Asus RT-AC88U router review: The Lexus of wireless routers

After the initial setup, you can use the interface to manage the router. This interface is among the best I've seen, and is well-organized and self-explanatory. It has an interactive network map that displays the connected devices in real time. Each device is identified by its name as well as its vendor. You can click on a connected device to interact with it, view more information about it, or even rename it to your liking, which is a huge improvement from earlier versions used in older Asus routers. (Previously connected clients have been identified by their MAC address, which is a string of numbers and letters.) This means when there are many clients connected to the router, you can easily find out which one is which.

From this network map, you can also quickly access the router's other settings, such as Dynamic DNS, Wi-Fi settings, the settings of the Internet connection (WAN) and so on. You can also access other settings by using different sections of the interface. For the most part, everything is very clearly explained or self-explanatory.

Apart from the router's settings, you can use the Web interface to manage the router's many features.

Unique and helpful features

The RT-AC88U is the most feature-rich router I've seen. It has all the features previously found in older Asus routers, such as the RT-AC3200 or RT-AC87U, and then a few more of its own.

It would take a long time to list all of the features the router has to offer, but few main features that it share with other Asus routers include AiProtection, Adaptive QoS (quality of service), multiple guest networks, VPN server, and the versatile USB ports.

AiProtection is powered by Trend Micro, and designed to protect the entire home network against viruses and malware from the Internet. Furthermore, if a client has already been infected, this feature will also stop it from sending out personal information. AiProtection worked quite well in my trial, even though it's hard to say if it can protect your home network completely. Also, note that if you turn this feature on completely, certain settings or features of the router -- namely those prone to security risks, such as port-forwarding, UPnP, remote access and so on -- will stop working.

Adaptive QoS prioritizes the Internet bandwidth according to the type of traffic: Web surfing, gaming, video and audio streaming, VoIP/instant messaging, file transferring and others. You can use the mouse to arrange these categories by priority, and the router will take care of the rest. You can also opt for the Traditional QoS where you must define rules manually. On top of that, there's a function called "apps analysis" that allows for real-time monitoring of the Internet activity of any connected client as well as the total download and upload bandwidth being used. This is a very helpful tool if you want to find out which client or application is abusing the Internet connection.

Apart from two main Wi-Fi networks (one for each band), the RT-AC88U supports another six guest networks (three for on each band.) By default, all of these networks are disabled but you can turn each on via a click. After that you can customize this network's name, schedule and even its security. A guest network allows connected clients to access the Internet but not other local resources, such as files or printers.

The router's two USB ports can be used for multiple purposes. They can host external hard drives, cellular modems or USB printers. When a hard drive is connected, you can share the data stored on it with local clients or remote clients over the Internet, and you can even set up syncing, native Time Machine backup support and PC-less downloads. Overall, the RT-AC88U (along with other 802.11ac routers from Asus) has by far the most options in terms of what you can do with the router's USB ports.

The RT-AC88U has a built-in PPTP VPN server that can host up to 10 remote clients. This, plus the ability to use one of its LAN ports as a second WAN port, make the router a great fit as a gateway for a small office.

Other than those features, the RT-AC88U is the first I've seen that can also work as a client for WTFast, also known as the gamer private network (GPN), which is a global data network designed specifically for MMO gamers. WTFast GPN ensures the optimal transmission of your game data between your computer and the game server. Since the router can work as a client, you won't need to install WTFast client on each of the computers on your network. Note however, that the WTFast feature can support multiple clients, but only one client is supported free of charge.

In all, the RT-AC88U has by far the most to offer among all home routers I've reviewed.

Performance

I tested the RT-AC88U with the latest firmware version, 3.0.0.4.380_858, and it proved to be the fastest router I've seen on the 5GHz band. Note that there are currently no clients that can handle the router's top speed, but with existing AC1900 clients, which are the fastest on the market, the router delivered a sustained real-world copy speed of more than 645Mbps at close range (15 feet). When I increased the distance to 100 feet, it then averaged 335Mbps. Both of these numbers topped the charts.

CNET Labs's 802.11ac (5GHz) Wi-Fi performance

Asus RT-AC88U
643.6
345.2
Netgear R8500
632
329.6
D-Link DIR-890L/R
601.7
160.9
Linksys EA9200
577.8
242.7
Linksys WRT1900ACS
536.1
349.21
D-Link DIR-880L
525.6
212.8
Linksys WRT1200AC
522.6
246.8
Asus RT-AC68U
521.4
336
Linksys WRT1900AC
520.67
340.7
Asus RT-AC3200
513.7
289
Linksys E8350
511.1
304.6
Asus RT-AC87U
504.4
278.6
Netgear R8000
482.2
241.6
Linksys EA8500
437.8
272.4
Netgear R7000
432.1
295.4
Netgear R7500
381.7
242.4
Amped Wireless RTA2600
377.6
250.2
Amp Wireless RTA15
205.5
165.5

Legend:

Close range
Long range

Note:

Measured in megabits per second

On the 2.4GHz band, the router scored 229Mbps at close range and just 102Mbps at 100 feet (30 meters) away. While not the fastest in this category, the router was among the top three routers.

And the RT-AC88U had great range, about the same as that of the RT-AC87U with the effective range of between 170 to 200 feet (60 meters). It also passed my 72-hour stress test with no problems at all. During this time, it was set to transfer data constantly between multiple devices, both wired and wireless, all of different Wi-Fi standards and connected to all of its bands; none of the clients disconnected even once.

Note that I tested the router at CNET's offices, where there are plenty of walls as well as many Wi-Fi devices, including those from adjacent buildings, that are out of my control. Generally, walls shorten the reach of a Wi-Fi signal, and other Wi-Fi devices create interference. As with all Wi-Fi routers, your results may vary depending on where you live.

CNET Labs' router network storage performance

Linksys WRT1900ACS
97.0
87.72
Linksys EA8500
90.8
105.52
Linksys WRT1900AC
75.9
105.24
Linksys WRT1200AC
70.9
88.88
Netgear R8500
43.5
59.9
Netgear R8000
42.6
71.76
Asus RT-AC68U
41.2
53.86
Netgear R7000
38.6
60.1
Securifi Almond+
38.5
48.5
Linksys E8350
37.8
85.47
D-Link DIR-890L/R
35.5
65.23
Netgear R7500
33.9
65.86
Amped Wireless RTA2600
31.3
58.78
Asus RT-AC88U
29.7
33.99
Asus RT-AC3200
27.5
28.79
D-Link DIR-880L
27.4
44
Asus RT-AC87U
27.2
32.31
Apple Time Capsule
25.8
28.67
D-Link DIR-868L
12.5
12.81

Legend:

Write
Read

Note:

Measured in megabytes per second

When coupled with a portable drive, the RT-AC88U NAS performance wasn't as impressive as its Wi-Fi numbers. Via a Gigabit connection, the router registered the sustained speed of 30MBps for writing and 34MBps for reading. This wasn't by any means slow, but compared to other routers with the same feature it was also far from the fastest. Nonetheless, at these speeds, the router can work well as a home NAS server, with enough bandwidth for media streaming as well as file sharing and backup. In fact, it's much faster than Apple's Time Machine and hence a much better alternative.

Conclusion

The RT-AC88U is easily the best router from Asus to date and one of the best dual-band routers on the market. With excellent performance and a ton of features, it's a great buy for anyone who wants to get the most out of their home network. The fact that it has eight Gigabit LAN port (instead of the usual four) means you can plug many more wired clients into it before the need for a switch arises. And if you're an MMO gamer, the router's support for the WTFast is definitely worth the extra cash.

In short, there's no other router that offers more. But if you don't need fancy features and just want a stable router to share your Internet connection, also consider the Asus RT-AC68U, the Netgear R7000 or the Linksys WRT1900ACS. These are also great routers and at a lower cost.

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