The gaming router: an aggrandized category of the networking world. No matter who makes them, companies have often fallen far below demanding performance and preventing dropped connections altogether. I typically cringe at the thought of this, but Linksys has lovingly engineered their own with the WRT32X. An hardcore unit that is quite possibly the only router of its kind.
In fact, I was there for the preview earlier this year and besides the freeflowing booze, the people at Linksys knew that other manufacturers claim to make true gaming routers but fail to deliver, and one representative quote “a half-ass job” from competitors. A potential miracle for uninterrupted Overwatch matchmaking.
Clearly, the WRT32X is the boldest entrant among the throwback-derived models we have reviewed already. A direct homage to the original WRT lineup with low-slung, broad angular sides and four jutting antennas that are detachable, except the appearance is now all-black affair and equally menacing as a whole. The exterior alterations seem minor but the character is complete with the main status LEDs done up in blue lights, instead of pure white that we are familiar with.
All of the basic features appear to come from its brother, the Linksys WRT3200ACM—powered by a dual-core 1.8 GHz processor, with four Gigabit LAN ports and a single Gigabit WAN port connected to a “pro-grade” Marvell 88E6352 controller normally geared for enterprise workload. Included again are storage and NAS sharing capabilities with USB 3.0/eSATA ports around back.
MU-MIMO and Tri-Stream 160 (three spatial stream over a 160MHz-wide channel) provides theoretical wireless speeds of 2.6Gbps if you can’t make use of Ethernet options, while IPv6 multitasking and VPN offer flexibility and large amounts of local network traffic.
The setup process for the WRT32X does not benefit from app-based methods and must be done through a web browser. Fortunately, the initial configuration is straightforward enough and on-screen instructions help you through all of it. The administrator dashboard will be an elaborate interface, where bright simplicity is swapped for a technical UI array of stats and benchmark dials. Gamers will love being able to perform integrated speed tests and see how much bandwidth they are actually getting.
Many of the advanced settings are hidden, but still available for dedicated users like support for Dynamic DNS providers, an integrated Open VPN Client, IPv6 and a selection of DNS servers (including your default ISP, Google, Open DNS and Custom settings). We cannot forget the choice to install open-source firmware (DD-WRT) for unique situations that may benefit, a hallmark feature of the WRT family for advanced router management.
We are reviewing the WRT32X for its gaming prowess and a lot of it comes down to the Killer Prioritization Engine (KPE) by Rivet Networks. This allows the router to identify any recent PC or notebook equipped with compatible Killer hardware and places anything gaming-related in the front queue and fully configurable via Killer Control Center.
In testing, there was not an extreme difference on overall network speed, instead, we got an added level of reliability when primarily gaming online or streaming content in 4K quality. Granted, the only way to see any real advantage that the WRT32X provides is with aforementioned hardware. Linksys was kind enough to supply a MSI GT73VR Titan, which is a powerhouse laptop that probably outclasses anything below $3K. I was also lucky enough to have a PC motherboard (Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming 7) sporting dual Killer Ethernet ports, this also worked if the Control Center is installed beforehand. We’re talking about high-end components from Alienware/Gigabyte/MSI/Razer no less.
However, devices without Killer technology will not get anything out of the WRT32X, period. It is nothing but a regular router for things like PlayStation 4 or Xbox One perform over a wireless network, let alone the huge majority of non-hardcore PC motherboards. Knowing this, expectations were high for proper hardware and we were not disappointed with excellent speeds and low pings (8ms) on the faster 5 GHz range.
Another Linksys trait is lukewarm performance over 2.4 GHz which is behind other competitors and even its own EA9500 router. Meanwhile, USB storage and data transfer speed are great with read/write speeds clocked at 83.4/66.7 MBps, suitable for media streaming and on par with other routers.
I love that the WRT32X Gaming Router comes tailored for absolute performance over practicality. However, that is pretty much the only type of individual this router will ever appeal to, because this is damn inconvenient for everyone else. It will be expensive buying both the router and a Killer-enabled motherboard as an means to an end, but there is no doubt that Linksys has created an amazing router for a zealous purpose — at least one that has zero qualms about being niche.