The RT-AX86U ($249.99) is Asus’s newest Wi-Fi 6 router designed for gamers and home users that require high-speed connectivity options. Armed with a 2.5 gigabit per second (Gbps) WAN/LAN port, a dedicated gaming LAN port, and the ability to provide 2 Gbps LAN speeds via link aggregation, this router gives you all the tools you need to maximize your home network for a lag-free gaming experience.
While its price tag keeps it from being considered as a budget-conscious wireless router, it turned in very good scores on our close range throughout performance tests. However, the more expensive and current Editors’ Choice winner in both the Wi-Fi 6 router and gaming router categories, the TP-Link Archer AX11000, is a better all-around performer and provides more ports as well as more robust gaming controls.
The RT-AX86U uses the same vertical-only design as its 802.11AC based cousin, the RT-AC86U, which we reviewed way back in 2018 and is still available as a slightly lower-end sibling. That means it looks very cool in the store or using web photography, but if you live in a smaller place be sure you know where you're going to put it because an upright pose is all you get. That said, the rest of the unit is slick.You Can Trust Our ReviewsSince 1982, PCMag has tested and rated thousands of products to help you make better buying decisions. (See how we test.)
It sports a chiseled matte black enclosure with red grillwork along the bottom edge and has three removable adjustable antennas along the top edge. Also towards the bottom are ten LED activity indicators for power, both radio bands, four LAN ports, 2.5 Gbps and 1 Gbps WAN, as well as WPS. Around back you’ll find four gigabit LAN ports, a 2.5 Gbps WAN/LAN port, a gigabit WAN port, two USB 3.2 ports, a power switch, a power jack, and a reset button. One of the LAN ports can be used as a dedicated gaming port that automatically gives bandwidth priority to whatever device you connect to it, and you can configure two LAN ports for link aggregation to provide a 2 Gbps LAN connection. There’s a WPS button on the left side of the router and an LED On/Off button on the right.4.0Excellent $323.06See Itat AmazonRead Our Asus RT-AX88U Review 3.5Good$299.99See Itat Best BuyRead Our Linksys Dual-Band Mesh Wi-Fi 6 Router (MR9600) Review 3.5Good $300.17See Itat AmazonRead Our Netgear Nighthawk AX12 12-Stream Wi-Fi 6 Router (RAX120) Review 3.5Good $369.99See Itat AmazonRead Our Netgear Nighthawk AX8 8-Stream Wi-Fi 6 Router (RAX80) Review 3.5Good $249.99See Itat AmazonRead Our TP-Link Archer AX6000 Review3.0Average $56.77See Itat AmazonRead Our D-Link EXO Mesh AX1500 Wi-Fi 6 Router (DIR-X1560) Review 4.5Outstanding $252.99See Itat AmazonRead Our TP-Link Archer AX11000 Next-Gen Tri-Band Gaming Router Review
The RT-AX86U is a dual band AX5700 router that can reach maximum (theoretical) data rates of up to 861Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and up to 4,804Mbps on the 5GHz band. It's powered by a 1.8GHz quad-core processor, 256 megabytes (MB) of flash memory, and 1 gigabyte (GB) of RAM. It also uses all the latest 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) technology, including 160Mhz bandwidth, OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access), TWT (Target Wake Time), MU-MIMO simultaneous data streaming, direct-to-client signal beamforming, and WPA3 encryption. (Check out our Wi-Fi 6 explainer for more on these technologies and how the new standard relates to the old.)
The RT-AX86U can be managed using the same Asus Router mobile app as the ZenWiFi AX XT8 that we reviewed back in June. That's nice since the ZenWiFi is a Wi-Fi mesh system not a standalone router, though for those who'd prefer more granular controls, there's a more advanced web console, too. The console opens to a network map that displays the names of all connected clients and shows you internet and security status, connected USB devices, and Wi-Fi information for the 2.4GHz and 5GHz radio bands.
A menu on the left side of the screen contains Quick Internet Setup, General, and Advanced settings. Use the General settings to configure Guest networking, access the router’s Traffic Analyzer, configure USB storage settings, and access Adaptive Quality of Service (QoS) and Game settings. You can assign bandwidth thresholds and configure application-specific bandwidth prioritization using the Adaptive QoS settings, or use the Game settings dashboard to access the Gear Accelerator utility which allows you to assign bandwidth priority to specific devices. Here you’ll also find a Mobile Game Mode which helps boost online gaming performance on mobile devices, and Open NAT settings which offer a quick and easy way to create port forwarding rules for online games.
In the Advanced settings section you can configure wireless security settings, enable or disable MU-MIMO and beamforming, change channel width, rename your SSIDs, and adjust professional settings such as Beacon Intervals, RADIUS settings, and Airtime Fairness. Here you can also tweak LAN, WAN, and Firewall controls. For those who want to use the included virtual private network (VPN), there are controls to configure both VPN Server and VPN Client settings as well as enable Alexa voice control and IFTTT.
As with the RT-AX88U, the RT-AX86U comes with Trend Micro's AiProtection software to ward off virus attacks, block access to malicious sites, and configure parental controls. Using parental controls you can restrict access to adult-oriented and social media sites, block streaming media and entertainment content, and prevent access to P2P and file transfer sites, too.
The Asus RT-AX86U was a very fast installation. To start, I plugged the router into my modem and connected my desktop PC to one of the LAN ports. I opened a web browser on the PC, entered http://router.asus.com in the address bar, and tapped Setup a New Network. I separated the radio bands, entered names and a password for each SSID, created an administrator name and password, and updated the firmware. After a three-minute update I was ready for the PC Labs' wireless router testing process.
The RT-AX86U delivered very good throughput on our 2.4GHz close proximity (same room) performance tests. It’s score of 137Mbps was faster than both the TP-Link AX11000 (133Mbps) and the Linksys MR9600 (111Mbps) but just a tad slower than the Asus RT-AX88U (144Mbps). However, it did not fare so well on our long range test: its score of 38Mbps was 29Mbps and 21Mbps slower than the AX11000 and the RT-AX88U, respectively.
On our 5GHz close proximity test, the RT-AX86U garnered an impressive score of 831Mbps, which was identical to the AX11000’s score and 49Mbps faster than the RT-AX88U. The MR9600 led with a score of 840Mbps. At a distance of 30 feet the RT-AX86U (237Mbps) edged the MR9600 (228Mbps) but could not keep pace with the AX11000 (328Mbps) or the RT-AX88U (318Mbps).
To test file transfer performance we moved a 1.5 GB folder containing photos, video, music, and office document files back and forth between a USB 3.0 external hard drive connected to the router and a desktop PC in order to measure write and read speeds. The RT-AX86U scores were good but not great: its write score of 52MBps trailed the pack and was 21MBps slower than the Linksys MR9600. Its read score of 66MBps was also the slowest of the bunch and trailed the TP-Link AX11000 by 19MBps.
To get a sense of the signal strength these routers can generate, we use an Ekahau Sidekick Wi-Fi diagnostic device and Ekahau’s Survey mobile app to generate heat maps that show the router’s 2.4GHz and 5GHz signal strength throughout our test home. On the map, the white circle represents the location of the router and the colors represent signal strength. Dark green indicates the strongest signal, yellow is weaker, and gray indicates no signal reception. As you can see by the 2.4GHz map (above) the RT-AX86U did a good job of covering nearly every room in the house but became weaker at the corner furthest away from the router. Its 5GHz signal coverage (below) was also good but the signal lost some punch out by the garage and in the corners of the rooms on the opposite side of the room where the router was located.
The Asus RT-AX86U is a solid choice for online gamers looking to eliminate network bottlenecks. It uses the latest Wi-Fi 6 tech to deliver fast, close-range throughput and offers several features designed to optimize your network, including multi-gig LAN ports, link aggregation, an optimized LAN port, and a handful of game acceleration utilities. It also comes with strong parental controls and lifetime malware protection. That said, if you require a Wi-Fi 6 router that offers faster all-around performance and is equipped with twice as many LAN connectivity ports, our Editors’ Choice, the TP-Link AX11000 is your best bet, but be prepared to shell out around $400 for the privilege.4.0See It$279.99 at AmazonMSRP $249.99 View More
The Asus RT-AX86U is a midrange Wi-Fi 6 router that delivers speedy close range data rates along with fast connectivity options, gamer-friendly settings, malware protection, and strong parental controls.
Sign up for Lab Report to get the latest reviews and top product advice delivered right to your inbox.
Your subscription has been confirmed. Keep an eye on your inbox!