PC

Small size, big performance

The AC86U dual-band router is bundled with features like free access to the WTFast private network that can improve network latency for popular online games, as well as software to detect malware, block infected devices from accessing the Internet, a
The AC86U dual-band router is bundled with features like free access to the WTFast private network that can improve network latency for popular online games, as well as software to detect malware, block infected devices from accessing the Internet, and set parental controls.PHOTO: ASUS

Asus RT-AC86U is compact unlike other high-end routers, and very capable too

The latest high-end routers are, more often than not, large, chunky boxes that weigh over a kilogram and take up more space than some gaming consoles.

Thus, it is refreshing to find that Asus has reverted to a compact design for its new RT-AC86U dual-band router.

It stands upright with its three external antennas pointing up, like the AC68U router that was launched three years ago. The downside is that it cannot be wall mounted, though I believe most users would prefer its small footprint.

It has the usual configuration of ports that you would find on a standard router - four Gigabit LAN ports and two USB ports for an external storage drive or a printer.

The AC86U runs on a Broadcom Wi-Fi chipset that slightly improves wireless speeds over last year's offerings, but only with a few compatible client devices. For most users, the only benefit is a more responsive user interface, thanks to its new speedy processor.

It retains the same browser-based interface as previous Asus models. Grey and dull, the user interface resembles something built by an engineer rather than a designer. A makeover, especially by the same team behind the sleek app for this year's Asus Lyra mesh routers, is long overdue.

On the plus side, the user interface is neat and easy to navigate despite its lengthy list of options, though most users would probably never access the advanced settings.

  • TECH SPECS

    PRICE: $329

    ETHERNET INTERFACE: 1 x 10/100/1000 Gigabit WAN, 4 x 10/100/1000 Gigabit LAN

    STANDARDS: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac

    SECURITY: WPA2, WEP

    ADVANCED FIREWALL FEATURES: NAT, DoS and SPI

    RATING

    FEATURES: 5/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 3/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

The mobile Asus router app (for iOS and Android devices) has a snazzy home screen and uses large legible fonts. However, more importantly, it offers more options than similar apps from other brands.

Like other Asus gaming-centric routers, the AC86U comes with free access to the WTFast private network. This subscription-based service improves network latency for popular online games by having dedicated servers with optimised routes to online game servers. Popular games such as League of Legends, Dota 2 and World of Warcraft are among the supported titles. A limitation of this bundled router edition of WTFast is that it supports only a single device at a time.

Another bundled extra is the Trend Micro-powered AiProtection software, which helps to detect malware, blocks infected devices from accessing the Internet, and provides parental controls.

The latter is especially useful as it can block specific protocols, such as those associated with messaging apps or peer-to-peer file transfers, without entirely restricting Internet access to devices.

But AiProtection does not let users blacklist specific websites based on their URLs or keywords.

For this functionality, you can use the AC86U's built-in firewall. However, this feature is easy to overlook because it is located separately from the AiProtection option in the user interface.

Interestingly, Asus has a beta firmware update that lets the AC86U work together with a handful of other Asus routers to create a mesh network similar to the whole-home Wi-Fi solutions that are all the rage in the market.

I did not try it, but if this feature does become official, it will probably appeal to enthusiasts who find current mesh routers too limited in performance and features.

Performance-wise, the AC86U managed an average download speed of 546Mbps, which is similar to that of the Linksys EA9300 that I had tested recently. These routers are definitely among the better performers in the market.

• Verdict: It ranks high in terms of performance and features. But its user interface could be spruced up.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2017, with the headline 'Small size, big performance'. Print Edition | Subscribe