Hard to believe that two years have flown by since Linksys brought out the original WRT1900AC and rightfully blew my expectations away. Other routers have come and gone but this one in particular was definitely one of the best choices I’ve used for a while. In essence: heavily equipped and extremely reliable.
This is why the updated WRT1900ACS Dual-Band router is a marginal wonder. At $230 it costs roughly the same but packs even more power into an already potent internet device. For those who have service providers but have yet to maximize the quoted available speeds the price is worth it — unless you’ve invested in a good AC1900 router already.
So what are the differences for the WRT1900ACS? Well, in terms of looks absolutely nothing has changed. The body continues the retro theme of broad angles made up of black and pastel blue plastic, and the wide dimensions are equally prominent with its four 3×3 MIMO Volton-like antennas. As a whole, it’s recognizable like the “classic” WRT54G from over a decade ago, just much larger at 1.8-pounds and striking in scale.
Connectivity is carried over too with the same rear assortment of four gigabit LAN and a WAN (Internet) port, and a single USB 3.0. There’s also another port that works for both USB 2.0 and eSATA types, ideal for hosting up to two storage devices as external servers.
Up front you get the same broad array of status LED light that show everything the router is doing, which are very pretty and very bright for any room the WRT1900ACS is in. Fortunately, these unintentional beacons can be turned off through the web interface, if you find the near-blinding lights distracting.
One thing that is omitted from before is the low-profile cooling fan that acted as a fail-safe, in case the router overheated under duress. As a result, it makes the WRT1900ACS’s curb weight a tiny bit lighter and is debatably quieter in operation, but I’m divided since it was a smart idea in theory. Another feature this router lacks are support for Apple’s own Time Machine backup, so OS X owners can’t use this device for external provisional means, quite a unusual shortcoming since Netgear and Asus models are compatible.
At the time of our review, the former WRT1900AC was the most powerful router we ever tested. With specifications that included a dual-core ARM CPU and system memory you were getting a lot of horsepower to solidify any capable network. Linksys has outdone itself and effectively doubled the WRT1900ACS’s internal provisions, now utilizing a 1.6GHz processor and 512MB of DDR3 RAM to keep the performance on the high end. And like the previous chipset this router comes “open-source ready” if you’re into firmware modification and OpenWRT, which is a Linux-based OS catered to off-the-grid customizers.
The initial setup remains stupidly easy and only takes a minute with the default settings, and will help through the process during the unlikely event of a goof-up. Media Prioritization for drag and drop priority to three devices, and Parental Controls that can limit individual access or schedule times for specific websites are all included; along with familiar mainstays like an updated visual Network Map acts for all connected devices and a local Speed Test. To its credit, the interface has been moderately revamped and offers a lot more to tweak around with, being able to work in mixed modes solely on the 5GHz band to picking the channel width instead of letting the auto settings do the work.
Optional remote management is still a plus, granted you’ll also need a Linksys Smart Wi-Fi account and the suite of compatible mobile app. If you’re not anxious on the privacy and potential security risks involved with the ‘always-connected’ aspect between Linksys, it can be activated in mere seconds by going to linksyssmartwifi.com and does come in handy if you absolutely need to keep an eye on your home network. For a first, OpenVPN is included for secure connections between remote and local users and a boon for enterprise applications.
The WRT1900ACS was guaranteed to provide even better benchmarks. With the automatic presets on a 5GHz band and various line-of-sight distances we observed a respectable bump at 98.4MBps at 10 feet (3 meters), which is quite incredible and edging out over the WRT1900AC by at least 2MBps. Adding some length between the router with some walls at 40 feet netted us 61MBps, an increased average that also topped the original. Direct data transfers of 1GB also took about 30 seconds, and beat the former there as well.
However, 2.4GHz performance is unchanged and a bit sloggy, which is a common trait in current Linksys offerings. Average speeds were sometimes inconsistent teetering between 14MBps to 36MBps, but we were eventually able to nail down a transfer rate of 24.4MBps on most occasions. Simply put, you won’t be able to really benefit from this router if your ISP plan is on the lower tier.
The WRT1900ACS replaces its predecessor in spades as one of best Linksys routers to date, continuing to offer excellent Wi-Fi speed, range, and overall number of features. With an asking price of $230 it’s among the more expensive picks around, and you’ll need a proper fast broadband connection to really take advantage – at least something at 50Mbps to justify the purchase. If you don’t plan upgrading from a slower internet connection, choices such as the Asus RT-AC68U or the D-Link DIR-880L will suit you just fine.
But if you do make the jump, you won’t regret improving your online experience. Where other choices sometimes struggle, this Editors’ Choice pick is a definitive networking performer.