Asus RT-AX86S vs RT-AX86U vs RT-AX86U pro: Odd Variants

Bridget J. Sims

This post is a quick matchup of the Asus RT-AX86S vs RT-AX86U vs RT-AX86U Pro. Together they make up confusing Dual-band Wi-Fi 6 options.

In mid-August 2020, I published an in-depth review of the RT-AX86U and called it “arguably the best Dual-band Wi-Fi 6 router” for a good reason — the router has been one of the best.

Things moved along rather quietly until mid-2021 when Asus released the RT-AX86S, which looks the same as the RT-AX86U yet is very much a different router on the inside. The company called them the RT-AX86 series — lumping both on the same product page — making things even more confusing.

And then, in late 2022, Asus did it again by introducing the RT-AX86U Pro, which is basically the RT-AX86U plus a slightly faster CPU.

I’ve received many questions about the RT-AX86U vs RT-AX86S and then about the RT-AX86U vs RT-AX86U Pro.

Initially, folks seem to want me to say that the first pair is the same, possibly so they’d feel better getting the S due to availability or cost difference. And with the second pair, many were confused — rightfully so.

This post will help with those questions. The gist is if pricing is the same, then there’s no reason not to get the Pro version. The RT-AX86S is a good choice for a non-demanding home.

But overall, the RT-AX86U is the safest choice. I will not test and review the S and Pro versions separately.

Dong’s note: I first published this post on February 3, 2022, and updated it on December 3 to add information about the latest variant, the RT-AX86U Pro.

The Asus RT-AX86U is one of the best Wi-Fi 6 routersThe Asus RT-AX86U is an Excellent Gaming Router
Asus RT-AX86S vs RT-AX86U vs RT-AX86U Pro: From these angles, you certainly can’t tell which one is which.

Asus RT-AX86S vs RT-AX86U vs RT-AX86U Pro: Identical-looking, but one is an (almost) entirely different router

By the look, most of us can’t distinguish the RT-AX86S from the RT-AX86U, and it’s even harder to tell the RT-AX86U vs RT-AX86U Pro apart.

All three share the same shape, color, number of antennas, etc.

And the resemblance goes beyond the look. They also share the same set of network features and settings. Apart from Asus’s core feature set, they both include valuable gaming-related features.

I detailed their similarities in this post on Asus Wi-Fi broadcasters, but here are some highlights of these three:

  • AiMesh 2.0 support: Either can work as the primary router or a satellite node in an AiMesh setup.
  • AiProtection: Built-in free online protection for life.
  • Flexible port configuration: Both support Dual-WAN, Link Aggregation (WAN and LAN), and a Game Port.
  • Adaptive QoS: Both have a robust QoS feature.
  • AX5700 Wi-Fi specs: 3×3 AX on the 2.4GHz band (861Mbps) and 4×4 AX on the 5GHz (4804Mbps).

That said, just like all Asus Wi-Fi 6 routers, these three routers seem to have more in common than they do in differences.

But when you look closer, especially at their hardware specs, you’ll see how they are quite distinct, especially in the case of the RT-AX86S.

Asus and your privacy

Upon turning on some features on an Asus router, you will run into this scary warning:

“By using AiProtection, Traffic analyzer, Apps analyzer, Adaptive QoS/Game boost, Web history, you agree to the Trend Micro End User License Agreement. Please note that your information will be collected by Trend Micro through AiProtection, Traffic analyzer, Apps analyzer, Adaptive QoS, and web history.”

Asus Privacy Message
That ominous privacy warning

If you read the entire EULA, you’d understand what it entails. But since nobody wants to read that boring, yet important, document, and some might not appreciate its wording, let me put this in simple terms:

These features only work because their provider scans the router’s traffic. That’s like if you want to be protected in real life, you will need to have somebody, like a bodyguard, to watch over you. In networking, protection requires extra connections — there’s no way around that.

I won’t pretend I know what TrendMicro or Asus does with the information it might have access to — I don’t know — but (personally) I’d be more worried about how and what Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, or Google (in that order) does with my data, which is collected the moment I turn a particular device on.

But yes, using these features will inherently cause privacy risks. The good news is that they are turned off by default, and you’re never coerced into turning them on.

So, use them or not use them, it’s your call. Just remember, you can’t have them both ways. Generally, privacy and security are a matter of degree.

Asus RT-AX86S vs RT-AX86U vs RT-AX86U Pro: Hardware specifications

Name ASUS RT-AX86S ASUS RT-AX86U RT-AX86U Pro
Wi-Fi Technology Dual-band AX5700 Dual-band AX5700 Dual-band AX5700
2.4GHz Wi-Fi Specs
(channel width)
3×3 AX: Up to 861 Mbps
(20/40MHz)
3×3 AX: Up to 861 Mbps
(20/40MHz)
3×3 AX: Up to 861 Mbps
(20/40MHz)
5GHz Wi-Fi Specs
(channel width)
4X4 AX: Up to 4804 Mbps
(20/40/80/160MHz)
4X4 AX: Up to 4804 Mbps
(20/40/80/160MHz)
4X4 AX: Up to 4804 Mbps
(20/40/80/160MHz)
Backward Compatibility 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
AP Mode Yes Yes Yes
AiMesh-ready Yes Yes Yes
Gigabit Port 4x LAN 
1x WAN
4x LAN 
1x WAN/LAN
4x LAN 
1x WAN/LAN
Multi-Gig Port None 1×2.5Gbps LAN/WAN 1x 2.5Gbps LAN/WAN
Link Aggregation Yes
(LAN and WAN)
Yes
(LAN and WAN)
Yes
(LAN and WAN)
Dual-WAN Yes Yes Yes
USB 1x USB 2.0,
1x USB 3.0
2 x USB 3.0 1x USB 2.0,
1x USB 3.0
Mobile App Asus Router Asus Router Asus Router
QoS Yes Yes  Yes 
Parental Control Yes Yes  Yes 
Processing Power 1.8GHz dual-core CPU,
256MB Flash,
512MB RAM
1.8GHz quad-core CPU,
256MB Flash,
1GB RAM
2GHz quad-core CPU,
256MB Flash,
1GB RAM
Built-in Online Protection Yes 
(AiProtection)
Yes 
(AiProtection) 
Yes 
(AiProtection)
Dimensions
(with antennas)
9.52 x 3.93 x 12.79 inc. 
(242 x 100 x 325 mm) 
9.52 x 3.93 x 12.79 inc. 
(242 x 100 x 325 mm)
9.52 x 3.93 x 12.79 inc. 
(242 x 100 x 325 mm)
Dimensions
(without antennas)
9.52 x 3.93 x 6.45 inc. 
(242 x 100 x 164 mm)
9.52 x 3.93 x 6.45 inc. 
(242 x 100 x 164 mm)
9.52 x 3.93 x 6.45 inc. 
(242 x 100 x 164 mm)
Weight 1.8 lbs (814.5 g) 1.8 lbs (814.5 g) 1.8 lbs (814.5 g)
Release Date
(US market)
September 22, 2021 August 11, 2020 TBD
US Price
(at launch)
$250 $280 TBD
Hardware specifications: Asus RT-AX86S vs RT-AX86U

RT-AX86S vs RT-AX86U: Some gaming-changing differences

Indeed, flip them around, and you’ll notice that the RT-AX86S does not have a 2.5Gbps Multi-Gig port on the back. Instead, all its network ports (one WAN and 4 LANs) are all Gigabit.

sus RT-AX86S vs RT-AX86U: It's quite clear which is which when you look at their back.
Asus RT-AX86U vs RT-AX86S (bottom): It’s pretty clear which is which when you look at their backside.

This extra Multi-Gig port is a significant difference because it allows the RT-AX86U to work as a satellite in a wired Multi-Gig AiMesh setup. You can’t do that with the S version. Also, if you have Gigabit or even Gig+ broadband, the U version can fully handle that.

What is Gig+

Gig+, or Gig plus, conveys a speed grade faster than 1Gbps but slower than 2Gbps. So, it’s 1.5Gbps, give or take, and it’s not fast enough to be qualified as Multi-Gig.

Gig+ generally applies to the sustained speeds of Wi-Fi 6 or 6E (via a 2×2 at 160MHz connection) or Internet speed, not wired local connections.

What’s more, the RT-AX86U has much more powerful processing power, running a quad-core CPU and double the amount of RAM. That sure will translate into better performance and responsiveness.

And finally, the RT-AX86U has two USB 3.0 ports, while one of the S version’s ports is USB 2.0.

RT-AX86U Pro vs RT-AX86U: Some minor differences

The RT-AX86U Pro is somewhat on the other side of the RT-AX86U from the RT-AX86S. It’s a slightly more powerful router (with 2GHz of extra clock speed on the CPU) yet has only one USB 3.0 port.

Asus RT AX86UAsus RT AX86U Pro
Asus RT-AX86U vs RT-AX86U Pro (right): From the back, you’ll note that the latter’s 2nd USB port is a USB 2.0 instead of USB 3.0. That’s the only noticeable visual difference between the two.

I haven’t tested the Pro, but it’s safe to say, in real-world usage, chances are it will be the same as the older version.

The faster CPU doesn’t hurt, but it won’t help much, considering the small increment. And the second slower USB port cancels out whatever extra that CPU offers.

The takeaway

Asus hasn’t confirmed this, but my take is the S in the RT-AX86S is short for “stripped-down.” This new router has way less to offer than the RT-AX86U.

This type of router release has happened before, though.

Years ago, I reviewed the RT-AC88U and thought it was the coolest thing ever, primarily because of its 8 Gigabit LAN ports.

Subsequently, Asus released the RT-AC3100, which shares the same Wi-Fi specs but has four fewer LAN ports. Since the RT-AX88U is an AC3100 router, folks were confused between the two at the time — and probably still are today.

Like the RT-AC3100, I’m confident the RT-AX86S is a good router. If you don’t need the Multi-Gig port or care about extra processing power, it will give you the same experience as the RT-AX86U.

But if you ask me to say that these two are the same, the answer is always a hard no. And I’d pick the RT-AX86U in a heartbeat, even if it’s more expensive.

As for the fight between the RT-AX86U vs the RT-AX86U Pro, the “Pro” notion of the latter is a bit arbitrary. There’s not much extra to qualify the hardware for the moniker. But that’s just semantics. Chances are the two are the same in real-world usage, and I wouldn’t consider the Pro if it costs noticeably more.

It’s worth noting, though, that you can use all three and use them in an AiMesh setup for a large home — if so, get your home wired first for the best performance. In that case, you know which you should use as the primary router.

Looking for other matchups in Wi-Fi solutions? Check them all out here.

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