A tour of the ASUS router RT-AC86U (RT-AC2900)

Apr 18, 2018

The RT-AC86U router, released in August 2017, is the revamped successor of the 5 years old RT-AC68U , and Asus didn't just swap two numbers.
This way for a guided visit...

I've been the happy owner of a RT-AC1200GU for a while, but recently the price of the mightier RT-AC86U became attractive enough to make me consider an upgrade.

RT-AC86U is a RT-AC68U on steroids

As a tradition with Asus, the exact same router is sold under many different models. The most common other name is (RT-)AC2900 but it is also
found as "RT-AC68U Extreme".


Unlike my previous RT-AC1200GU, the "G" (suggesting the speed of the Ethernet port) has been dropped. Gigabit is quite standard for Ethernet ports and the RT-AC86U is no exception.

The "U" letter still stands for nVidia GameStream support, but this letter changes also depending the markets...

Speed class, 2900, is a rounding of the combined max speeds for each Wi-Fi bands (750Mbps for 2.4GHz + 2167Mbps for 5GHz).

The RT-AC86U has been build with 4K streaming and heavy gaming in mind, be it wired or wireless. It is based on the powerful Broadcom BCM4906 dual core ARM v8 Cortex A53 @ 1.8 GHz (it's predecessor, had a dual-core @ 800 MHz) and has four antennas (3 external antennas + 1 internal fixed) to ensure the Wi-Fi coverage. The MU-MIMO feature is aimed at serving the same speed to several users simultaneously. 

Unboxing 


This router is designed to sit vertically but in no way fixed on a wall.
A DIY wall-mounting solution might not be impossible though. I've done that for my RT-N56U in the past using "builder band".

There are dedicated buttons for Power, Reset, LED's control, Wi-Fi and WPS. Those last two buttons are next to each other, which makes it easy to accidentally turn off Wi-Fi when just trying to pair a device.




First run

The first set up is straightforward, just connect to the Asus Wi-Fi access point and browse to http://router.asus.com

The interface opens first in Chinese interface which is easily changed via the language menu.


Wi-Fi region, under Wireless > Professional, should also to be verified to match yours.

Migrating from my old RT-AC1200GU

It is always wiser to rebuild the configuration from scratch rather than importing a backup, in particular when coming from a different model.

However, I sometimes(/often) don't do what I recommend, and since I had quite a lot of custom settings, I went the lazy way by importing a backup of my RT-AC1200GU. It was reasonably safe since both routers were on the same firmware version and the new router had all the features the old one had.

Everything went smoothly: all my settings, port forwarding, static DHCP tables and spoofed MAC address(*) were restored to the new router instantly!
As a result, swapping the routers took less than 5 minutes and none of my users noticed the short interruption (at least, nobody complained!).

(*) My router is sitting behind a locked-up ISP's LTE modem, for which I eventually, and painfully, got the help line to enter correctly the list of port forwarding entries I needed.
I cloned the MAC address from my previous router (WAN > Special Requirement from ISP), so the swap was transparent to the modem's DHCP service.

AsusWRT: Clear and complete

The AsusWRT interface remains clear and easy to use despite the huge quantity of options available.

The layout is consistent across the models and always easy to navigate.


Unlike a Draytek interface, where you're expected to master every single parameter, the Asus interface is targeted at us, poor consumer-class geeks, adepts of the "click first, check what it does after" approach: Help is always nearby, either directly on page or through links to FAQ articles and there's contextual help for almost every parameter.


AiProtection network security by Trend Micro offers a first line of defense, assessing the potential security issues and how to fix them.



Control-freak paradise

I was already familiar with the excellent network map and the traffic monitor, but this higher end model offers a lot more ways to find out who/what is sucking the precious bandwidth.

Thanks to the bandwidth monitor, it is extremely easy to locate and throttle the offending Youtuber or the PS4 during one of its frequent multi-GB updates for Ghost Recon Wildlands or Assassin's Creed Origins...





In addition to the bandwidth control, the ability to control what leaks out is an equally important aspect of the network security and privacy. 

IP Cameras are typical examples of chatty devices which Internet access can be blocked easily from the network map. 





Gamer's best friend

The Game Boost page is centered on gaming performance with the promotion of WTFast Gamers Private Network, a dedicated Gaming QoS preset, and a shortcut to AiProtection security to remind you that even with your PC antivirus off during a gaming session, you're still quite safe.



Other Features

The router has plenty of power under the hood to be a pretty decent NAS by just attaching a hard drive to it's USB 3.0 while the other USB 2.0 port can use a 4G dongle to offer a good failover or load balancing option.
The print server is quite standard in the Asus range and Download Master has improved over time, even if it's not as good as the Synology Download Station.





Integrated Wi-Fi troubleshooter

Since firmware v.382.1, Wi-Fi Radar provides a comprehensive survey and troubleshooting tool for optimizing your wireless coverage.
WiFi Radar data collection should only be used when necessary as it might cause occasional drop in wireless performance.





Alternative firmware: AsusWRT-Merlin

Merlin is an enhanced version of Asuswrt with some early fixes and tweaks.
One of its nice addition over the stock firmware is the support for TOR, which can be assigned to specific devices.


Merlin is installed by loading its firmware file via the upgrade page, just as you would with the official firmware. Reverting to AsusWrt is just as simple.

Conclusion: 

The Asus RT-AC86U is a fast and powerfull router with tons of features trough an extremely user-friendly interface which this review only scratched the surface.

This router makes troubleshooting so simple it's almost sad that it didn't give me any trouble to shoot!

The level of control offered by the AC86U may seem excessive for a home network but "Paranoia is just a heightened sense of awareness" (John Lennon).

As one of the most highly ranked router on the market, the RT-AC86U sells over €180/$220 in most places, but Gearbest has the best deal I could find with €157/$192 and I can frankly say it's well worth every cent!



Cheaper alternatives:
While the spotlights are on the new model, the predecessor RT-AC68U is available for half of its initial retail price: €115/$142.
Not having the super fast CPU of its successor does not mean it is slow in any way. Being an AC1900-class instead of "2900" is only important if you do stream 4K video through Wi-Fi!
The RT-AC68U can also work in tandem with the AC86U as part of an AiMesh network.



The RT-AC1200GU, is a more modest, but very complete and affordable router (currently €70/86$) with many qualities. It's been in charge of my crowded network for a year without a single hic-up. Read my review.



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