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Revealed! The best and worst 802.11ac Wi-Fi routers of 2013

Find out which routers rose to the top and which ones sank to the bottom after we subjected them to our comprehensive lab tests.

By Michael Brown, PC World
December 27, 2013 10:42 AM ET

PC World - It's been more than 18 months since the first 802.11ac routers hit the market, and the IEEE still hasn't approved the draft standard. If you think Congress moves slowly, you haven't been tracking the pace at which the IEEE has been considering the draft version of 802.11ac. Those engineers could teach our senators and representatives a thing or two about the deliberative process.

The Wi-Fi industry, however, certainly isn't waiting: The leading router manufacturers are already shipping their second-generation 802.11ac routers, and several have introduced 802.11ac client adapters, too. Not sure what all the fuss is about? Here's a quick refresher: 802.11ac routers and client adapters enable the fastest wireless networks you can buy, but they're also backward-compatible with older Wi-Fi gear, including 802.11a/b/g/n devices.

Whereas the previous fastest standard, 802.11n, provides aggregate bandwidth of up to 450 megabits per second, gear based on the 802.11ac standard delivers aggregate bandwidth of up to 1300 mbps. Both of those numbers are physical link rates--real-world data transfers are much lower--but 802.11ac products can be incredibly fast.

If you're looking to stream HD video around your house, the 802.11ac standard is the way to go, even if some of your client devices support only 802.11n. These new routers are backward-compatible, and since they have more powerful radios than previous-generation devices do, they deliver higher throughput and longer range with both 802.11acA clients and older 802.11n clients. If you want a more in-depth look at 802.11ac, read theA TechHive explanation.

Before we get into the reviews, I wanted to give a quick explanation of the industry's labeling practices, because they can be confusing. A router (or client adapter) marketed as AC1750, for example, is a dual-band model capable of operating on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency bands concurrently. The "AC" indicates that it supports the IEEE 802.11ac standard, which is backward-compatible with 802.11b (2.4GHz) and 802.11g (2.4GHz) hardware, as well as with 802.11n (both 2.4GHz and 5GHz) devices. The "1750" designation indicates that the product is capable of sending and receiving three 150-mbps spatial streams on its 2.4GHz 802.11b, -g, or -n Wi-Fi network (450 mbps in aggregate), three 150-mbps spatial streams on its 2.4GHz or 5GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi network, and three 433-mbps spatial streams (1300 mbps in aggregate) on its 5GHz 802.11ac network. (Total that up, and you get 450 plus 1300 equals 1750.) Vendors might also describe this type of hardware as a 3x3 device.

An AC1200 device can support two 150-mbps spatial streams (300 mbps in aggregate) on its 802.11b, -g, or -n network (on both frequency bands) and two 433-mbps spatial streams (866 mbps in aggregate) on its 802.11ac network. The industry simply rounds up 300 plus 866 to 1200. Vendors might also call this type of hardware a 2x2 device.

A few devices that use Broadcom's TurboQAM technology (more on that later) are marketed as AC1900 hardware. TurboQAM uses a more powerful encoding scheme to squeeze an extra 50 mbps into each 802.11n spatial stream (600 mbps in aggregate), adding 600 to 1300 for a total of 1900. Such products are still labeled as 3x3 devices.

Originally published on www.pcworld.com. Click here to read the original story.

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