ASUS RT-AC88U review

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.

ASUS RT-AC88U_rearThankfully, more speed isn’t the only thing ASUS has thrown into the mix.

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 — 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.

Price: $390
From: ASUS

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5