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Linksys WRT1900AC: The best open router yet

Serdar Yegulalp | May 20, 2014
Linksys' ambitious, prosumer-grade Wi-Fi router is pricey compared to the classic WRT54G router that inspired it, but it comes with a great feature set

The beam-forming technology Linksys uses for wireless networks provided a major boost in signal strength compared to my previous router (a Buffalo WHR-HP-G300N). With the Buffalo, my Samsung Galaxy Note II couldn't get a reliable signal when it was more than a room or so away. With the WRT1900AC, I got above -65dB of signal strength in every corner of a 2,300-square-foot single-level home. Using 5GHz networking helped even more.

Linksys put some thought into how the router handles wireless networks. For one thing, 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless networks are offered as discrete connections, each with its own SSID and password. I particularly liked this approach because it allowed me to determine which network would offer the best performance for which device. The WRT1900AC also comes configured out of the box with a separately defined guest wireless network, which allows Internet access but no connectivity to other devices in the network. That network, too, offers discrete 2.4GHz and 5GHz connections, and you can toggle off the guest network if you don't plan to use it.

In the same vein is a simple parental-control system, which allows you to block specific devices from network access during user-defined time spans or on certain days of the week. It isn't a substitute for a full-blown parental-control suite, but it's a decent stopgap.

One truly great feature is the router's ability to connect directly to external SATA or USB 3.0 drives. The connected drives can be shared either via FTP or the UPnP/DLNA media-sharing protocol. I tried DLNA-sharing some files on a flash drive and was pleasantly surprised at how uncomplicated it was. It works so well, you might not have to buy a separate network storage system.

Various third-party apps are available for managing the router through Linksys's cloud service. Right now the list is pretty small, mostly consisting of media-sharing (HipPlay, Qnext) and parental-control apps (Block the Bad Stuff, Netproofer).

The ultimate geek test of any router today is, "Can I run my own firmware?" With the Linksys WRT1900AC, the answer ostensibly is yes. Linksys has provided the hardware to the developers of the OpenWRT firmware, and, although the firmware in question isn't yet available, pending some work on the part of both Linksys and Marvell (for the Wi-Fi driver), it should be on the way. That said, this router is so full-featured, you might not need to tinker with it at all to get what you need.


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