Review: Linksys WRT3200ACM AC3200 MU-MIMO Gigabit Wi-Fi Router

Just try and slow this sucker down

linksys wrt3200acm front 1200
At a Glance
  • Linksys WRT AC3200 Open Source Dual-Band Gigabit Smart Wireless Router with MU-MIMO, Tri-Stream 160 (WRT3200ACM)

Imagine that you’re Linksys – you’ve been in the home wireless space for decades, even before the term Wi-Fi was created. You’ve been bought and sold a few times to a bunch of different companies (including Cisco), but you’re still plugging away, creating new wireless routers for home users. Then along comes a wave of new products with wireless mesh capabilities, fancy mobile device apps and a whole bunch of media love. You want to just get up and scream, “Hey, new kids! Get off my damn lawn!”

OK, maybe that last metaphor is a stretch – Linksys is not the old guy yelling at the millennials, but this company is still considered one of the major players in the home Wi-Fi space, even if they don’t have a bunch of tiny, shiny new mesh units to speak of (at least yet). Their latest Wi-Fi router is the WRT3200ACM AC3200 MU-MIMO Gigabit Wi-Fi Router, and we were lucky enough to take it out for a spin.

The router takes the more traditional shape and size of Wi-Fi routers – it has four antenna pieces that you screw in (one on each side, two in the back), along with the traditional Internet WAN port, four Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports, one USB 3.0 port and an eSATA port for connecting additional devices or storage.

linksys wrt3200acm back 1200 Linksys

The back of the Linksys WRT3200ACM router features 4 Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports, USB 3.0 port, eSATA port and connection to a broadband modem.

The inside of the router features a 1.8 GHz dual-core CPU and 512MB of RAM, which helps boost the speeds over the wireless frequencies – both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. Within the 5 GHz frequency are two different bands – but instead of calling the router a “tri-band” router like other vendors, it refers to this as Tri-Stream technology, which is more realistic and avoids the marketing BS.

Setup was done through a web browser on my computer – I could have connected directly to the router with an Ethernet cable, but I prefer the wireless setup. After checking for firmware updates and downloading them, I was ready to name the networks and complete the setup. One nice feature – Linksys has a checkbox that lets you choose automatic updates that run/install overnight – a nice feature instead of having to regularly check for router firmware updates after you hear of a new router vulnerability.

The two main selling points of this router are that it supports MU-MIMO (Multi-User MIMO) and is open-source ready (support for OpenWRT and DD-WRT and all sorts of other fun projects). On the MU-MIMO side, this means that as you put more and more devices on the network (gaming consoles, mobile phones, tablets, video cameras and other IoT devices), the router won’t get bogged down.

Linksys explains the technology as such – the TriStream 160 operates three streams at 160 MHz, compared with three streams at 80 MHz within the AC1900 class of products. The company says it achieves this through dynamic frequency selection (DFS) certification from the FCC, allowing the router to triple the channels available at the 80MHz stream and “operate in the clearest airspace that other Wi-Fi routers aren’t allowed.”

In addition, the MU-MIMO technology takes advantage of things like spatial multiplexing, beamforming (see video below) and scheduling algorithms to “boost overall throughput and distribute Wi-Fi bandwidth fairly between devices.” This can be VERY APPEALING to homes in which the kids are all fighting over who gets more of the Netflix stream versus when Dad wants to connect to his online MMO. Or wait, is that just me? Linksys claims that this router would be able to “simultaneously engage in 4K video streaming” and do other “data-intensive tasks without latency or buffering,” which means this could be your router for years to come before you’d need to replace it.

Of course, vendors like Linksys like to throw around a bunch of numbers to tell you how impressive their technology is – in this case Linksys claims to support bandwidth up to 2.6Gbps. Back in the real world, we realize that this depends on LOTS of other factors, such as wireless overhead, distance from the router, amount of other traffic on the network, etc. So we’ll turn instead to the very non-scientific approach of our file transfer speed tests in the Cool Tools Testing House™.

With no other devices on the network segment, I attached a Seagate Central NAS device to one of the LAN ports on the Linksys router. With a MacBook Pro (2014 version) then connected wirelessly to the Linksys router, I conducted a file/folder transfer of approximately 1.53GB of data to the device, noting the time and then calculating an average data transfer rate. I ran this test in three different locations (close to the router, one room away and opposite end of the house) over the two frequency bands – 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. In terms of channel selection, all of the settings were set to “Auto” where possible. One other note – I did have an existing Wi-Fi network also running separately through the same broadband router, but it was on a different segment than the NAS box, and traffic was minimal (no active clients were running). There were also other Wi-Fi signals in the area from neighbors, but again this traffic was minimal based on distance and time of day (tests were run in the early afternoon).

As expected, the data transfer rates were highest when running over the 5GHz network as close to the router as possible. The slowest rates were over the 2.4GHz network farthest away from the router:

lan speed tests linksys wrt 3200 acm Network World

For the next test, I filled the network with a number of different clients aimed to simulate a busy household with different devices consuming content. In Location 1 I had a mini iPad streaming a movie via Netflix; Location 2 had a computer (an iMac) streaming YouTube a long YouTube video; and Location 3 had an iPhone 6S streaming a video from the Seagate Central NAS on the LAN. The test was done on a different day, but around the same time of day (early afternoon).

As expected, speeds of the file transfer slowed down the farther away from the router. But it didn’t slow down as much as I thought, based on the additional traffic added to the network. In fact, the speeds in each location were relatively consistent (in one case, they were the same). This is the MU-MIMO technology kicking in – distributing bandwidth to all of the devices so that one doesn’t get bogged down while the other devices utilize the network. In fact, data transfer speeds were faster with the additional traffic on the network, compared with the test where there was no extra traffic. I was very impressed with the results:

lan speed tests mu mimo effect Network World

Other features

The router can be managed through the browser interface or through the Linksys Smart Wi-Fi app (iOS and Android supported). This gives you access to things like network status, a network map (visualization of the devices connected to the network), Internet bandwidth usage data, device information, IP addresses and MAC addresses. You can access information about any external storage connected to the router, as well as create/manage a guest network for visitors.

Parental controls are offered, letting you restrict Internet access for devices on the network – you can tell it to never block access, always block access (if you see a device that you don’t recognize), or block specific times (if you want junior to do his homework and not stream video). You can also block specific sites (a blacklist) if you are so inclined. Control can also be handled through a “wireless scheduler” option (in the wireless administration section), which lets you turn off all wireless access on a per hour, per day basis.

The router also provides a “Media Prioritization” option, which gives priority to devices, applications and games that connect to streaming or real-time media services – you’d probably only need this if you had a major issue with someone needing critical streaming rights (or just give the highest access to yourself or your significant other).

Most, if not all, of these features are also available via the Smart Wi-Fi mobile app. This does require that you set up a free account with Linksys (with separate password), but this also lets you monitor the network or make changes when you’re not at home.

Bottom line: Linksys has done a great job at creating a performance-based Wi-Fi router that can support multiple users/clients without sacrificing data speeds on the LAN. If you are familiar and comfortable with traditional router setups and want a good router that will last you for the next several years, this model is a great option.

Grade: 4.5 stars (out of five)

At a Glance
  • Linksys WRT AC3200 Open Source Dual-Band Gigabit Smart Wireless Router with MU-MIMO, Tri-Stream 160 (WRT3200ACM)

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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