When Linksys first showed me a WRT1900AC prototype last year, I thought to myself, wow: I hope its performance lives up to its audacious looks. The good news is that it does — for the most part. In fact, it's the fastest router I've ever tested. The bad news is that its $280 MSRP marks it as the most expensive router I've ever tested (Linksys launched the router with a $250 sale price).
The Linksys WRT1900AC looks like an overstuffed Linksys WRT54G, and it's sure to stir feelings of nostalgia within anyone familiar with that 2002 classic. The engineers at Linksys, meanwhile, should be feeling justifiably proud of their accomplishment so soon after being freed from the product-development shackles that Cisco had inexorably wrapped around its former division. Under new management at Belkin, Linksys is looking to regain its mojo as a top-tier equipment manufacturer for network-enthusiast consumers and small businesses alike.
The WRT1900AC is the first step in that initiative, and it's an aggressive move. Powered by a 1.2GHz, dual-core Marvel Armada SoC (system-on-a-chip), 128GB of flash memory, and 256MB of DDR3 RAM, this is the first consumer router I've seen to be outfitted with a cooling fan (it's located at the top of the unit, but it spins up only when it's needed and is very quiet). What's more, the top half and the entire bottom of the router's all-plastic enclosure is perforated with ventilation holes.
Linksys says it's okay to stack the router on top of other gear, but nothing should be placed on top of it. Slots on the WRT1900AC's four feet allow you to hang the device on the wall (an option that's gone missing on too many modern routers). Much of this router's 2.5-pound weight can be attributed to the massive heatsinks mounted to its internal components.
Linksys outfitted the WRT1900AC with four external antennas, but it remains a 3x3 mechanism. In other words, it supports three spatial streams for transmitting and three for receiving. The antennas can be removed and upgraded, and Linksys plans to introduce an optional high-gain upgrade set sometime this summer.Linksys says the Marvel chipset uses both explicit and implicit beam forming to determine which three of the four antennas are delivering optimal range and performance at any given time, and that it can dynamically switch between them.
Explicit beam forming is used with clients that also support beam forming. Together, they can actively shape the best path over which the radio signals should travel. Implicit beam forming is used with clients that don't support beam forming or that don't use the same algorithm. The router can still perform some signal optimization, but it isn't as effective without the client to help. (You can read this story for more information about beam forming.)
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