802.11ac Wi-Fi Router Round-Up: ASUS, Netgear, D-Link, and TRENDnet

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Introduction and Router Specifications

Wireless routers are going through somewhat of a renaissance right now, thanks to the arrival of the 802.11ac standard that is "three times as fast as wireless-N" and the proliferation of Internet-connected devices in our homes and pockets. Whereas before we merely had a handful of laptops and PCs connected to the internet at various times, we now have homes with many devices connected all the time, including our phones, tablets, computers, smart televisions, game consoles, and smart home devices. Though wireless N wasn't bad at the time, it's simply not ideal when dozens of devices are connected at the same time, and certainly not in a larger home or office. That's where 802.11ac comes in, as it offers much-improved speeds and the ability to support a lot more clients at the same time. Now that there are several premium routers on the market that are able to take full advantage of everything 802.11ac has to offer, we figured we'd round up the best-of-the-best and put them through their paces.

802.11ac Primer
So, what is the big deal with AC and should you care? First off, it's backwards compatible with all previous standards, so if you have a mixture of B/G/N devices like older laptops or tablets, and newer devices that support AC, it will work with all of them. Of course, what we're all interested in, in regards to AC, is its performance, and in that regard it certainly doesn't disappoint. Whereas 802.11n was only able to pump out 450Mb/s of total bandwidth, 802.11ac is capable of transmitting at up to 1,300Mbps on a 5GHz channel. Of course you'll likely never see that top-end performance in the real world, but that's what 802.11ac is specified to offer in max throughput.

Just to be clear, wireless AC is only available on the 5GHz channel, which generally has fewer devices on it than a typical 2.4GHz channel, allowing for higher performance due to less interference and the use of wider channels. The trade-off is that 5GHz signals typically don't travel as far as those on the 2.4GHz channel. However, 802.11ac makes up for it with a technology named Beamforming, that allows it to calculate where devices are located and amplify the signal in their direction instead of just broadcasting in all directions like 802.11n. Also, while 802.11n supports only four streams of data, 802.11ac supports up to eight streams on channels that are twice as wide. How all this shakes out in your living room or small office boils down to a multitude of factors, but wireless AC is clearly superior, and offers a lot more bandwidth and range both now and in future iterations.

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The Routers: D-Link, ASUS, Netgear, TRENDnet
Specifications & Features

D-Link DIR 890 L ASUS RT-AC3200 Netgear Nighthawk X6 Trendnet TEW-828DRU
Technology IE802.11 a/b/g/n/ac IE802.11 a/b/g/n/ac IE802.11 a/b/g/n/ac IE802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Bands One 2.4GHz, Dual 5GHz One 2.4GHz, Dual 5GHz One 2.4GHz, Dual 5GHz One 2.4GHz, Dual 5GHz
Wireless speeds 600Mb/s @2.4GHz, 1,300Mb/s @ 5GHz 600Mb/s @2.4GHz, 1,300Mb/s @ 5GHz 600Mb/s @2.4GHz, 1,300Mb/s @ 5GHz 600Mb/s @2.4GHz, 1,300Mb/s @ 5GHz
Interface Gigabit Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet
Ethernet Port 4x 1Gb LAN (+1Gb WAN) 4x 1Gb LAN (+1Gb WAN) 4x 1Gb LAN (+1Gb WAN) 4x 1Gb LAN (+1Gb WAN)
USB Port 1x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0 1x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0 1x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0 1x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0
Security WPA/WPA2; SPI Firewall; Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS)  WPA/WPA2; SPI Firewall; Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS), 64-bit WEP, 128-bit WEP WPA/WPA2; SPI Firewall; Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS)  WEP, WPA/WPA2-PSK, WPA/WPA2-RADIUS
Platform Broadcom Xstream 5G Broadcom Xstream 5G Broadcom Xstream 5G Broadcom Xstream 5G
Antenna Six non-removable Six removable Six non-removable Six non-removable
Dimensions 15.23 x 9.73 x 4.7 inches  (WxDxH) 11.4 x 7.4 x 2.28 inch (WxDxH) 11.63 x 8.92 x 2.14 inch (WxDxH) 9.5 x 6.7 x 1.8 inch (WxDxH)
Warranty 1 year 2 year 1 year 3 year 
Pricing (street): $287.99 $269.50 $273 $209.99

There are various types of 802.11ac routers to choose from, but since this is Hot Hardware we wanted to round up some top-shelf units. All of the routers in this roundup are the flagship AC routers from each respective brand (at the time of publication), and all of them are AC3200 routers as well that use the new Broadcom XStream 5G hardware platform. This number "AC3200" could be considered a bit of deceptive marketing, because it is designed to make you think you'll be able to receive that much bandwidth all at once on a single device, but that's not the case. It just means the router can operate at that level across all three of its bands at once, so it's technically delivering that much bandwidth, but each connected device only gets a slice of that.

All of these routers broadcast in both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, and have dual 5GHz bands as well, and as such these routers are designed for large homes, or perhaps a small office, with multiple floors and many devices. They are likely overkill for just a handful of devices, but that certainly wouldn't stop us from pulling the trigger on one of them of course, especially when you consider the improved range performance.

Represented above, we have the D-Link DIR 890-L, ASUS RT-AC3200, Netgear Nighthawk X6, and TRENDnet TEW-828DRU. As you can see, their specifications are quite similar.  We'll take a closer look at each one, next.

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