Tech review: Asus ZenWiFi AX is a feature-packed mesh router

On top of its good performance, the XT8 also comes with useful features such as a security suite that protects against malware and parental controls.
On top of its good performance, the XT8 also comes with useful features such as a security suite that protects against malware and parental controls.PHOTO: ASUS

Asus' latest ZenWiFi mesh routers come in two flavours - the CT8 uses the older Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) standard while the XT8 (available on Amazon and Shopee) uses the latest Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) protocol.

The CT8 was launched late last year and the XT8 (reviewed here) available last month.

As mesh router systems use multiple connected nodes (either through wired or wireless connection) to extend network coverage, it is no surprise that both versions are sold as a set of two identical routers.

With its six antennas concealed in its sleek plastic chassis, the XT8 reminds me of a smart speaker.

Each unit has three Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports, a Gigabit Ethernet WAN port and a USB port.

The WAN port can run at 2.5Gbps and supports both dual-WAN and WAN link aggregation. The former is for those who have multiple fibre broadband connections and the latter is useful if you have a 2Gbps fibre plan.

Both units are pre-paired in the factory, which simplifies the setup process. The Asus Router app (available for iOS and Android) is required to configure the router, which took around 10 minutes.

During this process, the routers have to be placed within three metres of each other. Subsequently, you can move the secondary node to a farther location to extend the wireless coverage.

The router's LED changes colour (white, yellow or red) to indicate the quality of the wireless connection between the two routers. Basically, you want the LED to be white.

I like that the app asks for a unique username and password for the router management interface. This makes the router more secure than the outdated practice of having a default password.

Unlike cheaper mesh routers, the XT8 has three wireless bands - a 2.4GHz band and two 5GHz bands. By default, the faster of the two 5GHz bands (rated at up to 4.8Gbps) is reserved for inter-router communication and hidden from client devices. Also known as dedicated wireless backhaul, this feature ensures devices at the edges of the network will not see a steep drop-off in wireless speed.

While this reserved 5GHz band can be used by client devices, through a setting accessible through the Web-based router interface, the devices would not be able to experience speeds over 1.2Gbps if the band is enabled. This is because the 160MHz channel required is not available to them. But this is good enough for now, seeing as most Wi-Fi 6 clients themselves are limited to 1.2Gbps.

In our speed test using an Acer Wi-Fi 6 laptop, the XT8 managed an average download speed of 736Mbps in my living room where the main router was located - slightly slower than the competing Linksys Velop MX5300 (810Mbps).

The speed dipped to 635Mbps when the laptop was moved to a distant bedroom and connected to the secondary XT8 node. This figure is excellent and it is due to the XT8's dedicated Wi-Fi 6 backhaul. Most older mesh routers will experience a steep decline to between 200Mbps and 300Mbps in such a scenario.

On top of its good performance, the XT8 also comes with useful features such as a security suite that protects against malware and parental controls.

Tech-savvy users will also be pleased that Asus continues to offer very comprehensive, advanced options that are not typical of mesh routers, such as beamforming, which lets the router focus the signal towards a client. These options are mostly available through the router's Web interface, and not the mobile app.

There are cheaper Wi-Fi 6 mesh router systems than the $899 XT8, but none of them are tri-band versions. While its performance is not quite top-tier compared to a similar tri-band model such as the Linksys Velop, it offers more features.

FOR

Simple setup

Built-in security suite

2.5Gbps Ethernet port

Dedicated Wi-Fi 6 backhaul

AGAINST

Good but not class-leading speeds

SPECS

PRICE: $899 (2-pack)

ETHERNET INTERFACE: Gigabit WAN port (up to 2.5G), 3 x Gigabit LAN ports

STANDARDS: 802.11b/g/n/ac/ax

SECURITY: WPA3-PSK, WPA2-PSK, WPA-PSK, WPA-Enterprise, WPA2-Enterprise, WPS support

ADVANCED FIREWALL FEATURES: NAT, DoS and SPI

RATING

FEATURES: 4.5/5

DESIGN: 4/5

PERFORMANCE: 4/5

VALUE FOR MONEY: 4.5/5

OVERALL: 4.5/5

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