Asus Wi-Fi Routers 101: The Solid Rundown

Asus Wi-Fi Routers 101: The Solid Rundown

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If you have questions like “What’s the best Asus router / Zenwifi mesh system?” — you’re reading the right post. It includes everything you’d need to know about Asus Wi-Fi hardware.

Among other things, you’ll be able to figure out what an Asus router can or cannot do via its model name alone.

And that knowledge will come in handy, especially if you’re particular about your home networking needs. And it never hurts to see the performances of all Asus hardware in one place.

Dong’s note: I first published this piece on September 3, 2021, and last updated it on February 13, 2023, to add relevant, up-to-date information.

Asus GT AX11000 Pro vs GT AXE11000
Asus Wi-Fi routers come in all different shapes and sizes. Shown here are the RT-AX89X, RT-AXE7800, GT-AX11000 Pro, and GT-AX11000.

Asus Wi-Fi routers and mesh systems: Common features and real-world performance

Most, if not all, Asus Wi-Fi routers, standing with its Wi-Fi 5 models, use the same Linux-based open-source firmware called Asuswrt. Consequently, they all share what I call the core features.

In other words, you can expect the same web user interface, the Asus Router mobile app, and a certain set of common features and settings from an Asus router, no matter what tier, Wi-Fi standard, or series.

And that includes router units of purpose-built mesh systems, such as the ZenWiFi series or the legacy Lyra Trio.

But before we dive into that, let’s check out the real-world performance of all Asus routers and purpose-built mesh systems I’ve tested.

Asus Wi-Fi hardware: Real-world performance

The performance charts in this section will give you an overview of how different models of Asus Wi-Fi hardware fare when compared to their cousins within the same ecosystem.

There are two main categories: standalone routers and Zenwifi purposed-built mesh systems.

I tested these Wi-Fi machines using each of their band individually. The scores are of the latest firmware available at the time of the reviews.

Wi-Fi performance of Asus Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E standalone routers

The charts below include Asus Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E routers, both regular and gaming. Read their reviews to see how each of them fares against counterparts from other networking vendors.

Asus Standalone Wi Fi 6 and 6E Router Long Range PerformanceAsus Standalone Wi Fi 6 and 6E Router Short Range Performance
Asus Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E routers’ real-world performance

Wi-Fi performance of Asus Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E mesh system (Zenwifi)

I test mesh systems’ routers and satellites separately, all via wireless backing. Some are also tested with wired backhauling.

Asus Zenwifi Mesh Routers Long Range PerformanceAsus Zenwifi Mesh Routers Short Range Performance
Asus mesh Wi-Fi 6 and 6E mesh routers’ performance

Mesh backhauling: wired vs wireless

When you use multiple Wi-Fi broadcasters — in a mesh network or a combo of a router and an extender — there are two types of connections: fronthaul and backhaul.

Fronthaul is the Wi-Fi signals broadcast outward for clients or the network ports for wired devices. It’s what we generally expect from a Wi-Fi broadcaster.

Backhaul (a.k.a backbone,) on the other hand, is the link between one satellite broadcaster and another, which can be the network’s primary router, a switch, or another satellite unit.

This link works behind the scene to keep the hardware units together as a system. It also determines the ceiling bandwidth (and speed) of all devices connected to the particular broadcaster.

Dual-WAN: Where the distinction between bandwidth vs speed is clear

When a Wi-Fi band handles backhaul and fronthaul simultaneously, only half of its bandwidth is available to either end. From the perspective of a connected client, that phenomenon is called signal loss.

When a Wi-Fi band functions solely for backhauling, it’s called the dedicated backhaul.

In a mesh system, only traditional Tri-band hardware — those with an additional 5GHz band — can have a dedicated backhaul band without ostracizing clients of the same band.

Generally, it’s best to use a network cable for backhauling — wired backhauling. And that’s an advantage of mesh hardware with network ports. In this case, a satellite broadcaster can use its entire Wi-Fi bandwidth for front-hauling.

In networking, network cables are always much better than wireless in speed and reliability.

Asus Zenwifi Mesh Satellites Long Range PerformanceAsus Zenwifi Mesh Satellite Short Range Performance
Asus Wi-Fi 6 and 6E mesh satellites’ performance
<6GHzBH>: The 6GHz band is used for backhauling.
<WBH>: The satellite uses a network cable as its backhaul link.

Asus Wi-Fi routers’ core features

All Asus routers — including the router unit of the company’s home mesh systems — have to offer.

Generally, higher-end routers have better support for these features since they have better hardware specs, and a few of the items listed below are not (fully) available to certain models. In that case, I will point out the exceptions according to my experience.

Universal setting restoration

You can interchangeably restore the backup settings of most Asus Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 routers.

As a result, you won’t need to program the new router from scratch in an upgrade or replacement. Instead, most of your network’s configurations — including those of an AiMesh system — will migrate from the old router to the new one.

This feature is a huge optional time saver if you have many settings, such as IP reservation and port-forwarding entries.

Note, though, that it’s always better to set up the router from scratch to avoid possible setting conflicts. But I’ve personally used this feature countless times among Asus standalone routers and hardly ran into any issues.

Tip: After the migration, adjust applicable specific settings, such as the router model name, to make sure they match the new router and perform a deliberate backup and restore. This step will make the old setting “native” to the new router.

Exceptions: I generally test this feature on all Asus routers during the review process, and, so far, it didn’t work only in the case of the RT-AX89X and Blue Cave. These two won’t accept a backup file of any other model.

A robust web user interface

Asus is one of a few networking vendors that stays true to the web interface and doesn’t coerce users into a cloud-based web portal, which is excellent for those caring about privacy.

(All Asus routers allow remote management, which is turned off by default, via Dynamic DNS mentioned below.)

The interface allows access to a router’s tons of settings and features — some are listed below. Savvy networking enthusiasts will love that though it can be overwhelming for novice users.

Dynamic DNS

Dynamic DNS (DDNS) is a relatively common feature of all home routers. It’s excellent for those wanting to dial home remotely via other advanced features, including remote access or VPNs.

What sets Asus’s Dynamic DNS apart is that the networking vendor also includes an entirely free DDNS domain — you won’t need to get a third-party one. On top of that, this domain also comes included with an SSL certificate.

That said, if you need DDNS, Asus is by far the best option. (Read more about DDNS in this post.)

Dynamic DNS: What it is and why it’s super useful

Standard setup process

Thanks to the web interface, all Asus router has the standard setup process, as I detailed in this post on building a home network from scratch.

Asus Router in Bridge Mode Step One
The first time you get to an Asus router’s web interface, a wizard will walk you through a few steps to get your network up and running.

However, here are the general steps:

  1. Connect your router’s WAN port to the Internet source, be it a modem, an existing gateway, or the Fiberoptic ONT. Turn it on.
  2. Connect a computer to the router via a network cable to one of its LAN ports, or the default open Wi-Fi network, generally named “Asus xx”.
  3. Open a browser and navigate to the router’s default IP address which is 192.168.50.1 (or router.asus.com).

The rest is self-explanatory. The first time you get to the web interface, you’ll run into a wizard that walks you through a few steps.

(Alternatively, you can also use the Asus mobile app in step #3 if you use a phone or tablet instead of a computer. However, I recommend the web user interface even when you use a mobile device for the setup process.)

Helpful mobile app, no login account required

Again, the Asus mobile app works for both the setup process and ongoing management.

This app is common for all Asus routers and is quite comprehensive. It’s one of the best mobile apps for routers you can find on the market. But, still, it’s not as in-depth as the web interface.

Asus Router App AiMesh
Asus Wi-Fi routers: The Router mobile app is an excellent tool to manage an Asus router.

The best thing about it is that you can use it to manage the router remotely without a login account. Instead, just like the web interface, it operates the remote management via the router’s built-in support for the Dynamic DNS feature that includes a free SSL certificate.

However, one thing to note is that using the app can inadvertently turn on or off specific settings that could cause the router to behave unexpectedly. In this case, you’ll have to reset the router and set it up from the beginning.

So, while this app is convenient and fun to use, it can cause issues if you mess around too much.

AiProtection and Parental Controls

The AiProtection is a feature that adds so much value to an Asus router. In some routers, this feature includes Parental Controls. In others, the latter has a section of its own.

But, among other things, AiProtection always includes Network Protection.

Asus GS-AX3000 AiProtection
Asus Wi-Fi routers: The AiProtection features can keep your network safe against specific threats.
Free Network Protection

It includes a free-for-life real-time Network Protection powered by Trend Micro and a Parental Control engine.

Network Protection is designed to keep the entire local network safe. In many ways, it’s somewhat like a strip-down version of an add-on firewall, like the Firewalla or the subscription-based Armor from Netgear.

Still, for a free product, it’s excellent. I’ve used it for years on multiple networks, and it has proven effective against many malicious websites and malware. Don’t expect it as total protection (there’s no such thing!), but just a helping hand, and you’ll love it.

Generic Parental Controls

On the other hand, the Parental Controls portion has been a bit too rigid, in my opinion. You can only filter the web via pre-determined categories and the way Asus defines categories for web filtering is a bit vague.

On top of that, you can’t use it to block a particular website or keyword. This simplistic approach is not a huge deal, however, especially considering the fact there’s no tool that can provide effective Parental Controls other than a real parent, anyway.

Asus Routers Parental Controls
Here’s the Parental Controls section on an Asus router.

While AiProtection is available in all Asus routers, some get a stripped-down version due to their limited processing power. Examples are the case of the Zenwifi XD4 and XD5 where, among other things, the Network Protection is neutered.

Adaptive QoS

The Adaptive QoS is a common feature available in all Asus routers and is one of the most easy-to-use QoS features among all home routers.

RT AX3000 Qos Customize
Asus Wi-Fi routers: The QoS feature.

“QoS” stands for the quality of service, and it enables users to prioritize Internet traffic to support different applications or services.

Asus’s Adaptive QoS requires minimum work from the user and is quite effective. It also includes Bandwidth Monitor, Web History, and an Internet Speed test if you want to know more about your resources and keep tabs on your network’s online activities.

AiMesh

AiMesh is a valuable feature available in all Asus Wi-Fi 6 and most Wi-Fi 5 routers. First introduced with the RT-AC86U in early 2018, AiMesh allows each standalone hardware unit to work as part of a robust Wi-Fi mesh system.

Since this feature is very significant, I detailed it in this separate post.

AiMesh: Asus’s ongoing journey to bettering Wi-Fi coverage

Flexible port configuration: WAN vs LAN

Asus routers generally have a lot of flexibility in their port configurations. Following is what you can do with most of them when the hardware is working in router mode.

Routers with a Multi-Gig WAN port

This is the case with most ZenWifi routers such as the XT8 or ET8.

  • Single WAN
    • If the router has no Multi-Gig LAN port: The default WAN always works as the WAN port, but when the USB port (when available) or a Gigabit LAN port is set as the primary WAN, the default WAN port can work as a Multi-Gig LAN
    • If the router has one or more Multi-Gig ports: The default WAN port will always work as a WAN port.
  • Dual-WAN: The default WAN port must work as one of the WAN ports (Primary or Secondary). Any other LAN port, or the USB port (when available), can work as the second WAN port.
Routers with a Gigabit WAN port

This includes those with a Multi-Gig LAN port, such as the RT-AX86U.

  • Single WAN: The default WAN, USB port (when available), or Multi-Gig LAN (when available) can work as the primary WAN port. The rest of the ports will work as LANs.
  • Dual-WAN: The default WAN port remains and the USB (when available), or any of the LAN ports, including the Multi-Gig (when available) can work as the second WAN.
All routers
  • WAN Link Aggregation (when supported): Default WAN port + another LAN port — the LAN4 in most cases.
  • LAN Link Aggregation (when supported): LAN1 + LAN2 as long as neither is used for other applications, such as Game Port, Dual-WAN, or WAN LG.

Note that a particular router might deviate a bit from the list above, depending on the number of ports it has or its hardware specs.

Flexible VPN support

Almost all Asus routers feature a VPN section with support for just standard VPN servers but also Instant Guard, a new feature added in mid-2021 for mobile users.

Asus GT AX6000 VPN Settings
Here’s the VPN section of an Asus router. Note the VPN Fusion and Instant Guard.

On top of that, many routers can also work as a VPN client and support VPN Fusion which allows for assigning a certain connected client to a particular VPN connection.

Other useful features

Other than the above, you can also expect the following from all Asus routers:

  • Networking tools: Wake on LAN, Ping, Netstat, and Smart Connect Rule can come in handy for advanced users.
  • Auto-reboot: You can set your router to restart by itself on a schedule.
  • Traffic Analyzer: A set of tools and statistics for those wanting to find out what’s happening in the network.
  • USB-related features galore: When hosting a storage device, the router has all the features you can imagine — from data sharing (locally and over the Internet) to backup (including the support for Time Machine) to a personal cloud. You can even make the router handle PC-less downloading and use the router’s USB ports to host printers or select USB cellular modems.
  • The standard set of network settings and features: These include IP reservation, Port-forwarding, so on and so far, and even some Alexa Skills.
  • Frequent firmware update: Asus pushes out firmware updates regularly to fix issues and improve its routers’ performance and function. You can choose to update manually or turn on auto-update.

Asus Wi-Fi routers: Gaming features

On top of the standard feature set above, certain Asus routers also have extra features geared toward online gaming.

The table below shows the specific gaming flavors each supporting router. I’ll explain what each flavor means below the table.

Best Gaming Routers: Asus's Trio
Asus Wi-Fi routers: Here’s the gaming tri-band router trio. From top: The GT-AX11000, RT-AX92U, and GT-AXE11000.

Asus gaming routers’ quick specs

The regularly-updated table below includes all current gaming routers from Asus I’ve tested and aims to show what you’ll get from a particular router.

Asus’s gaming routers can work for general home networking needs. By default, the game-related features are turned off.

Model Name Multi-Gig
Port
Gaming Private Network Game First/ROG First VPN
Fusion
Game Boost Gaming Port Open NAT Mobile Game Boost Gear Accelerator GeForce Now Aura RGB LED Lights
GT6 1x 2.5Gbps
WAN
No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes
GT-AXE16000 1×2.5Gbps
2x10Gbps
WTFast Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes
GT-AX11000 Pro 1×2.5Gbps
1x10Gbps
WTFast Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
GT-AXE11000 1×2.5Gbps Outfox Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes
GT-AX11000 1×2.5Gbps WTFast Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes
GT-AX6000 2×2.5Gbps No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes
GS-AX5400 None No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes
GS-AX3000 None No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes
RT-AX88U None WTFast No No No No Yes Yes Yes No No
RT-AX89X 1x10Gbps
1xSFP+
No No No No No Yes Yes Yes No No
RT-AC88U None WTFast No No No No Yes Yes Yes No No
RT-AX86U 1×2.5Gbps No No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
RT-AX86S None No No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
RT-AX82U None No No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes
RT-AX92U None WTFast No No No No Yes Yes Yes No No
RT-AC86U None No No No No No Yes Yes Yes No No
TUF-AX5400 None No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes
The gamering of Asus’s Wi-Fi 6 and 6E gaming routers
Follow the link of each model name for more.

There are two tiers in Asus gaming routers. The first are those with common features available in all Asus gaming routers. The second tier includes top-tier routers with all that the first tier has and more.

Asus’ tier-1 gaming features: The entry-level set

These game-related features are the bare minimum to qualify an Asus router as a “gaming router,” including:

  • Open NAT: This feature helps quickly create game-related port forwarding entries via a few steps.
  • Mobile Game Boost: The ability to tune the router’s gaming settings via a single tap on the Asus mobile app.
  • Gear Accelerator: An client-based automatic QoS function that detects and prioritizes Internet traffic for particular game hardware — consoles or PCs.
RT AX86U Game Features
Asus Wi-Fi routers: The game page of the Asus RT-AX86U‘s web interface.

These are additional features that are collectively available in select high-end Asus routers:

  • Gaming private network: A built-in support for a game-oriented VPN network, including WTFast (one free client that makes the whole local network part of the VPN) and Outfox (90-day trial).
  • Game First / ROG First: An integration network tool designed for ASUS ROG products for network optimization. To use this feature, you must have a ROG gaming computer.
  • Game Boost: An application-based automatic QoS function that detects and prioritizes Internet traffic for particular games, regardless of the game hardware.
  • VPN Fusion: A VPN client that allows a mix of VPN and non-VPN connections within a single network. VPN Fusion ensures VPN is used only for those needed, without affecting game consoles.
  • Game Port: A dedicated network port on the router automatically prioritizes any wired device connected to it.
  • GeForce Now: The built support for NVIDIA GeForce NOW.
  • Aura RGB LED Lights: This is just bling, a fancy lighting feature that can change color to make the hardware look cool.
Mobile Game Mode
Asus Wi-Fi routers: The Mobile Game Boost feature on the Asus Router app.

Certain features require sharing internet traffic with a third party which can be a privacy risk.

Your privacy matters

Upon turning on some features on an Asus router, such as Network Protection or QoS, users will run into this scary warning:

“By using AiProtection, Traffic analyzer, Apps analyzer, Adaptive QoS/Game boost, Web history, you agree to the Trend Micro End User License Agreement. Please note that your information will be collected by Trend Micro through AiProtection, Traffic analyzer, Apps analyzer, Adaptive QoS, and web history.”

Asus Privacy Message
Asus routers’ ominous privacy warning

Keep in mind that these features only work because a third-party scans the router’s traffic. That’s like if you want to be protected in real life, you will need to have somebody, like a bodyguard, to watch over you. In networking, protection requires extra connections — there’s no way around that.

In any case, these features inherently cause privacy risks. The good news is, on any Asus router, they are turned off by default, and users can leave them that way.

So, use or not use them, it’s a matter of personal choice — we can’t have them both ways. Generally, privacy and security are a matter of degree, and here’s Asus’s privacy policy.

Still, the more (gaming) features a router supports, the better. And there are other factors, such as Wi-Fi and wired networking specs, processing power, design, etc. So, it’s always a matter of picking and choosing.

Speaking of which, the naming convention below will help.

Asus’s naming convention, explained

For years Asus only made standalone routers. In early 2018, starting with the RT-AC86U, the company added the AiMesh feature that turns most of its routers into part of a mesh system.

Since then, the networking vendor has also released a new family of modern purpose-built mesh systems called ZenWiFi with a different naming convention from their standalone routers.

Let’s start with ZenWiFi.

Asus’s naming convention for ZenWiFi mesh

Asus have had more than half a dozen and counting ZenWiFi models, including CT8, XT8, XD4, XP4 hybrid, XD5, XD6, ET8, XT12, and ET12. There will be more in the future.

Dissecting the ZenWiFi model names

These model names include two letters and a number. Here are what they mean.

  • The first letter indicates the Wi-Fi standard:
  • The second letter indicates the number of Wi-Fi bands:
    • T means Tri-band. This is for a system where each hardware unit has three Wi-Fi frequency bands.
    • D means Dual-band — each hardware unit has two Wi-Fi bands.
  • The last digit indicates the number of Wi-Fi streams each broadcaster has.

With that, we can now read each model name easily.

For example, the ZenWiFi ET8 is a tri-band Wi-Fi 6E system where each broadcaster is a Wi-Fi 6E tri-band system with each hardware unit having eight streams, including a 4×4 6GHz band, a 2×2 5GHz band, and a 2×2 2.4GHz band.

Asus ZenWiFi XD6 vs XT8
The Asus ZenWiFi XD6 next to the ZenWiFi XT8

Asus’s naming convention for standalone Wi-Fi routers

On the standalone router front, Asus has a lot more variations. But all models come with this 3-part convention:

A couple of leading letters, a dash (-), a few more letters, and the ending. The actual values of those three might vary, but the form remains. Here are some examples: RTAC86U or the GTAX11000.

Let’s do a bit of dissecting to see what these three parts mean.

1. The leading letters before the dash (-)

There are generally two significant possibilities:

  1. Most Asus routers’ model numbers start with “RT” (which is short for “router”). An RT router can be a regular router or a gaming router but there’s no way to tell which is which just from the model name. Examples: RT-AX3000 (regular) or RT-AC88U (gaming).
  2. Some routers’ models start with “GT” or “GS” or “TUF”. In this case, they are always gaming routers. Specifically:
    • GT is for a router that’s part of Asus’s Republic of Gamers (ROG) product line. This is the premium gaming family that includes more than just Wi-Fi routers. ROG products all come with a cool logo and a fancy programmable color-changing Aura RGB light. Examples: GT-AX11000, GT-AC2900.
    • GS is for a ROG STRIX: This is a sub-set gaming series that gear towards the budget-minded, though it’s not “cheap”. ROG STRIX also includes more than just Wi-Fi routers and features the Aura RGB light. Examples: GS-AX3000, GS-AX5400.
    • TUF or “The Ultimate Force” is for Asus’s new TUF Gaming: Similar to ROG, this series also includes gaming gear (routers, desktops, laptops, motherboards, cases, mice, keyboards, and headsets) designed to look tough and can take some beating — they are durable. Example: TUF-AX5400.

(My take is “RT” is the traditional hardware and the rest are just variants with some extra touches in design and software. So the GS-AX3000, for example, is, for the most part, the RT-AX3000 in cool disguise.)

2. The letters following the dash (-)

These indicate a router Wi-Fi standard. Specifically:

3. The ending

The ending of an Asus router model name also includes two main possibilities:

  • A string of numbers: This trend becomes more frequently used with Wi-Fi 6. In this case, this number indicates the total Wi-Fi bandwidth of the router itself. So the RT-AX3000 is a Wi-Fi 6 router that has a total bandwidth (of both bands) of 3000Mbps.
  • Two numbers and a letter (“U”, “X”, “S” etc.): This is the original naming convention of Asus dating back to Wi-Fi 4. In this case, the number — often 5x, 6x, 6x, and 8x — means the grade of the router, the higher the better. Here’s the meaning of the letter:
    • U: This is a USB-enabled router. So the RT-AX88U is a higher-end Wi-Fi 6 router than the RT-AX68U. Both have a built-in USB port.
    • X: This is an extra special router. There’s only one so far, which is the RT-AX89X that’s the first from Asus that comes with two flexible 10Gbps network ports.
    • S: This is a stripped-down variant of the U router. For example, the RT-AX86S is the lesser version of the RT-AX86U with inferior processing power and no Multi-Gig port.

There you go. Now put two and two (more like 1, 2, and 3 in this case) together, and you can figure out what each model name means.

For example, the RT-AX68U is an entry-level Wi-Fi 6 router, and the GS-AX3000 is also an entry-level but now a gaming router. The GT-AXE16000 is a top-tier Wi-Fi 6E ROG gaming router, which is why it’s so expensive.

ROG Rapture GT6 with box
The ROG Rapture GT6 is Asus’s latest mesh system, and its naming indicates it’s not part of the Zenwifi family despite being practically one on the inside. Its only novelty is the support for gaming features once available only in standalone routers.

The takeaway

No matter which you end up with among Asus’s routers, you’ll find the standard feature set, which is enough for most homes.

A gaming router with extras won’t hurt — you can always ignore the extra features if you don’t need them. Some features, like VPN Fusion and QoS, are also helpful for non-gaming applications.

But if you do want them, be aware of different levels and the fact that there’s no Asus router with everything. Ultimately, your skill and the quality of your broadband connection matter most. A router can only do so much.



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