Initial review timestamp: 2/28/2020. Stock Firmware Version 184.108.40.206.384.7977. Asus merlin firmware version 384.15 :
I need to preface that this review targets a very specific audience, namely network enthusiasts, I.T. professionals, etc. Consequently, people who aren't tech savvy, this might be dull for you. My background is in Systems Engineering, and I have been a part of network infrastructure implementation in the past which gave me enough knowledge to be brimmingly stupid.
To the average user, If you just need a router that is easy to set up, and regardless if you will or won’t be using the AiMesh feature, I wouldn’t recommend this router from ASUS in its current state and would instead say to drop down to a ASUS AC1900. All others, read on.
****PREFACE AND USE CASE****:
Please note that obviously as with any persons review, some points are subjective, but I try to omit all irrelevant opinions while still bringing some of my own thoughts to the table (like, my opinionated “pro” of aesthetics). That said, I bought two of these (Asus AX88U AX6000) routers and currently have them set up using Asuswrt-Merlin firmware on 384.15 (previously tested with .14 and .13). I am using amtm, entware, Skynet and YazFi as of this review. I have about 15 devices total including rokus, media servers, laptops, desktops, and smart TV’s. Tangentially, for anyone looking for a great community for ASUS devices, networking setup, troubleshooting, etc, google ‘small net builder forums’ as they have helped tremendously with insight, knowledge, and troubleshooting. My use case is an average home approximately 2,000 square feet. Though my home is small compared to asus’s website regarding house size this router works in, the walls, hallways, and construction of the home warranted two devices since both are on opposite edges of the house. If I had the ability to have the modem cable be installed in the dead center of the house, and I didn’t need to run Ethernet to the desktops, one device would be ample with the given range. This model checks off most, if not all boxes when it works.
- **Great Range: both 5ghz and 2.4 have excellent coverage. **
I would recommend to play with the antenna positioning to get the best coverage as it does matter where they point. For 90% of use cases, best practices for 2.4 and 5 WiFi warrant channel width to be 20 and 80/160 respectively. But should you require greater range of your 5ghz, drop the width down from 80 to 40.
When it works, it *works*. And I don’t even think that sentence gives it enough credit. Performance is excellent and truly unmatched and you definitely get what you pay for—when it works. But keep this in mind when we get to cons and conclusion.
- **Sleek design**:
I like the look of it. Never cared for the "gaming" look some of the high end routers have and I don’t think this router exudes “gaming” in contrast to say, a TP-Link Archer C5400X , but this is personal preference.
- **User Interface**:
easy to navigate and it is laid out fairly well comparatively to TP-Link and Netgear in my personal opinion.
lots of features to manage your home network in an easy way, specifically parental control, firewall, security, media servers, etc. This does not pertain to gaming features and QoS. “Game boost” type features have never been good across any vendor that has their equivocal proprietary software (they are a gimmick) and QoS works against you when you have plenty bandwidth from your ISP (say 300mbps and up.) And if your bandwidth is like 10Mbps, what the heck are you doing buying this router? It won’t do you any good.
- **Physical hardware**:
quad core is a major plus. I do however wish they bumped the memory from 1gig to 2 or 4. Again, the latter point is personal preference.
- **WiFi 6/802.11ax is good**:
MU-MIMO and OFDMA are great additions and advancements, but I don’t think I have enough devices on my network to truly see a benefit. It is worth noting that some people have stated they had issues with WiFi 6 and had to disable it. I haven’t (yet) and hopefully it will become more stable over time. It is after all a new technology implementation, so there are bound to be wrinkles needing ironed out.
- **AiMesh not reliable, and keeps resetting both router and node**:
This point is my biggest struggle because when AiMesh works, its awesome. I love it since it makes roaming seamless, has intelligent fail-over, and manages channels and switching appropriately. But holy hell, there is definitely some work that needs to be done because it is not reliable or stable at all. The AiMesh node drops all the time and in doing so, it slows the network speed from 1 gig to 2mbps even though the router is still “up”. Moreover, the user interface becomes unresponsive to the point where even connecting via SSH to reboot it doesn't work (tested on both network medias), so the only alternative is physically rebooting both. I can’t help but think of a situation where someone mounted it high on a wall. What then? Manually rebooting might be difficult. Anyways, once rebooted, it works great for a few hours to a day until I have to rinse and repeat. Even after nvram erase > reset > fresh firmware installation on both devices and on both firmware’s > formatting jffs partitions, it still has persistent issues of the node dropping or losing connectivity. If you search SNB forums, these AiMesh issues seem to be across multiple models which tells me it is AiMesh itself, and not the model specifically.
- **No guest network replication on AiMesh node**:
I don't understand why ASUS doesn't replicate the guest network across the node. It only broadcasts the guest network from the router itself. Like, why? It replicates all other SSID’s and utilizes the network switches, so why didn’t they do this to guest WiFi? That's a huge oversight IMO.
- **No LAN Link Aggregation on AiMesh node**:
The way my house is set up, the node is appropriately placed next to my NAS since its in the living room area by the TV, sound system, streaming setup, etc. I would love to enable link aggregation on the node so I can utilize port bonding on my Synology NAS. Sadly I cant do that because ASUS doesn't support this on the AiMesh node. (Note the reoccurring theme being AiMesh issues)
- **No LAN Link Aggregation on AP**:
Same as above gripe with AiMesh, it would be nice to have this feature enabled in AP mode as the media required is ethernet anyways. Some may argue that this is a useless implementation on both AiMesh and AP since the bottleneck will be the connection speed between the node and Router, but there are scenarios where LA is still beneficial if multiple users are using said device and connected via the AP. That would at-least help with throughput to multiple devices instead of max speed. Either way, if possible it should still be implemented for potential use-case scenarios that allow the customer to decide.
- **NVRAM erase and format JFFS doesn’t always work and resetting is finicky**:
This is for merlin firmware specifically: So I did some tests where I noticed some user settings were persistent after an nvram erase. I first did the erase via SSH running “nvram erase > reboot” which did not clear all user defined settings. The same went with formatting the jffs partition. I ended up having to wipe it multiple times in the order of: hold WPS button and then plug in power whilst still holding WPS for 30 seconds > reboot > hold reset button for 15 > format jffs partition via gui > hold WPS again > reset button. It ended up working, but that’s a ridiculous amount of steps.
- **Settings not saving after hitting apply**:
some DNS settings, including channel width and control channel settings on both 2.4 and 5 ghz don’t seem to stick after reboot. One has to apply multiple times, and reboot. I finally did get it to become persistent after a while, but still it is frustrating.
- **5ghz isn’t enabled by default in smart connect mode**:
After a factory reset, if you setup smart connect mode from the beginning, the 5ghz band becomes disabled and only 2.4ghz works. Not a major deal since you can go into the gui and re-enable it, but its still worth noting. Hopefully they fix this in the next firmware update.
- **Smart connect isn’t smart**:
It significantly reduces throughput on devices switching between 2.4 and 5. I would not enable this setting and just have separate bands altogether.
I’m still tweaking and playing with settings, but currently I ended up getting stability and what I want by ditching AiMesh entirely and setting up in the secondary in AP mode with all settings set manually. AiMesh gave me too much of a headache and lacks some of the features that I desired. But currently ASUS is working as I want. Just for process setup, this was done by doing a nuke reset on both devices, upgrading to .15 merlin firmware, setting up minimal network settings initially, and gradually adding features I want enabled over a few hours to ensure proper stability. Per the wireless setup and manual steps, I went with having identical SSID’s between the router and AP, manually setting control channels between the two devices (router channels on both bands are different from AP to avoid congestion), and enabling roaming in system settings to the -65 dbm, and following “minimalist settings” which basically means you disable any and all features that you do not use from default. It only has been two days, but its stable, and I will update as I go if anything changes.
My entire problem with ASUS and the AX88u is I see the potential, but the reliability and stability just isn’t there right now with a lot of the features, specifically AiMesh. If you just use it in its most minimalist setup with most bells and whistles disabled, it works great. But at that point one is better off with just buying a cheaper router to begin with and not wasting money on said bells and whistles.
What pains me is the fact that when everything works RIGHT, it's amazing. When all the features work in harmony, it makes me happy and it’s a little awe inspiring to see how far technologically we’ve come. I would personally justify the price of this unit IF everything was stable. But to further beat a dead horse, the reliability and stability isn't there without major manual setup and by contrast, performance is not consistent in the “easy setup” mode for general users, and even though AiMesh is amazing when it works, it has major bugs to the point where I switched modes entirely. Should the reliability and stability be resolved my review would be 5 stars through and through. But I cannot in good conscience tell the average customer that this is “an amazing buy” with all the AiMesh issues at its price point. Either fix the problems stated (recommended), or drop the price of the product.
TL;DR: AiMesh specifically is not stable and not reliable. ASUS needs to iron out the bugs before this unit is worth its price tag.
Please upvote/mark helpful if this review was helpful so more people can see it and potentially benefit from it. Cheers.