The Asus RT-AX86U was launched a few months back along with the RT-AX82U in a bid to dominate the mid-range WiFi 6 consumer market and while I wouldn’t say they managed to leave their competitors behind, I’ll just mention that it’s difficult for most to offer a package of features that’s just as compelling.
There’s support for the ‘usual’ WiFi 6 technologies, such as OFDMA, 1024QAM modulation, 160Hz channel bandwidth and TWT, but there are some extra ones to help create a proper mesh network (the AiMesh), as well as some gaming features since, apparently the Asus RT-AX86U (just like the RT-AX82U) is a gaming router. I mean, there are some red accents on the case, but the lack of RGB almost fooled me into believing this a regular WiFi 6 router. In any case, the support for NVidia GeForce Now Cloud Gaming Optimization is still there, as well as the support for 2Gbps link aggregation, but the RT-AX86U went a few steps forward and has added a 2.5GbE port, as well as a better processor (than the RT-AX82U) and a whopping 1GB of RAM which does remind me of the well-equipped RT-AC86U.
And it’s no surprise since the Asus RT-AX86U is essentially the successor to the RT-AC86U. Let’s face it, the WiFi 6 devices are getting cheaper, but they’re still out of reach for a lot of people and, since there’s already a WiFi 6E Asus router out, is there even a point on adopting the WiFi 6? The manufacturers clearly made a mess with these overlapping WiFi standard releases, but the point is that the adoption of the WiFi 6E is still far in the future (maybe), so, if you need a better network that can handle more clients right now and if you have some compatible devices, then you will most definitely benefit from the WiFi 6 features. That being said, let’s find out whether the Asus RT-AX86U is worth the extra dollars over the RT-AX82U.
UPDATE 04.08.2021: I have updated the wireless test results to the numbers that I got after changing the server device from a MacBook + multiGigabit adapter to a device with a native 2.5GbE port (and yes, the results are better).
Design and Build Quality
While Asus went all out with the design of the RT-AX82U, it did take a more conservative approach with the RT-AX86U, so don’t expect those flashy RBG lights, but a mostly black plastic case covered by a matte finish and with some red sections that are barely visible (since they point downwards). The idea was to make it more office-friendly and, since the Asus RT-AX86U is, apparently, the official successor to the RT-AC86U, there are more than a few common design traits. Indeed, both routers are designed to stay upwards and there’s that Y-shape on the front, but the RT-AX86U needed a bit more ventilation cut-outs, so there are a few surrounding the Asus logo. Overall, I do think that it looks less dynamic than the RT-AC86U and, if you check its profile, it looks like it has a beer belly.
So yes, in terms of size, the Asus RT-AX86U is larger than the RT-AC86U (which had retained the dimensions of the RT-AC68U) and it measures 9.44 x 6.41 x 3.14 inches without the antennas (or 24.0 x 16.3 x 8.0 cm), but the good news is that the footprint remains pretty much the same as its predecessors.
The base of the router has more complicated angles (it’s a bit over-designed), but it’s solid enough to keep the device in place (also thanks to a couple of silicone bands that keep the router from budging). It’s true that it won’t take more space than necessary from your desk, but, if you want to mount it on the wall, you can’t. The Asus RT-AX86U has followed in the footsteps of its predecessors, so it lacks any mounting holes and, instead, you get a busy rear section with lots of patterns and cut-out areas for the air to move in and out of the case.
And they work really well since, while testing the router, the temperature remained decent, with no signs that it may overheat. The status LEDs are still on the front (towards the bottom), with the Power LED on the right side and going towards the left, we get two LEDs for the WiFi networks (5GHz and 2.4GHz), followed by the 2.5G LAN LED (that lights up solid white regardless of the type of connection, be it at 1Gbps or 2.5Gbps), the Internet LED (red when there is no link), four LEDs for the Ethernet LAN ports and a WPS LED.
The ports are positioned on the rear side, close to the built-in stand and Asus has removed the central plastic section with the LED On/Off button that was characteristic to the RT-AC86U and the RT-AC68U, so there is no division between some ports and button anymore.
That being said, from the left, there’s a DC-In port which is finally using an universal connector, there’s a Power switch, a Reset button (press and hold it for 10 seconds to return the router to its factory settings) and two USB 3.0 (type-A) ports for storage devices. Going forward, we get the 2.5GbE port which can act as either WAN (if you have the suitable Internet connection) or LAN, followed by a Gigabit WAN port and four Gigabit LAN ports. The first LAN port is the Gaming port which, just like on the RT-AX82U, it prioritizes the connected client device which is going to be very useful when you’re playing games online. Of course, the LED switch is still available and you will be able to find it on the right side of the case, while the WPS button sits on the other side. It’s also worth mentioning that the three antennas are removable (the RT-AX82U had its antennas non-removable).
If you want to open up the Asus RT-AX86U, you need to remove the two screws under the large label that goes across the rear side of the router, but be aware that you will have to rip through a small warranty seal to remove one of the two screws (that’s right, I buy my routers and then I immediately void the warranty). This is probably the weirdest case that I had to open so far since the stand is made of two pieces that get interlinked – and be aware that there are also some screws that you need to remove from the bottom section. After having a look at the PCB, the first thing that caught my attention is the fourth antenna – a RFPCA3026-01 Rev01 from Walsin – so yes, similarly to the RT-AC86U, there is an internal antenna.
|CPU||quad-core 1.8GHz Broadcom BCM4908KFEBG SoC (ARM Cortex A53)|
|RAM||1GB (2x 512MB) Nanya NT5CC256M16ER-EK|
|Storage||256MB Macronix MXIC MX30LF2G189C-TI|
|5GHz Radio||Broadcom BCM43684KRFBG 802.11a/n/ac/ax 4×4:4|
|2.4GHz Radio||Broadcom BCM6710KFFBG 802.11b/g/n/ax 3×3:3|
On the board, I could identify 256MB of flash storage from Macronix (MXIC MX30LF2G189C-TI) and afterwards, I removed three screws, so I could turn the PCB on the other side, where there was a large heatsink. Here, I saw a NS777202 K2017 10/100/1000Base-T Quad Port Transformer Module and a SWAP B2007 NET NS892402 10/100/1000Base-T Single Port Transformer Module, so, to see the main circuits, I had to remove the heatsink – it has a few screws on the top, but make sure to also remove the screw from the other side of the PCB.
Doing so will expose a quad-core Broadcom BCM4908KFEBG SoC clocked at 1.8 GHz (ARM Cortex A53), 1GB of RAM from Nanya (2x NT5CC256M16ER-EK 93711903EW) and a Broadcom BCM54991E switch chip. As for the WiFi chips, there’s a Broadcom BCM43684KRFBG 802.11an/ac/ax 4×4:4 chip for the 5GHz band and a Broadcom BCM6710KFFBG 802.11b/g/n/ax 3×3:3 chip for the 2.4GHz band; I also saw four Skyworks SKY85743 highly integrated 5GHz front-end modules. It may seem that the there is a lot of unused space inside the case, but it’s just a way to ensure a decent passive ventilation, I suppose. The Asus RT-AX86U is advertised as an AX5700-class router which means that it features a maximum theoretical data transfer rate of 4,804Mbps on the 5GHz band and up to 861Mbps on the 2.4GHz band.
Features and Performance
Most of the features of the Asus RT-AX86U are identical to the RT-AX82U, so expect the same OFDMA support which is mandatory for any WiFi 6 router since it splits the channel bandwidth in smaller orthogonal resource units, allowing the transmission of smaller packets more efficiently at a lower latency and it seems like it’s bi-directional if you set it from the web-based UI (it’s not that rare in this price range since I have also seen it on the EnGenius EWS850AP). There’s also MU-MIMO which seems to have gotten far more attention with the new standard than with the WiFi 5. This technology makes sure that multiple client devices will be served at the same time, without the need to compete for the bandwidth, but you do need to have compatible clients which were quite scarce for a while, but I have seen devices that support MU-MIMO more often the last couple of years (especially in the mobile department). BeamForming is also supported (great for focusing the signal towards compatible devices), as well as the 1024QAM (Nitro-QAM was a thing for a long time with some mid-to-high-end Asus routers) and the 160MHz channel bandwidth which, again, it’s a great feature, but only if you have compatible clients.
And a lot of people haven’t yet fully adopted the WiFi 5 standard, so AX client devices are out of reach for most for at least a few years (unless you go and buy the latest flagship smartphones or a new laptop). Things get even more complicated after Asus has launched a WiFi 6E router and I also saw that Netgear has already announced its Nighthawk RAXE500, while TP-Link is also preparing its own take on the WiFi 6E standard, so why bother with the RT-AX86U or any other WiFi 6 router, for that matter? I know that the manufacturers are very competitive and always eager to showcase the latest tech, but this time they managed to confuse not only the consumer market, but the SMBs and larger enterprises as well. I do think that it will take some time until the WiFi 6E will become the norm (I suspect more than 5 years), so if you want a better network performance right now, the WiFi 6 is acceptable, although not much of an upgrade over WiFi 5 if you don’t have compatible clients. That being said, the Asus RT-AX86U does also come with a 2.5GbE port which can be used as LAN, but also as WAN, if you have access to a powerful link, above the current 1Gbps ‘standard’.
EASE OF USE9.2/10
- Impressive wireless performance using both a WiFi 6 client and a WiFi 5 client device
- The 2.5GbE WAN/LAN port is a welcomed addition
- As always the app is feature-rich and easy to use
- WiFi 6 draft-level features
- Support for AiMesh
- Can't be mounted on the wall
- It can only be positioned vertically
Mark is a graduate in Computer Science, having gathered valuable experience over the years working in IT as a programmer. Mark is also the main tech writer for MBReviews.com, covering not only his passion, the networking devices, but also other cool electronic gadgets that you may find useful for your every day life.