Wireless data transfer technologies have become so firmly established in our lives that today it is difficult to do without personal computers, mobile gadgets and numerous “smart” devices connected to the Internet using Wi-Fi. It should be noted that this was not always the case, the idea to replace wired local area networks with wireless ones arose in a corporate environment due to the complexity of organizing structured cabling systems. The forerunner of Wi-Fi technology, many experts call the ALOHA packet radio data transmission network, created in the late 60s of the twentieth century by a group of scientists from the University of Hawaii to connect the central campus computers with colleges located on remote islands. Two innovations: splitting transmitted information into packets and using the method of random access of client devices to a common transmission medium subsequently formed the basis of cellular networks, Wi-Fi and even … wired Ethernet! For a long time, various equipment manufacturers have developed their own wireless technologies that are completely incompatible with each other. However, WaveLAN, the brainchild of the Dutch company NCR Systems Engineering, which was later absorbed by the American corporation AT & T, was more fortunate than others and became the progenitor of the industry standard IEEE802.11, the first version of which was approved in 1997. Literally two years later, wireless pioneers 3Com, Aironet (now Cisco), Harris Semiconductor (now Intersil), Lucent (Agere), Nokia, and Symbol Technologies formed the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA) and registered the trademark Wi- fi. It is believed that the name was «peeped» in the recording industry: Wi-Fi from the expression «Wireless Fidelity» (English «wireless precision»), by analogy with Hi-Fi («High Fidelity» — English «high fidelity») .
One way or another, work began to boil, and already in 1999 two versions of the standard were presented at once: 802.11a and 802.11b. The first one operated at a frequency of 5 GHz and provided a channel speed of up to 54 Mbps, while the second allowed the development of a more modest 11 Mbps, but in the 2.4 GHz band. The next iteration was the emergence of 802.11g, which turned out to be an adaptation of the high-speed, but very limited in terms of service area, 802.11a standard to a frequency of 2.4 GHz. In the meantime, the advent of new Internet services such as IP video telephony and high-definition content streaming has increased bandwidth requirements and 54 Mbps has become desperately missed. The answer was the appearance in 2009 of the next iteration of the standard — 802.11n, which made it possible to increase the connection speed to 600 Mbps, which was achieved through the use of more efficient signal modulation methods and an increase in the channel width, as well as the introduction of MIMO technology (Multi Input Multi Output ). Thanks to the use of space-diversified antennas, it became possible to simultaneously transmit several data streams at once, which made it possible to increase the throughput and improve the quality of reception. Operating on two frequencies at once, 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, the 802.11n standard offered users either a larger coverage area or higher speeds in the upper band. But with the rapid spread of 4K content and AR/VR technologies, user appetites continued to grow, forcing developers to look for ways to improve the performance of Wi-Fi networks and the result of their work was the 802.11ac standard, introduced in 2015. Along with the tried and tested methods — using more efficient modulation and expanding the frequency band, which themselves gave 433 Mbit / s with one receive-transmit stream, MU-MIMO (Multi User-MIMO) technology appeared, however, it worked only in the downstream direction . Another innovative feature — Beamforming — served to improve reception conditions, which was achieved by forming a virtual «directional beam» towards the client by adding radio waves in phase to create the effect of «constructive interference». All these tricks made it possible to “overclock” the speed to 1733 Mbps with four receive-transmit streams, however, the developers had to abandon the 2.4 GHz band in favor of 5 GHz, thereby sacrificing the coverage range for bandwidth.
It would seem that almost 2 Gb / s «without wires» — much more? But no! And in 2019, the same WECA proposed, and the IEEE registered the next Wi-Fi standard — 802.11ax, starting from which it was decided to switch to a simpler and more understandable notation for consumers. And since the current version has become the sixth in a row, market participants have agreed on the name «Wi-Fi 6», which was created using proven recipes: new, more efficient modulation and bandwidth expansion. However, compared to 802.11ac, Wi-Fi 6 has more significant differences: the standard “returned” to the 2.4 GHz frequency range, MU-MIMO technology also started working in the direction from the client to the access point, and Beamforming algorithms were improved. True, all the «charms» of new technologies can only be felt with the presence of advising equipment, and in this regard, the appearance of the ASUS RT-AX88U wireless router in our test laboratory was very helpful. As the name suggests, the device supports the latest 802.11ax standard — Wi-Fi 6 and offers the highest data transfer speeds up to 6000 Mbps.
At the same time, as befits a high-end product, the novelty has a set of proprietary ASUS technologies, which we will get acquainted with during the review process, but for now, let’s take a look at the RT-AX88U specifications.
|Operating modes||Wireless Router, Access Point, Media Bridge, Repeater, AiMesh Node|
|WAN connection||Dynamic IP, Static IP, PPPoE (MPPE enabled), PPTP, L2TP, USB 3G/4G|
|Network standards||IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax, IPv4, IPv6|
|Transfer rate||802.11a: 6; 9; 12; eighteen; 24; 36; 48; 54 Mbps
802.11b: 1; 2; 5.5; 11 Mbps
802.11g: 6; 9; 12; eighteen; 24; 36; 48; 54 Mbps
802.11n: up to 600Mbps (up to 1000Mbps for 1024QAM devices)
802.11ac: up to 3466 Mbps (up to 4333 Mbps for 1024QAM devices)
802.11ax (2.4GHz): up to 1148Mbps
802.11ax (5GHz): up to 4804Mbps
|Antennas||External, 4 pcs.|
|Operating frequency range||1 x 2.4GHz, 1 x 5GHz|
|The width of the line||20/40 MHz (2.4 GHz band)
20/40/80/160 MHz (5 GHz band)
|MIMO technology||4 x 4|
|Encryption||WPA/WPA2-PSK, WPA/WPA2-Enterprise, WPA3/WPA3 Enterprise*|
|Firewall and access control||Firewall: SPI intrusion detection, DoS protection;
Access control: Parental control, Network service filter, URL filter, Port filter
|VPN server||L2TP/ PPTP/IPSec Pass-Through, PPTP, OpenVPN|
|VPN client||PPTP, L2TP, OpenVPN|
|System functions||UPnP, IGMP v1/v2/v3, DNS Proxy, DHCP, NTP client, DDNS, port forwarding, virtual server, DMZ, system event log|
|Processor||1800 MHz, 4 cores, ARMv8 Cortex-B53 architecture|
|Memory||RAM: DDR3 1024 MБ, Flash: 256 MБ|
|Port||1 x RJ45 10/100/1000/1000+ BaseT for WAN
8 x RJ45 10/100/1000/1000+ BaseT for LAN
2 x USB 3.1 Type A
|Buttons||Power, Reset, WPS, Wi-Fi off, LED off|
|Additional functions||Link Aggregation (802.3ad), MU-MIMO, Traffic Analyzer, Adaptive QoS, WTFast Gamers Private Network, AiProtection Pro, Mac OS Backup, Enhanced media server (AiPlayer app compatible), AiCloud personal cloud service, 3G/4G data sharing, Printer Server, Download Master, AiDisk file server, Dual WAN, IPTV support, Roaming Assist|
|LED indicators||1 x power, 2 x Wi-Fi, 1 x WAN, 1 x LAN, 2 x USB, 1 x WPS|
|Power supply, W||45 (ADP-45BW, external)|
|Dimensions (WxDxH), mm||299 x 188 x 610|
|Recommended cost, $||430|
* — support determined experimentally
Contents of delivery
On the store shelves, the ASUS RT-AX88U wireless router can be identified by a large box, on the front side of which there is an image of the device and the model name, as well as a number of logos denoting the key features of the novelty. Among them, it should be noted the use of a quad-core processor, support for OFDMA and the proprietary Game Accelerator function, as well as compatibility with AiMesh. The last feature allows you to network several ASUS wireless routers with this function to provide reliable coverage in environments where it is impossible to achieve stable reception and transmission, for example, in large houses or offices with numerous obstacles in the form of walls and furniture.
On the back of the box, there is information about the advantages of the latest 802.11ax standard over its predecessors and MU-MIMO technology, which ensures the operation of multiple wireless clients at the highest possible speeds, as well as AiProtection Pro network threat protection service and adaptive traffic reprioritization Adaptive QoS. Despite the fact that RT-AX88U does not formally belong to the Republic of Gamers family, it, like game models, supports WTFast technology, which we will talk about when getting acquainted with the firmware.
If we talk about the package bundle, then it is unusually modest for a product worth $430. In addition to the device itself, there was space in the box for four antennas with SMA connectors, a one-meter Gigabit Ethernet “copper” patch cord, a pack of paper documentation, and a 45 W ADP-45BW network adapter that outputs a voltage of 19 V at a current of 2.37 A .
However, the main value of the ASUS RT-AX88U lies not in its set of accessories, but in the software and hardware, which we will begin to review without delay.
Against the background of the futuristic ASUS ROG Rapture GT-AC5300, the hero of today’s review looks very restrained. Only four antennas, strict forms and no bright flashy elements — all this makes the design of RT-AX88U very attractive. At the same time, thanks to an interesting combination of chopped edges, the device does not look like a “brick”, although its solid dimensions of 299x188x610 mm are supported by an equally impressive mass of 1010 g.
The case of the wireless router is made of black matte plastic, the top cover has a large ventilation grill, and on the front panel on its right side there is a place for two large buttons, one of which turns off the LED indication, and the second one deactivates the wireless network. On the left side of the front panel is a hinged cover, which hides one of the two USB 3.1 ports for connecting disk drives or a printer.
Also, on the top cover there are eight LED indicators, their milky-white glow has a moderate brightness, and if desired, the indication can be completely turned off by pressing the corresponding key. The LED responsible for the status of the connection to the Internet has a two-color backlight: it informs about the absence of a connection with a ruby glow.
On the rear panel of ASUS RT-AX88U, there was a place for a second USB 3.1 connector, nine RJ-45 ports (one WAN and eight LAN), a WPS key to activate the wireless client quick connection function of the same name, a reset button, a connector for connecting an external power supply, and switch.
The device is equipped with four dual-band antennas approximately 17 cm long, which have an SMA connector and a swivel that allows them to be oriented at angles of 45° and 90°. A pair of antennas are located on the rear panel, and the other two are on the side faces of the router, where there are also a number of slots for fresh air to enter the case.
Most of the bottom cover of the RT-AX88U is occupied by a ventilation grill through which the metal components of the cooling system are visible. In the corners near the front panel, two massive rubber feet are visible, and the back of the case, equipped with a strip of porous rubber, serves as the third fulcrum. The design of the router allows it to be mounted on a wall; for this, there are corresponding slots in the bottom cover, covered with rubber plugs.
Inside the case there is a printed circuit board, on which a pair of low heatsinks and a golden metal plate are noticeable, which performs, for the most part, a decorative function. We should pay tribute to the cooling system, which demonstrates acceptable efficiency and does a good job. There are no temperature controls in the firmware, however, throughout the tests, the router worked stably even at maximum load, while its case remained barely warm. But, of course, you should not place the device in poorly ventilated niches and keep its ventilation grilles clean.
After dismantling the heatsinks, we see the «heart» of ASUS RT-AX88U — 64-bit SoC Broadcom BCM49408, which includes four cores with ARMv8 architecture at a frequency of 1800 MHz. The single-chip system provides three PCE Express 2.0 lines, as well as USB 3.0 and SATA 6 Gb / s ports. Its network capabilities are represented by an IPSec hardware acceleration unit and an integrated 5-port Gigabit Ethernet switch. Two 1600 MHz DDR3 chips of 512 MB each are used as RAM, a 256 MB NAND flash chip is used to store the firmware, and four of the eight LAN ports are served by a separate BCM53134 switch connected to the SoC using an SGMII + interface with a bandwidth of 2, 5 Gbps. The router allows you to aggregate Gigabit Ethernet ports to double the throughput, which will be useful given the speed potential of Wi-Fi 6!
A pair of BCM43684 chips supporting the latest Wi-Fi 6 standard is responsible for the operation of wireless networks. In 802.11ax mode, the maximum speed can reach 4.8 Gb / s using 1024 QAM modulation, a channel width of 160 MHz and MIMO 4T4R. At the same time, there is backward compatibility with 802.11a / b / g / n / ac. The presence of two separate chips allows you to organize simultaneous operation in two frequency bands of 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz at speeds up to 1148 Mbps and 4804 Mbps, respectively, which allows you to classify ASUS RT-AX88U as a small class of AX6000 devices so far.