Gigabit Wireless? Five 802.11ac Routers, Benchmarked

Results: 2 GB Folder Copy

Our first glimpse into the performance of our six contestants reveals some interesting points. The most obvious question is: what the heck happened to Belkin? We thought this must be a fluke of some sort, but subsequent tests across this and other benchmarks corroborated our first impression. The AC1200 DB is not only crippled by its dual-antenna design, it’s not even able to perform at 802.11g levels. As mentioned previously, we got Belkin tech support on the phone, walked through all of the settings, and so forth, but there was no help for it. Belkin has an improved design in the works, and we hope to test that at some point, but for now...consider our data an object lesson in why you want your WLAN gear well-reviewed and utilizing 3x3 antenna tech. Alas, the AC1200 DB would get spanked by many 10-year-old 802.11g routers.

While we’re on the 3x3 subject, check out AirLive. By bringing beamforming onboard, the $116 N450R pulls in some remarkable results for being "just" 5 GHz 802.11n. In one direction, it even outperforms the Buffalo 11ac router. Overall, the N450R still trails every 11ac router (except Belkin), but not by much. On a performance per dollar basis, in this location and application, the N450R definitely provides a pleasant surprise, if not new legs for the current-gen tech.

Keep in mind that this is our same-room test, which theoretically should reflect optimal conditions. However, as we step back to 2.4 GHz 802.11n, transfer performance plummets. Look at the difference in uplink speed for Netgear. That's a difference greater than 600%! What causes such a drastic change? Yes, we found between four and seven competing networks in our airspace at any given time during testing, but these were fairly faint. Moreover, AirLive actually does its 2.4 GHz work with only a 2x2 antenna setup, and it still manages to trounce every competitor except Asus. That’s insane. How the likes of Linksys and Netgear, both of which were double-checked on this test, could pull in such embarrassing numbers is a mystery. Suffice it to say that we have renewed respect for Asus' product engineering and AirLive’s beamforming implementation.

As we switch to our 5.0 GHZ distance test, the tide turns. We’ve actually seen many routers over the years fail across this distance in this location. Like Belkin's solution, older hardware often won't connect at all. So, the fact that we’re measuring triple-digit Mb/s results from the four real 11ac competitors strikes us as miraculous. Also consider how little throughput loss there is between our two locations. We’re used to seeing 60% to 80% loss in these circumstances, but the 11ac routers shed almost no performance at all, and in some cases do even better at distance.

Yes, it’s great that AirLive can still pull in enough average throughput to sustain multiple HD video feeds, a feat we would not have expected, but its rivals are hitting numbers three times larger. This blows us away. This chart alone makes us want to recommend 802.11ac without reservation.

Our 2.4 GHz cross-house test doesn’t surprise. Again, Asus and AirLive dominate, Belkin can’t connect, and the other three limp by. Later on, we’ll get a better idea of what’s happening to stream integrity during these diminished transfers. Hint: It’s not pretty.