Asus' forte, in most aspects of technology, is generally doing things to the extreme. Routers are no different: the terrifying 8-antenna ROG Rapture GT-AC5300, for example, is a gaming router jammed to the gills with radios that looks less like a bit of wireless tech and more like the plinth for a ritual sacrifice to some dark lord. The RT-AC86U is a little less overstated, one which leans more towards the common man than the Mountain Dew-addled mouse-slinger.
Not that it's lacking on the inside – indeed, there's a plethora of solid hardware on offer – or in the bombast department, with Asus loudly claiming that the RT-AC86U can break the laws of mathematics and offer 120% coverage. 120% of what, exactly? There's range boosting on board, so maybe that's the answer. There's also a bit of automated gaming acceleration. It's a router with a lot of promise. But can it deliver?
Wireless Connectivity: Dual band AC2900 802.11a/g/ac/n MU-MIMO (N750, AC2167)
Processor: ARM dual-core @ 1.8GHz
Memory: 512MB RAM
Storage: 256MB NAND flash
Ports: 1x Gigabit WAN, 4x Gigabit Ethernet LAN, 1x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0
Dimensions: 8.6 x 6.3 x 3.3 in (220 x 160 x 83.3 mm)
Price and availability
We've looked at a few gaming-focused routers recently, and the RT-AC86U – which might seem a little pricey at £219 – undercuts the likes of the £299 Linksys WRT32X rather nicely. Shop around and you may be able to find it for £199 which, in our book, puts it in direct competition with the WRT32X's elder sibling, the venerable and powerful Linksys WRT3200. That doesn't have the same gamer sheen or physical poise as the RT-AC86U, but it's powerful enough for just about every home.
In the US, you'll find the RT-AC86U for $199, which is very reasonable, but in Australia you're looking at around AU$449 – that's approaching the price of full-on mesh Wi-Fi setups like a three-node Google Wifi. You might be in this for blistering speed, but if ultra-wide coverage is your concern your money is better spent in a different direction.
Design and setup
It's not quite as intimidating as the GT-AC5300, but there's something inherently fearsome about the RT-AC86U's red-eyed angular angry bee look. It's built to stand up, with Gigabit ethernet ports and a WAN input on the rear along with a USB 2 and a super-fast USB 3.1 port. It's not the most flexible of designs – it has to stand, and the position of the cables means there's no way to wall mount it.
Handily, Asus has used that design space to include a bunch of buttons on the case for access to features which are normally tucked away in firmware – you can temporarily disable the unit's Wi-Fi radios – only two, sadly, with no excess 5GHz space for congestion relief – with a side button, and switch off its lights with a button on the rear.
Here's how the Asus RT-AC86U performed in our suit of benchmark tests. All tests performed in a three-floor terrace surrounded by generally busy Wi-Fi channels, on a 200+Mbps connection:
Ookla Speed Test 5GHz (Download | Upload):
Within 5 feet/1.52 meters; no obstructions: 189.6 | 12.0 Mbps
Within 20 feet/6 meters; one floor, two walls: 131.1 | 11.0 Mbps
Ookla Speed Test 2.4GHz (Download | Upload):
Within 5 feet/1.52 meters; no obstructions: 97.0 | 11.9 Mbps
Within 20 feet/6 meters; one floor, two walls: 84.7 | 10.9 Mbps
1.5GB Steam download 5GHz (peak speed):
Within 5 feet/1.52 meters; no obstructions: 9.1 MB/s
Within 20 feet/6 meters; one floor, two walls: 6.9 MB/s
1.5GB Steam download 2.4GHz (peak speed):
Within 5 feet/1.52 meters; no obstructions: 8.2 MB/s
Within 20 feet/6 meters; one floor, two walls: 7.2 MB/s
Firmware-wise, Asus' traditional complexity is all here, with an absolute cavalcade of customisation features packed in, but – and this is crucial – actually plugging the thing in results in a five-minute setup process that won't scare anyone away. And if you're baffled by many of the features, there's tooltips in the firmware that explain exactly what they're all about.
We have to presume Asus' firmware/hardware combination is a thing of genius. Sure, there's a meagre dual band radio on offer, but this unit absolutely ripped through our tests, and network spread was absolutely fine. Not necessarily 120% of other routers, though: in our test environment (yours may vary, such is the interaction of walls and Wi-Fi signals) its performance and spread was directly comparable to the Linksys WRT32X, a much more expensive router.
Media prioritisation, when activated, seems on point and we noticed no discernible difference in gaming performance between this and the slightly cheaper Linksys WRT3200AC, though as ever the results are going to depend on the traffic in your home, your individual internet connection, and the speed of your brain and mouse.
Our pings stayed solid, and we didn't notice any more lag than usual – we're confident that Asus' router will live up to your expectations if you're determined to game wirelessly. Not that you should be, of course; prime networking performance still comes from Ethernet, and the RT-AC86U is as slick and seamless as any other router in that department.
This is a competent, speedy router with a complex firmware made more penetrable by sensible user-friendly design and a quick setup process.
In the gaming bracket it's not overly expensive, and despite running only twin radios it pulls out impressive speed and coverage, backing up Asus' marketing bombast.
Plus we like the little extra feature disabling buttons on the case – it's a small thing, but it's the little touches that count.
The aggressive design of the case, and its inflexible form factor, won't be for everyone, and for all its tooltips the extent of Asus' firmware is probably way overblown for most.
And while the UK and US prices are very reasonable, the markup in Australia is a bit much.
We started out sniffing at its looks, and came out gawping at its performance. For its price, and we definitely suggest buying at the lower mark if you can find it, the Asus RT-AC86U cooks up prime wireless performance from a gamer-friendly recipe.
Its performance puts some of its more competitors to shame, so if you want a robust gaming router while keeping to a lower budget, this is a great choice.