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Asus RT-AC88U router review:

The Lexus of wireless routers

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The Good The Asus RT-AC88U router has eight superfast Gigabit LAN ports, speedy Wi-Fi performance and lots of useful features. Its Web interface is smartly designed and easy to use.

The Bad The router's USB 3.0 port is awkwardly placed, and when coupled with an external hard drive, its NAS performance is just average.

The Bottom Line You'll pay a lot for the Asus RT-AC88U, but it has everything you'd want in a router. If you have the money, this is the router to get.

CNET Editors' Rating

8.6 Overall
  • Setup 8.0
  • Features 9.0
  • Performance 9.0
  • Support 7.0

The RT-AC88U is Asus' latest true dual-band router, not to mention the best router the company has had to offer so far.

It's the first home router with eight Gigabit LAN ports with additional support for Dual-WAN (one of the LAN ports can be converted into a WAN port) and port aggregation (two of the LAN ports can be combined into a single superfast connection.)

(Note: Asus also makes the RT-AC3100, which is essentially the same as the RT-AC88U, including its appearance, but which has just four LAN ports.)

On top of that, it has a robust and fun-to-use Web interface, a slew of excellent network-monitoring features, a built-in VPN server, and the ability protect your home network from malware and intruders. What's more, the router supports MU-MIMO, and includes unique features for gamers. In all, I've never seen a router with more to offer than the RT-AC88U.

Performance-wise, the router excelled in my tests, delivering top Wi-Fi data rates, long range and a stable wireless signal. If you're in the market for a top-notch home router with little compromise, you can't go wrong with the RT-AC88U. But at $280, it's not cheap. If you have the money, though, it's worth the investment -- especially for users with lofty needs. (Pricing for the UK and Australia have not been announced, but the US price works out to around £185 and AU$390 at current exchange rates.) It's also a better buy than other, more expensive routers such as the Netgear X8 AC5300 or even the Asus' own AC5300 router, the RT-AC5300. Each of these has have a high price tag, but doesn't offer nearly as much.

If you just need a modest home network, however, check out the other options that might fit your need and budget better on this list of top 802.11ac routers.

asusrt-ac88u-10.jpg

The RT-AC88U comes with four detachable antennas.

Dong Ngo/CNET

AC3100 vs. Ac5300

The naming conventions of Wi-Fi routers has always been confusing. Since the introduction of the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard, there have been many Wi-Fi designations, such as AC1750, AC1900, AC3200, AC5300... and now we have ourselves the new AC3100, which -- to make matters worse -- D-Link actually calls AC3150.

The numbers following "AC " refers to the total Wi-Fi bandwidth a router has. Companies calculate this number by adding the top speed for each band of the router. For example, an AC1900 router, such as the Asus RT-AC68U, has a top speed of 1,300Mbps on the 5Ghz band and 600Mbps on the 2.4Ghz band. Add those two numbers and you get 1,900. Though most routers are dual-band (meaning they have two bands, one on the 5Ghz frequency and the other on the 2.4Ghz frequency), some routers come with an additional band on the 5Ghz frequency and are aptly named "tri-band" routers. No matter how many bands a router might have, your device connects to only one band at a time. This is one of the reasons why the AC designation number can be misleading, because it doesn't show how fast a single client can connect to a router.

Wi-Fi designation Router type Total Wi-Fi bandwidth 5Ghz speed (theoretical) 2.4Ghz speed (theoretical)
AC5300 Tri-band 5,334Mbps 2,167Mbps x 2 bands 1,000Mbps
AC3200 Tri-band 3,200Mbps 1,300Mbps x 2 bands 600Mbps
AC3100 / AC3150 Dual-band 3,167Mbps 2,167Mbps 1,000Mbps
AC2500 / AC2400 / AC2350 Dual-band 2,333Mbps 1,733Mbps 600Mbps
AC1900 Dual-band 1,900Mbps 1,300Mbps 600Mbps
AC1750 Dual-band 1,750Mbps 1,300Mbps 450Mbps

So how fast is AC3100? As shown on the charts above, an AC3100 router is as fast as an AC5300 router, both sharing the same top speed on the 5Ghz band of 2,167Mbps and 1,000Mbps on the 2.4Ghz. Note that these are just the top speeds on paper. In real-world usage, the actual sustained speed of a Wi-Fi connection is always much lower than the theoretical speed.

The RT-AC88U uses the Broadcom NitroQAM chipset, which is the same chipset used in current AC5300 routers such as the RT-AC5300, or the Netgear R8500. The only difference is the RT-AC88U doesn't have the additional 5Ghz band. That said, the only time when you'll find the difference between an AC3100 router and an AC5300 router, in terms of Wi-Fi speeds, is when you have 10 more or concurrent active 5Ghz clients on the same network. In this case, an AC5300 router, thanks to its two 5Ghz bands, can support more concurrent clients without slowing them down.

On the inside, the RT-AC88U is powered by a 1.4Ghz dual-core processor, 512MB of DDR 3 system memory and 128MB of flash storage. In all, it's one of the most powerful routers on the market.

Asus RT-AC88U router specs

Wi-Fi standards 802.11a/b/g/n/ac with MU-MIMO
Wi-Fi bandwidth 2,167 Mbps (5Ghz) and 1,000Mbps (2.4Ghz)
Chipset Broadcom BCM47094, BCM4366 and BCM4366
Flash memory 128 MB of NAND
System memory (RAM) 512MB of DDR3
WAN 1 Gigabit WAN (Internet) port
LAN 8 Gigabit LAN ports
Antenna Four detachable dual-band antennas
USB 01 USB 3.0 port and 01 USB 2.0 port
Features ASUS WRT firmware, AiCloud, AiProtection, High-power mode, Download master application, Dual-WAN, Port Aggregation, VPN server, Guest network, DLNA server, Automatic IP, Static IP, PPPoE (MPPE support), PPTP, L2TP, IPv4, IPv6.

MU-MIMO supported

The RT-AC88U supports Multi-User Multiple Input Multiple Output (MU-MIMO) technology, which is designed to handle Wi-Fi bandwidth efficiently. MU-MIMO was first introduced with the Qualcomm MU/EFX 802.11AC Wi-Fi chip. The RT-AC88U, however, uses the first Broadcom Wi-Fi chip that supports this technology.

Prior to MU-MIMO, all 802.11ac routers treat all Wi-Fi clients the same, regardless of their Wi-Fi power. Since a router typically has more Wi-Fi power than a client, in a particular wireless connection, the router is hardly used at full capacity. For this reason, most Wi-Fi connections are not efficient, where the router wastes its power for lower-tier clients and hence doesn't have enough power to maintain connection quality for multiple clients.

With MU-MIMO, multiple simultaneous transmissions of different Wi-Fi tiers are sent to multiple devices at the same time, enabling them to connect at the speed each client needs. In other words, having a MU-MIMO Wi-Fi network is like having multiple wireless routers of different Wi-Fi tiers. Each of these "routers" is dedicated to each tier of devices in the network, so that multiple devices can connect at the same time without slowing one another down.

MU-MIMO has been quickly adopted by both routers and clients, and it's predicted that by the end of next year, most, if not all, new Wi-Fi devices will support this technology.

asusrt-ac88u-3.jpg

With eight Gigabit LAN ports, the router has a good excuse to be a bit bulky.

Dong Ngo

Familiar design, eight versatile Gigabit LAN ports

The new RT-AC88U looks almost exactly the same as the RT-AC87U, with four detachable antennas and two USB ports. And like its older brother, the RT-AC88U has its USB 2.0 port on the back and the USB 3.0 port on the front, which is not an ideal place. This is because, due to its much faster speed, the USB 3.0 port is preferred for hosting a permanent storage device. So, having this port on the front will translate into clutter when you want to the router to also serve as a network storage server.

The RT-AC88U has one big difference, however. It now has eight Gigabit LAN ports (as opposed to four found in most other routers). In fact, it is the first home router with this number of LAN ports. This is a huge improvement, considering it has the same physical size as the RT-AC87U. More LAN ports means more wired clients, such as a server or a printer, that you can connect to the router before having to resort to using a switch.

And there's more to the RT-AC88U's LAN ports. You can aggregate the first two ports to deliver a superfast 2Gbps connection -- a bonus for those with a high-end NAS server -- and use any of the first four ports as a second WAN (Internet) port. This means if you have two broadband connection (such as one Cable and one DSL connection) you can use them both with the router to make sure your network is always online. On top of that, the router's USB ports can also be used to host a USB cellular dongle for those wanting to share a cellular broadband connection with the rest of the network.

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