Look, we’re going to be honest with you. When ASUS South Africa offered us this router to review we only had to see the first image on the product page to know we wanted to review this product. Just look at it.
But the ASUS RT-AX89X is packing more than just a striking design. It’s billed as a WiFi solution for your whole home. While its feature set might make it better suited for a small office there are some confusing problems with the RT-AX89X we feel important to highlight for South Africans in this review.
Before that, let’s kick the tyres and see what we’re dealing with here.
Spec Sheet review
Right off of the bat we can see we have support for WiFi 6 (or 802.11ax as some prefer to call it) as well as 10 Gigabit ethernet.
But the ASUS RT-AX89X is hiding so much more under the hood including a 2.2GHz quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM and 256MB of flash storage. This all drives the ASUSWRT operating system and of course the router itself.
You might be asking yourself “How much work does a router have to do” and while generally the answer is “not much”, the ASUS RT-AX89X is about as next-gen as routers come.
It all starts with the aforementioned 802.11ax standard and something called OFDMA or Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access.
Unfortunately we can’t make the explanation for what OFDMA is brief enough to be informative so we’re going to save that for a later feature. For now we recommend reading this piece from Network World that gives a great overview of the technology.
The takeaway is that if you have a large number of devices connected to the ASUS RT-AX89X there won’t be the dip in performance you may have noticed on a router your ISP included with your internet installation.
Making it work
The RT-AX89X takes two minutes to boot up and while that doesn’t seem like a long time, it might be longer than you’re used to.
Once it’s powered on you will need to create a WiFi network and set your login information for the router. You’ll then be required to restart your router again in order to play around with the other features of the router.
As this router supports AiMesh, you can add the RT-AX89X as a node or add nodes to it rather easily.
Other features you’ll want to check out are AiProtection which “provides real-time network monitoring to detect malware, viruses, and intrusions before they can reach your PC or device” and the Traffic Analyzer which lets you see who uses the most bandwidth every day.
Unfortunately, the router doesn’t show us what websites are being used the most or name the apps that are consuming the most bandwidth. Despite this, it can help you identify what devices are using a lot of bandwidth so it’s more useful than it’s not.
There is also a Game menu that lets you prioritise gaming traffic. However, we found that this hampered our gaming more than it helped. With Game Device Prioritizing switched on we found it incredibly difficult to find a fireteam in Destiny 2. When we did find a game we experienced near unplayable latency that we didn’t experience either with the option turned off and OpenNAT disabled.
Worse still, when games weren’t added to the OpenNAT feature, we experienced severe disconnections that made smooth gaming impossible.
The OpenNAT could also do with a bit of an update such as the option to search for titles you play. What we do appreciate is that one can add games manually but again, performance was such a miss for us we’d rather keep it turned off for the most part.
The last feature we’ll mention for this setting up section is AiCloud 2.0. This feature lets you access an external drive connected to your router remotely and sync it with a cloud storage solution from WebStorage or DropBox through your router. Here you can set what you’d like the router to do with the attached external drive and you can sync the cloud and external drive, upload or download the data. It’s rather useful for those working from home if you use one of the aforementioned cloud services. This could stand to be a bit more robust especially as there are so many cloud storage services on the market.
Now, we’d usually peel off here and talk about how this router is best suited for a small business that needs better coverage and performance. While that is still the case here, there is an argument to be made for purchasing the RT-AX89X for your home.
That argument, however, largely rests on what your remote working/learning situation is.
Something that always shocks us when logging onto our router is how many devices are connected to it. Notebooks, smartphones, tablets, desktops, smart home assistants, set top boxes, and many more, are all vying for a dose of that sweet connectivity.
Before we were all asked to remain at home while working and learning, you may not have noticed how much bandwidth was being consumed. Now that we’re all streaming video most days and constantly connected to the internet, tiny dips in bandwidth are far more noticeable as more electronics vie for bandwidth. Once you add IoT devices to the network, things become even more congested.
WiFi 6, with the accompanying OFDMA technology addresses this problem.
However, that’s a mark for WiFi 6 and not necessarily the RT-AX89X because where this router falls short is it’s price.
No cutting fat here, it’s R11 999.
What stings is the fact that despite all of the smart electronics in my home, this router never seemed to have to work any harder than the off-white shell that we purchased for R1000 because “it will do”.
Yes, 10 Gigabit ethernet is great functionality to have, but for most home users it’s overkill. Sure, a startup dealing with content creation might find a use for this router, what with the enormity of video and image files but even then we would suggest a managed switch over this router for that use case.
But what about signal range? With its eight antenna, the RT-AX89X can surely bust through walls better than the average? Not really.
In our testing we compared the RT-AX89X with a basic TP-Link router placed in the same room. We shut the door and walked to the other end of our home where three chunky walls stand between us and the router.
At this distance both the RT-AX89X and TP-Link had a WiFi signal of 18 percent. This can be overcome by adding a node with the AiMesh functionality but that means spending more money when you might as well have purchased a mesh system from the get go.
In terms of transfer speed over wireless we saw a peak of 1200Mbps over the 5GHz network while the 2.4GHz network hit peaks of 229Mbps. These speeds were recorded next to the router so your experience may differ.
This review has been tough because the RT-AX89X is an undeniably cool piece of kit but for the South African market it just doesn’t make sense.
By ASUS’ own account, this router is for the home of the future and unfortunately, the future hasn’t quite arrived in South Africa yet. By that we mean that compared to places like the US, our home networks are generally rather quiet.
Now, if that were to change and you were suddenly the proud owner of a range of IoT devices, then perhaps a WiFi 6 router would be worth investigating but we still can’t recommend the RT-AX89X because of its massive price tag.
While it does say it does exactly what it does on the can and the score for this review is high, we encourage you to shop around for a more affordable solution before spending console money on a router.
Our recommendation is that you get yourself a mesh WiFi system. While mesh solutions can be pricey, they aren’t as dear as the RT-AX89X and you will have a stable WiFi signal throughout your home.
Disclaimer: The ASUS RT-AX89X was sent to Hypertext for the purposes of a review by ASUS South Africa. ASUS had no influence on Hypertext’s opinion and the router will now be sanitised and returned to ASUS South Africa.