Maybe replacing ASUS RT-AC86U - need suggestions

Patrick9876

Regular Contributor
I've been using an ASUS RT-AC86U with Merlin firmware for a few years and have been completely satisfied with its reliability, performance, and wireless coverage. However, I was just told that the router's lack of 802.11ax may be the source of a Dell laptop's WiFi problem. I'm not sure I buy this reasoning (which I'll describe at the end of this posting) but it's got me thinking about a router upgrade. My only requirements are
  • Wireless performance at least as good as the RT-AC86U for connections up to about 30 feet (through a couple plasterboard walls and/or one wooden floor)
  • 1 Gb Ethernet (no need for 2.5 Ethernet)
  • Support for OpenVPN server
  • DDNS support (preferably FreeDNS.Afraid.org, but I could switch)
  • Ability to add CNAME records to the router's DNS server. (Dnsmasq or something similar.)
  • Preferably not having to use OpenWrt, DD-WRT, or Tomato. (Does Tomato still exist?) In other words, staying with Merlin would be nice.
So far I've looked only at ASUS routers. Based on the doc, reviews, etc.,
RT-AX86U is probably overkill (and expensive) for my needs.
RT-AX86S might be a reasonable choice
RT-AX82U (if the rgb junk can be turned off)

Any comments on these routers? Any other suggestions that would meet my (pretty limited) needs?

Background - the reason I might need to upgrade.
My wife got a Dell laptop last year. It worked fine until I did a BIOS upgrade. Then the wireless adapter would disable during image backups across the WiFi connection. After a lot of debugging I discovered that the wifi adapter would go disabled during transmission of a long string of large blocks of data. Transmission of a single 25GB file would kill it every time. (It varied, but sometimes it would transmit for many minutes - 10-15 minutes - before failing. Going back to the original BIOS level fixed the problem.

Yesterday I saw that somebody with this same problem fixed it by upgrading his router to one with AX support. I think that implies that the wifi adapter is trying to use 801.11AX capabilities even though the router supports only 801.11ac. Does that sound like a possible explanation? In any case I don't like buying a new router on the possibility it might circumvent a Dell problem, but I don't like keeping the laptop on significantly back-level BIOS either.
 

Tech9

Part of the Furniture
RT-AX86S is the closest direct replacement. It's unlikely to solve your DELL laptop Wi-Fi issue though.
 

OzarkEdge

Part of the Furniture
I've been using an ASUS RT-AC86U with Merlin firmware for a few years and have been completely satisfied with its reliability, performance, and wireless coverage. However, I was just told that the router's lack of 802.11ax may be the source of a Dell laptop's WiFi problem. I'm not sure I buy this reasoning (which I'll describe at the end of this posting) but it's got me thinking about a router upgrade. My only requirements are
  • Wireless performance at least as good as the RT-AC86U for connections up to about 30 feet (through a couple plasterboard walls and/or one wooden floor)
  • 1 Gb Ethernet (no need for 2.5 Ethernet)
  • Support for OpenVPN server
  • DDNS support (preferably FreeDNS.Afraid.org, but I could switch)
  • Ability to add CNAME records to the router's DNS server. (Dnsmasq or something similar.)
  • Preferably not having to use OpenWrt, DD-WRT, or Tomato. (Does Tomato still exist?) In other words, staying with Merlin would be nice.
So far I've looked only at ASUS routers. Based on the doc, reviews, etc.,
RT-AX86U is probably overkill (and expensive) for my needs.
RT-AX86S might be a reasonable choice
RT-AX82U (if the rgb junk can be turned off)

Any comments on these routers? Any other suggestions that would meet my (pretty limited) needs?

Background - the reason I might need to upgrade.
My wife got a Dell laptop last year. It worked fine until I did a BIOS upgrade. Then the wireless adapter would disable during image backups across the WiFi connection. After a lot of debugging I discovered that the wifi adapter would go disabled during transmission of a long string of large blocks of data. Transmission of a single 25GB file would kill it every time. (It varied, but sometimes it would transmit for many minutes - 10-15 minutes - before failing. Going back to the original BIOS level fixed the problem.

Yesterday I saw that somebody with this same problem fixed it by upgrading his router to one with AX support. I think that implies that the wifi adapter is trying to use 801.11AX capabilities even though the router supports only 801.11ac. Does that sound like a possible explanation? In any case I don't like buying a new router on the possibility it might circumvent a Dell problem, but I don't like keeping the laptop on significantly back-level BIOS either.

Me, I would stick with the laptop BIOS that works with the laptop as shipped... it's no less capable now than it was then. If you get a new router or a new laptop wireless adapter/driver later, then you can try the BIOS update again. But I wouldn't chase this one too far at the risk of upsetting a network that is working for you and its client devices and users.

OE
 
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Tech9

Part of the Furniture
I would replace AC86U just because of low reliability history of this model, as preventative measure.
 

bbunge

Part of the Furniture
As for the Dell laptop, search for drivers from the WIFI card manufacturer (Intel card use drivers from Intel not Dell or Windows).

The RT-AX86U is a bit pricey these days but really worth it!
 

Tech9

Part of the Furniture
RT-AX86S is often on sale for about $180.
 

Patrick9876

Regular Contributor
Thank you all for your responses.

As for the Dell laptop, search for drivers from the WIFI card manufacturer (Intel card use drivers from Intel not Dell or Windows).

The RT-AX86U is a bit pricey these days but really worth it!
I'm not sure what to do about the driver. The laptop has a Qualcomm QCA9377 (in spite of the Dell doc claiming it has a Realtek RTL8106E). I've been able to find only 3rd party drivers for the card unless I'm willing to set up a Qualcomm account (which I don't want to do). I tried 3 different drivers from Dell but none of them fixed the problem.

RT-AX86S is the closest direct replacement. It's unlikely to solve your DELL laptop Wi-Fi issue though.
I suspect you're right about a new router solving the problem. The Qualcomm QCA9377 specs claim it's an AC card. I guess the Dell BIOS could be ignoring that and somehow trying to use AX functions, but that sounds more like a driver problem than a BIOS problem. (Of course my understanding of both BIOS and wireless drivers is nil so I shouldn't try to guess.)
 

Tech9

Part of the Furniture
It is a driver issue. You have to find a good working driver.
 

Patrick9876

Regular Contributor
It is a driver issue. You have to find a good working driver.
Yes, but it isn't just a driver problem or going back to a back-level BIOS would not have fixed (or circumvented) the problem. With the new BIOS every weekly image backup on that laptop failed. The the old BIOS every weekly image backup has succeeded. Those failures occurred in last November and December. I went back to the old BIOS in January and all the weekly backups have succeeded.

Back when I was diagnosing that problem I tried the latest and the previous 3 drivers (levels 12.0.0.722, 12.0.0.953, 12.0.0.1076, and 12.0.0.1118). With all 4 drivers the problem did not happen with BIOS level 1.13.0. With all 4 drivers the problem did happen with BIOS levels 1.14.0, 1.16.0, 1.17.0, 1.18.0, and 1.19.0. (I seem to have skipped 1.15.0.)
 

Tech9

Part of the Furniture
In this case I would revert to the working BIOS and wait for a new Wi-Fi driver or BIOS from DELL, perhaps fixing the issue.
 

L&LD

Part of the Furniture
Unless you just want to spend money because you can, the RT-AX68U is the first model I would try if you upgrade at all.
 

geralds34

Occasional Visitor
RT-AX86S is often on sale for about $180.
Is the RT-AX86S still considered a decent router? I also have an aging AC86U that has been rock solid, but I know it wont last forever. I am on symetric 500 Mbps fibre (all thou bell is deliver 1.7G down and 1.1 up to the HH4000) , and see no reason to go beyond 1G in the house. Does the AX86S have temp issues like the AC86U?
 

Tech9

Part of the Furniture
Is the RT-AX86S still considered a decent router?

It's the closest direct replacement for AC86U. The same hardware CPU/RAM + AX radio and newer firmware SDK.

Does the AX86S have temp issues like the AC86U?

No heat issues reported so far, including next step up model AX86U. Better designed case with more air vents at least.
 

geralds34

Occasional Visitor
Picked up a AX86S first of the week, and now see the AX88U is on sale for $20 more.

Which would you go for?
 

L&LD

Part of the Furniture
Both. Test fully, then return the inferior product. :)

Be sure to test the RT-AX88U with the 388.xx firmware too.
 

Tech9

Part of the Furniture
AX88U has quad-core CPU (vs dual-core) of the same type and 1GB RAM (vs 512MB), but both routers are limited by Gigabit ports. AX88U has 8x LAN ports, but 4x are on a separate controller with issues history. AX88U has WAN Aggregation option, not sure about AX86S. It has to be supported by the modem though. I believe both routers will serve you equally well. AX88U is a better choice, if you run Asuswrt-Merlin with custom scripts or you have multiple simultaneous VPN connections on the router. AX88U also has slightly better 2.4GHz range due to 4x4 2.4GHz radio, but this may vary depending on Wi-Fi environment. AX86S is more compact and space saving design router, newer model as well. With no >Gigabit plans, I would perhaps keep AX86S.
 

OPR

Occasional Visitor
Thank you all for your responses.


I'm not sure what to do about the driver. The laptop has a Qualcomm QCA9377 (in spite of the Dell doc claiming it has a Realtek RTL8106E). I've been able to find only 3rd party drivers for the card unless I'm willing to set up a Qualcomm account (which I don't want to do). I tried 3 different drivers from Dell but none of them fixed the problem.


I suspect you're right about a new router solving the problem. The Qualcomm QCA9377 specs claim it's an AC card. I guess the Dell BIOS could be ignoring that and somehow trying to use AX functions, but that sounds more like a driver problem than a BIOS problem. (Of course my understanding of both BIOS and wireless drivers is nil so I shouldn't try to guess.)

Yup, that wifi chipset you quote is not AX-class ...

https://www.qualcomm.com/products/technology/wi-fi/qca9377

Wi-Fi
Peak Speed:
433 Mbps
Standards: 802.11ac Wave 2, 802.11a/b/g, 802.11n
Wi-Fi Spectral Bands: 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz
Channel Utilization: 20/40/80 MHz
MIMO Configuration: 1x1 (1-stream)
Wi-Fi Features: MU-MIMO

Bluetooth
Connection Technology:
Bluetooth Low Energy
Bluetooth Specification Version: Bluetooth 5.0
Class: Class 2, Class 1

… but if it comes on a card in a standard M.2 2230 slot, as opposed to being soldered to the mainboard, then it should be easily replaceable with an Intel AX200 + BT5.1 card for about $20, which by all accounts is a highly reliable workhorse & I suspect would definitively solve your driver/stability woes, even if only 1x1 wifi antenna is available to connect to it.

See this guide for example:

If that works, a new router then becomes a much less urgent question.
 

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