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Gigabit Wi-Fi? Not so fast.

802.11ac routers average close to 400Mbps in performance tests of five products

By Wayne Rash, Network World
February 15, 2013 11:19 AM ET

Network World - The newest Wi-Fi technology -- 802.11ac -- promises blazing speeds of up to 1.3Gbps, according to claims made by the leading vendors.

We tested five of the first 802.11ac routers to hit the market and found that the products were indeed fast, and probably faster than anything you'll ever need for home office or small business scenarios - but they're not that fast.

Our test subjects were the Netgear R6300, Cisco's Linksys EA6500, the Asus RT-AC66U, the D-Link Cloud Router 5700 and the Buffalo Technology AirStation AC1300. Since 802.11ac clients aren't available yet, we tested throughput speeds between two devices from each manufacturer.

The testing also examined the usability of the routers on a day-to-day basis. We wanted to see how they reacted to events such as the loss of Internet connectivity or power, how well they fit into existing networks and how easy they were to manage. It turned out that we also tested how physically stable they were. (Watch a slideshow of this story.)

We found that regardless of what brand of router you choose, you're going to get throughput speeds in the range of 350Mbps to 380Mbps with the 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.

[LOOK AHEAD: Technologies to watch 2013: Gigabit Wi-Fi]

[OTHER WI-FI PRODUCTS: Four Wi-Fi tools deliver mixed results]

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.

Gigabit Wifi

802.11ac basics

The 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard is the next step beyond 802.11n. The new Wi-Fi routers work in both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, and they're compatible with devices using previous standards.

To get those amazing speeds, 802.11ac creates a channel that's 80MHz wide, and it uses MIMO antennas that support three spatial streams. The three streams make use of multi-path signals and reflections to enhance the signal.

What this means to you is that an 802.11ac router will work with your existing Wi-Fi hardware, but to that hardware it'll just appear as a normal 802.11n router. The only way to get the extra speed is to use a compatible device on the other end.

Since there are few such devices available, the best way to actually see these speeds is either to use a media access device or to use a second router configured as a media access bridge. To see the extra speed, you have to plug your laptop or other device into the bridge using wired Gigabit Ethernet.

Here are the individual reviews:

Asus RT-AC66U

As was the case with the dual-band 802.11n Asus router which we previously reviewed, the Asus device is long on style and long on ease of use. Fortunately, Asus made the stand that holds the router at an angle considerably more robust than was the case on earlier models, and it no longer falls over when you attach cables.

The company has also created an app for Apple iOS and Android devices that provides access to USB connected storage. Day-to-day management activity takes place using the built-in management Web page. Asus provides a service called AiCloud that lets you link the router to cloud-based storage from Asus and from other cloud providers.

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