Our routine test setup includes a desktop PC, the reviewed router, and a laptop to simulate a wireless home network. The desktop system takes on the role of a host machine, while the router acts as a gateway. And lastly, an external Wireless 802.11ac adapter attached to the notebook is used to fulfill the role of a wireless remote client. The router is locked down in 802.11ac for the 5GHz band to prevent the use of varying 802.11 standards. Typically, a channel bandwidth of 80MHz is used for the 5GHz AC band, if the option is available.
We'll be using Netgear's A6200 802.11ac USB adapter for our throughput tests to reduce the number of variables involved. The Netgear A6200 USB adapter supports up to two spatial streams for a maximum data transfer rate of 866Mbps - the maximum for USB adapters currently. Hence, if your system has a more advanced wireless chipset that supports three spatial streams, you can expect even higher speeds.
Here is a graphical representation of our network test setup.
To evaluate, we will be using a mix of synthetic benchmarks and real-world testing. The synthetic benchmark we are using is called LAN Speed Test. As for real-world testing, we will be measuring the routers’ speeds in transferring a 1GB zip file. We will do multiple tests at difference distances to simulate use around a typical home. For the 5GHz band, we also measured how performance is affected if two clients are connected and uploading and downloading data at the same time. Here are the test distances we used and what they represent.
An important thing to note is that we will be steadily phasing out 2.4GHz testing from our benchmarks. For one, 802.11ac is now being widely supported by most if not all mobile devices. If your device supports 802.11ac, it makes absolutely no sense to connect to the router via the slower and more congested 2.4GHz band. Speaking of congestion, our test environment currently has no less than 19 different 2.4GHz networks being broadcasted. The amount of noise and interference makes it very difficult for us to properly evaluate 2.4GHz performance.
For analysis, we are also including results of the recently tested ASUS RT-AC87U and Linksys EA9200, two of the fastest routers that we have tested. As we have mentioned, 802.11ac Wave 2 routers like the ASUS RT-AC87U require compatible clients to enjoy its 1.7Gbps data transfer rate on the 5GHz band. Since such clients do not exist, it will be interesting to see how it will match up against AC1900 class routers.
Performance from all four routers on the 5GHz band was generally very good and competitive. For uplink speeds, the Linksys WRT1900AC was the clear leader from 2m to 13m, while the rest of the routers were about neck and neck with each other. At the farthest range of 17m, the D-Link DIR-880L, Linksys WRT1900AC and Netgear Nighthawk R7000 all suffered pretty significant drops in performance of over 35%, whereas performance of the ASUS RT-AC68U only dipped around 25%, which was comparable to the newer ASUS RT-AC87U and Linksys EA9200 routers.
As for downlink performance, the Netgear Nighthawk R7000 was the best performer, especially from 2m to 13m. On the other hand, the ASUS RT-AC68U was the most consistent router. At 17m, it managed 156.53Mbps, which translates to a performance degradation of just over 11%. Despite its large antennas, the D-Link DIR-880L router saw the biggest drop in performance at the 17m range of almost 30%. Interestingly, the ASUS RT-AC87U and Linksys EA9200 were no quicker than the four AC1900 routers, nor were their performance at extreme ranges any better for downlink performance.
Coming to file transfers, the Nighthawk R7000 router came in tops again as it managed the highest speeds across 2m, 5m and 13m ranges. However, performance dipped quite severely as we approached 17m. The D-Link DIR-880L was also pretty fast from 2m to 13m, but its performance also faded significantly when we came to the 17m test range. Again, the ASUS RT-AC68U proved to the most consistent performer, managing a very high 181.82Mbps even at 17m. The Linksys WRT1900AC comes in second place after ASUS where consistent performance is concerned.
Without MU-MIMO, routers can only transmit data to one device at any single time. As a result, if two devices are downloading data at the same time, performance can drop quite considerably. With the exception of the Linksys EA9200, which is an AC3200 router with dual 5GHz bands, most of the other routers managed roughly the same performance in this test. The D-Link DIR-880L was the top performer with 70.18Mbps, while the Netgear Nighthawk R7000 was the slowest with 64Mbps.