June 16, 2024


Sapiens Digital

Asus RT-AX88U – Review 2020

7 min read

One of the first Wi-Fi 6 routers to hit our labs back in April of 2019, the Asus RT-AX88U ($349.99) is still one of the best we’ve tested to date. Armed with 802.11ax circuitry, this pricey router delivers speedy 160MHz throughput and fast file-transfer speeds in our tests, and its standard 802.11ac performance is also very good. If it’s within your budget, the RT-AX88U is the best choice if you’re ready for Wi-Fi 6 right now and you want to future-proof your wireless network.

A Word About Wi-Fi 6

Wi-Fi 6, also known as 802.11ax or High Efficiency (HE) Wireless, is the next technology iteration for wireless routers. An evolution of 802.11ac technology, 802.11ax promises increased throughput speeds of up to 4.8 gigabits per second (Gbps). That means less network congestion, greater client capacity, and better range performance courtesy of several new and improved wireless technologies. Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) improves overall throughput by breaking Wi-Fi channels into sub-channels. This allows up to 30 users to share a channel at the same time. Target Wake Time (TWT) is designed to reduce power consumption by allowing devices to determine when and how often they will wake up to begin sending and receiving data. The use of Target Wake Time is expected to extend the battery life of mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets as well as battery-powered smart home devices such as security cameras and video doorbells.

Wi-Fi 6 also takes advantage of previously unused radio frequencies to help boost 2.4GHz performance, and it uses refined uplink and downlink bandwidth management to provide enhanced QoS (Quality of Service). It also offers uplink and downlink MU-MIMO streaming (802.11ac only supports downlink MU-MIMO). 802.11ax is backward compatible and will work with devices that use older 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi tech, but only 802.11ax clients can take full advantage of its enhanced performance and features, and they are few and far between right now.

Familiar Looks

With its beveled top, angular front and sides, and matte black finish, the RT-AX88U looks nearly identical to the RT-AC88U. It measures 2.4 by 11.8 by 7.4 inches (HWD) and has four removable antennas (two in the back and one on each side). Toward the front of the router are a USB 3.1 port, a Wi-Fi on/off button, an LED on/off button, and a row of LED indicators for power, 2.4GHz and 5GHz band activity, WAN activity, LAN activity (one for each port), USB activity, and WPS activity. The rear panel holds 8 gigabit LAN ports, a WAN port, a secondary USB 3.1 port, a WPS button, a reset button, a power button, and a power jack.

The RT-AX88U is powered by a 1.8GHz quad-core processer, 1GB of RAM, and 256MB of flash memory. It’s a 4×4 AX6000 router capable of data rates of 1,148Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and 4,804Mbps on the 5GHz band when connected to Wi-Fi 6 clients. In addition to the above mention Wi-Fi 6 technologies it supports 160MHz channel bandwidth, MU-MIMO simultaneous data streaming, direct to client signal beamforming, and Smart Connect, where the router automatically chooses the best radio band for optimal throughput. It also supports Asus AiMesh technology which lets you use multiple Asus router models to create a whole home Wi-Fi system with seamless roaming and one network ID.

You can control the RT-AX88U using a mobile app or the more advanced web console, both of which are also used to control the Asus RT-AC86U. The web console main screen contains a network map that shows all connected clients, internet and security status, connected USB devices, and Wi-Fi information for both radio bands. On the left side of the screen is a menu containing General and Advanced settings. General settings include Guest networking, a Traffic Analyzer, USB storage settings, Adaptive QoS, and AiCloud settings. The Adaptive QoS settings offer manual and automatic bandwidth thresholds and application-specific prioritization, and you get access to WTFast routing technology and the Gamers Private Network via the GameBoost settings.

Trend Micro AiProtection gateway from Asus RT-AX88U router software

This router uses Trend Micro’s AiProtection software to block access to malicious sites, detect viruses, and apply Parental Controls that let you block adult-oriented sites, restrict access to social media sites, and block streaming media and entertainment content.

Asus RT-AX88U router software configuration and setup screen shot

Advanced wireless settings let you edit wireless security, change channel width, and rename your SSIDs. There are also professional settings such as Beacon Intervals, RADIUS settings, Airtime Fairness, and Tx power adjustments. Here you can also enable or disable MU-MIMO and beamforming. Other Advanced settings include LAN, WAN, and Firewall controls, VPN Server and VPN Client settings, and Alexa and IFTTT settings that allow you to do things like enable guest networking and pause the internet with voice commands and have the router interact with other IFTTT devices and web services. Use the Administration menu to update the firmware and to configure the RT-AX88U to act as a router, a media bridge, an access point, or a repeater.

Asus RT-AX88U router software firewall configuration screen

Powerful Performance

Installation takes just a few minutes. I connected the router to my desktop PC using the included Ethernet cable and connected it to my cable modem. I powered up the router and typed http://router.asus.com in my browser’s address bar, which launched the setup wizard. I used the Advanced Setup option to select an operation mode (router, repeater, AP, media bridge, AiMesh) with automatic DHCP and assigned SSID’s and security passwords for both bands. I then gave the router a name and password, updated the firmware, and the installation was complete.

With the lack of 802.11ax clients currently on the market, I was not yet able to test the RT-AX88U’s full capabilities. However, I did test its 160MHz throughput on the 5GHz band using an 802.11ac laptop equipped with Intel’s Wireless AC-9260 chipset, which supports 160MHz channel bandwidth. On the 5GHz close-proximity (same-room) test, the RT-AX88U delivered an impressive 943Mbps, which is slightly faster than what we saw with Netgear’s AX router, the Nighthawk RAX80. That’s 36 percent faster than our previous leader, the Asus Rapture GT-AC5300, and 37 percent faster than the TP-Link Archer C5400X. On the 30-foot test, the RT-AX88U garnered 461Mbps, beating the Nighthawk RAX80 by 45Mbps and the Archer C5400X and the Rapture GT-AC5300 by more than 130Mbps.

It’s important to note that these speeds are the result of 160MHz channel bandwidth and not 802.11ax technology. I expect to see even faster throughput speeds when I test this router using a system that supports Wi-Fi 6.

PCMag Labs router throughput test results at 5GHz

I also tested the RT-AX88U using our usual 802.11ac Wave 2 laptop which supports 20/40/80MHz channel bandwidth, but not 160MHz. Its score of 90Mbps on the 2.4GHz close-proximity test was a bit faster than the Netgear Nighthawk RAX80, but not nearly as fast as the Asus Rapture GT-AC5300. The TP-Link Archer C5400X managed 113Mbps. On the 30-foot test, the RT-AX88U’s score of 69Mbps was faster than the Nighthawk RAX80, but not the Rapture GT-AC5300 or the Archer C5400X.

PCMag Labs router SU-MIMO throughput test results for Asus RT-AX88U at 2.4GHz

Operating on the 5GHz band, the RT-AX88U delivered a score of 527Mbps, which is more than decent, but not quite as fast as the other routers. The Asus Rapture GT-AC5300 holds the record with 601Mbps. At 30 feet, the RT-AX88U’s score of 384Mbps led the pack.

The RT-AX88U turned in very good scores on our file-transfer tests, in which we measure read and write speeds using a portable USB 3.0 drive and a 1.5GB folder containing a mix of photo, video, music, and office document files. Its score of 80MBps on the write test was a tad faster than the Netgear Nighthawk RAX80 and more than twice as fast as the TP-Link Archer C5400X and the Asus Rapture GT-AC5300. The RT-AX88U’s read speed of 85MBps was a bit slower than the Nighthawk RAX80, but still significantly faster than the Archer C5400X and the Rapture GT-AC5300.

A Top Wi-Fi 6 Router

The Asus RT-AX88U is an excellent choice if you’re ready for Wi-Fi 6 right now. While it’s fairly hefty price tag keeps it out of the budget router category, it’s our top pick for folks who have 802.11ac clients that support 160MHz channel bandwidth. With that kind of support, you can enjoy blazing 5GHz throughput along with speedy file-transfer performance. Those numbers coupled with an excellent router operating system and robust third-party software security are what clinch the Editors’ Choice win.

Asus RT-AX88U Specs

Wireless Specification 802.11ax
Wireless Networking Security RADIUS Server, WPA, WPA2, WPA2-Enterprise, WPS, 802.1x Authentication
Supports DD-WRT No
Number of Wired LAN Ports (Excluding WAN Port) 8
Number of USB ports 2
Product Wireless Parental Controls Yes
Number of Antennas 8
IPv6 Compatible Yes
Number of Bands 2
AC Speed AX6000
Quality of Service Yes
VPN Client Pre-Installed Yes
Anti-Malware Tools No
Guest Networking Yes

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