It may not set any speed records, but the Asus ZenWiFi AX (XT8) lives up to its name with a sleek mesh kit that uses a tri-band design to help fill a home with Wi-Fi-6 data. Not only does it include added security to keep your family safe online, it also comes with a two-year warranty.
Asus ZenWiFi AX (XT8) review: design
Asus’ ZenWiFi AX (XT8) mesh devices squeeze the best attributes of a tri-band Wi-Fi 6 network into a small rounded casing that looks so nice that you might not want to hide it.
At 6.3 x 6.6 x 2.9 inches, the ZenWiFi AX units are small compared to the towers of the Netgear Orbi WiFi 6 (RBK852) and the white plastic housings look like models of concrete buildings from the 60s (they are also available in black).
The rounded sides of the ZenWiFi AX have large cooling slots and the top has an oval opening to let heat escape.
While they can be used as bookends on a shelf, the ZenWiFi AX is not wall-mountable and there is no third-party hardware available. If you have access to a 3D printer and are feeling adventurous, there is a print file available for free to make your own plastic stand.
The ZenWiFi AX creates a three-band mesh network that moves data on 2.4 and 5 GHz channels and reserves the second 5 GHz band for the backhaul tasks of moving data from the satellites to the host. This can potentially reduce congestion and data packet collisions. Devices can be configured to use a wired backhaul connection.
At $ 448, the ZenWiFi AX package includes two devices that Asus rates as capable of covering 5,500 square feet of floor space. That’s a bargain compared to the $ 699 Netgear Orbi WiFi 6 (RBK852) for a pair of devices that cover 10 percent more space but a lot more than the TP-Link Deco X20’s $ 270 for three. Unlike its competitors, Asus doesn’t sell three-packs or one-time add-on devices to fill in the gaps. On the other hand, you can use any of the company’s recent routers to build a hybrid mesh network with ZenWiFi AX devices.
Rather than Netgear’s practice of having pre-set routers and satellites, both ZenWiFi AX devices are exactly the same. Choose one to be the router and the other to be the satellite and changes are made during installation. There is a single LED that shows the status of the system. When it glows white, everything is connected, but if it turns yellow, the two devices are too far apart. Red indicates that you are offline. Using the Asus Router app, the light can be turned off for the equivalent of stealth mode.
Inside each ZenWiFi AX device are six internal antennas, including one for Bluetooth transfers during its initial setup. They are set at a 45 degree upward angle for additional range, but you cannot replace or target them.
The devices are powered by Broadcom’s BCM 43684 network chip with a 1.5 GHz quad-core processor, 512 MB of RAM and 256 MB to store your firmware and settings. In addition to advanced beamforming technology to customize each stream to the receiver’s requirements, the ZenWiFi AX uses MU-MIMO techniques and wide 160MHz data channels. It has an overall rating of AX6600, theoretically capable of uploading more than 6.6 Gbps of data.
On the back, the ZenWiFi AX has an input network port that is capable of handling a 2.5Gbps data stream from newer modems. There are three outgoing LAN ports that are rated at 1 Gbps, one less than the Orbi RBK852 offers, but much better than other mesh devices with two LAN ports. In addition to a plug and switch, ZenWiFi AX units have a USB 3.0 port for adding a hard drive or printer. On the bottom of the unit are buttons to reset the device and start the Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) process to quickly add a client.
Asus ZenWiFi AX (XT8) review: performance
During most of our tests, the ZenWiFI AX outperformed the larger Orbi RBK852 or smaller TP-Link Deco X20 in our test series using Ixia’s IxChariot benchmark software that simulated a busy network in my 100-year-old home. 3,500 sq. ft. antique. It reached a peak throughput of 701 Mbps at 15 feet, easily beating the Wi-Fi 5 team but far behind the Orbi RBK852 (883.6Mbps) at the same distance. However, it surpassed the 622.1 Mbps of the TP-Link Deco X20.
At 50 feet, the ZenWiFi AX (136Mbps) took the lead over the Netgear Orbi RBK852 kit (124.5Mbps), although the TP-Link Deco X20 (255.4Mbps) was the mid-range champion. At 75 feet, the ZenWiFi AX (6.3Mbps) was close to disconnecting and lost contact with our host router at 80 feet, 15 feet less than the range of the Deco X20. In contrast, the Orbi RBK852 and Deco X20 pushed up 85.9 Mbps and 112.7 Mbps, respectively.
Along the way, the ZenWiFi AX lacked the ability to send a strong signal through an obstruction, with the mesh kit delivering 421.1Mbps through a wall 20 feet from the host router. Under the same conditions, the Netgear Orbi RBK852 moved 782.9Mbps and the Arris SURFboard mAX Pro managed 692.2 Mbps. When it came to sending a signal upstairs, the ZenWiFi AX (389.3MBps) was again second to the Netgear Orbi RBK852 (670.1Mbps).
It all came together for the ZenWiFi AX Kit when we set it up as a mesh network on the same floor. It delivered 125.8Mbps to our test device that was 50 feet from the satellite, which was 40 feet from the host router. That’s the best so far with Netgear Orbi chipping in only 39.1Mbps. In the final analysis, the ZenWiFi AX wasn’t strong enough to fill my 3,500 house, but adding a second satellite might have helped.
When data packets bounced back and forth, the ZenWiFi AX used 15.4 watts of power and never got hotter than to the touch. It lacks Netgear’s power-saving idle mode for when no data is flowing. It all adds up to an estimated $ 35.10 of additional electric bills, up from $ 24.40 for the Netgear Orbi RBK852 bundle. The analysis is based on devices running 24/7 and the national average for electricity at 13 cents per kilowatt-hour.
It ran smoothly for a week, distributing emails, music, videos, and the occasional game session. There was no problem with our informal saturation test where I watched high-quality video on an iPad Pro tablet while a Macbook Air was playing an internet radio station, a Lenovo ThinkPad T470 was displaying videos, and an HP Elite Dragonfly laptop was moving data. inside and outside a network attached RAID storage system.
Asus ZenWiFi AX (XT8) review: setup
Like many mesh kits, setting up the ZenWiFi AX starts with getting the Android O iOS Asus Router application. Asus makes it easy by printing a QR code to get them in the Quick Start Guide. The app provides lots of illustrations to help networking beginners.
At that point, it was automatically set up and connected to my tablet automatically. I could have used the advanced settings and set the LAN manually, but I let the app do it for you.
Next, I added my own network name and password and configured it to have a single name. The hardware took about 2 minutes to set up and connect the router to the satellite. It ended up running an optimization routine and displaying a summary page of the network settings.
From start to finish, it took 10 minutes to set up the network that delivered 190 Mbps of my 200 Mbps connection on the first try. At one point, the satellite lost contact with the host router and it took about 10 minutes to reconnect with its host router, forever if you need anything online.
Asus ZenWiFi AX (XT8) review: setup
Most of the ZenWiFi AX setup will be done through the app in an environment with lots of illustrations and large typography. Rather, you can get a deeper view of the hardware using a connected browser. Unlike some of its competitors, you can log into both portals at the same time.
The app’s home screen not only shows the router and satellites, but the internet is active and how many devices are connected. Rather, the Devices screen is all about what is connected and indicates if there is a firmware update available and there are links to add a new node and check the speed of the connection.
If you jump to the Settings page of the app, there are a host of changes that can be made, from checking the satellite status to activating the network’s Wi-Fi 6 mode; you cannot change Wi-Fi name and passwords. It’s easy to activate the system’s QOS software to set priorities for games, file transfers, and other activities.
The real action takes place in the browser-based interface, but do yourself a favor and narrow your browser’s view or most items won’t fit on an HD screen. You can connect using “asus.router.com”. The dashboard view shows a network map. It’s packed with useful information, from the encryption level and IP address to how many clients are connected and whether the USB port is being used.
On the left is the ability to redo the setup routine and a list of functional tasks that will make even network experts’ heads turn. They include everything from adjusting Wi-Fi and WAN settings to using QOS to set a priority of High, High, Medium, or Low. You can even use the Administration settings to turn the wireless satellite into a wired access point.
My favorite is Ai Protection which uses Trend Micro software. It not only shows an assessment of the dangers facing the network, but also the number of attempts to undermine it that were blocked. Your actions are completely contained in the router and it does not require loading any software on your computers. It is also free for life. By contrast, Netgear charges $ 70 a year to protect network clients after the initial period ends.
The two-year warranty coverage Asus provides is among the best in the business and destroys Netgear’s 90-day support policy. The company offers a wealth of DIY resources online. In addition to software updates and manuals, there is an extensive FAQ section that should answer the most common and some rare questions. Unfortunately, there are no videos that could have helped newcomers to properly configure the devices on the first try.
Asus ZenWiFi AX (XT8) review: verdict
Forget bragging rights for the fastest LAN on the block because the Asus ZenWiFI AX was far behind the best on most performance measures, but it can fill a moderately sized house with data. Not only does it protect a digital family from hackers, but the ZenWiFi AX’s two-year warranty can help you get a better night’s sleep. At $ 448 for a pair of mesh devices, the ZenWiFi AX is a steal compared to the best performance Netgear Orbi WiFi 6 (RBK852) but it falls short in range.