Asus RT-AC87U: Should you buy this wireless AC router?
As with my previous reviews on technical products, I would like to make my review of the latest Asus RT-AC87U 802.11AC wireless router as simple as possible and with as little technical jargon where possible here.
This review is especially for those out there who would just like to get a robust wireless router so that they can enjoy the features and functions like a smooth 4K/UHD video playback, ultra-fast uploading and downloading of large files, low-latency online gaming and other entertainment pursuits without actually going into deep technical aspects of a networking product like the wireless router.
Where necessary in order not to lose perspective, I will try to explain the technical aspects first...and also try to keep that as simple as possible!
If you want to know more about the basics of the wireless router first, then I highly recommend you read my hub on How to buy the best home wireless routers before you continue here.
Asus RT-AC87U 802.11AC router
The Asus RT-AC87U 802.11AC router is the latest Wave 2 WiFi router available in the consumer market today.
In fact this ultra high performance router is the fastest 802.11AC consumer class router that you can get at the time of writing.
For those of you who have been checking out this router, you will notice that there are two models i.e. the Asus RT-AC87U and the Asus RT-AC87R. So, what is the difference between the two?
Practically there are none as both of the are exactly the same in everything; design, internals etc except for the "R" and "U" and maybe box design!
You get the Asus RT-AC87U from online retailers like Amazon etc while you get the Asus RT-AC87R from brick and mortar retailers such as Bestbuy. However sometimes online retailers like Amazon also sells the Asus RT-AC87R.
Here are some technology to know first to help you make your decision...
Understanding some basic technology first
Non-beamforming and beamforming.
To understand the benefits of beamforming, let me explain how wireless routers without beamforming features work first.
One easy way to understand it is to visualize a light bulb without a lampshade. When you switch on the electricity, light will radiate equally outwards from the bulb.
Likewise for today's many wireless routers, access points and wireless adapters without the beamforming function, they broadcasts data radially and equally in all directions just like the light bulb.
For beamforming with the light bulb analogy, imagine now putting a lamp shade over the bulb. This will first reduce the unnecessary light that radiates from the bulb.
Then make holes at the appropriate places of the lamp shade where you want concentrated light beams to shine on the your target places.
Beamforming devices works in a similar fashion. They focus their signals toward each client instead of just radiating evenly out. In that way, they concentrate the data transmission so that more data reaches the targeted client device.
What happens with beamforming technology is that it is able to hardness, gather and use as much signal from the router as possible without wastage just like our light bulb with holes in the lamp shade
If your Wi-Fi client also supports beamforming, you will get an additional advantage. This is because your router and client can communicate to exchange information about their respective locations for optimal signal path.
By the way, just take note that a device that beamforms its signals is called a beamformer while the device that receives beamformed signals is called a beamformee.
Yes...I mentioned Wave 2 products above. So before we proceed, let me share with you what these waves are all about.
As far as 802.11 AC products, there are currently two waves; often referred to as Wave 1 and Wave 2.
Wave 1 products are generally 802.11 ac products that are based on the draft of the 802.11ac standard. There are around 262 products that were classified as a Wave 1 product and these are the products that are qualified to have the Wi-Fi Certified 802.11 AC logo.
They generally received that qualification around the July to December 2013 period after passing Wi-Fi Alliance tests. In simple terms, you can think of the Wave 1 products as the first generation 802.11 AC products.
What to expect of a Wave 1 Wi-Fi Certified ac products
The Wave 1 products support 802.11ac standard using the 20, 40, and 80 MHz channels in the 5 GHz band.
They usually also include a combination of the 802.11n standard in the 2.4 GHz band for backward-compatibility with older products.
Moving to the 5 GHz bandwidth allows the 802.11 ac products to access a bigger space with the clients consuming less airtime as they are about three times faster.
The 802.11ac also has the option to use eight to nine 40-MHz channels, or four to five non-overlapping 80 MHz channels, or a mixture of both.
Another key feature of the 802.11ac is the dynamic channel width. This dynamic channel width has the flexibility to change per frame.
With the dynamic channel width feature, even though the 802.11 ac products starts with a primary channel assignment, they are able to expand and contract channel widths on each transmission. Thus, sending larger frames faster by borrowing otherwise idle airtime from adjacent channels.
To understand this better, just imagine a highway with a carpool lane without any cars while on adjacent lanes are single driver cars that are stuck in a jam. The highway analogy with the dynamic width feature is that the single driver cars lanes are able to dynamically use the carpool lane whenever it is empty, thus making full use of the lanes.
802.11ac : Wave 2 Products
The Wave 2 product was first introduced to the public at the International CES 2014 by Quantenna. The 4x4 QSR1000 was the first Wave 2 11ac chipset to be released.
What is the main benefit of the Wave 2 product, particularly the QSR1000 that is used in the Asus RT-AC87U?
It is the MU-MIMO or Multi User-Multiple Input Multiple Output enhancements.
This is because with MU-MIMO, there is a possibility of doubling or even quadrupling WLAN user density by increasing the number of simultaneously supported clients.
This is achieved through the use of up to 8x8 antennas to transmit and receive streams. It also allows conversing with clients that support between one and four streams.
MU-MIMO leverage beamforming technology to not only serve one user better but also provide the same kind of service to simultaneous multiple users at the same time.
As an example, your Wave 2 AP can communicate with two 4x4 notebooks on the same channel and with four single-stream smartphones simultaneously.
The Asus RT-AC87U - What do you get?
You can get the technical specs of the Asus RT-AC87U from the Asus official site, so I will not list them here.
However here is a quickie on the Asus RT-AC87U.
As mentioned earlier in this hub, at the time of writing, the Asus RT-AC87U is the world’s first AC2400 class dual-band 802.11ac wireless router that has a four-transmit, four-receive (4×4) antenna configuration.
In fact it is the first wireless router in the world to use a 4x4 multi-user MIMO or MU-MIMO technology.
Its 5GHz band has speeds of up to 1.7334Gbit/s while its 2.4GHz band has speeds of 600Mbit/s for a combined total of 2.334Gbit/s - that's where the AC2400 in the name comes about.
Its beamforming feature known as the Asus AiRadar has an adaptive Quality-of-Service (QoS). I will explain more on this on the next section.
It incorporated Trend Micro's network security functions with a triple-strength total network security known as AiProtection. Robust parental controls and privacy protection are a part of the tfeature.
As for coverage, its wireless signal can cover up to 465 m² or around 5,000ft² without any walls or other obstacles blocking it.
It is capable of up to 10-times faster data transfers to USB storage devices, printer sharing, and 3G/4G dongle support with its built-in USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports. You can use the USB 3.0 port in front for a connection to some kind of a permanent storage device for it to act as a NAS server.
It comes with four Gigabit LAN ports and one Gigabit internet WAN port. With a hefty 128MB of flash memory and 256MB of DDR3 system memory it has enough power as a small server and it has one of the most powerful home router specs that you can get in the market today.
Speed, speed, speed...give me speed
While the Asus RT-AC87U is very fast and it supports all existing Wi-Fi clients on the market regardless of their Wi-Fi standards, you will need a corresponding quad-stream-enabled clients to make full use of the quad-stream speed.
The big unfortunate thing right now is that there aren't any on the market. Fortunately the good news is that some are expected to be available by early next year.
Apart from that, the Asus RT-AC87U comes with a new Adaptive QoS (quality of service) which is only available in this model.
What the Adaptive QoS does is that it prioritizes the Internet bandwidth according to the type of traffic: web surfing, gaming, video and audio streaming, VoIP/Instant Messaging, file transfer and other functions.
The Asus RT-AC87U's QoS feature can automatically recognize the type of client that is connected to the router and prioritize network traffic accordingly.
For example, a gaming console or a VoIP device, will automatically be assigned a higher priority than a PC’s Torrent session.
You can also decide on your own priorities by using your mouse to rearrange those categories and the RT-AC87U will automatically handle the rest.
Should you get or not get the Asus RT-AC87U?
Without a shadow of doubt, the Asus AC2400 RT-AC87U Dual-band Wireless Gigabit Router is an excellent wireless router - in fact one of the fastest and best that you can get in the market today.
However my main concern is the price. Right now it is retailing around $265 to $270. It you look at the dollar value alone, it is expensive. This is because right now, you cannot take advantage of many of its great and industry leading features.
For example, you will need quad speed clients which will not be available until sometime next year. You will also need corresponding 802.11 ac clients to hardness the speed.
For those of you who are thinking of upgrading, if you already have an 802.11 ac wireless router right now and is not having any problems, I would highly recommend that you keep it first; unless you are an early adopter. This is because you would not be able to make use of the many of its bells and whistles right now.
On the other hand if you are upgrading from a lower end wireless router you will definitely be future proofing your investment as the Asus AC2400 RT-AC87U will definitely last you for a few years. On top of that, you will get one of the fastest wireless router.
Then the cost is actually cheap as you will be able to enjoy whatever that you can get right now and tap on to the potential that is in the Asus RT-AC87U as client devices becomes available over time.
Not only that, you don't have to worry about reading reviews and evaluations for getting another wireless router but just enjoy what the RT-AC87U can provide you. That itself is well worth the money you pay for it now.
Does the Asus RT-AC87U WiFi router meets your requirements?
Get the Asus RT-AC87 Wireless Router
If you are looking at a wireless router that is easy to setup, fast, has a long range and many bells and whistles; future proofing your investment, then this is the router to go for.
Just in case you find that the Asus RT-AC87U is out of stock, you can also get the Asus RT-AC87R. As I have mentioned earlier in this hub, both the Asus RT-AC87U and the Asus RT-AC87R are the same.
If the Asus RT-AC87U is right for you...
Ok. Assuming that you have decided that the Asus RT-AC87U WiFi router is the right router for you, there are still two pieces of "source" that you need in order to enjoy the experience with your Asus RT-AC87U wireless router.
- What is the maximum speed that your service provider is able to provide in your area? Is it cost effective for you to pay for this package? You see, the hardware cost is only a one time cost. Even thought it may appear expensive to plonk down over two hundred bucks for a wireless router, it is going to cost much more for the monthly subscription from your service provider.
- Do you have a modem that is able to connect to your ISP and make full use of the bandwidth that you have subscribe for? Right now, the fastest cable modem available in the market is the Motorola Surfboard SB6183. Click on the link to find out more in my review of the Motorola Surfboard SB6183.
- You may also want to look to pair it with the Asus PCE AC68 client adapter which is also touted to be the fastest client adapter card today.
If the Asus RT-AC87U is not right for you...
Then you might want to consider the RT-AC68U which is about $70-80 cheaper than the AC87U:
The proven Asus RT-AC68U gives you speeds of up to 1900 Mbps with 1300Mbps over 5G and 600Mbps over 2.4G. Its Broadcom TurboQAM technology helps to boost the wireless-N data rate to 600 Mbps for 33% faster performance. This is a very solid alternative worth considering if you choose not to go for the RT-AC87U now.
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