Wireless networks used to be cool, but now they’re pretty much an expected essential in our homes.
A home network used to power a PC or two. Now, your smartphones and tablets are running off your Wi-Fi network, that fancy Samsung (SSNLF) Smart TV relies on Wi-Fi for connectivity, smart thermostats like the Google (GOOG) acquisition Nest are Wi-Fi enabled, and set-top streaming boxes like the Apple (AAPL) TV rely on Wi-Fi. While online gaming on an Xbox One or PS4 is possible using an ethernet cable connected to your router, who wants a 100-foot long cable snaking through the house?
All these connected devices are congesting home Wi-Fi networks, and the newest ones are using a new standard called 802.11ac or Gigabit Wi-Fi. This technology promises to make life easier for congested home Wi-Fi networks while offering the speed needed to support new streaming standards like Netflix (NFLX) 4K Ultra HD.
Replacing a home Wi-Fi router isn’t something anyone undertakes lightly. When things are working (even if they’re imperfect), there’s a risk of upsetting the works. However, with the promise of the new generation of 802.11ac Gigabit Wi-Fi routers, now may be the time to take the plunge.
I unplugged my trusty Airport Extreme to test the new Linksys AC1900 Smart Wi-Fi Router to see if Gigabit Wi-Fi lives up to the hype — especially in a home where devices supporting 802.11ac are in short supply.
Linksys AC1900 Smart Gigabit Wi-Fi Router: No 802.11ac Devices? No Problem
The primary selling point of a Gigabit Wi-Fi router is its support for the new 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard. The Linksys is capable of blasting data at a rate of 1900 Mbps (1300 Mbps in a single band). To put that in perspective, Amazon (AMZN) says its Amazon Prime HD video streaming only needs a 3.5Mbps connection.
The catch is, only the newest generation of devices support 802.11ac, so even though the router may be capable of Gigabit Wi-Fi performance, many devices can’t take advantage of that speed.
However, the Linksys AC1900 Smart Gigabit Wi-Fi Router packs a lot more technology, including beamforming and traffic prioritization. The result was a distinct performance improvement for my congested home Wi-Fi network (35 devices or so vying for a connection at the same time, including three Apple TVs streaming video).
Even without that Gigabit connection, I saw an average 80% improvement in data transfer speed between devices located a floor away from the router; on the same floor (with less concrete and walls to pass through), the Linksys clocked an impressive 280% speed boost. For devices on the upper floor, that boost fell off to a more modest 17% gain.
That’s competing against a three-year-old Apple dual band router with 802.11a/b/g/n support, so it’s not an entirely fair fight — but still a nice upgrade.
If you want to take advantage of Gigabit Wi-Fi’s full potential with a PC via a USB port, Linksys and others sell USB Wi-Fi adapters that support 802.11ac Wi-Fi.
Linksys AC1900 Smart Gigabit Wi-Fi Router: Smart Software
Raw performance was one advantage of the Linksys AC1900 Smart Gigabit Wi-Fi Router, but the configuration and network management software was equally impressive.
The “smart” part of this Smart Wi-Fi router is the web-based configuration and management tools, originally developed by former Linksys owner Cisco (CSCO).
Wireless routers can be arcane, but Linksys makes it easy to set up and the smart Wi-Fi tools provided on the website make anything from parental controls to network traffic optimization a breeze. (That way, you can give NFLX streaming priority over web surfing, for example.)
The router is also app-controllable, and that web portal means you can check in and make changes remotely. Linksys is also partnering with third party developers to expand the capabilities of Smart Wi-Fi through apps.
The ease of use, depth of network management and functionality expansion made possible with the Linksys Smart Wi-Fi Tools are one area where this Gigabit Wi-Fi router really shines.
Linksys AC1900 Smart Gigabit Wi-Fi Router (EA6900): Specifications
- Wireless 802.11ac (Gigabit Wi-Fi) and backwards compatibility with 802.11a/b/g/n
- 3 adjustable external antennas
- Dual band (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) support
- 4x Gigabit LAN ports, 1x Gigabit WAN, 1x USB 2.0, 1x USB 3.0 (for hard drive or peripheral sharing)
- Supports WEP/WPA/WPA2-Mixed, WPA-2 Enterprise, WPA2-Personal and WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) security standard
- Requires a Wi-Fi-enabled PC running minimum Windows XP Service Pack 3 + optical drive or a Wi-Fi enabled Mac running minimum OSX 10.5.8 (Leopard) + optical drive
- Internet Explorer 8, Safari 5, Firefox 8 or Chrome web browser required for Smart Wi-Fi Tools
- Android and iOS configuration and management apps available
- MSRP $199.99
Linksys AC1900 Smart Gigabit Wi-Fi Router: Conclusion
I didn’t run into any of the issues some reviewers have experienced with overheating or glitchy 5GHz performance. And while performance did drop off with distance, it still improved over my current setup, even for devices two floors away.
The truth is, unless you have new devices that support 802.11ac Gigabit Wi-Fi, you won’t get the full effect of the latest and greatest Wi-Fi standard by upgrading your wireless network hub to a Linksys AC1900 Smart Gigabit Wi-Fi Router.
However, if you’re already in the market for a new wireless router, this one is a solid performer with some future-proofing thanks to 802.11ac compatibility. And if your current home Wi-Fi network is suffering from stuttering streaming video, lengthy file transfers and slow loading web pages, the upgrade to a new Gigabit Wi-Fi router is worth considering.
Throw in those Smart Wi-Fi network management tools, and the Linksys AC1900 Smart Gigabit Wi-Fi Router makes a good choice to anchor a home Wi-Fi network.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not own a position in any of the aforementioned securities.