Asus ZenWiFi AC review: Boxy but brilliant
This imposing mesh system is insanely fast and loaded with high-end router features
The ZenWiFi AC is an exceptional mesh system in several ways. The one you might notice first of all is the price: it’s one of the more expensive mesh systems around, and it doesn’t have a snazzy touchscreen or next-generation 802.11ax support to explain the cost.
Any doubts over what you’re paying for, though, are instantly dispelled by a glance at our 802.11ac performance tests. The ZenWiFi AC proved to be blazing fast in all four of our test locations, topping a massive 30MB/sec every time. It’s a hugely impressive clean sweep, representing enough bandwidth to saturate a 240Mbits/sec internet connection.
Looking at the specs, the ZenWiFi’s stunning performance is perhaps not too surprising. It claims a regular 867Mbits/sec speed rating over the standard 5GHz channel, but partners it with a dedicated backhaul channel that’s supercharged with double the bandwidth and 4x4 MIMO support.
If that wasn’t enough, the ZenWiFi AC also distinguishes itself by breadth of features. Most domestic mesh Wi-Fi systems aim to keep things relatively simple, but the ZenWiFi gives you the same extensive range of functions as Asus’ regular routers. That means you get not one but three independent guest networks (one on 2.4GHz and two on the 5GHz band), a visual traffic analyser that shows which devices and apps are eating up bandwidth, and a network-level firewall that lets you block individual ports, URLs and web pages containing keywords.
Another standout feature is VPN support. The ZenWiFi router is one of comparatively few systems that allows you to securely connect to your home network over the internet, courtesy of a built-in PPTP, OpenVPN or IPSec server. And it’s the only one that lets you route all outgoing connections via an external VPN service, guaranteeing privacy (and location spoofing) for all the devices in your home.
On top of all that, the ZenWiFi even has a USB socket, to which you can attach an external hard disk, printer or 3G/4G modem – handy if your internet service isn’t entirely reliable. Again, these are features few other mesh systems offer.
If we had to gripe, we’d say that all of this may make the ZenWiFi quite daunting for casual users. The standard Asus web portal is densely packed with tabs and settings, while the smartphone app looks like it was designed to look futuristic and complex, rather than user-friendly.
The ZenWiFi’s parental control options also don’t quite match up to rivals’. That’s not to say they’re bad: you can optionally block adult sites as well as IM, peer-to-peer and streaming services for any client, and allow or disallow internet access for each day of the week on an hour-by-hour basis. Netgear’s Disney-branded controls, however, give you the additional option of paying a monthly fee to add detailed usage monitoring and track devices even when they’re connected to other networks.
A final niggle is that it’s hard to say the ZenWiFi stations are exactly attractive. We suspect that the casing was designed around the desired antenna configuration, and fair play to that – but there was surely no need to make the exterior look so bland and boxy. On the upside, Asus has found space for four Gigabit Ethernet ports at the rear of each node: on the router unit, one will be taken up by your internet connection, but you can use all four for wired clients on the remote node, if you wish.
Although Asus advertises a relatively modest coverage of 400m² for a two-node ZenWiFi kit, our experience suggests that it will give you a decent connection from further away than many more optimistic rivals. If you do find you need a little extra reach, however, you might be pleased to know that the ZenWiFi platform is built on Asus’ home-grown AiMesh system, meaning you can add a regular Asus router or Wi-Fi extender into the mix, rather than having to cough up for a third node. And if speed is what you crave, there’s also an 802.11ax version coming soon, with an RRP of £420 that considerably undercuts Netgear’s next-generation offering.
Truthfully, though, it’s hard to think of many scenarios where you’ll need anything more powerful than the ZenWiFi AC. Indeed, for most premises this system is likely to be overkill: if you just want to conduct the odd video call, the BT Whole Home Wi-Fi system will do the job more cheaply.
Yet, if you’re looking for the fastest, most capable Wi-Fi extender system around, you’ve found it. The Asus ZenWiFi AC is a superlative mesh platform that costs a bit more than the average, but delivers an unbeatable set of features and first-class performance.
Asus ZenWiFi AC specifications
Tri-band 802.11ac 2.4GHz/5GHz
MU-MIMO 2.4GHz radio, MU-MIMO 5GHz radio
USB, 4x Gigabit Ethernet
Outgoing VPN, USB 3G/4G internet, USB file sharing, USB print server, Alexa support
160 x 75 x 162mm
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