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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.