Gigabit Wireless? Five 802.11ac Routers, Benchmarked

802.11ac: A Substantial Step Up From 802.11n

Again, we’re going to ignore Belkin here. Perhaps a firmware update will bring the AC1200 back from oblivion, but we’re not going to hold our breath.

In evaluating Buffalo, Linksys, and Netgear, one can cherry pick results to arrive at a favorite. To our eyes, there really isn’t a clear winner in our charts. Linksys and Netgear definitely have an edge in the menu interface department, and we like Linksys in particular for its richer Smart Wi-Fi app platform.

If you’re on a budget and aren’t close to adding clients with 802.11ac support, AirLive remains a surprisingly compelling option. You won’t find bells and whistles, but you will get some of the best performance we’ve seen in a mid-range router. It's unfortunate that the company doesn't have anything for sale in the U.S.

Then there’s Asus, which won this contest hardly breaking a sweat. The company simply out-engineered its competition and came up with a best-in-class feature set. Even more amazing is that the RT-AC66U accomplished this in essentially a first-generation product and delivered it at a price point that handily bests its closest competition. For all of the above, we believe the RT-AC66U deserves our infrequently-bestowed Elite award.

Stepping back, are we ready to give our blessing to 802.11ac and recommend that you run out and start investing in it? Yes. Obviously, many vendors still have work to do. We want to circle back later and investigate factors like the impact of channel selection on performance, maximum usable range for 802.11ac, and other variables we deliberately tried to isolate. There's also the issue of maximum throughput, since we saw numbers that might have indicated the limits of our test systems' storage subsystems. For now, though, we’ve seen enough to believe that 5G Wi-Fi is ready for primetime.

We’d hoped to see real-world sustained transfer rates in excess of 300 (or at least 200) Mb/s. That didn’t happen. Perhaps it will take beamforming, more antennas, and other enhancements to get us there later in 2013. But we can live with 150-ish Mb/s in the same room if we’re also seeing 100 to 150 Mb/s transfer rates across significant distances through multiple barriers. For us, that was absolutely huge. When done right, 802.11ac doubled what we could achieve with 802.11n. That alone is worth buying.

Folks, the time to start your 802.11ac adoption is now.

  • 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.