Price / Where to Buy
With ASUS firing from all cylinders with its product lines, people do often overlook that ASUS is a very capable brand when it comes to networking solutions and with their port folio spanning solutions for both entry-level, high-end and enterprise, ASUS routers have been a staple competitor in the router scene for good while now. With most of us gamers generally knowing ASUS from their ROG line, ASUS has made it a point to incorporate some of this pedigree in their high-end line of routers which is what we’re looking at today. The ASUS RT-AC88U is an 8-port, 4-antenna dual-band router featuring exquisitely premium styling along with high-end features and bandwidth for wireless devices capable of AC3100.
- Ultra-fast 802.11ac Dual Band Wi-Fi router boosts speeds up to 3167 Mbps for low-latency online gaming, smooth 4K UHD video playback and extremely fast file-sharing.
- 4×4 antenna design with AiRadar universal beam forming for unrivaled Wi-Fi range.
- Intuitive ASUS Router App lets you control your network anywhere, without needing to boot up a PC.
- Exclusive built-in game accelerator from WTFast® lets you enjoy smooth gameplay in supported multi-player online games.
- AiProtection with Trend MicroTM for triple-strength network security, plus robust Parental Control and privacy protection
- 8 Gigabit LAN ports for extensive connectivity.
- Link aggregation for up to 2Gbps wired network speeds, so more devices can enjoy faster access.
- Revolutionary MU-MIMO technology can connect multiple MU-MIMO-compatible clients at each device’s maximum speed simultaneously.
Design and Build
The ASUS RT-AC88U is packaged in the classic mainstream packaging design from ASUS featuring a shot of the product in the front with bold print for the model name as well as the bandwidth highlighting this model is capable of AC3100 wifi bandwidth. There;s a ton of marketing icons here including the 3-year warranty, WTFast game accelerator built-in, a 5400 sq ft. coverage range, AiProtection and a couple more notation. At the back, we get some figures showcasing the capability of the router to cover various devices as well as to protect your network from external attacks.
Inside the package we have an AC adapter, 4 detachable antenna, a support disc and some documentation.
Out of the box with the antenna disconnected, the ASUS RT-AC88U looks quite impressive with hints of red peeking through from the grills for airflow at the top canopy which is heavily reminiscent of ASUS notebook designs from the past. The underbelly of the RT-AC88U features vented grills for further airflow. There’s a couple of removable screw covers for mounting the RT-AC88U on your wall.
I guess its not uncommon for ASUS to go borderline ROG with its performance products and the same can be said with the RT-AC88U with its sleek edges and striking matte black finish. From the front, the router looks like it came straight out of a sci-fi movie. Its front bumper does hide some functionality with the left flap covering up a USB3.0 port whilst the other side are buttons to toggle the WPS LED and while the other button toggles wi-fi functionality on or off.
ASUS has gone from the svelt straight corners of the RT-AC66U and RT-AC56U and has gone full Dark Knight with their new line-up featuring more striking abstract shapes to their routers. The sides of the RT-AC88U are vented for further cooling and holds two of the four SMA connectors for the included antenna.
We haven’t mentioned it yet but ASUS does have a similar product to the RT-AC88U which is the RT-AC3100. The RT-AC88U is priced around $20 more but the difference is quite profound with the RT-AC88U featuring more LAN ports (8 vs 4 on the AC3100) and some red accents to make this one a bit more visually striking. Both models does have the majority of their rear controls similar with a USB2.0 port, a WPS switch, a power jack, on-off button, etc.
The USB2.0 port works in tandem with the router software which we’ll take a look at later. The red button is a reset switch to easily reset your RT-AC88U to factory settings.
Indicator lights are placed on the top which is a very good design choice, making it easier to view the status of the router without having to see from the side what’s going on. The slanted top shell compliments this by allowing view from the front and top easier.
The ASUS RT-AC88U is a relatively large router spanning around 15″ end to end with the antenna folded straight out. While most will have their antenna strategically positioned when hanged or straight-up when lying on a surface, the main unit itself is still around 12″ in length, requiring quite the surface space to place it in.
Peaking inside the RT-AC88U we see the red heatsinks covering the vital components of the router. There’s plenty of space inside and this is intended to improve cooling. There’s nothing user-serviceable here and this is purely for reference.
The ASUS RT-AC88U is powered by the ASUSWRT OS and is your primary way of configuring the router’s vast feature set. For those familiar with ASUSWRT, its a well-organized and intuitive web interface for ASUS routers and is uniform amongst consumer models with a few specific features unique to some models like the one we have here which is the RT-AC88U which has the GameBoost feature set.
For those that don’t want to dabble with their router and just want to do the basics and that is to connect their internet connection and have their network up, ASUS provides a configuration wizard to easily accomplish this in a few steps. The 1st step will scan the kind of connection you have and will skip if no further configuration is needed. If you’re on a PPPoE or any connection that requires a login, you’ll head to step 2 to setup your connection. Refer to your ISP for more details. Finally you’ll setup your wifi networks and passwords. They are defaulted to WPA2-Personal AES and will need to be set independently for 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz.
ASUS enables guest network on the RT-AC88U. This features allows users to connect to a new SSID that is separate from the main network. This guest network allows users to configure a network solely for guests which is great for those that expect a lot of users to join the network in a temporary manner. Up to 3 guest networks can be created per band (total of six) and each network can have its own security settings and time limit.
This is perfect for maintaining your network free from devices that are not part of your private network permanently and is also an easy way to allow guests in your house or office to get internet access without the need for extensive security settings to be created.
ASUS employs a few layers of security for those that want a bit of extra protection from external as well as internal threats. AiProtection has a built-in router assessment procedure to scan for vulnerabilities and easy toggle options for protecting against exploits on your router and blocking malicious websites. Further protection via device blocking when infected is also available and has email alert options to alert the network administrator (or you) of any potential threats to the network when detected.
This layer of protection is a cooperation between ASUS and TrendMicro with their Smart Home Network protection service and is completely free with your ASUS router.
In addition to the Smart Home Network layer, ASUS also extends security for parents with their parental control features which allows per client configuration of what services a device can use on predetermined times. Admins and parents can set what times a certain device can have access as well as limit which services that device can have. Access time can be configured on a per-hour blocking and services are grouped via types of service like IMs, streaming, P2P, etc.
ASUS’s QoS incorporates a traditional QoS system as well as an Adaptive QoS system in the RT-AC88U. This option enables network traffic prioritization to be set categorically or automatically depending on usage conditions. Adaptive QoS allows traffic prioritization to be managed via an easy interface and traditional allows setting a bandwidth threshold and the router will handle traffic management to maximize the bandwidth. A bandwidth limit option is also available to manually configure bandwidth allocations on a device-level capacity.
This level of control is great for network administrators and beginners alike to have the range of QoS features for either easy management or complete granular control allowing excellent bandwidth management in applications where tight control over bandwidth is key.
The GameBoost page of the RT-AC88U configuration page basically links to the Adaptive QoS and AiProtection configuration pages but the unique feature here is the WTFast GPN. Prior experience with WTFast isn’t so sensational from our point of view and due to it being a paid service, a lot of people are very vocal against it. Regardless, ASUS includes a free single device license with your RT-AC88U to utilize WTFast for a single client with a traffic limitation.
In concept, WTFast is good but many other factors affect gaming performance and being here in the Philippines one can only wish for such a miracle pill.
The Traffic Analyzer gives a good view of how the network is performing and how much bandwidth you’ve consumed throughout the weeks. The interface has a good UI showing a timeline of clients and services mostly used and how much bandwidth they’re consuming whilst the traffic monitor shows realtime bandwidth usage on the network. This is a very useful tool for advanced users who want to monitor specific services and clients to maximize bandwidth management. If you’re on a tight network with caps or very congested one, this is a perfect way to analyze which user/service to prioritize/limit in your QoS configuration.
ASUS incorporates a ton of extended features with the ASUS RT-AC88U. There’s a lot to cover here but to nail down the basics you get cloud service functions like AiDisk which allows sharing your storage device over the internet which acts like your own private cloud storage. Media Services and Servers sets up relevant functionality for UPnP, iTunes, FTP, etc while Network Printer Server allows a USB printer to be shared via the network easier.
As a backup connection, one can use the 3G/4G USB function of the ASUS RT-AC88U to use a dongle to connect to the internet as well as also use any Android phone in USB tether mode as a backup connection.
A Time Machine function is also present for Apple users which serves to act similar to Apple’s own Time Machine devices.
The Download Master is something we’ve come to love since the RT-AC56U era. This functionality turns your USB storage device connected to an ASUS router as a torrent box, allowing you to download directly via your router without using a computer. You can download directly via HTTP sources or via P2P which is excellent for people who love downloading stuff over the internet. There’s plenty of use-case scenario for this application but basically you can just leave your downloads while you’re out of the house and the device will manage everything for you.
The AiCloud 2.0 extension is a set of features that allows extended cloud services to be utilized on your ASUS router allowing you to access your network from outside your network via the Internet.
ASUS’ Wireless Controls are quite extensive and offer per-band configuration. This is a very advanced panel and requires intimate knowledge with wireless functionality and configuration.
The LAN settings are pretty standard and there’s nothing much to be excited about here. One exception to that though is that this device is capable of Link aggregation which enables two ports to bond and serve as a 2Gbps wired connection. For large bandwidth applications like NAS capable of Link aggregation, this is a perfect router for you to save cost on a compatible switch.
If you’ve already done the Setup Wizard, this is pretty much preconfigured but there’s plenty of options in here for you to do some advanced configurations for your Port Forwarding, DMZ, and Port Triggering. You can also setup Dual-WAN if you have a back-up line and you can use either a hot-spare backup (failover) connection mode or a load balancing setup so you can utilize both networks at the same time.
For a tighter control over what your clients browse on your network, the ASUS RT-AC88U features multiple filters including a URL filter to block certain websites, a keyword filter which is a more expansive filter that blocks out anything accessed featuring certain keywords and a network services filter which blocks ports to specific IPs.
The administration mode is basically where you do some changes to the function of your RT-AC88U particularly its operation mode where you can go with the default router mode, repeater mode, access point mode or media bridge mode.
The system log is for advanced users and administrator to gather information from the network see details on specific aspects of the network. A vital information gathering tool for indepth monitoring.
A built-in interface for troubleshooting and analysis tools and commands built into the ASUSWRT interface. This allows various commands to be executed as well as actions to be performed to test certain aspects of the network and connection.
User Experience & Conclusion
Benchmarking an AC3100 router on the current setup that we have proves to be ultimately futile as we only have only device capable of running at AC1200 and AC1900 and even at those speeds, its not enough to bog down the ASUS RT-AC88U. The dual-core performance really shows with the router managing to effectively negotiate requests from over 30 clients in our mock stress test with NAS transfers and downloads simultaneous blasting at the device.
The main panel features a UI to check on the system status and core loading. You also get a graph to check RAM usage, a hefty 512MB, which allows plenty the router to chug along without hitch under load.
It gets really complicated when decided if you need a router of this calibre in your home network and there’s plenty of scenario you’d want an ASUS RT-AC88U. Its still one of the most powerful routers out there and its 8 Gigabit port removes the need for a switch if you’re running a SOHO or simple home network. The beamforming feature of this router allows it to extend further than traditional broadcast routers and gives great coverage particularly in a central location without much concrete barring its potential 5400 sq. ft. of coverage.
Unless you’re really intimate with your network and your devices, there’s no reason to go all-out on high-end solutions but with the ASUS RT-AC88U bridging the gap between high-powered router and low-cost total network solution, it easily becomes a compelling choice.
The ASUS RT-AC88U serves as a firewall, switch, router and access point all-in-one and despite lacking security groups and other granular security options, there’s really nothing you could ask for in the ASUS RT-AC88U.
ASUS backs the RT-AC88U router with a 3-year warranty. We give it our B2G Gold Award!