Asus AC2900 dual-band Wi-Fi router (RT-AC86U) review: Asus has built a fast router with something for everyone
With top speeds and added features for gaming, security and network prioritization, the new Asus AC2900 router is an affordable must-have for your home network.
If you want an affordable router that has it all, the Asus RT-AC86U checks very nearly all the boxes. From gaming to security to fast speeds, everyone can find something to like about this high-end dual-band AC2900 router. And for only $200 (£200 in the UK, which converts to AU$350), you don't have to invest a fortune to get exactly what you need.
I saw top throughput speeds on 5GHz during testing and was pleasantly surprised by the app. One of the best features of many Asus routers is their menu, which is very customizable. The Asus RT-AC86U is no different.
It won't disappoint if you need an easy-to-use router with reliable Wi-Fi coverage in a large home.
Cool look, but not a versatile design
The Asus RT-AC86U is very sleek, showcasing a mostly black look with two red streaks across the front. It stands upright with three detachable antennas, a few status lights and an overall compact design. You can't lay it down flat or mount it on a wall, but at 8.6 by 6.3 by 3.3 inches and 1.9 pounds, it can be hidden if you really can't stand to see it.
The back has a power button, reset button, power adapter socket, USB 2.0 port, USB 3.1 Gen 1 port and a helpful LED on/off button. There also is one gigabit WAN port and four gigabit LAN ports, one of which can be used for dual-WAN to connect a second internet connection to your router for better Wi-Fi stability.
The side of the RT-AC86U features a Wi-FI on/off button and a WPS button for quickly connecting new devices. The front LEDs are small and not very distracting. They represent LAN ports 1-4, internet connectivity, 2.4GHz band, 5GHz band and power.
Overall the design is very modern, but like most routers, it probably will stand out if you place it in plain view. My advice, keep it out of sight in a central location of your house.
Intuitive menu that's easily customizable, but only if you want to
I love it when a router menu has lots of customizable features. What I like even more is when a router is easily navigable and even helpful at times. The Asus RT-AC86U is all this and more.
Even the setup process is easy. All I had to do was connect it to a modem, connect my laptop to the router, power on the router, enter a PIN, set up the login/password for the router and set up the SSIDs/passwords. The firmware is upgraded automatically, and the whole process took about five minutes. Easy.
Mostly. The setup menu was in a foreign language when I received it and I couldn't log in. All I had to do was hold in the reset button for 10 seconds and when it rebooted, I was off and running in English. So, easy fix. Luckily I didn't have to spend months learning a new language.
Bonus: if you sign up for an Asus account through its website, you get 5GB of cloud storage for free. A nice extra if you haven't used Asus products previously.
The ASUSWRT user interface is a beast to behold, as owners of other Asus routers should know. To help out, Asus incorporated a functionality that, when you mouse over a setting, a question mark pops up. When you click the mouse, a dialog box pops up, telling you what the setting does. This is convenient and helpful.
The menu is easy to navigate and has options for pretty much everything you want to customize and more, including adaptive QoS for prioritizing devices, GameBoost to enhancing your gaming experience, and AiProtection for increased network security.
Added security and gaming features are a great bonus
When it comes to specs, the Asus RT-AC86U only lacks tri-band capabilities (that is, not having an extra 5GHz band). The dual-band AC2900 router offers 750Mbps on 2.4GHz, 2,167Mbps on 5GHz and a 1.8GHz processor.
MU-MIMO technology allows it to connect to multiple devices and simultaneously provide data streams to each at their top speed. Remember though, that your device needs to have MU-MIMO-capable hardware to take advantage of this feature, which is only available on the 5GHz band.
NitroQAM technology (1024-QAM modulation) is what makes this router stand out from its competitors. The RT-AC86U has 4x4 (four transmit antennas and four receive antennas) capability on 5GHz and 3x3 on 2.4GHz, so combined with NitroQAM, it offers theoretical speeds that are 1.25 times that of a 256-QAM router, like the Asus RT-AC87U and the Netgear Nighthawk X4 AC2350 router.
The QoS features give you easy access to prioritizing your network traffic. You can use the adaptive QoS automatic settings to prioritize certain types of traffic like games or streaming, or you can manually set which traffic and devices get priority. There's also traditional QoS to limit bandwidth.
Gamers will enjoy the one-click LAN boost which automatically prioritizes games to no. 1 on your network. This router even comes with a free two-week trial of Gamers Private Network (GPN), powered by WTFast. This service will automatically select the most efficient route for your game packets. After the trial, you will need to pay $10 per month if you want to keep your subscription.
Asus also included its commercial grade security, AiProtection, with the RT-AC86U. Asus, together with Trend Micro, will provide your devices with extra protection from malicious attacks and viruses. AiProtection monitors your entire network to ward off attacks as well as neutralize any devices that my get infected. You also have access to parental controls to restrict access to certain sites on your devices.
It's rare that you see a router with such attention paid to both security and gaming, but this one really does seem like the complete package.
If I had to nitpick, the RT-AC86U does lack versatility with its app. You can control your network when you are connected to your home Wi-Fi network, but it doesn't work remotely. The app is very robust though and works very much like the browser-based interface.
Finally, the Asus RT-AC86U offer two USB ports, one for USB 2.0 and one for USB 3.1 Gen 1. This gives you a super-fast option for printing, storing files on an external hard drive or transferring files.
Fast, fast, fast on 5GHz
The performance of the Asus RT-AC86U was very impressive, especially on 5GHz. Remember though, that the speed you are paying for from your internet service provider will cap how fast you can download, stream and surf the web. Unless you have a fiber connection, you are probably restricted to bandwidth well under 100 megabits per second (Mbps).
On the 2.4GHz band, I was a little unimpressed with speeds of only 142Mbps from 7 feet away, but at 25 feet, I saw the number jump to a respectable 169Mbps. I'm seeing this odd discrepancy of faster speeds farther away on the 2.4GHz band more and more lately. This could be due to increased interference directly around a router, which is constantly transmitting and receiving signals. Also, beamforming technology focuses your Wi-Fi on a device as it moves farther away, potentially creating a better signal. This will drop off eventually, so every router has a sweet spot.
The 5GHz band did not show a similar discrepancy in speed. It was the fastest I've tested to date at 938Mbps from 7 feet away. As expected on 5GHz, it dropped off significantly as more distance and obstacles were introduced, but it still hit nearly 300Mbps from 50 feet away. A multilevel home should be no problem for the Asus RT-AC86U.
Here's how the RT-AC86U stacks up to similar routers I've tested:
Should you buy one?
You are going to get maximum bang for your buck with the Asus RT-AC86U AC2900 Wi-Fi router. It's menu is user-friendly enough for novice users, yet customizable enough for network engineers. Gamers have options to help reduce latency, and the extra security features will give everyone peace of mind.
With a price tag of just $200, you get high-end features like MU-MIMO, advanced traffic prioritization, USB 3.1 and dual-WAN. And with extras like GameBoost and AiProtection, the Asus RT-AC86U is perfect for anyone looking to improve their home network. It's powerful enough for for all your current devices and ones you get in future.
Asus RT-AC86U Specs
|IEEE 802.11 Standard
|Dual core 1.8GHz
|Dual band (2.4GHz+5GHz)
|1 Gigabit WAN; 4 Gigabit LAN; Dual-WAN
|1 USB 2.0; 1 USB 3.1 Gen 1
|3 External; 1 Internal
|3 (2.4GHz); 4 (5GHz)
|AiProtection powered by Trend Micro, 64-bit/128-bit WEP, WPA2-PSK, WPA-PSK, WPA-Enterprise, WPA2-Enterprise , WPS support
|App or Browser
|8.7 by 6.3 x 3.3