Real-world test: 802.11ac routers

Five 802.11ac routers average close to 400mb/sec in performance tests

802.11ac

802.11ac promises blazing speeds of up to 1.3Gbps. We found that the products were fast, but not that fast. Our test subjects were the Netgear R6300, Linksys EA6500, Asus RT-AC66U, D-Link Cloud Router 5700 and Buffalo AirStation AC1300. The devices delivered throughput speeds in the range of 350M to 380Mbps with router and media bridge about 25 feet apart. These numbers are for Layer 7 traffic, which is what you’ll be using when you stream media.

Related: Gigabit Wi-Fi? Not so fast.

Four Wi-Fi tools deliver mixed results

Netgear 6300
Netgear 6300 wins our test

The winner in our testing was the Netgear R6300, which delivered top-end performance, was easy to use and didn’t suffer from outage related problems. Oh, and it didn’t fall over. Netgear uses an application called Netgear Genie to configure and manage the router. The Netgear R6300 supports IPv6 in a variety of ways and will support third-party tunnels.

Asus RT-AC66U
Asus RT-AC66U

The Asus device is long on style and ease of use. Asus provides a service called AiCloud that lets you link the router to cloud-based storage from Asus and from other cloud providers. The Web-based management page is intuitive and complete. Despite its consumer flash, this is a serious router that can work just fine in small business applications. This router also has full IPv6 support, and it has beam forming to focus its signals on devices that are using the router.

Buffalo AirStation AC1300
Buffalo AirStation AC1300

We found the setup instructions lacking, but this router is basically a plug and play device. The AirStation AC1300 comes with a gigabit Internet port and the built-in help files. Once you have the router running, it works fine. The AirStation is the only router in this test that can be mounted either vertically or horizontally, and it includes a set of snap-on feet to keep it from falling over. Beyond that, it’s well designed and easily manageable. However, it’s limited for some purposes since it does not support IPv6.

D-Link DIR-865L Amplifi Cloud Router 5700
D-Link DIR-865L Amplifi Cloud Router 5700

What makes D-Link different from other routers is that D-Link gives you the option of setting up and managing the router using your mobile device. D-Link also provides iOS and Android apps that let you manage the router. You can also attach storage to the USB ports on the router and access that using Android and iOS devices as well as any computers on the network. There’s also an IPv6 wizard.

Cisco Linksys EA6500 Smart WiFi Wireless Router
Cisco Linksys EA6500 Smart WiFi Wireless Router

The Linksys EA6500 Smart WiFi router depends heavily on Cisco’s cloud-based management service to set up and manage. This is handy since it means that Cisco can add or improve management features without requiring a firmware update. On the other hand, trying to configure the Linksys EA6500 without an Internet connection becomes problematic. Either way, the management tools are intuitive and reasonably straightforward. The EA6500 is able to be fully functional on IPv6.

Netgear Centria
Netgear Centria

During our review, some of the vendors sent along additional products. Here are short reviews of four WiFi tools that you might find useful. The Centria looks just like a Netgear R6300 router, until you take a look at the back. There you’ll find a bulge, and a door. Inside the door is a 2Tbyte SATA hard disk. The idea is to deliver multimedia networking in a single package. The device is an 802.11n router, four-port switch and storage server.

D-Link AC1200 Dual Band USB Adapter
D-Link AC1200 Dual Band USB Adapter

The AC1200 is designed to give your computer an 802.11ac link to your network. Testing revealed that if you follow the instructions and load the software that comes with the AC1200, the WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) doesn’t work, and the device only works on 2.4GHz. If you ignore the instructions and just plug the AC1200 into your Windows 7 computer, press the WPS button on the device and on the router, then it works fine.

Asus USB-N66
Asus USB-N66

The USB-N66 is a pyramid shaped device that glows purple, and plugs into your computer’s USB port, where it can be an 802.11n USB adapter. It can also work as a wireless hotspot. The device works as advertised, and provides throughput (using ixChariot) of 140Mbps.

Asus EA-N66
Asus EA-N66

The EA-N66 looks just like the USB-N66 in that it’s a small pyramid that glows purple. It’s an 802.11n Ethernet bridge that supports three spatial streams. You can use it to support one Ethernet device, such as a television set. Once in place, it works as expected, and it supports 140Mbps throughput, just like the other 802.11n devices.