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.

  • The Scion of Balance
    Do the graphs really meant Mb/s? If so, isn't it still very slow?
  • boulbox
    Well, i can't wait until i can make my router give wifi all the way to my to my work area.(only a few blocks away)
  • I've tested both the R6300 and the RT-AC66U in my home. The R6300 beats it hands down. The average homes won't have the traffic that your artificial software creates. Even your tests show that R6300 in 5ghz mode is faster. People will buy these for gaming and HD movie viewing and the R6300 has better range as well. I've paired my R6300 with an ASUS PCE-AC66 desktop wireless AC adapter and I can acheive 30 MB/S (megabytes) to my HTPC in a 2 story house. That's an insane speed. The RT-AC66U only managed about 15 to 18 MB/s. Also make sure the R6300 has the latest firmware, which is V1.0.2.38_1.0.33. But in conclusion, the R6300 and the RT-AC66U are like a SRT Viper and ZR1 Vette. They are both great pieces of hardware to fit most users needs. Get the ASUS If you got a ton of traffic and a lot of 2.4 ghz devices. Grab the R6300 if you are looking for a friendly setup, max speed, and max range.
  • fwupow
    Man it sure sucks when you type a long comment and it gets vaporized cuz you weren't logged in.
  • DeusAres
    I'd be happy with a 2Mb/s connection. It'd be better than this horrible 512 Kb/s connection I have now. At least then, I may actually be able to watch youtube vids in 360p.
  • fwupow
    Here's the gist of what I typed before it was rudely vaporized.

    I have a dual-band router (Netgear N600). I also purchased a couple of dual-band client USB adapters Linksys AE2500 or something to that effect.

    So the USB adapter works fine for a desktop, but having that crap sticking out the side of a laptop, netbook or tablet? Busted in 10 minutes. I hooked one up to my netbook and fried it within a couple of weeks because I'm a Netbook in bed guy. You wouldn't think it could get so hot from a USB port but it does.

    So the reality is that you have all these devices that can't be upgraded to dual-band and enjoy very little if any benefit from the new-fangled dual-band router.

    The other beef I have with routers is that they're terrible with the way they split up bandwidth between multiple devices. Instead of responsively reassigning bandwidth to the device that needs it, the router continues to reserve a major slice for a device that I'm not using.

    If you live in an apartment building, it's actually rather rude to use the full 300Mbps capacity of the wireless N band, since you may well succeed in effectively shutting your neighbor down. There's so much happening in the 2.4GHz band nowadays, it's unreal. Your own cordless keyboards/mice/controllers etc can malfunction from being unable to get a packet in edgewise.

    For these dual-band routers to be really useful, we need manufacturers of smartphones, tablets, laptops, netbook and such to build dual-band clients into them because adding the functionality with some sort of dongle just doesn't work.
  • memadmax
    I was a 802.11g and n "adoption" tester....

    Never again...

    I'll give ac a year or two before I jump on it...
  • SteelCity1981
    my wireless N produces 300 Megabits which would equal around 37 Megabytes. My highspeed internet doesn't come cloe to reaching 37 megabytes and i don't transfer tons of files wirelesly and my wi-fi rangs is pretty good .So i'm perfectly fine with my 300MB N wireless router right now. Besides that none of my devices spport ac anyhow so it would get bottlenecked from reaching its full potential.
  • Kaldor
    What were they using for a wireless network adapter on the client side?
  • chuckchurch
    iknowhowtofixit"Folks, the time to start your 802.11ac adoption is now."I think this review proved that it is time to wait for 2nd generation wireless AC routers to appear before rushing to purchase.
    Exactly. The 'client' adapter they used if anyone didn't catch it was a Cisco/Linksys router-sized device. Not practical by any means. It'd be totally insane to make any product recommendations prior to real client adapters being available, or more accurately, embedded ones are available. I think a wireless salesman wrote this article.