Gigabit Wireless? Five 802.11ac Routers, Benchmarked

Linksys EA6500/AC1750 And Netgear R6300

Linksys EA6566/AC1750

The Cisco Linksys EA6500 (£160) arrived in our hands, along with Cisco’s bundled WUMC710 802.11ac bridge (£100 separately). Based on some of our prior testing with the E3000 and other Linksys models, we had high hopes for the EA6500, and there were times when those hopes were met. However, we would recommend that, if you’re interested in the EA6500, you should read through the recent Newegg customer comments on the model. Some of the negative comments are indeed reflected in our results; others have clearly been addressed by Cisco already.

The EA6500 has a lot going for it, though. The router is simultaneous dual-band, with 3x3:3 antenna configurations in both bands. Two USB ports allow for printer sharing and add-on USB storage. DLNA support provides media serving, and QoS tools help prioritize certain traffic types.

As with Asus, Cisco has whipped up an app/browser-based control and file-streaming platform, called Linksys Smart Wi-Fi. This gives you the ability to control several of your router’s features, such as parental control, guest access, QoS, and USB storage, straight from your handset or tablet. Additionally, there are half a dozen applications (some of which are iOS- or Android-only, while others support both) for IP security camera monitoring, network security, media streaming, and so on.

As mentioned earlier, Cisco has continued Linksys’ propensity for kicking butt on its router’s built-in menus and options. While deep, the feature set is tidily swept inside of a very elegant, largely intuitive tabbed interface. That is, if you’re using a compatible browser. When we tried to log in via Chrome, all we saw was the “Log in” button and the country pull-down menu. Remember that Chrome is now the dominant PC Web browser. Oops.

Netgear R6300

Last up, we have the Netgear R6300 (£155). After the Asus and Linksys models, the R6300 is going to look a bit repetitive, but that’s primarily because the major router vendors have their businesses pretty much down to a pattern these days. A premium model, such as one debuting the latest Wi-Fi technology, is going to have two USB ports, simultaneous dual-band with a 3x3:3 design on both bands, a streamlined installation process, WPS, and four gigabit ports. All boxes come checked off here, and if you like Netgear’s upright, trapezoidal design, even better.

Not to be outdone by Linksys Smart Wi-Fi, Netgear has its own Netgear Genie, available for Windows, OS X, Android, and iOS. Netgear Genie lets you monitor and manage your network from afar. Apple iOS users can also output to any AirPrint-compatible printer using the AirPrint app through Netgear Genie.

Because we received two R6300s, we used our second unit as a 2.4 GHz bridge, given that Netgear advertises the router as being configurable to both bridge and AP modes. However, be prepared to do some research on how to get back into the device after switching modes because it’s no longer accessible from the default IP, and Netgear doesn’t go out of its way to illustrate the process. We'll give the company fair marks for a deep, feature-rich menu system with both Basic and Advanced tab views.

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  • The Scion of Balance
    Do the graphs really meant Mb/s? If so, isn't it still very slow?
  • boulbox
    Well, i can't wait until i can make my router give wifi all the way to my to my work area.(only a few blocks away)
  • I've tested both the R6300 and the RT-AC66U in my home. The R6300 beats it hands down. The average homes won't have the traffic that your artificial software creates. Even your tests show that R6300 in 5ghz mode is faster. People will buy these for gaming and HD movie viewing and the R6300 has better range as well. I've paired my R6300 with an ASUS PCE-AC66 desktop wireless AC adapter and I can acheive 30 MB/S (megabytes) to my HTPC in a 2 story house. That's an insane speed. The RT-AC66U only managed about 15 to 18 MB/s. Also make sure the R6300 has the latest firmware, which is V1.0.2.38_1.0.33. But in conclusion, the R6300 and the RT-AC66U are like a SRT Viper and ZR1 Vette. They are both great pieces of hardware to fit most users needs. Get the ASUS If you got a ton of traffic and a lot of 2.4 ghz devices. Grab the R6300 if you are looking for a friendly setup, max speed, and max range.
  • fwupow
    Man it sure sucks when you type a long comment and it gets vaporized cuz you weren't logged in.
  • DeusAres
    I'd be happy with a 2Mb/s connection. It'd be better than this horrible 512 Kb/s connection I have now. At least then, I may actually be able to watch youtube vids in 360p.
  • fwupow
    Here's the gist of what I typed before it was rudely vaporized.

    I have a dual-band router (Netgear N600). I also purchased a couple of dual-band client USB adapters Linksys AE2500 or something to that effect.

    So the USB adapter works fine for a desktop, but having that crap sticking out the side of a laptop, netbook or tablet? Busted in 10 minutes. I hooked one up to my netbook and fried it within a couple of weeks because I'm a Netbook in bed guy. You wouldn't think it could get so hot from a USB port but it does.

    So the reality is that you have all these devices that can't be upgraded to dual-band and enjoy very little if any benefit from the new-fangled dual-band router.

    The other beef I have with routers is that they're terrible with the way they split up bandwidth between multiple devices. Instead of responsively reassigning bandwidth to the device that needs it, the router continues to reserve a major slice for a device that I'm not using.

    If you live in an apartment building, it's actually rather rude to use the full 300Mbps capacity of the wireless N band, since you may well succeed in effectively shutting your neighbor down. There's so much happening in the 2.4GHz band nowadays, it's unreal. Your own cordless keyboards/mice/controllers etc can malfunction from being unable to get a packet in edgewise.

    For these dual-band routers to be really useful, we need manufacturers of smartphones, tablets, laptops, netbook and such to build dual-band clients into them because adding the functionality with some sort of dongle just doesn't work.
  • memadmax
    I was a 802.11g and n "adoption" tester....

    Never again...

    I'll give ac a year or two before I jump on it...
  • SteelCity1981
    my wireless N produces 300 Megabits which would equal around 37 Megabytes. My highspeed internet doesn't come cloe to reaching 37 megabytes and i don't transfer tons of files wirelesly and my wi-fi rangs is pretty good .So i'm perfectly fine with my 300MB N wireless router right now. Besides that none of my devices spport ac anyhow so it would get bottlenecked from reaching its full potential.
  • Kaldor
    What were they using for a wireless network adapter on the client side?
  • chuckchurch
    iknowhowtofixit"Folks, the time to start your 802.11ac adoption is now."I think this review proved that it is time to wait for 2nd generation wireless AC routers to appear before rushing to purchase.

    Exactly. The 'client' adapter they used if anyone didn't catch it was a Cisco/Linksys router-sized device. Not practical by any means. It'd be totally insane to make any product recommendations prior to real client adapters being available, or more accurately, embedded ones are available. I think a wireless salesman wrote this article.
  • Wisecracker
    They can't put lipstick on this pig.
  • cknobman
    This review reinforced the reputation for Belkin making trash networking products. Its hard to believe they stay alive in the market.
  • master9716
    The Scion of BalanceDo the graphs really meant Mb/s? If so, isn't it still very slow?

    No actually , If you transfer from hardrive to hardrive you probably get a max output of 45MB/s The asus is close to 35MB/s wich is almost maxing out ur drives power. Ofcourse if you have a good performance you can get upto 80MB/s or a little more Not counting SSD to SSD transfer rates- Also remember that you will be able to transfer 4k HD content with the same amount of data that 1080p took
  • tigerwild
    I have the Asus RTN66U... so when does the Tomato firmware that swaps it out to RT-AC66U capability get released? :P

    Shibby save us with another awesome tomato release!
  • The Scion of Balance
    73730 said:
    No actually , If you transfer from hardrive to hardrive you probably get a max output of 45MB/s The asus is close to 35MB/s wich is almost maxing out ur drives power. Ofcourse if you have a good performance you can get upto 80MB/s or a little more Not counting SSD to SSD transfer rates- Also remember that you will be able to transfer 4k HD content with the same amount of data that 1080p took

    Probably so. However, on the graph it's written Mb(Megabits), not MB(Megabytes). Since tehnically 8b=1B, 35Mb/s=4.38MB/s and that's very slow. That's why I asked if the graph meant Mb/s or MB/s.
  • MKBL
    I wonder which option is better in terms of performance/price ratio between 802.11ac and powerline networking. It seems that you still need 802.11ac compatible wireless adapter in each device (PC, tablet, etc.) to take advantage of the "gigabit" connection, which means the total cost of 802.11ac will be much higher than the router price. On the other hand, from mid- to high-end powerline networking may provide similar performance or better with less cost, if not concerned about smartphone/tablet. But those devices need relatively low bandwidth than PC/laptops, so they can work just fine with existing 80.11n router. Of course powerline networking has serious disadvantage of no or limited portability/expandibility. But in a regular household, it's not big a deal because you don't add additional devices every year or two in normal circumstances.
  • phate
    Are all these routers fully backwards compatible? I would assume so... Anyway I would have like to seen results with some other devices running b/g/n adapters.

    Most networks - in my experience - are some sort of hodgepodge of different devices. So ac speeds are only really relevant if the results also translate over to the other spaces.
  • CaedenV
    Hey William, I have a few questions for a followup article:
    1) Wired performance: All of these things sport wired gigabit connectivity, but as with wireless we all know that wired performance can have wired bottlenecks and problems of its own. I am sure they are all better than wireless or 100/t... but what kind of throughput are we talking about? Personally (and I know I am not alone on this), I like wireless for portable devices, but for something that never moves like a TV or a PC it is really not that much extra effort to run a line under carpet or through a vent.
    -Specifically I am curious to know if any of these routers can run their ethernet in a gang mode so that I can have 2 gigabit lines to a server, and 2 lines to my PC (and 1 line to my wife's PC) so I can have enough throughput to offload all of my HDDs to a central location and have a truly silent PC without having to use a seperate switch or router. I do video editing, and obviously cannot afford 10GbE in the home, so this type of setup is needed to get the 150+MB/s throughput needed for real video editing (until consumer 5GbE or 10GbE becomes available... where is that tech anyways?). I am currently using a wireless G router, and then an old (and noisy) gigabit switch (using 5 ports on a 24 port switch lol), and to be able to consolidate both devices would be really nice.

    2) High traffic performance: We all know that G and N suffer once you populate a network with a lot of devices, or have multiple networks congesting the same area. While I personally have very low traffic in my area (very low-tech neighbors), I know a ton of readers live in apartments, or have businesses with a ton of machines, and it would be nice for them to know how many devices you can have before having to worry about a serious performance fall-off. As most devices are still on N it would also be curious to see if these new routers can support more devices on N before seeing fall-off than traditional N devices.

    3) Internet performance: I have 'decently fast' internet at my home, but that is still only ~25Mb/s. But when wireless G is at 54Mb/s it makes it rather hard to justify getting anything faster than G for your average home user that is simply using wireless on 1-3 devices for internet access, and there is very little file sharing going on. Are there any real-world tests to show some significant performance boost for such simple 'internet only' uses? Perhaps lower ping rates, or more consistent performance at that 25Mb/s level?

    4) Power savings: I think more than anything that 11ac is going to show most of it's usefulness in power savings for future portable devices (and I think that ties in a lot with why they are marketing it as 5G to tie in with the cell network speak of 3G and 4G). I look at my friends phones that are only 1-2 years old, and they have to disable the wifi to get a full day's battery out of the phone because wifi's idle simply takes too much power. Compare that to new phones (or even higher quality old phones) which you can leave the wifi on all day and not have a significant battery issue. Even my 5 year old laptop gains an hour or more of battery life (a near 1/3 life boost) simply by turning off the wifi switch, so obviously the new radios in devices are getting much better at battery life without sacrificing much in the way of performance. Also cell providers like ATT and VZW have a lot of incentive to push 5G on phones and in houses to off-load cell traffic.
    Anywho, I guess what I am curious about is if the actual network speed is what gains the battery performance, or if it is merely having a more modern radio which brings such gains. As mentioned already, I am running 11g both at work and at home, and so 'all things being equal' the battery impact of wireless appears to have more to do with how modern the device is rather than the speed of the wireless network. I understand the 'race to sleep' argument, but if your internet coming in is only ~5-30Mb/s then I relay wonder if the end device will be able to sleep much at all. Because no matter if your network is 54Mb/s or 1300Mb/s the slow drip of the internet connection is going to keep those radios awake the entire time the internet is up. So is the 5G battery improvement really going to be from the network speed? Or is it merely going to be a factor of having a smaller and more efficient radio package to begin with regardless of what network it hooks up to?
    -Note: this is not the same thing as comparing 3G to 4G/LTE networks where the actual internet speed is faster allowing the device to gets it's job done faster and go to sleep faster. When on a network the internet speed is a relative constant (and almost always slower than 11g), and I am curious if changing the wireless from 11g to 11n/ac provides any battery gain on any given device for a set workload.

    Anywho, Great article! My old wireless G router is starting to have troubles, and needs to be reset every 4-6 weeks, so I am really curious about getting either a high end 11n device, or a midrange 11ac device before the year is out. And if I can find one that can last the 8+ years that my current linksys G router did then all the better! We don't see a lot of wireless articles here on Toms, and it is something that is increasingly important as people put heavier workloads and take bigger machines off of wired connections.
  • jhatfie
    I tried both the Netgear R6300 and Asus RT-AC66U in my 3 story home. I did some pretty thorough testing and the ASUS bested the Netgear overall with superior coverage and slightly better speeds in my home. Performance with both was very good, but the Asus edged by a good enough margin that I returned the Netgear. With the Rt-AC66U router on my bottom floor in my office I get amazing throughput to every corner of my house compared to my old WNDR3800. Using a Linksys WUMC710 bridge to my HTPC on the second floor I see average transfer speeds of over 30-35MB/sec. Best I could achieve with the 3800 was around 10MB/sec. Using a A6200 AC adapter on the 3rd floor I still see fantastic transfer rates of 20-25MB/sec. Wireless N on the 5Ghz band is impressive as well reaching my whole house where the WNDR3800 would barely have solid signal to my HTPC.
  • tigerwild
    CaedenV brings up some good points, I bought the router I did in order to do two things, support really fast wireless over extended range, supports SEVERAL users at once on wireless, support really fast wired speeds, and support router to router AES VPN. Do those considerations go into the reviews? I would like to see them.
  • maxinexus
    I upgraded my N150 to netgearR6200 and it is flawless. Streaming at 1080 without any hickups.
  • RealBeast
    Great article, thanks.

    As to the conclusion though, for now I would only consider ac for a wireless bridge where an Ethernet cable is not possible, cost remains a consideration for most folks though.

    I would like to see a bigger industry push in MOCA, since powerline is generally such a fail.
  • razor512
    You did not fully test the wifi. 802.11n and 802.11ac use teaming in order to achieve their speeds, and thus, even though 802.1n will use use multiple channels to reach a higher speed, it will only use 1 channel if only 1 connection is made. This is why if you set ixchariot to make 3 or more connections, you will see speeds go up significantly.

    most network folder file transfers will only make a single connection (as they are designed around a network that uses teaming.

    I personally feel that this is one if the biggest scams in wifi. things that benefit from having closer to LAN speeds will not get the benefit needed because they are not making 3-4 connections to fully utilize all channels on a N450 connection, and thus you only get a fraction of the speed.

    and for AC connections, you need to push upwards of 8 connections to reach it's full speed. Meaning in the real world, your backup to that NAS will only go like 150mbit/s on that 1300Mbit connection (PS at best wifi offers about half of the advertised speed, and of the speed that it can offer, it is divided amongst each radio (802.11ac needs a minimum of 3)
    and can use much wider than normal bands in order to have 3 antennas use more channels than there are antennas.

    PS for the netgear router, make sure you disable the wifi coexistence in the advanced wifi settings before benchmark, netgear adds that stupid feature which basically attempts to set technology back 15 years if it sees any other wifi network in range, (even if it is at like -90dB ), luckily it can be disabled
  • milktea
    I've got the ASUS RT-AC66U pairing with the ASUS EA-N66 for wireless HD streaming. Both endpoints uses 3x3 antenna. It's a flawless setup. Never had any connection issues (two story house), no signals drop ever. But I cannot speak for the 802.11ac performance, because the EA-N66 is only 802.11n. There were no wireless AC adapter at the time the RT-AC66U was released *bummer*.

    As for the Giga Eth performance on the RT-AC66U, I've gotten > 100MB/s from HDD to HDD. Didn't bother to try the SSD to SSD.

    ASUS has been making some really nice products such as 'P8Z77-V Deluxe' and 'PA246Q'. I'm one happy ASUS customer :)