Review: ASUS ZenWiFi AX (XT8)

Before I get to the review, let me tell you a funny story. So I had a Netgear router for the longest while. However their security issues made me switch to another router. Specifically the ASUS ZenWiFi AC (CT8) model which ASUS sent over for me to review. I set it up and locked it down and I declared all to be well with the universe.

Two days after that, ASUS called and wanted their router back. After all, it was a press loaner that they had kind of forgotten about during the pandemic.

Craptastic.

That meant that I had to get a replacement in a hurry. While I could have gone with more of the same, I figured that I would take opportunity to future proof my network. Which meant that after a quick trip to Amazon.ca, and a screw up in terms of delivery by Purolator Courier in terms of delivery, I got this:

This is the ASUS ZenWiFi AX (XT8) mesh WiFi router. You get two nodes in the box which will cover 5500 square feet. It supports a variety of standards including the following:

802.11a: 6,9,12,18,24,36,48,54 Mbps
802.11b: 1, 2, 5.5, 11 Mbps
802.11g: 6,9,12,18,24,36,48,54 Mbps
802.11n: up to 300 Mbps
802.11ac (5GHZ-1): up to 867 Mbps
802.11ac (5GHZ-2): up to 3466 Mbps
802.11ax (2.4GHz): up to 574 Mbps
802.11ax (5GHZ-1): up to 1201 Mbps
802.11ax (5GHZ-2): up to 4804 Mbps

So in short, you get every standard available including WiFi 6/802.11ax. That pretty much future proofs your network by allowing you to use any device including the latest MacBooks, Surface devices, and iPhones with WiFi 6. What also is cool is that you get three bands. A 2.4 GHz band, and two 5 GHz bands. Though when used in a mesh setup, the second 5 GHz band is used for a dedicated backhaul between the nodes. Thus you effectively have 1 2.4 GHz band, and one 5 GHz band,

Here’s a look at one of the nodes:

It looks exactly like the ones that come with the AC version of this mesh router. But the black version looks way better than the white version. For the record, both the AC and the AX versions come in black and white.

On the back you can see that each node comes with three gigabit Ethernet ports for your devices, one 2.5 gigabit port for your Internet connection which is handy as many Internet Service Providers are now offering above gigabit speeds. Which means that you don’t want your router to be the bottleneck. There’s also a USB port for a printer.

The setup process of the ZenWiFi AX is absurdly simple by using the ASUS Router app. The app can automatically detects the mesh WiFi system over a Bluetooth connection. Just connect one unit to the modem from your ISP and turn both units on. Once both units are booted up, you can use the ASUS Router app to setup the system. It’s a wizard driven setup that if you want to just go the easy route, it will have you set up in minutes. But I like to do a lot more in terms of setting up a router, which means that I have to go to the web based interface to do things like disable WPS and UPnP for security reasons.

I configured the ZenWiFi AX (XT8) to be used in my condo with one node in my den and another one in the living room. The result was that I had 100% coverage in terms my 800 ish square foot condo. The other thing that I noticed is that I was able to get roughly get this speed in my condo using my MacBook Pro:

Now this speed is consistent with the AC version of router. If I had any WiFi 6 devices, I suspect that this speed would be faster. I was getting these speeds regardless of where I was in my condo. I also noticed that the experience was seamless. I was able to walk through my condo and the ZenWiFi AX seamlessly switched between nodes. So if it works in my use case, it will work for houses up to 5500 square feet in size.

Now like the ZenWiFi AC, this router is highly configurable and the nodes are accessible via the router app, or via a web page which is really good for nerds like me as the advanced features are available via the latter. You also get a pile of security to keep you safe via AiProtection Pro. And it supports Amazon Alexa and IFTTT.

Gripes? Well the only thing that was an issue was that I had to set up the 2.4 GHz band according to this FAQ as not setting it up this way was causing my wife’s Joule not to connect to WiFi. This was something that I did not encounter with the AC version of this router which is a side effect of the fact that this is a 802.11ax/WiFi 6 router. This is something that I will keep an eye on.

That brings me to another gripe. It also would be nice to have the Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports to be bondable so that you can get extra speed from a NAS or something like that. But I will have to admit that I am really being nerdy at this point.

The ZenWiFi AX is a great product which you can pick up for roughly $680CDN for two nodes from Amazon. That’s not cheap. But if you need WiFi across your home, and you want something that is future proof, the ZenWiFi AX deserves a good hard look.

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