Hard-core gamers will go to great lengths for the slightest advantage. Maxed out computer processors, high-end video cards, copious amounts of RAM, gaming-specific headsets, multiple monitor mounts or even expensive gaming chairs. If it offers an edge, they'll buy it.
Enter the Linksys WRT32X. While there are other routers that claim the "gaming" moniker, the WRT32X has a couple of distinct advantages, not least the fact that it helps you prioritize gaming traffic across your entire home network. With a $300 price tag (or £299 in the UK), the WRT32X is expensive enough that you may want to reach for a cheaper alternative, unless you can actually benefit from some of the unique features this router has to offer.
Let's say you're sitting down for a marathon gaming session, but at the same time your roommate is streaming a movie, and someone else is listening to music and downloading oddly large files. All that other network activity will kill your in-game network speed, hurting your overall gaming performance. With the WRT32X, you can prioritize types of network traffic, ranking gaming traffic as more important than video streaming or random file downloads. Now your gaming connection speed will remain top-notch, with any lag being passed down to other kinds of network activity.
The WRT32X prioritizes and accelerates network traffic thanks to Rivet Network's Killer Prioritization Engine. Longtime PC gamers might recognize the Killer brand name from when it was owned by Bigfoot, which made gaming-optimized network adapters. You can still find Killer-branded network adapters in gaming and performance PCs from MSI, Dell (Both Alienware and XPS models), Razer, Gigabyte, and others.
If you own a Killer-equipped PC, you get some added benefits. The WRT32X router can detect the Killer wireless adapter and offer a new tab in your Killer Control Center networking software. From that tab, you can change your router's settings directly, without having to go through the normal routine or using a separate router app or a browser login. If you're using a non-Killer computer, you won't find any software shortcuts to your router's settings, but you can still benefit from the traffic prioritization, configured from your app or browser.
For the rest of the standards in the router, they compete well against those of similar routers in its price range:
- 256MB flash and 512MB of DDR3 memory
- Gigabit Ethernet switch
- Four high-powered antennas for extreme range
- Three wireless bands -- 2.4GHz and two 5GHz bands
- eSATA, USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports for network storage
Because this router is a part of the Linksys WRT product family, it will support custom-loaded firmware, which some users take advantage of to enable nonstandard networking features or different control software. Be aware that replacing this router's firmware will completely erase any of the Killer functionality, which is probably most of the reason for buying it in the first place.
I did have the chance to briefly try out the WRT32X along with a Killer-enabled laptop from MSI loaned to us by Linksys for testing. My game of choice is League of Legends. In my normal home network setup, I see speeds over 200Mbps, and my in-game ping is usually about 35 milliseconds. Ping is often used by gamers as the go-to metric for how fast their connection is to the game server. A lower ping can offer you fractions of a second's worth of advantage over another player with a higher ping. When I load my network down with additional traffic, such as video streaming and file downloads, my ping typically jumps up to about 59 milliseconds, nearly double my original ping.
After installing the WRT32X and prioritizing traffic types, the router held my gaming ping steady at 35 milliseconds, even while I was also streaming video and downloading huge files on the same wireless network. This worked on both the Linksys-provided MSI laptop and on my own PC, which doesn't have a Killer networking adapter.
The WRT32X hit stores Sept. 21. Look for our full review in the coming weeks.