ASUS RT-AC86U

Introduction

External design and hardware

Firmware Upgrade

Web-interface

AiMesh

Command line interface

Testing

Summary

Introduction

Today our laboratory hosts ASUS RT-AC86U wireless router that offers a whole set of significant capabilities among which are the support of MU-MIMO, AiMesh and AiProtection, adaptive QoS. All of this became possible thanks to dual-core processor with the support of 64-bits version of instruction set with an operating frequency of 1.8 GHz. But first things first!

External design and hardware

ASUS RT-AC86U wireless router is built to stand up and intended for desk mounting. We’ve already met such form of the case of ASUS network equipment, for example, RT-AC68U and 4G-AC55U models, however, obvious differences exist: the front panel doesn’t have ribby glance cover anymore. Now cover of the front panel is two-colored and mate, common ASUS gaming devices design is discernible. So except for vendor name, LEDs indicating working of the router and its wired and wireless interfaces are located here.

The upper panel has three SMA-connectors for connecting external antennae and the ventilation grate.

The ventilation grate also covers the rare panel of the case. Except for it, sticker with brief information about the device, five Gigabit Ethernet interfaces (four LAN and one WAN), USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports, DC-IN port for power connection together with Power button, key button turning off LEDs of the front panel and sunken Reset button are located here.

Two buttons: WPS and button for turning on/off wireless interfaces are placed on one of the sides.

Specialized stand with rubber legs is responsible for positioning the device in vertical mode that allows more convenient placing the router on horizontal surfaces.

Now let’s have a look at the insides of ASUS RT-AC86U wireless router which hardware consists of the only textolite plate of aquamarine color. We don’t consider a small plate of one antenna.

Main elements are placed on both sides of the plate, but before we start describing used electronic components, we would like to take our readers attention to four long antenna cables connecting remote points on the plate. We should admit that we consider such design a bit strange.

Under the long radiator on the right side of the plate, if it can be called like this, there are two protecting screens with technologic holes that get access for reviewing three chips located under them. The system is based on Broadcom BCM4906 processor with dual cores operating on 1.8 GHz frequency. Microschemas Broadcom BCM4365E and BCM4366E with antennae configurations of 3x3:3 and 4x4:4 correspondingly are responsible for wireless network functioning. Also we cannot help but mention that ASUS RT-AC86U wireless router has 512 Mbytes of RAM based on Micron MT41K256M16TW chip.

On the left side of the plate Macronix MX30LF2G18AC flash-memory module of 256 Mbytes is available for review. The whole left side is covered by a big detachable screen.

That’s where we complete review of ASUS RT-AC86U wireless router hardware platform and go directly to studying its software capabilities.

Firmware Upgrade

Upgrade of ASUS RT-AC86U wireless router firmware version can be performed in a rather traditional way: using Firmware Upgrade tab of Administration web-interface menu item. The whole process takes about three minutes and doesn’t require any special knowledge from the user. Upgrade can be performed both in manual and semi-automatic mode.

One can check success rate of firmware upgrade with the help of any web-interface page as firmware version is displayed in the header near device Operation Mode. One can get more detailed info about using firmware with the help of Firmware Upgrade tab of Administration menu. To be reasonable, it’s worth noting that the given page also allows performing update of antivirus signatures in case AiProtection option was activated.

If firmware upgrade was not completed successfully, the router moves to recovery mode which can be identified by turned off power LED. Indirectly TTL value returned in ICMP echo-replies also indicates this. In normal mode TTL = 64 and in recovery mode TTL = 100.

C:\>ping 192.168.1.1
Pinging 192.168.1.1 with 32 bytes of data:
Reply from 192.168.1.1: bytes=32 time<1ms TTL=100
Reply from 192.168.1.1: bytes=32 time<1ms TTL=100
Reply from 192.168.1.1: bytes=32 time<1ms TTL=100
Reply from 192.168.1.1: bytes=32 time<1ms TTL=100
Ping statistics for 192.168.1.1:
Packets: Sent = 4, Received = 4, Lost = 0 (0% loss),
Approximate round trip times in milli-seconds:
Minimum = 0ms, Maximum = 0ms, Average = 0ms

One can restore firmware version using Firmware Restoration specialized utility which interface a bit differs from all we reviewed before, however the meaning left the same.

If the administrator cannot use the utility due to any reason, ASUS RT-AC86U router provides one more restoration way: web-server built-in the bootloader to which one can connect with the help of any modern browser. One should just select file with the correct firmware and click Update Software button.

That’s where we bring the review of the questions dedicated to firmware upgrade to a close and pass on to studying the web-interface capabilities of the device.

Web-interface

One can access to web-interface of ASUS RT-AC86U wireless router with the help of any modern browser. After entering correct credentials the device start page is open for the administrator. The web-interface is available in 19 languages.

We will not review all web-interface capabilities of the router in detail but describe the most interesting of them.

In Network Map menu item a new option we haven’t met before is added: AiMesh Node that displays state of wireless Mesh network. Using of wireless Mesh networks is a trendy line for development wireless routers and access points of various vendors. Mesh network allows space covering with wireless network without gaps. Previously the same can be achieved by using repeaters or hybrid WDS connections. Mesh network simplifies the process of wireless network expansion.

Managing of guest wireless networks is performed with the help of menu item of the same name. Creation up to three guest networks in each frequency range is available.

Ai Protection menu item provides access to settings of network security mechanisms and parent control. It’s worth noting that the given functionality was significantly rewritten. As for the capabilities provided before they were expanded and deepened.

Not new but not less useful option is QoS support functionality (Adaptive QoS and Game Boost menu items).

Also during analysis of network performance Traffic Analyzer menu item that contains statistic data about links utilization and displays data about real-time load can be helpful.

The wireless module of the device under test can work in two modes: providing independent network functioning in both frequency ranges and with the support of Smart Connect. In the second way the router can use built-in logic for optimization of client distribution to frequency ranges. However it’s worth noting that the distribution rules are presented in Smart Connect Rule tab of Network Tools menu item. All other tabs of Wireless menu item are rather typical for ASUS wireless equipment. Probably, it’s just worth reviewing Professional tab with the help of which the administrator can decrease mutual influence of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and USB 3.0, select preferable modulation scheme, enable or disable beamforming mechanism and activate MU-MIMO option that allows the router to serve several wireless clients simultaneously.

Tabs of LAN menu item are rather typical, option of turning on/off hardware acceleration is absent as the given acceleration is used automatically.

Capabilities of WAN menu item are not remarkable as well as they are rather standard for ASUS wireless equipment.

Admirers of IPv6 will be glad with the menu item of the same name. Except for statically or dynamically configuring interface addresses, support of three tunnels using as transitional solution is provided: 6to4, 6in4 and 6rd. Also we cannot help but mention support of DHCP-PD (Prefix Delegation) option which we reviewed in detail in our article dedicated to IPv6.

VPN menu item delighted us with the support of IPSec protocol server. ASUS RT-AC86U wireless router can work as a server for the following tunnel connections: PPTP, OpenVPN and IPSec, simultaneously performing client functions for PPTP, L2TP and OpenVPN connections.

Firewall settings for IPv4 and IPv6 traffic are combined in General tab of Firewall menu item. We should admit that we are a bit surprised with the lack of settings for IPv4 traffic filtration.

Among available for selection operating modes of the device a new one is added: AiMesh Node, in this mode ASUS RT-AC86U can connect to existing wireless routers in AiMesh Router mode and expand their coverage area.

That’s where we bring to the completion of the brief review of web-interface capabilities of ASUS RT-AC86U wireless router and go directly to more detailed review of AiMesh technology.

AiMesh

Mesh networks are becoming more and more popular nowadays. One can even say that for wireless networks it is a trend of 2018. Let’s try to study ASUS implementation of Mesh networks. It’s worth noting here that today we will provide our readers with brief review of this implementation but not bothering with details. We hope that in one of our next reviews we’ll manage to provide more detailed review and testing of this wireless solution.

What for Mesh networks and wireless solutions based on them are needed? The answer is simple: for improving wireless coverage. The modern approach to implementation of wireless networks based on IEEE 802.11 technologies involves setting several wireless routers and access points for minimization of so named “blind zones” in which Wi-Fi coverage is absent or unstable. If one implements provided approach with the help of independent devices then the client has to manually or semiautomatically reconnect between wireless networks created by different access points, select SSID to which the connection should be established. With the help of AiMesh the administrator can unify several devices by using wired and wireless links so that from client perspective the system looks like a whole entity allowing to perform automatic roaming during client movement between coverage areas of different access points. The list of models and more detailed description of the technology one can find on vendor website.

Mesh network consists of wireless equipment of two types: router and one or several nodes connecting to wireless router. ASUS RT-AC86U can perform both specified roles.

In our laboratory we had two ASUS wireless routers with the support of AiMesh: RT-AC86U and GT-AC5300. We decided to provide GT-AC5300 with functions of the central device, whereas RT-AC86U was used as an AiMesh node.

At first we moved RT-AC86U to AiMesh Node mode.

The next step is allowing association from the AiMesh router. To be reasonable, it’s worth noting that selecting of operation mode AiMesh Node drops user settings to the defaults so users don’t need to perform preliminary settings of new equipment that will be used as AiMesh node, one should just unpack it, install in a required place and connect power. Discovering of new AiMesh nodes and their settings are performed with the help of AiMesh wireless router.

Association between an AiMesh node and the router is completed. From this moment the AiMesh node becomes unavailable for direct managing.

For each of associated AiMesh nodes one can view brief information and select preferable way of connection between a node and the router. If there is an ability to unify all AiMesh devices with the help of a wire between each other, certainly, we would recommend to do it. At first, transmission speed and safety of the connection can become significantly higher, secondly, additional wireless channel for connection between the router and nodes is not required. Honestly, in this case the whole AiMesh network becomes similar to an ordinary corporate Wi-Fi network with a controller.

As managing of AiMesh nodes is now performed centrally, to upgrade firmware one should go to Firmware Upgrade tab of Administration menu item of AiMesh router.

That’s where we bring to the completion of the first acquaintance with AiMesh technology and move directly to studying capabilities of the device command line.

Command line interface

Access to the command line of the device can be enabled/disabled with the help of System tab of Administration menu item. The given access can be provided using Telnet and SSH protocols. Certainly, we recommend using the second one due to security reasons.

Login and password used for the access to the command line interface are the same as for the router web-interface access. Firmware of the testing model is built on Linux OS with a kernel of version 4.1.27 using BusyBox of version 1.24.1.

RT-AC86U login: admin
Password:
admin@RT-AC86U:/tmp/home/root# cd /
admin@RT-AC86U:/# uname -a
Linux RT-AC86U 4.1.27 #2 SMP PREEMPT Mon Mar 26 11:31:50 CST 2018 aarch64
admin@RT-AC86U:/# busybox
BusyBox v1.24.1 (2018-03-26 10:58:36 CST) multi-call binary.
BusyBox is copyrighted by many authors between 1998-2015.
Licensed under GPLv2. See source distribution for detailed
copyright notices.
Usage: busybox [function [arguments]...]
 or: busybox --list
 or: function [arguments]...
 BusyBox is a multi-call binary that combines many common Unix
 utilities into a single executable. Most people will create a
 link to busybox for each function they wish to use and BusyBox
 will act like whatever it was invoked as.
Currently defined functions:
 [, [[, add-shell, arp, arping, ash, awk, basename, bash, blkid, blockdev, cat, chmod, chown, chpasswd, chrt, clear, cmp, cp, crond, cut, date, dd, depmod, df, dirname, dmesg, du, echo, egrep,
 env, ether-wake, expr, false, fatattr, fdisk, fgrep, find, flock, free, fsck, fsck.minix, fstrim, fsync, ftpget, grep, gunzip, gzip, halt, head, ifconfig, insmod, ionice, kill, killall,
 klogd, less, ln, logger, login, logread, ls, lsmod, lsusb, md5sum, mdev, mkdir, mknod, mkswap, modprobe, more, mount, mv, nc, netstat, nice, nohup, nslookup, pidof, ping, ping6, poweroff,
 printf, ps, pwd, pwdx, readlink, reboot, remove-shell, renice, rm, rmdir, rmmod, route, sed, setconsole, sh, sleep, smemcap, sort, strings, stty, swapoff, swapon, sync, syslogd, tail, tar,
 taskset, telnetd, test, tftp, tftpd, top, touch, tr, traceroute, traceroute6, true, tty, udhcpc, umount, uname, unzip, uptime, usleep, vconfig, vi, watch, wc, which, zcat, zcip
admin@RT-AC86U:/#

With the help of ps command, let’s see which processes are currently running on the device. Top utility shows information on the current activity of the launched processes. We decided to present outputs of the given utilities in an individual file.

Contents of /bin, /sbin, /usr/bin and /usr/sbin catalogues together with sysinfo utility output we present in a separate file as well. So, for example, there is tcpcheck utility in /sbin catalogue which allows checking if a particular TCP port is open on a particular host.

admin@RT-AC86U:/# tcpcheck
usage: tcpcheck [host:port]
admin@RT-AC86U:/# tcpcheck 10 192.168.1.3:23
192.168.1.3:23 failed
admin@RT-AC86U:/# tcpcheck 10 192.168.1.1:23
192.168.1.1:23 is alive
admin@RT-AC86U:/#

Now let's turn to /proc catalogue to view its contents and find out the system uptime, its average utilization, information on the CPU installed, and the amount of RAM. Actually, system uptime and average utilization can be also obtained using uptime command.

admin@RT-AC86U:/# cd /proc
admin@RT-AC86U:/proc# ls
1 1179 16 22 4 58 736 777 805 bus fcache led scsi tty
10 1199 167 2283 49 588 737 779 838 cmdline filesystems loadavg self uptime
1007 12 17 23 5 59 738 781 879 config.gz fs locks slabinfo version
1015 1200 18 24 52 592 745 789 881 consoles interrupts meminfo socinfo vmallocinfo
1018 13 19 25 53 6 752 791 9 cpuinfo iomem misc softirqs vmstat
1022 1348 2 26 54 656 758 792 990 crypto ioports modules stat wfd
1025 1350 201 27 56 678 761 793 994 device-tree irq mounts swaps zoneinfo
1026 14 205 28 565 679 763 794 997 devices kallsyms mtd sys
11 15 206 282 566 691 765 796 998 diskstats kcore net sysrq-trigger
1131 1511 21 295 57 693 766 797 bcmlog driver kmsg nvram sysvipc
1139 1512 2116 3 571 7 767 8 brcm emf kpagecount pagetypeinfo thread-self
1176 1513 214 317 572 731 768 803 buddyinfo execdomains kpageflags partitions timer_list
admin@RT-AC86U:/proc# cat uptime
4342.18 8641.86
admin@RT-AC86U:/proc# cat loadavg
3.50 3.70 3.65 1/125 2289
admin@RT-AC86U:/proc# cat cpuinfo
processor : 0
BogoMIPS : 100.00
Features : fp asimd evtstrm aes pmull sha1 sha2 crc32
CPU implementer : 0x42
CPU architecture: 8
CPU variant : 0x0
CPU part : 0x100
CPU revision : 0
processor : 1
BogoMIPS : 100.00
Features : fp asimd evtstrm aes pmull sha1 sha2 crc32
CPU implementer : 0x42
CPU architecture: 8
CPU variant : 0x0
CPU part : 0x100
CPU revision : 0
admin@RT-AC86U:/proc# cat socinfo
SoC Name :BCM4906
Revision :A0
admin@RT-AC86U:/proc# uptime
 04:13:03 up 1:13, load average: 3.04, 3.58, 3.60
admin@RT-AC86U:/proc#

We can't help but mention nvram utility that allows changing certain important device operation parameters. To be honest, we should also notice that capabilities of the given command are a bit different from ones we reviewed for other models.

admin@RT-AC86U:/proc# nvram
usage:
nvram [get] :get nvram value
 [set name=value] :set name with value
 [unset name] :remove nvram entry
 [show] :show all nvrams
 [dump] :show all nvrams tuples
 [setflag bit=value] :set bit value
 [getflag bit] :get bit value
 [save] :save nvram to a file
 [restore] :restore nvram from saved file
 [erase] :erase nvram partition
 [commit [restart]] :save nvram [optional] to restart wlan
 [kernelset] :populate nvram from kernel configuration file
 [save_ap] :save ap mode nvram to a file
 [save_rp_2g] :save 2.4GHz repeater mode nvram to a file
 [save_rp_5g] :save 5GHz repeater mode nvram to a file
 [save_rp_5g2] :save 5GHz high band repeater mode nvram to a file [triband]
 [fb_save file] :save the romfile for feedback
admin@RT-AC86U:/proc# nvram show | grep admin
size: 54542 bytes (76530 left)
acc_list=admin>adminpassword
acc_webdavproxy=admin>10
http_username=admin
admin@RT-AC86U:/proc#

So, for example, using nvram utility one can turn off STP on LAN interfaces of RT-AC86U router.

admin@RT-AC86U:/proc# nvram show | grep stp
lan1_stp=1
lan_stp=1
size: 54542 bytes (76530 left)
admin@RT-AC86U:/proc# nvram set lan_stp=0
admin@RT-AC86U:/proc# nvram commit
admin@RT-AC86U:/proc# nvram show | grep stp
lan1_stp=1
lan_stp=0
size: 54542 bytes (76530 left)
admin@RT-AC86U:/proc# reboot

That is where we bring the brief review of the router command line interface capabilities to a close and pass on to testing the device.

Testing

Traditionally we start testing section with estimating the booting time of the device, which is a time interval starting with the moment when the power is on until the first echo reply is received through ICMP. ASUS RT-AC86U wireless router boots in 72 seconds. We consider this result normal.

The second not less than traditional test is a security scanning procedure, performing with the help of a security scanner Positive Technologies XSpider 7.8. On the whole, there were 14 open ports discovered. The most interesting discovered data are presented below. Obviously, we informed vendor about discovered vulnerability straight away. Based on official announce of ASUS representatives, RT-AC86U wireless router uses DNS server that is not exposed to CVE-2004-0789 vulnerability and the given scanner result is false positive.

Before getting down to performance tests we would like to get our readers familiar with the main parameters of the test stand we used.

Component PC Laptop
Motherboard ASUS Maximus IX Extreme ASUS GL753VD
CPU Intel Core i7 7700K 4 GHz Intel Core i7 7700HQ 2.8GHz
RAM DDR4-2133 Samsung 64 GByte DDR4-2400 Hyundai 8 GByte
NIC Intel X550T2
ASUS PCE-AC88
Realtek PCIeGBE
OS Windows 7 x64 SP1 Windows 10 x64

The first performance test was measuring of user data transmission speeds on device performing routing with NAT/PAT. Measurements were performed for 1, 5 and 15 simultaneous TCP sessions with window size increased to 100 Mbytes. As a measuring instrument utility JPERF of 2.0.2 version was used. The results of measurements are shown on the diagram below.

We turned off NAT/PAT translations and checked device performance during ordinary routing of IPv4 traffic.

We cannot help but check router operating with IPv6 traffic.

ASUS RT-AC86U wireless router supports great amount of different tunnel connections part of which are used for connection to provider or remote networks while others can be used for support of remote connections to the device itself. Certainly, we found out which maximum throughputs can be available when this or that tunnel connection is used. We decided to start with PPTP so popular among Windows users. The measurements were performed with enabled encryption and without it.

We should notice that we were surprised with obtained speeds.

The next step was tunnel connection with the help of L2TP. The results of measurements are similar to PPTP connection without encryption.

In recent years connection to remote networks with the help of OpenVPN protocol is becoming more and more popular, obviously, we cannot help but use this protocol in our tests as well.

Our first acquaintance with ASUS network equipment started with wired routers of SL line which differential peculiarity was support of tunnels using IPSec. For a long time we haven’t seen support of this protocol in SOHO devices of top vendors, however, fortunately, it seems that IPSec trend is coming back and support of this tunnel connection occurs among capabilities of network devices of various vendors. We decided not to miss the opportunity to measure ASUS RT-AC86U performance on working with IPSec in remote access mode.

As ASUS RT-AC86U is a wireless router, we performed measuring of available to the users transmission speeds between wired and wireless segments. The measurements were performed in both frequency ranges.

The tested model has USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports. We connected our external testing SSD Transcend TS256GESD400K of 256 Gbytes and performed measurements of access speeds to data placed on it. The measurements were performed for five file systems: EXT2/3, FAT32, NTFS, and HFS+.

On pages of different forums we see often questions about access speed to USB drive using connection via tunnel. On the diagram below one can view comparison of access speeds to SSD while using tunnel and without it. NTFS was used as a file system.

Using of encrypted tunnel has a great influence even on rather slow file operations.

Also we decided to find out how much the model under review heats up during testing procedures. We decided to start with using of built-in sensors displaying CPU temperature.

admin@RT-AC86U:/# cat /sys/class/thermal/thermal_zone0/temp
76307

Presented number displays temperature in thousandths of Celsius degree, so internal chip temperature is equal to 76,3 degrees Celsius. Is it much or little? Though on a first glance it seems that this is rather much, in reality one should remember that it is an internal temperature of SoC processor. Also we decided to measure temperature of the case cover with the help of our laboratory pyrometer ADA TemPro-2200. It occurred that case temperature doesn’t exceed 37 degrees Celsius, whereas external temperature in the room in these summer days was 25 degrees Celsius. As measurements were performed using contactless way, external temperature of chips and protecting screen was available for measuring as well. It occurred that external surfaces of the plate can heat up to 48 degrees Celsius, however we should remember that these surfaces are not available for user direct contact.

That's where we draw the testing part to a close and move on to summing it all up.

Summary

On the whole, we are glad with tested ASUS RT-AC86U wireless router that presented stably high speeds both in wired and wireless segment. Among the innovations regarding this model we can mention support of MU-MIMO, mesh networks and built-in VPN server for IPSec.

The strength areas of ASUS RT-AC86U wireless router are the following.

  • High data transmission speeds in both frequency ranges
  • Support of MU-MIMO
  • High speeds of IPv6 traffic routing
  • High performance of VPN servers and clients
  • Support of NitroQAM modulation
  • Smart Connect option
  • High access speeds to data placed on USB drive
  • Support of wireless mesh networks
  • Functions of users network security
  • Support of DHCP-PD option for IPv6 networks

Unfortunately, we cannot help but mention discovered drawbacks of the device.

  • The web-interface is not completely translated
  • Relatively high price

When this review was being written, average price of ASUS RT-AC86U wireless router in Moscow e-shops was 16000 roubles.

As of this writing, the best price for ASUS RT-AC86U in German-speaking Europe countries, according to website Geizhals Preisvergleich, was about 200 euro.

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