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Gigabit Wireless? Five 802.11ac Routers, Benchmarked

Results: IxChariot

Crossing over to 2.4 GHz 802.11n in the same-room tests, we have more weirdness. For once, Belkin does not have the lowest number on the chart. Whereas AirLive, Asus, and Buffalo are do a respectable job of not letting throughput drop under 50 Mb/s, Linksys and Netgear both have instances where they bottom out at 5 Mb/s. Even Belkin manages a fractional improvement over that. Sure, Belkin has the worst average, but we’re looking under every rock for good news at this point. Because we’re working with 802.11n, we should be dealing with a level playing field stocked with vendors handling a fully mature and refined technology. So it’s interesting to see AirLive edge past a respected name like Buffalo and fully trounce Linksys and Netgear. Only Asus manages to keep the small upstart in second place (by a gaping margin).

With our UDP chart, we see the throughput numbers shift relative to TCP. AirLive and Asus nudge down a bit while Buffalo, Linksys, and Netgear all edge up. Since Linksys stands out as the chart’s highest outlier, let’s take a look at that.

Linksys 11n, 2.4 GHz, UDP, Throughput, Location 1

Pretty telling, right? The top spike on this chart is almost five times higher than the clearly visible average line. Just as disturbing are the many dips into the sub-20 Mb/s range. Keep in mind that this is a same-room test. We are left acknowledging that there is a fair amount of ambient noise and unpredictability in our test environment, but, at the same time, it’s a fairly average suburban scenario, and this is what routers need to cope with in the real world. We find the fact that Linksys and Netgear struggle here disturbing.

Now for the cross-house 11ac test with TCP traffic. Again, we see Belkin failing to connect, and AirLive finally manages to walk off a cliff. In fact, here’s what life looks like at the bottom of that cliff:

AirLive, 5.0 GHz, hi perfTCP, Location 3

The good news is that AirLive managed to transmit all 100 IxChariot test records. The bad news is that most of those records came in two bursts, like flashbulbs in the dark, and the rest of the time saw almost no throughput. AirLive aside, we’re very impressed with the TCP results for our remaining competitors, although Linksys does noticeably lag behind the other three. With an average of roughly 180 Mb/s for Asus, Buffalo, and Netgear, this compares very well with the approximately 240 Mb/s averaged by those three in our similar close-distance test. A 25% throughput loss under such difficult conditions is actually phenomenal.

UDP across the house 11ac is definitely slower under 802.11ac, but still very usable and reliable in most cases. Netgear now turns in a stable performance with the best minimum throughput rate on the chart. Asus wins on the average number, but look at the deeper test chart:

Asus 11ac, 2.4 GHz, UDP, Throughput, Location 3

For a long-distance test through flooring and walls, Asus’s stability here is outstanding. We only see one major blip, and we’re guessing that some random bit of ambient interference clobbered throughput for an instant, and the router responded by boosting power to compensate. When positive ambient conditions returned, the router dropped power back to normal levels. That’s a guess, but no matter what, this chart illustrates the Asus product’s ability to hold an 802.11ac signal with excellent stability and respond very quickly to adverse conditions.