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Gigabit Wireless? Five 802.11ac Routers, Benchmarked

Test Setup And Methodology

We must begin with the usual caveats about wireless testing. As we detailed in Part 2 of Why Your Wi-Fi Sucks, environmental conditions wreak havoc on residential throughput tests, such as those we’ve conducted here. However, unless one has access to an industrial-class, sealed RF test chamber or perhaps the isolation of lunar orbit, there’s nothing to do but try to pick an environment with fairly limited competing RF traffic and interference. That is, if that’s what you want. There’s a convincing counter-argument that can be made for picking a highly congested environment, as this will reflect difficult real world conditions and pose greater challenges to routers. Real world is good. Randomly fluctuating conditions are bad. Still, by looking for patterns across a diversity of tests and traffic types, we believe we can draw some fairly reliable general conclusions.

We conducted all testing in my home, a 2,650 square-foot, two-story house in a suburban area outside of Portland, Oregon. We conducted all 2.4 GHz tests using 40 MHz/auto settings on channel 1, as this channel (out of the selections 1, 6, and 11) tended to have the lowest number of visible competing access points. Similarly, we used channel 161 for all 5.0 GHz tests. Like so many other variables in Wi-Fi testing, there was some debate over this point as well. We ultimately decided on fixed channels for the sake of consistency across the routers being tested. We might have alternately selected the more popular 2.4 GHz channel 11, as higher frequencies tend to offer higher throughput, even at the risk of encountering more obstruction from surrounding traffic. Moreover, we might have left channel selection unlocked to better see how routers coped with changing environmental conditions. There is no right or wrong approach here, and we might return to test these variables in a future follow-up article.

We tested with two systems, a “server” desktop system and a “client” notebook. The server remained positioned in the home’s upper floor corner office. The client rested in either the same office at a direct line of sight distance of 10 feet from the server or it was positioned about 70 feet away, in the home’s opposite downstairs corner. In all tests, the server connected to the router via gigabit Ethernet. The client connected to a spare Netgear R6300 router in bridge mode for 2.4 GHz testing, and a Cisco Linksys WUMC710 bridge for 802.11ac work (via gigabit Ethernet). The directional orientation of the routers and bridges was kept consistent for all tests.

We conducted three basic tests. First, we created a 2.00 GB folder containing hundreds of MP3, EXE, and stray work document files. This was used to test transfer throughput speeds in both directions. Next, we turned to the networking test module in PassMark’s PerformanceTest 7 suite (we'll transition to version 8 in subsequent articles.) As a corroboration of PerformanceTest 7, as well as a deeper look at some of our traffic’s attributes, we ended with Ixia’s IxChariot. Specifically, we ran two of IxChariot’s built-in scripts. We transferred 100 records with the High-Performance TCP Throughput script and 1000 records with the UDP Throughput script.

Here are our two system configurations:

Test Server Specs
ProcessorAMD FX-8150 (Zambezi) @ 3.6 GHz (18 * 200 MHz), Socket AM3+, 8 MB Shared L3, Turbo Core enabled, Power-savings enabled
MotherboardAsus Crosshair V Formula (Socket AM3+) AMD 990FX/SB950 Chipset, BIOS 1703
MemoryG.Skill 16 GB (4 x 4 GB) DDR3-1600, F3-12800CL9Q2-32GBZL @ DDR3-1600 at 1.5 V
StoragePatriot Wildfire 256 GB SSD
GraphicsAMD Radeon HD 7970 3 GB GDDR5
Power SupplyPC Power & Cooling Turbo-Cool 850 W
Operating SystemMicrosoft Windows 7 Professional (64-bit)
Test Client Specs
ModelAsus N56VM
ProcessorIntel Core i7-3720QM (Ivy Bridge) @ 2.60 GHz (26 * 100 MHz), 6 MB Shared L3, Hyper-Threading enabled, Turbo Boost enabled, Power-savings enabled
MemoryHyundai 8 GB (2 x 4 GB) PC3-12800, HMT351S6CFR8C-PB @ 1.5 V
StorageSeagate ST9750420AS 750 GB, 7,200 RPM HDD
GraphicsNvidia GeForce GT 630M
Power SupplyAsus ADP-120ZB
Operating SystemMicrosoft Windows 7 Professional (64-bit)
  • The Scion of Balance
    Do the graphs really meant Mb/s? If so, isn't it still very slow?
    Reply
  • 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)
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • fwupow
    Man it sure sucks when you type a long comment and it gets vaporized cuz you weren't logged in.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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...
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • Kaldor
    What were they using for a wireless network adapter on the client side?
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply