Not long after purchasing Linksys from Cisco, Belkin celebrated by releasing a new wireless router designed to capitalize on the success of the best-selling Linksys WRT54G line, famed for its low price and hackability. At $279, the WRT1900AC isn't cheap, but it more than makes up for the price by being powerful, easy to work with, and able to serve both as a router and a miniature media server if you attach your own storage.
On unboxing the WRT1900AC, it's impossible not to be struck by its design, which is deliberately reminiscent of the WRT54G. The WRT1900AC is markedly larger, though, and sports four removable antennae instead of the original's two. Most important is what's inside: four Gigabit Ethernet ports, 2.5GHz and 5GHz wireless radios (compatible with 802.11ac and a/b/g/n), a 1.2GHz dual-core ARM processor, USB 2.0, USB 3.0, and eSATA ports.
Getting the router up and running wasn't difficult. Once it was attached to the network and powered up, all I had to do was connect to the router — either by attaching a PC directly or logging on to its predefined wireless network — and follow a setup wizard. The wizard runs even on a phone browser (that's how I ran it) and doesn't take more than a few minutes. In a nice touch, it even configured the router to automatically pull any firmware updates and install them at night. Installing firmware updates on any router should be this painless, although it's not clear if there's any notification mechanism for when a new firmware has been applied (for example, an email sent to the email address registered with my Linksys account).
The Web-based configuration system for the router is available via a direct connection to the router from within the network or via a cloud-based service one can log into from anywhere. The cloud option is a great idea, since it spares the user from having to mess around with opening a port from the router to the outside world or having to risk an open port's security hazards. Another nice touch: If you're connected to the router admin page and the router goes offline or reboots, the configuration page detects this and will prevent you from trying to submit changes until a connection is re-established.
One downside is that you can't manage the router through the Web interface from a mobile device. Instead, Linksys has a mobile app that exposes all the same functionality. Although the mobile app is nicely done, I wish there were a proper mobile-friendly version of the Web control panel. It shouldn't be all that difficult to accomplish.
Using the router is mostly set-it-and-forget-it — I didn't need to do any additional tweaking to get streamed media or other network-intensive applications working well. It does offer the ability to prioritize networkconnections based on port range, protocol, or originating system, should you want to give a certain system a bigger slice of bandwidth than others. Speed tests with the router (using the Iperf network tool) showed it delivering an excellent average speed of 933 megabits per second between two clients when using an aggregate of eight network streams.
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