Asus ZenWiFi AX (XT8) Tri-Band Mesh System Review

In the time between the announcement of Wi-Fi 6 (IEEE 802.11ax) standards in October 2018 and now, the market have seen a variety of Wi-Fi 6 capable devices released by various vendors ranging from networking devices to smartphones. If you like to know more about Wi-Fi 6 and the benefits it brings, here is an explainer.

Even though Wi-Fi 6 is more secure and performant than Wi-Fi 5, wave 2 Wi-Fi 5 routers or mesh systems remain a good choice for majority of households if they have a small/medium-sized home with a few devices.

Background

Personally, I was using the D-Link WiFi mesh system, COVR-2202, for the past one year. During the early stages of the work-from-home arrangement because of COVID-19 pandemic, I could participate in video/conference calls with minimal issues. You can find a review of this mesh system that I wrote previously here.

However, the mesh system started having performance and stability issues this earlier this month. It was due to a change in my home network environment. The number of networked devices had grown to 24 devices—nearly half of these are smart home devices. My video calls started suffering from connectivity issues with stuttering videos, and sometimes, I could not hear what my colleagues were saying. Even the smart home devices are suffering from connectivity issues.

Therefore, my next networking gear purchase had to fulfil the following conditions:

  1. Is a mesh system
  2. More control on the Wi-Fi configurations
  3. Future-proof for WiFi 6
  4. More powerful hardware that provide good WiFi coverage and stable connection for many devices

When I was looking for a new WiFi 6 mesh system, I narrowed my choice down to Netgear Orbi RBK852 (3 pack) and Asus ZenWiFi. I did not consider the other brands as they do not have a good track record when it comes to keeping their products up to date. Furthermore, their product designs leave much to be desired.

In the end, I went with the ASUS ZenWiFi AX6600 (XT8) as I have used an Asus router (RT-AC68U) before and my experience with that then was good. The RT-AC68U was stable in terms of its performance and connectivity even after going for three or four months without a system reboot. And Asus routers do come with a lot more configuration options in their web interface when compared to the others.

Hardware

The Asus ZenWiFi comes in two colours: black and white. For me, I went with the black version because it fit better with the overall house theme. In terms of pricing, the hardware itself cost SG$775 from Challenger.

You may be wondering why it cost that much. Unlike other mesh systems, the ZenWiFi mesh system consist of two full-featured wireless routers that can be configured to run independently or operate together in a mesh system through ASUS AiMmesh technology.

In terms of design, it is minimalistic and does not stand out. It comes with a single LED light at the front that indicates the state of the router. It has specially designed vents on the sides to help keep the routers cool.

Physical appearance aside, we shall take a look at the specifications.

Below is the specification for each router:

  1. 1.5 GHz quad-core processor
  2. 512 MB RAM
  3. 256 MB flash storage
  4. Tri-band: 2×2 2.4 GHz, 2×2 5 GHz-1, 4×4 5 GHz-2
  5. 6 internal antennas positioned to give maximum WiFi coverage
  6. 3x gigabit Ethernet LAN port and 1x 2.5G WAN port. The latter can be used as a LAN port on the satellite node

From the above, we can see that the Asus ZenWiFi mesh system is a tri-band mesh system.

With that, the 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi band are freed up for our devices to connect to while a separate 5 GHz Wi-Fi band is used for the wireless backhaul. This wireless backhaul is used by the satellite node and the main router to communicate with each other.

From the product’s official site, the device is capable of 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

However, the above are just theoretical numbers that is hardly achievable due to various factors such as neighbouring Wi-Fi interference, physical obstacles like walls and the distance between the mesh system and our devices.

If we use the 5GHZ-2 band as an example, the speed indicated is achievable if the mesh system is able to utilise all 4 streams to send and receive data using the 160 MHz channel width.

However, there is only one channel available for 160 MHz and that is assuming there are no interference from your neighbours and you can use DFS channels. The latter is important to note as eight 20 MHz channels will need to be combined into one channel. And in Singapore, most of those 20 MHz channels are DFS channels and their availability is dependent on whether you are living near a radar station. Furthermore, if you are living in a HDB apartment with a lot of neighbours, the mesh system will find itself dealing with a lot of interference and likely to fall back to using the 80 MHz channel width. At least when using 80 MHz, there are 5 channels to choose from.

But all the above is just theory. We will need to test the mesh system in the real.

Performance

As described earlier, the mesh system comes with a dedicated wireless backhaul. However, the use of the wireless backhaul would mean that you will not be able to get higher WiFi speeds since the total amount of available wireless bandwidth will be divided equally between the backhaul and other connected devices.

If you do need a higher backhaul speed, ethernet backhaul connection for the mesh node to the main router is supported and available. With this, the WiFi 5 GHz-2 band can be freed up for use by devices.

For me, I decided to go with the wireless backhaul due to two considerations:

  1. The mesh node should try and stay as close to the center of the house as possible since the main router is at the corner of the house in the living room. It is so the remaining half of the house could get WiFi with no dead spot.
  2. Remove the need to route additional ethernet cables from the main router to the node.

After spending time tweaking the configurations, I was able to achieve a decent WiFi speed on the 5 GHz-1 band with my MacBook Pro connected to the satellite node. In this case, there was a direct line of sight between the node and the MacBook.

This is the result of the first test.

Other than the WiFi performance for devices with direct line of sight to the router, it is equally important to have good performance for devices that are behind walls or further away from the nodes.

Another test of the connection speed was conducted. This time it is between my iPhone X and the satellite node while I’m in the laundry area of the house, which is the furthest possible point from the satellite node with at least one wall between.

The phone being able to achieve 101mbps in download speed is nothing short of impressive. We need to keep in mind that there are 23 other devices connected to the mesh system and at least one wall sitting between the phone and the satellite node.

To achieve the above speeds, the following configurations were used for the mesh system.

Basic Configurations

2.4 GHz and 5 GHz-1 front-haul Wi-Fi configuration

5 GHz-2 dedicated wireless backhaul configuration.

Advanced Configurations

5 GHz-1 advanced configurations

5 GHz-2 advanced configurations

In order to achieve higher speeds, a device ideally should establish a WiFi connection using the 80 MHz channel width. In my case, my laptop was able to do that.

However, there is no guarantee your devices will be able to get that since it is dependent on whether the Wi-Fi hardware supports higher bandwidths and negotiate with the router for that. In addition, there is also a higher chance of interference due to channel overlap with your neighbour’s WiFi routers since a wider channel is nothing more than the combination of multiple smaller channels, which can cause connectivity or performance issues.

Over the following one week since getting the mesh system, I made more changes to the advanced configurations.

5 GHz-1 advanced configurations

5 GHz-2 advanced configurations

A second internet speed test was done using the updated configuration from my 2018 15 inch MacBook Pro.

Stability

Compared to the D-Link Covr-2202 mesh system, the Asus ZenWiFi has been stable for 8 days now since the last restart due to configuration changes. Devices remain connected to the mesh system and could access the internet without any issues. Again, we need to keep in mind that there is a constant 22 to 24 devices connected.

Furthermore, I did not find myself having to deal with stuttering video and audio during Microsoft Team/Google Meet/Zoom calls. The longest call that I have can go up to one hour and a half.

However, I could not say the same for the Covr-2202. When I first got it to replace the Asus RT68U, my devices would not be able to access the internet from time to time. An investigation revealed that the routers would either drop connections or refuse to issue IP addresses. This tend to crop up after a week of use for reasons that remain unknown to me. So, to prevent the dropped connections from happening again, I scheduled a weekly restart that happens at the stroke of midnight on Monday.

Wi-Fi Coverage

Asus states that ZenWiFi mesh system is able to cover up to 5500 square feet (or 6 rooms) when using both routers in mesh mode while single ZenWiFi router is able to cover up to 2750 square feet or 4 rooms. With that in mind, single router is enough for majority of households in Singapore since we live in HDB apartments, which have an average size of 1027 square feet.

However, it did not take into account that there are a lot of concrete walls and solid objects such as cabinets in a HDB apartment. Solid objects such as concrete walls can block or reduce the strength of WiFi signals causing connectivity issues, low speeds and high latencies. In this case, the 5 GHz band is more severely affected than the 2.4 GHz band.

During my unscientific tests, the ZenWiFi did surprise me. My phone was able to stay connected and achieve about 30mbps of download speed even when I am standing in the kitchen, near the common toilet. At least two concrete walls stand between my phone and the mesh node.

The next test was done with me walking around the house. My phone was able to stay connected to WiFi and I was able to stream video without any visible issues.

Furthermore, I lived on the eight floor. When I was on the first floor, my phone was still able to secure a connection to the mesh system. I suspect it is due to the fact that the main router of the mesh system is placed near the window in the living room. Nonetheless, I find this impressive since I can continue to use my WiFi even when I’m outside my house.

Conclusion

The Asus ZenWiFi AX6600 (XT8) is expensive but not as expensive as the Netgear Orbi RBK852 WiFi 6 mesh system, which cost an additional SG$200 or SG$300 depending on where you get it.

In terms of hardware specification, the Asus ZenWiFi comes with only 6 internal antennas compared to the 8 on the Netgear Orbi RBK852 WiFi 6 mesh system. More antennas meant that the router would be able to provide more bandwidth for devices, which translates to better performance. The Asus model also comes with a slower quad-core processor and 1 less gigabit LAN port.

But for that price, what you are getting is two Wi-Fi 6 capable, fully-featured wireless routers that you can choose to give one away to your family or friends. The AsusWRT, which is the operating system of all Asus-made routers, tends to be more stable from my personal experience and comes with more configuration options. The latter can be a consideration point if you want to improve the mesh system’s compatibility with older wireless devices or smart home devices that you might have at home.

For example, I have a few LIFX light bulbs that operate on 2.4GHz band with 20MHz channel width. I was able to set that explicitly in the router and ensure the light bulbs stay connected. Previously on the D-Link Covr-2202, the LIFX light bulbs tend to lose connection and I would be left unable to control them from my phone.

Lastly, you are also future-proofing your home network as there will be more Wi-Fi 6 capable smartphones and laptops coming out in the later half of 2020 and the whole of 2021.

Dyson Pure Cool Fan Review – Is it worth the premium?

When you hear of the brand Dyson, the first thing you would associate them with is the vacuum cleaner. It is not surprising as the company was founded by James Dyson with the cyclone vacuum as the first product. Since then, the company has diversified their product lines to include other types of home appliances such as hair dryers, air purifiers, fans, heaters and lightings.

And as a result of their sleek marketing, they could be perceived as the company that makes premium and high quality appliances.

I will admit, it was that perception that got me yearning for a Dyson fan when I first saw it several years ago.

And after several years of waiting, and having gone through a period of hypersensitivity to gaseous compounds from cigarette smoke and haze, I got myself the Dyson Pure Cool Advanced (TP04-White/Sliver) model and it cost me about ~$700 after some sort of discount.

I have been using it for several months now and that has allowed me to get over the initial emotional high of a new toy, which enables me to give a more objective review.

The Pros

Clean the air

The Dyson Pure Cool is first and foremost an air filter and then a fan.

Air is sucked in by the fan located at the base of the machine. There are two types of filter installed, and when combined are designed to capture up to 99.5% of pollutants in the air.

The glass HEPA filter is able to capture most pollutants, allergens, dust and viruses as small as 0.3 microns. The second filter is the activated carbon filter that can capture other smaller particles and gaseous vapours.

As of this writing, the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing and this double-filter system ensures the air you breathe in is clean and safe.

Air quality monitoring

It comes with a suite of sensors that detect air pollution ranging from PM10 to NO2 and will display these information in the form of graphs.

The graphs will start from green and will turn yellow if the air starts to contain certain pollutants. Red and purple graphs will follow when the pollution becomes worse.

It is especially useful in Singapore where we have haze seasons due to burning of the forest in Indonesia. Or when you live in HDB apartments where you are so close to other people who pollute the air with their cigarettes and those toxins enter your living area due to wind. You can use the Dyson air quality monitoring to help you determine if you need to take additional steps to protect your health such as putting on a mask or closing the windows.

Easy to maintain

Unlike the traditional fans, the fan blades are kept hidden within the base of the machine with the filters to keep out dust and dirt. Other than changing out the filters once every year or so, the machine needs only a simple wipeout with a lightly damp cloth.

Compact size and lightweight

Most standing fans are rather heavy and most can be difficult to transport around the house due to their size, especially due to the large fan blades and protective cage.

The Dyson Pure Cool stands at about 1.06 meters tall with a max diameter of 22.3 cm, which makes it much smaller than most standing fans. It also weighs about 5kg and that makes it light enough to carry with one hand.

During the time I had it, I have moved the machine around my room just so that I could get a decent air flow depending on where I am. And this ultimately lead us to the cons of the machine.

The Cons

Very noisy with weak air flow

At its core, it uses a motor to suck in and propel air. At lower speed, the motor is relatively quiet but it comes at a cost of low wind speed.

With the motor speed set to 5 or 6, the air projected out by the so call air multiplier technology is perceived to be weaker than a simple $20 desk fan.

As you raise the motor speed up to 8, 9 or even 10, there is a distinct whining sound that you typically hear with vacuum cleaners. Even then, the amount of air movement you get is less than a ~$30 standing fan with fan speed set at 1.

Does not cool you

The machine does not actually live up to its name Pure Cool.

It has tiny silts along the central tube that allow air to flow out after it has been pushed through the internal tunnel. To increase the airflow, a technology called air multiplier is used, which is nothing more than a fancy name that take advantage of inducement and entrainment to move a higher volume of air than it actually takes in through the machine’s base.

With the air multiplier, air moves like a steady stream but the airflow is weak. Really weak when compared to traditional standing fans. The stream of air is not fast enough and spread wide enough to create a situation where you can get indirect air flow from air molecules bouncing off surfaces.

My non-scientific test involved setting the fan speed to 8 and see how far I can go before I stop feeling the airflow. And the result is about 2.5 metres.

Also, due to its inability to move large volume of air with sufficient speed, it is unable to remove heat from a room faster than the heat can accumulate. And it is a problem especially in a country as warm and humid as Singapore. The room is so much warmer than it should have been when compared to using a traditional standing fan. Without a strong air flow, it is not able to induce faster sweat evaporation in such a weather, which makes you feel even hotter than usual.

The feeling of cheap build

When you buy a product such as a fan or an air filter, you would expect that the material used to construct the product would be of a higher quality. Yet, most of the device is made out of plastic that does not really make it feel like a premium product.

What are you actually paying for?

In my opinion, the price tag you pay for the machine is to cover the following cost:

  1. The engineering hours that goes into the sensors and software needed to run the machine
  2. The motors, asymmetrical fan blades and the R&D of the filters
  3. Whatever tests Dyson need to conduct to claim their product can filter out 99.5% of the pollutants in the air
  4. Manufacturing

Other than the above, I do not see how they could justify the price tag, which is as much as an 128GB iPhone SE (2020).

Conclusion

If you are living in a country as hot and humid as Singapore, I would not recommend the Dyson fan unless the company figure out a way to deliver high airflow needed to encourage heat dispersal within a room and sweat evaporation from the body.

If you need something that does not consume a lot of electricity like the air-conditioning but can still cool you down in this country, I would recommend you buy a standing fan from companies like Mistral or Sona.

But if you are looking for an air filter that doubles up as a fan and you plan to use it in an air-conditioned room with temperature around 25 degrees celsius, then Dyson Pure Cool is a product that you can consider. You can use the fan as a method to even out the cool air in a room so that there are no warm spots.

And if you are looking for just an air filter, there are other cheaper alternatives that can do the job just as well.

D-Link Covr 2202 Mesh WIFI Review

How often does your device lose connection to the internet when you enter a spot in your home despite you having bought and setup a powerful WIFI router somewhere in the middle?

It’s frustrating, right?

Now, that’s just the reality of WIFI technology as radio signals do have a hard time penetrating walls or other objects. It’s just physics.

And this is a problem that mesh network technology is here to solve. Mesh network technology is basically the use of multiple connected network devices to provide consistent WIFI coverage for a large area and eliminate blindspots. And when the connected device move from one area of the house to the next, the mesh network knows how to pass the connection to the router that provide the best connection.

In this review, we will be looking at D-Link’s latest WIFI mesh network product for home users, the Covr-2202.

The Covr-2202 is a tri-band WIFI mesh networking product that uses two units to cover 550 sqm of space with WIFI signal. Unlike the dual-band implementation found in other WIFI mesh solution, the Covr-2202 uses a third 5Ghz WIFI band for communication and data exchange between the two units. This frees up the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands for devices to use to connect to the network. This means the connected devices can still stream 4K content, handle large downloads and browse the web without any drop in performance.

The marketing material and the specifications made it to be the WIFI solution to go for. But those weren’t the reasons that I got it.

For me, I got the device because it was an alternative purchase. Initially, I was looking for the Asus Blue Cave WIFI router to replace my previous Asus RT-AC68U WIFI router. I wanted something nicely designed that will complement my new desk, perform well and take up less space. The three antennas of the RT-AC68U were just ugly.

And if Apple didn’t discontinue their networking products and make new ones, I would have gone with their AirPort-series of networking devices.

Sadly, according to the salesperson, Asus Blue Cave was discontinued. He suggested that I go for Covr-2202 because it costs about the same, won awards and performs better. During the conversation, I asked about the Covr-1203 because it looked interesting and fulfilled my requirement for a small router. It turns out the performance wasn’t as good and was an older generation, which kind of defeat the purpose of buying a new WIFI router.

Before I made the purchase, I asked to see the physical product. Lucky for me, there was a display set on hand and the salesperson showed me what it looked like. I find myself liking it and made the decision to buy.

Unboxing

This is the box after removing the plastic. I got to admit it definitely look enticing and cool when compared to other networking products sold by other companies. Most networking companies don’t really bother with making nice packages.

Once you open it, you are greeted to the following sight.

Now that definitely remind me of the packagings used by certain brand of cosmetic products. And after you remove the cover, the two Covr-2202 units greet you. They are welcoming you to take them out of the box.

The white overall and the bronze-like band at the bottom definitely complement my desk that features light wood colour with white metal struts.

And the small size definitely help freed up more space on my desk that I can use for other purpose. Overall, my desk just look less cluttered.

Installation and set up

Router installation and setup is really easy and simple.

Within the box, D-link provided a small card containing instruction on where to download the their official WIFI mobile app. When you launched the app, it comes with instructions that you can follow step-by-step to install and power on the device.

At a specific stage of the setup process, the app will ask for the network name and passwords. You can do it manually or scan the QR code located on the small card. However, it is advisable to set a different network name and password after the setup process is completed.

Although I encountered some issue during the setup process due to my lack of understanding how mesh networking works, I was able to recover from the mistakes and redo the whole setup again within minutes. This is definitely helpful for those who are mostly clueless about networking and simply needed their WIFI up and running in no time.

Performance

My home subscribes to 1Gbps fibre broadband. Therefore, it’s important that we can maximise our use of the bandwidth if not it would be a waste of money. Compared to the old Asus router, the WIFI performance of this new router is so much better. On WIFI alone, I’m able to achieve download speeds that’s more than 500mbps and upload speed of slightly more than 300mbps. And that’s taking into account the overall residential broadband bandwidth tend to be lower since many people are home and using the internet.

With speeds at 500mbps, I can watch YouTube video or Netflix with relative ease and no lag. And I do have at least 5 other devices connected to the same mesh network. So the performance is definitely there.

So for the price I paid, I would say it’s worth it.