Note: This article was first published on 29th October 2016.
The last two years has been exceptionally exciting for home networking. We saw the first “wave” of 802.11ac Wave 2 routers, and then there was more widespread adoption of MU-MIMO technology. If these two terms are puzzling to you read these two articles first:
Today, there are many classes of routers, but they can be broadly categorized other dual and tri-band routers. AC3200-class routers are the most basic of tri-band routers, while AC5300-class routers can be thought of as the supercharged versions of their AC3200-class counterparts.
With that thinking in mind, AC3100-class routers are therefore very simply the go-faster versions of AC2600, which are in turn faster versions of AC1900-class routers. Confused? Don’t be, here’s a table.
|2.4GHz Speed||5GHz Speed (Band 1)||5GHz Speed (Band 2)||Total|
So, how then do we arrive at the number 3100? It’s quite simple. AC3100 supports a technology called NitroQAM, which is also supported on AC5300-class routers. This technology increases the maximum bandwidth of each stream. The end result is that the 2.4GHz band on AC3100-class routers can support speeds of up to 1,000Mbps, whereas the 5GHz band can do about 2,167Mbps. Add them up together and you get 3,167Mbps, which is roughly 3100, give or take.
So now that you know what the numbers mean and how they are derived, let’s dive straight into our first contender, the ASUS RT-AC88U.
The ASUS RT-AC88U is the brand’s newest dual-band flagship router, and the successor to 2014’s AC2400-class AC87U.
In terms of appearance, the two are quite similar in that they both have a rectangular form factor and four large external antennas. However, the new RT-AC88U is slightly larger and also more aggressive in design. It’s also more angular and has well-placed cuts into the chassis that act as ventilation vents. Not everyone is going to be a fan of its looks, especially if you're the kind that like to keep things understated, but I think the router’s general target audience will find the RT-AC88U’s design appealing.
The RT-AC88U can also be wall mounted. On the underside of the router are two rubber feet that can be removed to reveal the wall mounting points. However, considering the router’s substantial weight, users will want to make sure that their mounting points are secure before attempting to place this hefty router on the wall.
On the top panel is a row of LED status indicators, which users can use to quickly know the status of the router’s various functions, like whether the Wi-Fi networks, Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports, and connection to the Internet are working. Below the indicators and on the extreme left is a USB 3.0 port hidden behind a protective cover, while on the extreme right are buttons to activate and deactivate the LED status indicators and Wi-Fi.
A surprise awaits round the back of the router, because the RT-AC88U has a whopping 8 Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports. This is a much welcomed feature, considering the amount of connected devices we have today. This means that you can connect your router to, say, your TV, set-top box, console, NAS, and still have ports to spare. What’s more, the first two ports even support port aggregation. This means you can combine the two of them to create a super fast 2Gbps connection. This can be useful for users with high-end NAS that also support port aggregation like the Synology DS416slim. Elsewhere, there’s still a single Gigabit Ethernet WAN port, a USB 2.0 port, and a button to enable WPS setup.
Inside, the RT-AC88U router relies on the same Broadcom chipset as other AC5300-class routers, with the only exception being that it broadcasts a single 5GHz band instead of two. It’s powered by a 1.4GHz dual-core Broadcom BCM4709 processor and has two BCM4366 radios, each supporting four spatial streams and MU-MIMO technology. It also has a generous 512MB of RAM and 128MB of flash storage.
Setting up the RT-AC88U router was a straightforward affair thanks to ASUS’ very functional ASUSWRT setup interface. Like I mentioned before, it isn’t the prettiest around, but its menus are clearly labeled, which make it easy to use and navigate. It also has loads of options for more advanced users like port forwarding, VPN, guest networking, parental controls, and so on.
Furthermore, ASUS has only gone and added more features in recent time. Some of the newer features added to ASUS routers include Adaptive QoS, AiCloud 2.0, AiProtection and Traffic Analyzer.
Adaptive QoS is a form of QoS that adapts dynamically based on usage scenarios and network workloads. AiCloud 2.0 is ASUS’ second-generation cloud storage utility. Users can connect external storage devices to the router and access them remotely from anywhere in the world using an accompanying app on their smartphone or tablet. AiProtection is a built-in anti-spyware and anti-malware utility that actively scans incoming packets of data. Finally, Traffic Analyzer lets users track and analyze their traffic usage on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis. It also shows real-time traffic usage.
In addition, ASUS routers can now be remotely managed thanks to a suite of four mobile apps that ASUS released late last year. The ASUS Router app lets you monitor router usage and alter QoS settings. The AiCloud app is required if you want to enable cloud storage functionality. The Download Master app lets you schedule files for download using torrent clients. And lastly, Device Discovery traces all your ASUS networking devices, including your router, repeater and IP camera. The apps are easy enough to use, but it’s a cumbersome system and we would rather have had a single app that can do it all.