Gigabit Wireless? Five 802.11ac Routers, Benchmarked

Five years ago, we didn't have homes with a dozen wireless nodes and the need to run HD video to multiple screens. Today we do. Our 802.11n networks, especially on the 2.4 GHz band, are swamped. Can 802.11ac save the day? We test six routers to find out.

At some point, every modern freeway was a dream to drive. The pavement was fresh and the lanes were all but empty. But inevitably, congestion set in. People learned to hop on the freeway to quicken their daily travel needs. As populations steadily grew, so did the number of cars clogging the streets. What was once a breezy late afternoon jaunt eventually became today’s four-hour exercise in asthmatic gridlock.

Automotive analogy aside, we’re really talking about the 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi spectrum. In the first days of 802.11b (circa 1999), the freeway may have posted a paltry 11 Mb/s, but there was hardly anyone else on the road. Fast forward to the present. Despite evolving through 802.11g and 802.11n, the 2.4 GHz band became a congested mess clogged with notebooks, netbooks, wireless speakers, Bluetooth peripherals, smartphones, tablets, set-tops, TVs, consoles, appliances, and all manner of other devices. These gadgets compete for what boils down to essentially three (after considering bandwidth overlap) possible transmission channels under 802.11b. A 20 MHz-wide 802.11g/n network has four such channels, while a 40 MHz-wide 802.11n network has just two...


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