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A router that performs well isn't always a great deal. Case in point, the new Linksys WRT1200AC.
It testing, the router proved to be a fast and reliable Wi-Fi option and a powerful network storage server when hosting an external hard drive. But its Wi-Fi performance wasn't significantly better than that of other AC1200 routers, such as the Netgear R6100, that cost about half of its price of $180 (£120 or AU$220 converted). Even if you opted for a higher-tier and clearly better-performing router, such as the AC1750 Asus RT-AC66U or the AC1900 D-Link DIR-880L , you'd still only have to pay around $150.
Don't get me wrong, the WRT1200AC is a solid performer and one of the best AC1200 routers on the market. On top of that it sports a retro design that makes it convenient to stack it on top of other, similar WRT network accessories. However, all in all, it just doesn't have enough to justify its hugely inflated price.
For the money you would spend on the WRT1200AC, there are many better deals on this list of best 802.11ac routers.
Like the recently released WRT1900AC, the WRT1200AC features Linksys' good old "classic" stackable design that dates back to the original WRT series (such as the WRT54Gs ). In fact, the two routers share the same shape, size, color and even number of peripheral ports. Other than the number of antennas (the WRT1200AC has two and the WRT1900AC has four), you can't tell them apart visually.
This design means the routers mix well with similar stackable products such as the WRT Switch or the Storage Bay that Linksys says it will soon release. If you want to conserve space, you'll appreciate that aspect of the design. Personally I like this design a lot because it makes the router feel very solid and, in my testing of the WRT1900AC, proved to be one of the most practical designs for Wi-Fi routers.
Note that the antennas are detachable and you can use the WRT1200AC with third-party high-gain antennas to improve Wi-Fi range. Linksys also sells WRT high-gain antennas of its own.
Powered by an ARM-based dual-core processor that runs at 1.3GHz (as opposed to the 1.2GHz processor of the WRT1900AC), 128MB flash memory storage and 256MB DDR3 RAM, the WRT1200AC is one of the most souped-up home routers. It features four Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports and one Gigabit WAN (Internet) port. The router also has one USB 3.0 port and another port that can work as either a USB 2.0 or an eSATA. All of these network and peripheral ports are located on the back of the router.
On the front, the WRT1200AC has an array of fancy-looking white LEDs that show the status of all the ports mentioned above. Interestingly, you can turn these lights off via the router's Web interface, a nice design touch in case you want to use the router in a bedroom and don't want to be bothered by flashing lights.
Despite the top-notch main processor, the WRT1200AC uses only the midtier Wi-Fi standard. It supports the dual-stream (2 x 2) instead of the faster 3 x 3 Wi-Fi setup and hence has a top theoretical speed of just 867Mbps, instead of the 1,300Mbps the 3 x 3 setup provides, on the 5GHz band. On the 2.4GHz band, its top speed is only 400Mbps, instead of 600Mbps. (Read more about Wi-Fi standards.) Adding these up, the router has the total bandwidth of around 1,200Mbps, hence the AC1200 designation.
Note that the WRT1200AC is compatible with all existing Wi-Fi clients on the market, regardless of standard, but the actual speed of each wireless connection will be that of the slower party.
As with the WRT1900AC, you can just use the WRT1200AC right out of the box, and its default settings are printed on its underside. If you want to customize the Wi-Fi networks' names and other features of the router, you can do that via the router's Web interface.
Locally, you can access the interface by pointing the browser from a connected computer to the router's IP address: by default it's 192.168.1.1, and the default password to log in is admin.
The router's interface is the same used for previous Linksys Smart Wi-Fi routers and includes some cool features. There's an interactive Network Map that shows the connected devices and allows you to interact with each just by clicking on its icon. You can also do a quick Internet speed test right from within the interface.
Other big features include Media Prioritization, which allows you to drag and drop connected clients between the High and Normal priority lists, and the Parental Control feature that allows you to block certain connected clients' access to the Internet or to certain Web sites. The router also features two Guest networks (one for each band) that you can quickly turn on or off via a click. You can also change the names and passwords of the guest networks and set the number of guest clients to up to 50. Guests clients will be able to access the Internet via the router but not local resources such as files or printer, and they can't see one another either.
Like previous Smart Wi-Fi routers, the WRT1200AC has a remote management feature that allows you to monitor your home network remotely via the Internet. This features requires a free account with linksyssmartwifi.com.
To associate the router with this account, all you have to do is to go linksyssmartwifi.com website from any local computer that's connected to the router. The first time you do this, you will be prompted to enter the router's admin password, then log in to the Smart Wi-Fi account, and you're done. From then on, linksyssmartwifi.com becomes the portal where you can log in and manage your home network, no matter where you are in the world, as though you were still at home.
The router's remote Web interface is essentially the same as the one you use locally. (The only difference is the Internet Speed Test function is not available when you log in remotely.) The Linksys Smart Wi-Fi portal is also available via mobile app (Android and iOS) and offers access to a number of settings and features of the router. You do need a browser to have full access, however.
In my trials, the remote management feature worked well, both when I used it with a browser and via the mobile app. Using a vendor-assisted remote feature like this affects your privacy since essentially the vendor can know all about online activities. If that's not of a concern, however, I find this feature very helpful.
The router's USB ports can be used to connect to external storage devices of any capacity. You can use external hard drives formatted in HFS+, FAT32 or NTFS, and in my tests the router recognized the plugged-in external hard drive almost immediately.
After that you can you can share its contents with other network devices, either via regular file-sharing protocol or through streaming. The router supports UPnP and DNLA streaming standards, allowing the content stored on the connected drive to be played back by most network media streamers and game consoles. There's no support for Time Machine backup, however, which is a major drawback for Mac users.
By default, all clients in your home network can access all the content stored on a connected drive, but you can also turn on sharing restriction by creating user accounts.
Since the WRT1200AC is a dual-stream router, I didn't expect top Wi-Fi performance from it, but on the 5GHz band, the router was impressive nonetheless. It registered a sustained speed of 523Mbps at the close range of 15 feet. When I increased the distance to 100 feet, it averaged 247Mbps. These speeds are above average for 802.11ac routers I've reviewed, including three-stream routers.
On the 2.4GHz band, the router didn't do as well, averaging just 57Mbps and 42Mbps for close and long range, respectively. Though disappointing, this was quite normal, however, since the legacy 2.4GHz is generally not the forte of 802.11ac routers. Also at these speeds, clients can still access the Internet comfortably.
The WRT1200AC clearly has less range than other higher-end routers. In my trial, I was able to get a stable signal from it from as far as 160 feet away for the 2.4GHz band and just about 140 feet for the 5GHz band. Further out, it was difficult to hold a steady connection, even though its signals were still detectable. While these numbers are in fact quite good for a dual-stream router, some three-stream and quad-stream routers I've reviewed have a range as far as 300 feet.
On the other hand, the WRT1200AC's Wi-Fi signal stability was stellar. I used it for a week nonstop with multiple clients of different Wi-Fi standards and it didn't disconnect even once.
Note that I tested the router at CNET's offices, where there are walls and many Wi-Fi devices that are out of my control. Generally, walls shorten the reach of a Wi-Fi signal, and other Wi-Fi devices create interference, especially on the 2.4GHz band. As with all Wi-Fi routers, your results may vary depending on where you live.
The WRT1200AC's NAS performance was also outstanding. When coupled with a portable drive connected to its USB 3.0 port, and via a Gigabit connection, the router registered a sustained speed of 71MBps for writing and 89MBps for reading. These were on par with the speeds of many dedicated NAS servers. As you can see on the chart, the WRT1200AC was second only to its older brother the WRT1900AC in this test. This means either of the Linksys new WRT routers would make an excellent home network storage option if you don't want to invest in a dedicated NAS server.
Like the WRT1900AC, the new WRT1200AC is another reliable Wi-Fi router from Linksys. Unfortunately, Linksys decided to charge way to much for it. At $180 it's actually more expensive than the refurbished version of the much better WRT1900AC.
And even though the WRT1200AC might have the best performance among AC1200 routers, it's not faster than some higher-tier routers that cost less, like the Asus RT-AC66U, the D-Link DIR-880L and the Trendnet TEW-818DRU. Even the once notoriously expensive Apple AirPort Extreme which is also faster than the WRT1200AC, can currently be found for only a couple dollars more at $185.
As far as Wi-Fi is concerned, there's no good reason to get the WRT1200AC. However, if you're enticed by its great storage performance, remember that this feature doesn't support Time Machine backup, which greatly reduces its usefulness to Mac users. With all of that in mind, the Linksys WRT1200AC might be a good and reliable performer, but it's far from being a great deal.