In April 2014, the Linksys WRT1900AC was the fastest 802.11ac router I’d ever tested. And I made a point of including that date in the ‘At a Glance’ part of the review for two reasons: That information is displayed almost as prominently as the headline in our reviews, and the router market was moving crazy fast back then. It still is.
The latest version of that router—the WRT1900ACS reviewed here—is an incremental improvement, having gained a speedier CPU (running at 1.6GHz, versus 1.2GHz in the original) and another 256MB of DDR3 memory (512MB in total, compared to 256MB in the original). One change I’m not as enthusiastic about is the trading of an inline power supply for a large, outlet-hogging wall wart. The new model also loses the unique cooling fan, but it never seemed to spin up anyway, so that’s not a big deal.
As you can tell by the model number, this is an AC1900 router, delivering theoretical throughput of 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz frequency band (serving 802.11n clients) and theoretical throughput of 1300Mbps on the 5GHz band (serving 802.11ac clients).
It remains a 3x3 device with four antennas, a so-far unique arrangement in which the router determines which three antennas will deliver the optimal range and performance and then dynamically switches between them. And like the original, the WRT1900ACS is outfitted with one eSATA/USB 2.0 combo port and one USB 3.0 port. These enable you to share both storage and a printer over your network.
In addition to its performance, a large measure of the original WRT1900AC’s appeal stemmed from two things: First, its decidedly retro industrial design and stackable nature (Linksys offers a similarly designed 8-port gigabit switch that can be placed underneath the router—in multiples, I suppose, if you need more than eight ports. A companion NAS box was planned, but later cancelled.). Second, its friendliness toward the open-source community.
While the reality took much longer than anyone expected to catch up to the hype, you can now download and install alternative firmware on the WRT1900AC that looks and performs very differently from what Linksys has wrought. It’s not something I’d recommend to the casual user, but it’s available if you want to take the plunge. The new model retains that characteristic.
5GHz 802.11n performance
I compared the WRT1900ACS’s performance to a diverse range of mid-range and high-end competitors, as well as the original WRT1900AC. Both the more-expensive Asus RT-AC3200U ($280 street) and the cheaper Netgear R6400 outperformed the new Linksys when serving a 5GHz 802.11n client. The Asus is capable of running three Wi-Fi networks (one on the 2.4GHz band, one using a low channels on the 5GHz band, and a third using high channels within the 5GHz band). If your environment is crowded with lots of bandwidth-hungry wireless devices, an AC3200 router such as this is probably a better choice.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.