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 among them. Like the original, the WRT1900ACS is outfitted with one eSATA/USB 2.0 combo port and one USB 3.0 port. These let you 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.
The Netgear R6400 is a dual-band AC1750 router that can deliver throughput of up to 450Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and up to 1300Mbps on the 5GHz band. It didn’t beat the new Linksys by much, but it’s a strong value with a $150 street price. The Google/TP-Link OnHub is also an AC1900 router, but it trailed the field on this benchmark by a wide margin.
5GHz 802.11ac performance
I plugged a D-Link DWA-192 USB Wi-Fi adapter into my test client to measure each router’s 802.11ac performance. I retired the Asus USB-AC56 adapter I was using previously, because it’s limited to two spatial streams where the D-Link supports three. The WRT1900ACS performed very well here, especially at long range. The Google OnHub also performed well; in fact, it was faster than all the other routers when the client was in the same room as the router, nine feet away, and when the client was in my great room, 33 feet from the router with one interior insulated wall in between.
But the new Linksys was the fastest performer by a wide margin at long range, when the client was in my sun room, 65 feet from the router and separated by two insulated interior walls. The OnHub, meanwhile, fell way behind with the client in this location; and the older Linksys was surprisingly slow at close range.
Network-attached storage performance
If you’re looking for network-attached storage, I typically recommend that you buy a dedicated NAS box. The WRT1900ACS has me almost rethinking my position. It is incredibly fast at read and writing large files (I use a 10GB zip file in my benchmark), and it’s very fast when it comes to handling large collections of files, too (I use a 10GB collection of files here). I still think a dedicated NAS box—with a mirrored array for redundancy—is the best approach if you have serious storage needs. But wow, this new Linksys is fast with storage.
For the record, I use a dedicated SSD in a desktop PC hardwired to the router to transfer files to and from a dedicated USB 3.0 SSD plugged into the router. Most people will connect a mechanical drive to the router and therefore see slower performance, but I wanted to take that bottleneck out of the equation for this benchmark.
Should you buy a WRT1900ACS?
I’ve been using the WRT1900AC in my smart home ever since that router shipped (it’s sitting atop the Linksys SE4008 WRT 8-port switch, which rests in turn on a D-Link DGS-1024D 24-port switch). The router has been supremely reliable, even though my home-run closet tends to get a little warm. Most of my audio and video gear is hardwired to my network, so I don’t need the added flexibility than an AC3200 router offers.
I don’t have the geek cred—or the patience—to move to open-source firmware, but I will probably move up to the WRT1900ACS in the near future. It’s a great router, and Linksys is offering it at the same price as the old one: $230 (although street prices for the WRT1900AC have since dropped to $195).
Linksys WRT1900ACSTechHive Rating
Routers that can operate three independent networks remain the best choice for people with very crowded wireless environments, but the WRT1900ACS is a solid choice for most enthusiasts.
- Fast wireless performance
- Very fast storage performance
- Great industrial design
- Supports only three spatial streams
- Dual-band (versus so-called tri-band)
- Definitely looks like a router (that will be a Pro for some)