The original blue-and-black Linksys WRT54G wireless router, released way back in 2002, holds an odd place in my heart. On the one hand, it was cheap and performed reasonably well, but on the other it also crashed regularly and was a pain in the ass to set up. Fortunately, 11 years on, things have changed a bit. The WRT1900AC, the spiritual successor to the WRT54G, is one of the fastest routers on the market, easy to configure, stable, fun to use, and attractive. The only real downside that I could find is that the WRT1900AC is definitely not cheap and cheerful like the WRT54G. Priced at $280, the WRT1900AC is a serious piece of high-spec hardware — with perhaps just a small price premium thanks to its prestigious forebear.
As you would expect, for $280 — really, a disgusting amount of money for a wireless router — you do get some utterly insane tech specs. There are four antennas, connected to a 4×4 Marvel Avastar 88W8864 chipset that’s capable of pushing up to three 80MHz 802.11ac spatial streams over the 5GHz band, for a total 802.11ac throughput of 1300Mbps, or 1.3Gbps. (For more info on how 802.11ac works, read our explainer.) The router is fully backwards compatible with previous 802.11 standards, and is capable of four-stream 802.11n (600Mbps) over the 2.4GHz band. Now you know why it’s called the 1900AC — 1300Mbps + 600Mbps = 1900Mbps (though I don’t think the router is actually capable of maxing out both the 5GHz and 2.4GHz networks simultaneously).
There’s also a four-port gigabit ethernet switch on the back of the WRT1900AC, a single Gig-E WAN port (for your modem), a USB 3.0 port, and a combo USB 2.0/eSATA port. FAT, NTFS, and HFS+ file systems are supported on external storage. As part of the Marvel chip, there’s a dual-core Cortex-A9 CPU clocked at 1.2GHz. There’s also 256MB of DDR3 RAM. The WRT1900AC is a beast. (It’s by far the heaviest consumer WiFi router I’ve ever held, incidentally, due to a rather massive heat sink that’s necessitated by the over-the-top hardware.)
Setting up the WRT1900AC is very easy. Unlike other routers that I’ve set up in the past, where you might have to do some manual IP address configuration, the WRT1900AC is managed by visiting a website, https://linksyssmartwifi.com. When you first plug the WRT1900AC into your modem (or some other network with internet connectivity), it seemingly phones home and tells Linksys your internet IP address. Then, when you visit linksyssmartwifi.com, I assume some magical combo of UPnP (or maybe just redirection) takes you to your router’s config panel. It’s pretty slick.
Linksys Smart Wi-Fi Setup complete
The setup process requires you to create an account, which is used to log into the router — but because you access the router through a normal website, you can administer it from your smartphone, the office, or indeed any internet-connected device. The setup process also checks for updated firmware, and runs you through the usual wireless network configuration. Because the router is backwards compatible with every other 802.11 technology (b, g, n), you have the option of setting up a 2.4GHz network, a 5GHz (802.11ac) network, or both. It’s all very easy to set up.
Ultimately, if you spend $280 on being an 802.11ac early adopter, you’re really only doing it for one reason: You’re giddy at the thought of a wireless network that’s capable of ethernet-like transfer speeds. Well, let me just begin this section by saying, yes, 802.11ac really is fast — but, as you would expect, despite a theoretical max speed of 1300Mbps, you won’t ever get close to that. In reality, you probably won’t even break the gigabit-per-second barrier — but still, compared to the usual 100-150Mbps that you’d usually get with 802.11n, we’re still talking about a massive performance boost.
Linksys WRT1900AC performance
In real-world testing, average throughput for large files (installation files, TV shows, movies) was around 400 megabits per second (or 50 megabytes per second). That’s with the router upstairs and my laptop (a late-2013 MacBook Pro with Retina display) downstairs. I occasionally saw bursts of 500 or 600Mbps. Sitting upstairs, within a few feet of the router, 450-500Mbps was just about sustainable.
Linksys tells me that the WRT1900AC with a late-2013 MacBook Pro should be capable of three 802.11ac 80MHz 433Mbps streams, for a total of 1299Mbps — but that drops down to “between 700 and 800Mbps when TCP network overhead is accounted for.”
I’m not sure why I was limited to around 50MB/sec (400Mbps). I tried copying files from both my NAS (connected to the WRT1900AC via wired Gig-E), and from a USB 3.0 flash drive plugged straight into the router — both of which I have previously tested at speeds of over 70MB/sec (~600Mbps). There are no other 5GHz networks in my area, so it probably isn’t interference. Other reviewers have managed transfer speeds of 80MB/sec using the WRT1900AC, so it is theoretically possible to hit 700Mbps or more. Linksys says it could be because I’m in Europe, where the number of channels and output power is restricted.
The wired side of the WRT1900AC works exactly as advertised: I saw full gigabit ethernet speeds when copying data from my NAS, and from the directly attached USB 3.0 flash drive.
Next page: Other cool features, and should you buy it?
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