Long-term APC readers will know that we’re generally fans of ASUS’s routers. The Taiwanese company has aptly transferred its penchant for enthusiast-focused features over from its motherboards and graphics cards to its networking division.
The result is feature-packed routers that often go far beyond what other dedicated networking companies churn out and this RT-AC88U is another example.
It’s a follow-up to last year’s RT-AC87U, which bumped the theoretical top wireless speed from 1,733Mbps to 2,167Mbps. The caveat to that speed is that, if you want to get anywhere near it, you’ll need to grab a second RT-AC88U to use as a wireless bridge.
No smartphone, laptop or USB adapter we’ve seen even offers 1,733Mbps Wi-Fi built-in. To its credit, ASUS has made switching to and using bridge mode dead easy, but at $390 a pop, you’re looking at a nearly $800 outlay.
There’s also four extra Gigabit Ethernet ports in the back, for eight total — a boon if you’re lucky enough to have your router near your entertainment or computing hub — and a sprinkling of upgrades and additions to the router OS.
One of those is a lifetime subscription to a service called WTFast — a VPN that’s focused on routing gaming traffic to give the fastest ping times.
In our testing, we seemed to have the best results when connecting to major servers, like Blizzard’s Battle.net — though your mileage may vary and it may take some trial and error to figure out when it’s worth using.
ASUS has also upgraded its Quality of Service tools — on the older model, you had to basically choose between smart or manual modes — with a new front-end that gives you a drag-and-drop prioritisation so you can decide what kinds of traffic are most important needing a degree in networking.
That’s on top of an already overflowing range of excellent features for parental filtering, bandwidth monitoring, basic NAS features (including cloud-based access and a built-in downloader for torrents and usenet), VPN server and client support (the latter letting you plug in your login details for a commercial VPN provider and protect your network) and much more.
Most of those features are well- implemented and explained in the interface.
Now when it comes to actual wireless performance, the speeds we experienced were a little erratic.
We used the AC88U with ASUS’s RT-5300 in bridge mode (its other new router that supports 2,167Mbps 802.11ac) and while we saw sustained reads and writes of up to 95MB/s — a good 30MB/s faster than we get from most 1,300Mbps routers — for much of the time, those transfer rates hovered around 70–80MB/s for writes and 65MB/s for reads.
This was with the devices in ideal test conditions — around 5m apart with line-of-sight and no obstacles in the way.
On our typical test laptop (a 2013 MacBook Air), our speeds peaked at the usual 50–60MB/s — the same as last year’s RT-AC87U.
And that’s the crux of the situation really. At around $100 cheaper, and still offering faster Wi-Fi than you’ll likely be able to use, the RT-AC87U is arguably a slightly better buy than this new unit… unless you can actually use the extra Gigabit Ethernet ports and the more configurable QoS.