Wireless networking is as common today as smartphones and laptops are. After a huge boom in the popularity of mobile devices, the demand for faster wireless connectivity has corresponded similarly. But I often find that wireless networking is still mostly overlooked in homes. Whatever stock modem/router the ISP installs is probably what a family sticks with.
But it turns out that shiny new router that comes with your ISP’s fiber internet plan might not be the best solution for you.
In today’s review, we take a look at ASUS‘s RT-AC86U dual-band gigabit wireless router, an aftermarket router that could make your life just a bit better.
What’s in the box
In the box, you get three antennas, an assortment of plugs for different kinds of power outlets, an RJ45 cable, a power adapter, the router itself, and a bunch of documents for the warranty, WTFast (more on that later), and a quick-start guide.
One of ASUS’s ROG design staff must’ve been accidentally assigned to style this because this is one gamer-y looking router. I’ve searched the entire packaging and it’s definitely not an ROG-branded device, however. Nonetheless, this wouldn’t look out of place in a LAN party among dozens of other gaming devices.
In terms of ports, you get a USB 2.0 and USB 3.1 port, 5 LAN ports (the blue one for connecting to your modem, the others for the computers you need to connect) and a power input. Buttons, you get one for Wi-Fi on/off, WPS, reset, power, and one for LED on/off.
Initial set-up is straight-forward enough. You plug in the included RJ45 cable into the blue port at the back of the unit and plug the other end into your modem.
Once you’ve connected to the router wired/wirelessly (you’ll know which Wi-Fi access point it is once you see it), simply open a browser and go to ‘router.asus.com’. This brings you to web page with the initial set-up process. The step-by-step process is simple and easy to understand, just make sure to read everything before you click ‘Next’.
By default, the software sets up your Wi-Fi with a smart connect feature which intelligently switches the 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz frequency whichever it deems appropriate. You can opt to have the two frequencies be separate connections too.
Aside from the usual capabilities routers come with like changing the type of password encryption, viewing how many devices are connected, imposing bandwidth limits per device,The RT-AC86U has some pretty neat stuff you simply don’t get with your stock modem or even most aftermarket routers.
AiMesh is ASUS’s mesh networking solution which can utilize other ASUS routers as nodes. This is a more centralized solution as opposed to using Wi-Fi repeaters. This because each node is detected by your computer as the same access point and network as the main router, whereas Wi-Fi repeaters have their own access point and network.
Tl;dr it’s a more elegant solution than using Wi-Fi repeaters with the only real caveat is that AiMesh requires ASUS-branded routers as nodes.
The RT-AC86U also comes with its own virus and malware detection software. This adds a layer of protection to your network on top of the firewall and anti-virus software your devices are, hopefully, already running.
Parental controls are also present so parents can keep potentially harmful and unwanted content and websites from their kids.
Adaptive QoS goes a step further by smartly detecting the kind of traffic and prioritizing the most important as defined by a given preset. Default presets include gaming, media streaming, VoIP, web surfing, and file transferring.
Under the Game Boost tab you can find WTFast GPN and LAN Boost. LAN Boost, presumably, is just a one click activation of the gaming preset we’ve mentioned in the QoS section.
While LAN boost is an optimization within your local network, WTFast is a VPN solution which supposedly optimizes the route for the packets sent by your game client. In my testing however, it didn’t do a noticeable job in Battlefield 4. Maybe it works better during peak hours or during New Year’s eve.
Seemingly lost, AiProtection is also in the Game Boost page, even though it already has its own page and tab. But it does try to justify its existence here by explaining that you can just rely on AiProtection and disable your anti-virus program on your PC to speed it up.
The USB ports at the back of the router can be used to plug in and share USB devices over your local network such as flash drives, printers, and even USB modems (remember those Smart Bro USB sticks?).
You can even use AiDisk to share your flash drive’s files over the internet. So you can, theoretically, leave a 32 GB flash drive plugged in your router and, with a decent internet connection, have your very own decent cloud storage.
AiCloud 2.0 even enables users have access to their home network over the internet. Using an app or a web portal, users can now access their files at home while on the go.
During non-peak hours, we managed to achieve 28.15 Mbps downstream and 26.23 Mbps upstream using the RT-AC86U on our 20 Mbps PLDT Fiber connection. However, we were getting roughly the same speeds using the stock modem.
In order to spot a clear difference in performance between the RT-AC86U and the stock modem, we needed to test them using a more comprehensive method. The answer? File transfers over the local network.
For our testing, we set up an FTP server using a wireless AC-enabled smartphone placed next tour our stock modem and the RT-AC86U. We connected the smartphone via the 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz frequencies available on both the stock PLDT modem and the RT-AC86U. We got our wireless AC-enabled laptop and tested file transfer speeds in different areas of the house.
|PLDT 2.4 GHz||PLDT 5.0 GHz||ASUS RT-AC86U 2.4 GHz||ASUS RT-AC86U 5.0 GHz|
|Living Room||2.5 MB/s||6.0 MB/s*||3.9 MB/s||14.0 MB/s|
|Kitchen||1.6 MB/s||8.0 MB/s*||3.5 MB/s||12.0 MB/s|
|Across the street||1.6 MB/s||DNS||2.2 MB/s||8.0 MB/s|
|Upstairs Room A||DNS||DND||1.3 MB/s||DND|
|Upstairs Room B||600 KB/s||DND||3.6 MB/s||800 KB/s|
|Upstairs Room C||400 KB/s||DNS||3.9 MB/s||8.0 MB/s|
|DND = Did not detect||DNS = Did not start||*erratic transfer speed; peak speed listed|
A few things to note, the Living Room was the ground zero for our experiment. The kitchen had about two walls separating it from the living room. Rooms A, B, and C were all situated upstairs. Room A was the furthest and most obscured, mainly by the concrete floor and walls. Room B and A were both almost directly above both routers with only the concrete floor in between.
As you can see on the table above, the RT-AC86U beat the stock PLDT modem in terms of consistency and speed.
The most telling example was in Room A where the stock modem just did not provide the signal strength we needed to test it properly. Meanwhile, the RT-AC86U’s 2.4 GHz was able to at least do a file transfer.
Our most noted observation throughout the tests was that the stock modem could not sustain its file transfer speed consistently. For our 5.0 GHz testing in the living room, it would drop to as low as 40 KB/s and peak at 6.0 MB/s. In the kitchen, it would peak at 8.0 MB/s and go as low as 2.3 MB/s.
This was not the case for the RT-AC86U which was able to reach stable performance throughout the tests.
Overall, the RT-AC86U is not only leaps and bounds better than your stock modem, but it’s also a powerful personal cloud networking device in its own right. Remember, the RT-AC86U is marketed as a home router, and not for professional use. Impressive, to say the least.
Even if you’re not into the other features loaded on the RT-AC86U, you’ll appreciate the significantly more-powerful-than-stock signal output. This also proves that not all dual-band routers are made equal.
If you want to take full advantage of your new fiber internet connection wherever you are in the house, then you should definitely consider getting one of these.