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Gigabit Wireless? Five 802.11ac Routers, Benchmarked

Belkin AC1200 DB And Buffalo AC1300/N900

Belkin AC1200 DB

Bad news first. We spent about an hour on the phone with Belkin’s tech support and ended up getting a replacement unit when the first unit wouldn’t connect to our client in the long-range tests. The second unit had the same problem, which is why we won’t bother with the usual "well, maybe this particular unit was a lemon" spiel. No, the problem was that Belkin tried to undercut its 802.11ac competition ($150 at Amazon) with a 2x2 antenna design and did a terrible job of implementing it. This has "marketing decisions trumped engineering" written all over it. We don’t like bashing hardware, and we don’t have to in this case. The results depicted in our charts will speak for themselves.

In case you were curious as to why Belkin’s advertising talks about the benefits of 802.11ac rather than its own model’s specific results ("up to 2.8x faster physical data rate when compared to 802.11n Wi-Fi routers using two antennas to transmit and receive data"), now you know.

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Belkin AC1200 DB - Front

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Belkin AC1200 DB - Rear

We won’t belabor the pointless. Yes, the AC1200 has four gigabit ports, some basic QoS features, parental controls, WPS push-button support, and so on. Yes, it can handle traffic on both bands simultaneously. The menu screens are nothing special. But why discuss this further? Our support rep mentioned that the company is working on a 3x3 update to this product. Wait for that if you’re interested. This 2x2 AC1200 functions at close range, but any decent 802.11n router will blow it out of the water for far less money. Weak sauce, Belkin, weak sauce.

Belkin's GUI

Buffalo AC1300/N900

On the other hand, Buffalo’s AirStation AC1300/N900 (WZR-D1800H; $160 at Newegg) holds a few pleasant surprises. While a bit on the boxy side, the relatively low price is very attractive for a model that delivers a fair amount of performance. Setup is straightforward, we like the inclusion of guest SSID access, it can serve as an access point, and it’s DLNA-certified for easy media streaming.

Buffalo AC1300/N900

For us, Buffalo’s chief weakness is its menus, which are occasionally confusing, always unattractive, and comparatively slow to refresh. We do like the explanatory text that Buffalo builds into the right side of its interface, but overall, the firmware (v1.89) is in need of a major makeover (Ed.: As of publication, the newest firmware version is 1.91, though all vendors had to compete using versions submitted by a cut-off date). If you have your doubts, check out how Asus and Linksys do things, then ask yourself which approach you'd rather take. Still, Buffalo does use a 3x3:3 antenna design.

Buffalo's GUI

Belkin GUI