Asus ZenWiFi ET8 Review: That Big 6GHz Bet
In many ways, the Asus ZenWiFi ET8 AXE6600 Tri-Band Wi-Fi 6E Mesh System is an example of how the latest is not necessarily the greatest.
This new mesh set sure is not a replacement for the previous ZenWiFi XT8. The two have little in common, despite the same look and similar hardware specs.
Specifically, they don’t share the same type of “Tri-band” as I detailed in this matchup post. Considering Wi-Fi 6E is a totally different beast than Wi-Fi 6, you should think of the ET8 as a new type of “Dual-band” system.
As such, the new mesh makes the most sense if you use wired backhaul with it. But then, it won’t deliver the full potential of Wi-Fi 6E, at least at the satellite unit.
(If you want the new 6GHz band, the ET8 is best used as a single router, or go with the GT-AXE11000. But in any case, keep in mind that these are broadcasters with just a single Multi-Gig network port.)
On the other hand, if you’re thinking of going wireless backhaul, consider the XT8, the RT-AX92U, or any tri-band AiMesh set instead. Unless your house is a large open space — chances it’s not — the ET8 will be very slow.
Dong’s note: Since I already posted a detailed post on the ET8 vs XT8 matchup and a primer on Asus routers’ common features as a whole, this review focuses mostly on the ET8’s performance and how to best use it.
Reliable and extensive coverage with possible fast Wi-Fi performance in certain setups
Wi-Fi 6E ready, Multi-Gig WAN, and Dual-WAN support
Excellent as a standalone router
Tons of useful features and settings, flexible Wi-Fi customization
Comparatively slow performance in most use cases
No Link Aggregation or Multi-Gig LAN port
Only four network ports on each hardware unit
Asus ZenWiFi ET8 AXE6600: A new type of “dual-band” mesh hardware
The ZenWiFi ET8 is the second Wi-Fi 6E mesh set I’ve review, the first being the Linksys AXE8400, and it proved what had always been suspected of. This type of new “tri-band” hardware is basically the same as dual-band.
I detailed reasons in this post on dual-band vs tri-band, but the gist is that there’s just one band for each frequency — 2.4Ghz, 5GHz, and 6GHz — instead of an additional 5GHz band in the case of traditional tri-band.
As a result, the mesh can’t dedicate any of its band as the wireless backhaul — it’d not be able to serve clients on that band.
Indeed, while the ET8 calls 6GHz as its default dedicated backhaul, in reality, this band never worked in my trial solely for the backhaul role — it was available to clients, too.
And that’d also be the case when any of its other two bands, 2.4GH and 5GHz, was used in this role. And yes, the system more likely uses one of these two as the backhaul since the range of the 6GHz band is just too short for the job.
And here’s the kicker: Whichever band filling the backhaul role will have just half of its bandwidth on the satellite unit due to signal loss. That’s just how it is with a mesh that has no additional band for this link.
The point is: Unless you use this mesh system in an ideal environment — one with lots of open space where you can place the two hardware units no more than 60 feet (18 m) away within the line of sight — the ET8 will be slow — more in the performance section below.
Asus ZenWiFi ET8 AXE6600: Hardware specifications (vs ZenWiFi XT8)
You will note in the table below that the ET8 is basically the XT8 without a 2nd 5GHz band, plus a 6GHz band.
Other than that, the two a essentially the same. And that goes for their look, the number of network ports, and processing power. In fact, you can’t tell the two apart at all, from their appearances.
That said, this is a 2-pack mesh system that includes two identical routers. Pick either as the main node, and you can use the other as the satellite that automatically extends the Wi-Fi network of the main router.
|Wi-Fi bandwidth||Tri-band AXE6600||Tri-band AX6600|
|Mesh-Ready||Yes (2-pack)||Yes (2-pack)|
|Dedicated Backhaul Band||2nd Band (6GHz)||2nd Band (5GHz-2)|
|Dimensions (WxDxH)||6.29 x 2.95 x 6.35 in
(16 x 7.5 x 16.15 cm)
|6.29 x 2.95 x 6.35 in
(16 x 7.5 x 16.15 cm)
|Weight||1.56 lb (716 g)||1.56 lb (716 g)|
|1st Band||2×2 5GHz AX
Up to 1200 Mbps
|2×2 5GHz-1 AX
Up to 1200 Mbps
|2nd Band||4×4 6GHz AXE
Up to 4800 Mbps
|4×4 5GHz-2 AX
Up to 4800 Mbps
|3rd Band||2×2 2.4GHz AX
up to 574 Mbps
|2×2 2.4GHz AX
up to 574 Mbps
Wi-Fi 4: 300Mbps
Wi-Fi 5: 867Mbps
Wi-Fi 6 (2.4GHz):574Mbps
Wi-Fi 6 (5GHz): 1201Mbps
Wi-Fi 6E (6GHz): 4804Mbps
Wi-Fi 4: 300Mbps
Wi-Fi 5: 867Mbps
Wi-Fi 6 (2.4GHz): 574Mbps
Wi-Fi 6 (5GHz-1): 1201Mbps
Wi-Fi 6 (5GHz-2): 4804Mbps
|Mobile App||Asus Router||Asus Router|
|Web User Interface||Yes||Yes|
|USB Port||1 x USB 3.2 Gen 1||1 x USB 3.2 Gen 1|
|Gigabit Port||3 x LAN||3 x LAN|
|Multi-Gig Port||1x 2.5 Gpbs/1Gbps WAN||1x 2.5 Gpbs/1Gbps WAN|
|Processing Power||1.5GHz quad-core CPU,
256 MB Flash, 512 MB RAM
|1.5GHz quad-core CPU,
256 MB Flash, 512 MB RAM
|Release Date||July 2021||January 2020|
TBD (single router)
$250 (single router)
The best, though still far from perfect, use case with wired backhaul
Like the case of the XT8, or any AiMesh systems for that matter, you can use a network cable to link the two ET8 units.
And that worked in my case and proved to be the recommended setup. However, it’s still far from perfect since the ET8 has no Multi-Gig LAN port when working as a router.
As a result, you will not have a Multi-Gig backhaul connection — clients connected to its satellite node will still cap at 1Gbps and not see the benefit of the 6GHz band.
But that’s also the case when you use an ET8 as a standalone router — its only 2.5Gbps Multi-Gig port is the WAN port. So unless you have Gig+ or faster Internet, chances are you’ll never experience the full benefits of the new 6GHz band anyway.
(During the testing, I actually tried the ET8 as satellite nodes of an AiMesh system hosted by the GT-AXE11000 working as the main router. With a 10Gbps Switch in between, the Multi-Gig backhauls were possible, but the system wasn’t as stable as I’d like at the time.)
Asus ZenWiFi ET8 AXE6600: Detail photos
The familiar core feature set and standard setup process
The ZenWiFi ET8 shares the same core features as the rest of Asus routers. To avoid repeating myself, I detailed all that in this primer post on Asus routers.
In short, if you’ve worked with an Asus router before, you’ll find the ET8 right at home.
Extra: ZenWiFi ET8 and AiMesh hardware mixing
What’s worth adding here is that the ET8 fully supports AiMesh 2.0. That means apart from being able to work with other AiMehs routers to form a mesh. And when using as a 2-pack or with AiMesh 2.0-ready routers, among other things, you can also expect the following out of it:
- System-wide Guest network: You can make the Wi-Fi Guest network available at both the main router and satellite unit.
- Auto-firmware update for both router and satellite nodes. This is a toggle that you can turn on or off.
- You have control over the satellite node’s hardware, including its USB applications, Wi-Fi bands, LED status light, and more.
However, note that you don’t want to use the ET8 as a satellite note of any router that doesn’t have a 6GHz band. That’s because, in this case, even if you use wired backhaul, there’s no way to make use of the 6GHz band on the ET8 satellite node.
In other words, for now, you should use an ET8 as a satellite of another AiMesh Wi-Fi 6E router, namely another ET8 unit or the GT-AXE11000. If you want to pair the ET8 with any other router, use it in the AP mode instead.
Thanks to AiMesh 2.0, the ET8 feels more flexible right out of the box than the XT8 at its launch. Indeed, its Wi-Fi settings alone were versatile.
You can use SmartConnect with all three bands or just the 2.4GHz and 5GHz, or you can name each band as a separate network (SSID). In any case, the system will work just fine.
On top of that, by default, the ET8 will automatically pick the best backhaul link, be it wired, 5GHz, 6GHz, or even 2.4GHz. However, you can manually choose which one you prefer among the first three, and it will be used first when applicable.
(You have no option to pick the 2.4GHz as backhaul manually, but the mesh will automatically use this band as backhaul if you place the units too far away from each other. Hint: Don’t do that!)
Asus ZenWiFi ET8 AXE6600’s performance: Reliable, and fast, too, in certain cases
I tested the ZenWiFi ET8 for a week before publishing this review and was generally happy with its coverage and reliability. However, its throughput speeds left much to be desired.
Indeed, the mesh didn’t give me any connection issues during my trial. And the 2-pack could blanket over 4000 ft² (372 m²) of a residential environment. Wi-Fi coverage is always tricky, and your mileage will vary.
An excellent single broadcaster
But the ET8’s coverage has a lot of effect on its performance. This is a mesh system with some serious caveats. In fact, its hardware works better when used as two standalone routers.
For now, the Asus ZenWiFi ET8 is available as a 2-pack, but my take is soon, you’ll be able to find it as a single unit. (Or you can get a 2-pack and use them for two small separate homes.)
As a standalone router, a single ET8 unit worked well in my trial. It was fast for a broadcaster without a Multi-Gig LAN port. (According to how I do my testing, its Wi-Fi performance will always cap at 1Gbps.)
And 1Gbps being maxed out was about what I got from both the 6GHz and 5GHz bands with sustained speeds ranging from more than 500Mbps to over 920Mbps within 40 feet (12m) radius.
On the 2.4GHz band, which is unpredictable across all routers I’ve tested, the ET8 did quite well, too, with the sustained supped as fast as 300Mbps.
Different mesh performances depending on the backhaul
As a mesh system, the 2-pack ET8 can be impressive or mediocre, depending on how you use it.
Again, the mesh performed well in an open space where you can use the new 6GHz band as the backhaul — a rare commodity in most homes.
In this case, the satellite unit delivers excellent sustained speed, even to a 6GHz client — the backhaul band was fast enough to compensate for signal loss, the final real-world speeds were still among the best.
In case you find the chart above overwhelming, the tables below show the sustained speeds of just the satellite unit in different scenarios.
|2×2 Wi-Fi 6E Client (6GHz)
|2×2 Wi-Fi 6 Client (5GHz)||556.0||751.0|
|3×3 Wi-Fi 5 Client (5GHz)||502.4||574.8|
|2×2 Wi-Fi 6 Client (2.4GHz)||136.0||264.8|
|2×2 Wi-Fi 6E Client (6GHz)||471.2||503.4|
|2×2 Wi-Fi 6 Client (5GHz)
|3×3 Wi-Fi 5 Client (5GHz)||220.2||286.2|
|2×2 Wi-Fi 6 Client (2.4GHz)||135.1||268.2|
Unfortunately, the 6GHz’s range was indeed short in my testing, and the moment I placed the satellite behind a wall, the system automatically switched to the 5GHz band.
(When I placed it father way, even the 2.4Ghz band was automatically used for this role and the whole network slowed down to a crawl.)
In this case, keep in mind that this 5GHz band caps at just 1200Mbps of negotiated speed (2×2 at 80MHz), meaning the backhaul has just half the bandwidth of the XT8 — it’s slow.
On top of that, due to signal loss, 5GHz clients will get no more than 600Mbps out of the satellite. As a result, the sustained speeds were modest, no matter what clients I used.
Realistically, using the 5GHz band as backhaul is likely the most common scenario of the ET8. For this reason, chances are you’ll find the XT8, which has an additional 5GHz band as the dedicated backhaul, much faster.
I also tested the ET8 via a wired backhaul by using a network cable to connect its WAN port to a LAN port of the router unit. In this case, the satellite unit’s performance numbers were similar to those of the router unit.
Decent network-attached storage performance
Equipped with a USB 3.2 Gen 2 (5Gbps) port, like all Asus routers, each ZenWiFi ET8 can host a portable to deliver a host of USB-related features.
I tested it with a WD My Passport SSD, and they delivered decent sustained copy speeds.
Specifically, via a wired Gigabit connection, it averaged 64MB/s for writing and 110MB/s for reading, fast enough for casual network storage needs.
Despite the support for Wi-Fi 6E, the new Asus ZenWiFi ET8 AXE6600 is not the fastest mesh system I’ve seen, nor is it one with the best coverage. Most importantly, it proves that the 6GHz band is not great for backhaul in a wireless mesh system.
That doesn’t mean this is a bad Wi-Fi system. In fact, it’ll work out great if you have an airy home or don’t mind running a network cable. And in any case, it’ll work out, just not as fast as you might expect, considering its cost and Wi-Fi 6E support.
That said, I’d still recommend the ZenWiFi XT8 (as a fully wireless solution) or a set of dual-band AiMesh broadcasters (for a wired backhaul mesh). The ZenWiFi ET8 has enough to be worth the consideration in certain situations, but it’s not a must-have.
In all, Wi-Fi 6E is still new — there aren’t many clients on the market. So, it doesn’t hurt to wait a while before upgrading, even if your house is ready for it.