Updated 1/14/19: Retested and corrected poor uplink performance
ASUS and NETGEAR have no qualms about having early adopters and Wi-Fi naifs shell out big bucks for the honor of beta-testing their first draft 802.11ax/Wi-Fi 6 routers. But they have been in no hurry to get product to reviewers. So I took advantage of the generous holiday return policies during this most wonderful time of the year to get ASUS' RT-AX88U and NETGEAR's RAX80 in for testing.
This is not a full review of the products. Think of this more of a glimpse at what you may be in for if you opt to buy one of these science experiments right now. Both the products and the underlying technology are waaay too immature at this point to pretend this is the final word on their performance. I'm also in the process of a full revamp of the SmallNetBuilder router test process and will be changing software and hardware over the next few months.
I'll still be using octoScope gear, including its Pal partner devices as the test client. But the test plan specifics will be different. So don't look for any of these results in the Router Charts just yet.
Both the ASUS RT-AX88U AX6000 Dual Band 802.11ax WiFi Router and NETGEAR Nighthawk AX8 8-Stream AX6000 WiFi Router are built on essentially the same Broadcom platform, i.e. a Broadcom BCM49408 64 bit quad-core @ 1.8 GHz processor and two BCM43684 4 stream an/ac/ax radios.
I didn't open up my borrowed samples, but gathered the information below from WikiDevi. The information is more complete for the ASUS since its FCC short-term confidentiality period has expired, but NETGEAR's has not.
|ASUS RT-AX88U||NETGEAR RAX80|
|CPU||Broadcom BCM49408 64 bit quad-core @ 1.8 GHz||Broadcom BCM49408 64 bit quad-core @ 1.8 GHz|
|Switch||In CPU + BCM53134||In CPU|
|RAM||1024 MB||512 MB|
|Flash||256 MB||256 MB|
|2.4 GHz Radio||- Broadcom BCM43684 4-stream an/ac/ax radio
- Skyworks SKY85216-11 2.4 GHz LNA (x4)
- Skyworks SKY85006-11 2.4 GHz PA (x4)
|- Broadcom BCM43684 4-stream an/ac/ax radio
|5 GHz radio||- Broadcom BCM43684 4 stream an/ac/ax radio
- Skyworks SKY85743-21 5 GHz front end (x4)
|- Broadcom BCM43684 4 stream an/ac/ax radio
Table 1: Component summary
The main functional difference between the two is the Ethernet port LAN count and link aggregation support. The RT-AX88U has one WAN and eight LAN Gigabit Ethernet ports, with LAN ports 1 and 2 supporting 802.3ad link aggregation.
ASUS RT-AX88U rear callouts
The RAX80 has one Gigabit Ethernet WAN and five Gigabit LAN ports, but lets you switch one of the LAN ports to WAN and aggregate it (802.3ad) with the dedicated WAN port to work with some DOCSIS 3.1 cable modems that also support aggregated ports. You also can aggregate ports four and 5 on the LAN side.
NETGEAR RAX80 rear callouts
Both products also have two USB 3 ports. ASUS specs theirs as USB 3.1 Gen 1; NETGEAR just says USB 3.0. And, oh yeah, the RAX80 has a fan (which I never heard spin up to an audible level); the RT-AX88U does not.
On the Wi-Fi side, both routers support the UNII-2 and 2e DFS channels shown below (in the U.S., at least). This means both support contiguous 160 MHz channels, assuming you don't live close to an airport or other radar installation. Note that the Broadcom architecture does not support split 160 MHz channels (80+80). So don't set your primary channel to 149 or higher if you want 160 MHz wide channels.
Image credit: Ruckus Wireless
Both products also let you disable the HE frame information that 802.11ax requires. ASUS asks you if you want to enable HE frames as part of its setup wizard, while NETGEAR just defaults to them disabled in the Advanced Wireless settings. Unlike in the R7800--the only 802.11ac router that supports 160 MHz wide channels--there is no HT 160 mode enable in the RAX80. If you want 160 MHz wide frames, just set the WiFi Mode selector to the Up to 4800 Mbps option. (Yes, that's a new look for NETGEAR's Genie GUI.)
NETGEAR RAX80 advanced wireless settings defaults
As described in 5 Things To Know Before You Buy A Draft 11ax Router, the high link rates found in both products' data sheets will be able to be achieved only by four-stream Wi-Fi 6 devices. For now, the only way to do this is with another draft 11ax router operating in bridge mode, which both products support.
For those of us with current-generation two-stream 11ac devices, you'll see the same top link rates you get with your current AC router, i.e. 867 Mbps in 5 GHz and 400 Mbps in 2.4 GHz. The latter assumes you can run with 40 MHz wide channels in 2.4 GHz, which is unlikely in most cases. You're more likely to see 173 Mbps as your top 2.4 GHz link rate.
The only folks with something to gain from early adopting this technology that still is in the Pampers stage of its life are those with a laptop/notebook with an Intel AC 9260 inside. This is the only client device that supports 160 MHz wide channels and it supports only two streams. It's also an 802.11ac device. So if you have it and if you have the radar-free airspace required for a 160 MHz wide channel and if you are close to your router, then you should be able to see your link rate move from 867 to 1733 Mbps.
I upgraded my Intel XPS13 notebook with one and, yes, Windows reported a 1.7 Gbps link rate. But note that I first tried to install it in the Lenovo ThinkCentre Tiny M600 used in the Version 9 Wireless test process so that I could run direct-cabled tests. But try as I might, I could not get the Lenovo to recognize the card, even with it upgraded to Windows 10 and with the latest Intel drivers.