, URL/keywords, IP+port+protocol (TCP/UDP); IPv6: IP+port+protocol (TCP/UDP)|
Hardware novelty is also close to the GT-AC5300. The “heart” of the device is the SoC Broadcom BCM49408 with four 28-nm 64-bit ARM v8 Cortex-B53 cores with a frequency of up to 1.8 GHz. Two identical BCM43684 radio modules are connected to the SoC via the PCI-E 2.0 bus. Broadcom has so far the most popular four-channel chips with support for the Wi-Fi 802.11ax standard (and a / b / g / n / ac too), 160 MHz channels and 1024-QAM modulation. In addition, the device still has a separate BCM53134S switch. Yes, the story with the GT-AC5300 repeats itself: this switch serves LAN 5/6/7/8 ports and is connected to the rest of the network part only by a gigabit link. This must be taken into account when using 802.3ad aggregation, which is also available in the router — LAN1 / 2 ports are allocated for this. It is disabled by default. In addition, the plans also include support for the same aggregation for a WAN connection (the usual Dual-WAN has been around for so long).
|Router ASUS RT-AX88U|
|Average speed of aggregated connections, Mbps|
|Clients||Bond → Pair × 1||Bond → Pair × 8||Pair → Bond × 1||Pair → Bond × 8||Bond ↔ Pair × 1||Bond ↔ Pair × 8|
|LAN 3 + 6||941||1878||1883||1887||3159||3216|
|LAN 3 + 4||941||1872||1882||1886||2742||2977|
|LAN 5 + 6||941||937||945||942||1506||1636|
An important point is that the layer3 + 4 algorithm is used to distribute traffic between physical interfaces. Strictly speaking, it is not compatible with all implementations of 802.3ad, but it is likely that the choice fell on it partly due to the “fault” of some home NAS manufacturers. Basically, this is the most obvious use case for port aggregation. Perhaps the developers will change the algorithm in the future, or at least give users a choice, since all this is regulated at the firmware level. There is enough space for it (256 MB), and there are already alternative ASUSWRT builds — for example, from Merlin. There is also enough memory, although out of 1 GB of RAM, according to the monitor, even in idle time, half is always occupied. In any case, you should not count on a fantastic expansion of functionality, but you can get all sorts of nice little things, fixes or slightly newer components like file servers with them. However, for them, even the stock version provides up to 100 MB / s for reading / writing for both SMB and FTP. And this is hardly the limit for the test SSD Kingston SSDNow V + 200 with one NTFS volume in the LanShuo INIC-3609 box, since there is rather a limit in the speed of one LAN port.
|Router ASUS RT-AX88U|
|Average speed, Mbps|
|Protocol||LAN → WAN × 1||LAN → WAN × 8||WAN → LAN × 1||WAN → LAN × 8||LAN ↔ WAN × 1||LAN ↔ WAN × 8|
In general, for a wired network, you can expect the same as the GT-AC5300. Yes, and the settings here are the same — you can manually enable only support for Jumbo frames. The hardware-software accelerator FASTPATH, as usual, is enabled by default, and tests of WAN connections were made with it. When QoS / DPI is activated — and the router still has a Trend Micro protection system and adaptive / manual traffic prioritization — only the software accelerator works, and the load on the processor increases dramatically. Of all the additional features, there is the AiMesh system, which allows you to simply and quickly combine modern ASUS routers into a single mesh system to increase wireless network coverage. It is similar in many ways to the ASUS Lyra system. In addition, among the fashion chips there is support for Alexa and IFTTT, which we got acquainted with on the example of the GT-AC5300. It is important to note that RT-AX88U has just entered the market, so now the firmware is being actively developed.
But problems can also arise on the client side. Directly in the initial setup wizard, a warning is displayed that not all Wi-Fi adapters will be able to connect to the router, and a recommendation is made to install the latest drivers for them. For the new standard, this is normal, but is the game worth the candle at all? Wi-Fi 802.11ax does not require new frequencies and is backward compatible with previous standards, as it can work in both ISM bands: 2.4 and 5 GHz. Formally, it is much better than 802.11n / ac both there and there. For 2.4 GHz with a channel width of 40, 802.11n can get up to 150 Mbps per channel, and 802.11ax can get 287 Mbps of «clean» speed. The picture is similar for 5 GHz with an 80 MHz channel: 433 Mbps for 802.11ac and 600 Mbps for 802.11ax. For 160 MHz channels, in this case, the performance is twice as high for both standards — all thanks to the 1024-QAM modulation scheme officially introduced into the standard.
In reality, all manufacturers sooner or later added higher schemes bypassing current standards, which provided another way to promote products. In Broadcom terminology, the 1024-QAM scheme is called NitroQAM — in the RT-AX88U for n / ac it is still relevant. But in the end, the difference between Wi-Fi 802.11ac with «enhancers» and 802.11ax is not that big in terms of throughput. At a deeper level, the new standard is markedly different from the previous ones and in many respects closer to modern cellular networks. It offers not only higher speeds, but also more efficient spectrum use and coexistence with «foreign» APs, resource granulation and multi-device operation, power saving and prioritization, as well as some other advantages. Although individual innovations such as conditional readiness to work with IoT are still controversial.
|Maximum PHY rate, 1 channel, Mbps|
|WiFi||40 MHz||80 MHz||160 MHz|
All these potential improvements are actively used when promoting routers. At the same time, often only somewhere in the footnotes and notes indicate that in practice, in order to obtain all these advantages, the presence of clients with support for 802.11ax is actually required. And in the ideal case, all devices connected to the access point should be such. A separate item is ultra-wide channels at 160 MHz. In the 5 GHz band, there are only two of them, and both fall within the scope of DFS / TPC regulations. In simple terms, you can achieve maximum speed somewhere in a private house, away from neighbors and weather radars. We do not have such conditions. As a result, it turned out that the configurations of the stands turned out to be redundant — the second router in the media bridge mode showed the speed both for reception and transmission in the range somewhere from 2800 to 3700 Mbps. With occasional 4000 outbound trips, even though it was all in 802.11ax mode.
Stand configurations are as follows:
- Booth A: Intel Core i7-3770, 16 GB RAM, ASUS PCE-AC88, Realtek RTL8168, Windows 7 SP1 x64. Since the wireless adapter only supports 802.11n/ac and 80 MHz channels, the stand was actually only used to test the compatibility of the router with the old Wi-Fi standards.
- Stand R: Intel Xeon D-1540, 32 GB ECC RAM, Dual Port Intel I210, Dual Port Intel I350, Devuan Jessie. I350 adapter ports were used to test aggregation. In other tests, they and one of the I210 ports were connected to the first ASUS RT-AX88U operating in router mode.
- Stand B: Intel Core i5-6600K, 32GB RAM Kingston HyperX Fury DDR4-3200, Intel I219-V, Intel X540-AT2 Dual Port, Devuan ASCII. All three network ports were used to connect to the second ASUS RT-AX88U, in bridge mode.
As for the operation of the PCE-AC88, there were problems with it in the 2.4 GHz band — the adapter, under load, sooner or later simply “fell off” from the network. So the results in the table were not obtained in one pass. The warning about possible connection problems turned out to be useful, although updated drivers have not yet been released for this adapter. On the other hand, it is known that the cards of some other vendors may not connect to the new Wi-Fi at all. At the same time, 802.11ac tests at 5 GHz can be called almost standard, everything was so smooth with them. For tests of 802.11ax, we separately pay attention to the fact that the number of threads must be multiplied by three. There were no stability problems in the 2.4 GHz band with a media bridge, but there are not very many advantages over 802.11n with NutroQAM on average. On the other hand, no one else promised. At 5 GHz, the situation is more interesting: ASUS RT-AX88U turns out to be the fastest of all the routers we have tested so far — under 2 Gb / s for wireless connection! But only from those tested, since we had no other options for 802.11ac@160 MHz.
|Router ASUS RT-AX88U|
|Threads × 3||1||2||four||eight||sixteen||32||64|
|Average speed Wi-Fi 802.11ax 5 GHz (160 MHz), Mbps|
|B -> R||1606||1634||1633||1629||1559||1486||1453|
|R -> B||1588||1622||1620||1603||1586||1558||1542|
|Average speed Wi-Fi 802.11ax 2.4 GHz (40 MHz), Mbps|
|B -> R||483||376||369||373||370||383||375|
|R -> B||495||485||450||382||385||350||356|
|Average speed Wi-Fi 802.11ac 5 GHz (80 MHz), Mbps|
|A -> R||463||698||931||945||944||940||939|
|R -> A||878||932||936||937||935||933||931|
|Average speed Wi-Fi 802.11n 2.4 GHz (40 MHz), Mbps|
|A -> R||262||308||357||360||408||386||390|
|R -> A||396||391||449||385||388||383||380|
The history of 802.11ac Wi-Fi repeats itself: a new standard, new routers, and… the expectation of new 802.11ax client devices, which are yet to be widely available. In the same way, at first there will be compatibility problems and other bugs. At the same time, if you do not follow the letter of the standard, then you can still squeeze out almost as much from 802.11n / ac as 802.11ax promises at first. In fact, ASUS RT-AX88U right now offers the best of both worlds — amazing speeds when using old standards and even higher if you find equipment to work with new ones. A separate question: does everyone need it? If you want to squeeze the maximum speed, you will have to take two routers at once and monitor the purity of the air. Otherwise, the purchase will be, perhaps, well, a very decent reserve for the future.
In all other aspects, ASUS RT-AX88U repeats the older models of SOHO routers from this manufacturer both in terms of filling (it is really powerful here) and functionality. The only unknown in this equation is the price. Abroad, this model costs about $350 or €350, depending on the region. How much it will cost us, taking into account taxes and other expenses, is still unclear. However, for lovers of the most modern technologies, on which the device is designed, the cost is unlikely to be a decisive factor when buying.