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Linksys WRT1900ACS Dual-Band Gigabit Wi-Fi Router review: An excellent router for those with fast home Internet

Linksys' latest AC1900 router is the WRT1900ACS. Will it be better than the popular WRT1900AC that came out more than a year ago?

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Dong Ngo
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Dong Ngo

SF Labs Manager, Editor / Reviews

CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.

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9 min read

As the upgrade to the original WRT1900AC that came out more than a year ago, the new WRT1900ACS is now the best router from networking giant Linksys.

linksys-wrt-1900acs-9689-001.jpg
8.3

Linksys WRT1900ACS Dual-Band Gigabit Wi-Fi Router

The Good

With powerful hardware, the Linksys WRT1900ACS Wi-Fi router delivers fast Wi-Fi performance at a really long range. It has brisk network storage speed when hosting an external storage device. Plus, the router boasts a cool retro stack-able design.

The Bad

The router is expensive and unfortunately for Mac users, the storage feature doesn't support Time Machine backup.

The Bottom Line

Though pricey, the WRT1900ACS' long range and rapid Wi-Fi will deliver fast Internet to places in your home that other routers might struggle to reach.

The new router is equipped with significantly more powerful hardware and does away with the internal fan, allowing it to run more quietly with potentially less maintenance. In testing, the new router also proved to be significantly faster than its predecessor, both as a Wi-Fi router and as a network storage server when connected to an external hard drive.

All things considered, I find the new router totally worth the rather hefty cost of $230 (about £100 or AU$210 converted) for those with fast Internet connections, who are having trouble reaching their provider's top quoted speeds. On the other hand, if your Internet is slow, or if you already have have a good AC1900 router, such as the Asus RT-AC68U , the Netgear R7000 , or the original WRT1900AC, it's unlikely the WRT1900ACS will make a big difference in performance.

For more options on excellent home network gateways, check out CNET's list of best 802.11AC routers.

The WRT1900ACS (right) looks exactly the same as the previous version, the WRT1900AC. Josh Miller/CNET

Same retro design, even more powerful hardware

At its time, the WRT1900AC had the most powerful hardware on the market with a 1.2GHz dual-core processor and 256MB of DDR3 system memory. Now the WRT1900ACS outdoes that significantly with a dual-core, 1.6GHz processor. On top of that it also double the amount of system memory to 512MB of DDR3 RAM. More powerful hardware specs generally translate into better overall performance, which was the case here (but more on that later).

On the outside, however, the WRT1900ACS shares the same dimensions and retro design as the WRT1900AC. The design harkens back to the "classic" blue-and-black look of earlier WRT series that was first introduced more than a decade ago, such as the WRT54Gs , albeit much larger in physical size. The new router is wall-mountable and is also retains the stackable design of previous Linksys gear.

The WRT1900ACS has one big difference in design compared to the previous version: it no longer has an internal fan. Fans make noise and are the parts that tend to break, so removing this means one less thing to worry about.

As a Wi-Fi router, the WRT1900ACS remains a three-stream (3x3) 802.11ac (AC1900) router. This means on paper it has a top speed of up to 1,300 megabits per second on the 5GHz frequency band and up to 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz band. (Read more about Wi-Fi standards here.) While there are higher tier AC2600 or AC3200 routers on the market, the AC1900 tier is currently the sweet spot of Wi-Fi. This is because the fastest clients -- laptops, tablets or smartphones -- on the market support the 3x3 setup at most. Since a network connection can be only as fast as the speed of the slowest device involved, getting a higher-tier router than AC1900 will not return better real-world performance.

On its back, similar to the case of its predecessor, the new WRT1900ACS has four gigabit LAN ports and one gigabit WAN (Internet) port. It also comes with one USB 3.0 port and another port that can work as either a USB 2.0 or an eSATA connection. You can use these ports to host up to two external storage devices at a time.

On the front, the WRT1900ACS comes with an array of fancy LED status lights that show the condition of the router. You can always turn these lights off, however, via the router's Web interface in case the flashing lights bother you at night.

Specs of popular AC1900 routers

Top Wi-Fi speedCPUPeripheral portsDimensionsWeightCurrent Price
Linksys WRT1900ACS 1.3Gbps (5GHz) / 600Mbps (2.4GHz)Dual-core 1.6GHzOne USB 3.0 and one USB 2.0/eSATA9.7x7.6x2 inches (26.6x19.3x5.1cm)3.2 lbs (1.45kg)$230 (MSRP)
Asus RT-AC68U 1.3Gbps (5GHz) / 600Mbps (2.4GHz)Dual-core 800MHzOne USB 3.0 and one USB 2.08.7x6.3x3.3 inches (22.1x16x8.4cm)1.4 lbs (0.64kg)$180
Linksys EA6900 1.3Gbps (5GHz) / 600Mbps (2.4GHz)Dual-core 800MHzOne USB 3.0 and one USB 2.010.1x7.3x1.6 inches (25.7x18.5x4.1cm)1.2 lbs (0.54kg)$100
Linksys WRT1900AC 1.3Gbps (5GHz) / 600Mbps (2.4GHz)Dual-core 1.2GHzOne USB 3.0 and one USB 2.0/eSATA9.7x7.6x2 inches (26.6x19.3x5.1cm)2.11 lbs (0.98kg)$195
Netgear R7000 1.3Gbps (5GHz) / 600Mbps (2.4GHz)Dual-core 1,000MHzOne USB 3.0 and one USB 2.011.2x7.3x2 inches (28.4x18.5x5.1cm)1.65 lbs (0.75kg)$194

Easy to set up, optional remote management

The WRT1900ACS shares the same setup process as its predecessor, but you can use it without setting up at all. Out of the box, the router has default network settings with information on the Wi-Fi networks printed on its underside. All you have to do is plug the router into power and connect its Internet (WAN) port to an Internet source (a short network cable is included), such as a broadband modem, and you're all set.

To further customize the router, you will need to access its Web interface. To do this, from a connected computer, point the browser to the router's default IP address, which is 192.168.1.1, and log in with the default password, which is admin.You'll have the option to remotely manage it via a Linksys Smart Wi-Fi account. It took me just a few seconds to associate the router with an account and after that I could get to its Web interface by going to linksyssmartwifi.com, instead of the router's IP address. I was also able to access the interface from any computer connected to the Internet, meaning the router can now be managed from anywhere in the world.

Locally or remotely, the router's Web interface is exactly the same when you use a computer. With the remote management feature turned on, the router can also be managed via a free Linksys Smart Wi-Fi mobile app (for Android and iOS). In this case, however, you will have access to only the main settings and features of the router, not all of them.

The remote management feature worked well in my trial, both with a browser and via the mobile app. Keep in mind, however, that using it means your router will be connected to Linksys at all times, which might pose privacy risks. If you're not too concerned about that, you'll find this feature quite handy when you need to quickly check on your home network when you're out and about.

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The WRT1900ACS now allows for more options in Wi-Fi settings. Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

Nice set of features, now including OpenVPN

The WRT1900ACS has the most features among Linksys Smart Wi-Fi routers. It's the first in this family that supports OpenVPN, allowing remote users to connect securely. OpenVPN will also be helpful for small businesses where remote and local users can connect as though they're in the same room. Another major improvement is that the interface now allows for a higher level of customization. For example, you can set the Wi-Fi networks to work in the mixed mode, N-only, A-only or AC-only (on the 5GHz band). You can also pick the channel width you want instead of having to use the Auto setting. This new flexibility in customization is great news for savvy users.

Other than that, the new router has all the features available in the WRT1900AC. The big feature is the Media Prioritization, which allows you to drag and drop connected clients between the High priority and Normal priority lists. (Those on the High priority list will have the priority access to the Internet while the other will need to wait.) There's a simple and effective Parental Control feature that allows you to block certain connected clients' access to the Internet or just to certain websites. You can also schedule the time when the blocking is in effect. The WRT1900ACS supports one guest network (only on the 2.4GHz band) and allows you to customize this network's name, password and the amount of guest users (up to 50).

The interface also has a handy Internet speed test (available only when you access the interface locally) that show the speed of the broadband connection. However, the coolest feature is likely the live Network Map that displays connected devices by connection types (wireless or wired) or device types (computers, mobile devices, printers and unknown). You can interact with each client via a mouse click, such as viewing its information, adding/removing it to the IP reservation or Parental Control lists. In all, the Map is a great way for you to visually manage your home network.

No support for Time Machine backup

The WRT1900ACS's USB and eSATA ports can be used to host external storage devices of any capacity. It also supports all popular file systems, including NTFS, HFS+ and FAT32. When a drive is plugged in, you can share its content with other network devices, either via regular file-sharing protocol or through streaming. By default, all clients in your home network can access all the content stored on a connected drive, but you can also turn on secure sharing by user accounts. The router supports UPnP and DNLA streaming standards, meaning content stored on the connected drive can be played back by network media streamers.

Unfortunately, the router doesn't support Time Machine backup, meaning Macs won't be able to use the connected storage device as a Time Machine backup destination. This is quite a big shortcoming considering other routers from Asus and D-Link support this feature.

Other than that, the WRT1900ACS has all the other common features and settings found in high-end routers, such as IPv6, DynDNS, port-forwarding, WPA/WPA2 Wi-Fi encryption methods, and so on.

Great 5GHz Wi-Fi performance

The WRT1900ACS did much better than the WRT1900AC on the 5GHz band. At close range (15 feet or about 4.5 meters), the router averaged 536Mbps, topping the charts of AC1900 routers. When I increased the distance to 100 feet (about 30.5 meters), it now averaged 349Mbps, still one of the best the charts. At this speed, you can transfer a CD's worth of data (700MB) in somewhere between 10 and 20 seconds. For comparison, in these tests, the WRT1900AC scored 523Mbps and 341Mbps for short and long range, respectively.

Also note that at these speed, the WRT1900ACS is a lot faster than even the fastest residential broadband connection. This means it's guaranteed that if you want the fastest Internet speed, this router will definitely help you have the best online experience.


CNET Labs' 5GHz Wi-Fi performance for AC1900 routers

Linksys WRT1900ACS 536.1 349.21D-Link DIR-880L 525.6 212.8Linksys WRT1200AC 522.6 246.8Asus RT-AC68U 521.4 336Linksys WRT1900AC 520.67 340.7Netgear R7000 432.1 295.4D-Link DIR-868L 271 221Amp Wireless RTA15 205.5 165.5
  • Close range
  • Long range
Note: Data rate of Wi-Fi routers measured in megabits per second; longer bars indicate better performance

Like its predecessor, the WRT1900ACS wasn't impressive on the 2.4GHz band, either, averaging just 170Mbps at close range and 59Mbps at 100 feet away. However, among the AC1900 crowd, these numbers were among the top two.

While significantly slower than the 5GHz band, the speeds of the router on the 2.4GHz band are still faster than most residential broadband connection. This means, even on this band, the WRT1900ACS is a great router for those with fast Internet connection.

CNET Labs' 2.4GHz Wi-Fi performance for AC1900 routers

Asus RT-AC68U 225 211.4Linksys WRT1900ACS 170.3 58.6Linksys WRT1900AC 168.3 50.34D-Link DIR-880L 160.8 89.5Netgear R7000 117.4 63.2Amp Wireless RTA15 74.6 35.2D-Link DIR-868L 63.3 55.6Linksys WRT1200AC 57 41.6Asus RT-AC66U 36.8 15.2
  • Close range
  • Long range
Note: Data rate of Wi-Fi routers measured in megabits per second; longer bars indicate better performance

The WRT1900ACS had excellent range about the same as that of the WRT1900AC, up to around 300 feet (nearly 91.5 meters) in my testing. Its effective range which guarantees a stable connection, however, is shorter but still at around 200 feet (61 meters) away. The router passed our stress test with flying colors. During this test it was set to transfer a large amount of data back and forth between multiple Wi-Fi clients on both bands, and it did that for four days in a row without disconnection 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. As with all Wi-Fi routers, your results may vary depending on where you live.

Fast network storage speed

More than a year ago, the WRT1900AC router's network storage performance (when hosting an external hard drive) topped the charts, now the the WRT1900ACS outdid that with a sizable margin.

When hosting an external hard drive on its USB 3.0 port, via a Gigabit connection, it registered the sustained write speed of 97 megabytes per second and the sustained read speed of 108MBps. These numbers were higher even than those of some dedicated NAS servers and the fastest I've seen among routers with network storage capability.

CNET Labs' router network storage performance

Linksys WRT1900ACS 97.0 87.72Linksys EA8500 90.8 105.52Linksys WRT1900AC 75.9 105.24Linksys WRT1200AC 70.9 88.88Netgear R8000 42.6 71.76Asus RT-AC68U 41.2 53.86Netgear R7000 38.6 60.1Securifi Almond+ 38.5 48.5Linksys E8350 37.8 85.47D-Link DIR-890L/R 35.5 65.23Netgear R7500 33.9 65.86Amped Wireless RTA2600 31.3 58.78Asus RT-AC3200 27.5 28.79D-Link DIR-880L 27.4 44Asus RT-AC87U 27.2 32.31Apple Time Capsule 25.8 28.67D-Link DIR-868L 12.5 12.81
  • Write
  • Read
Note: Data rate of router when coupled with an external hard drive via a gigabit connection; measured in megabytes per second

I also noted that the WRT1900ACS stayed quite cool even during extended heavy operation, proving that the omission of the internal fan is a good decision on Linksys' part.

Conclusion

The WRT1900ACS replaces its predecessor, the WRT1900AC, as Linksys' best router to date. Among the AC1900 crowd, it's also one of the best in a number of categories, including Wi-Fi speed, range, signal stability and network storage performance.

But at $230 (around £100 or AU$210), it's also among the most expensive routers on the market. Keep in mind that you can get other AC1900 routers such as the Netgear R7000 , the Asus RT-AC68U and even the original WRT1900AC for less than $200 and each offers similar performance and features.

That said, if you have a fast broadband connection, one with a download speed of at least 50Mbps, the WRT1900ACS will still make for a great buy. Its long range and fast Wi-Fi speed will deliver Internet to places in your home that other routers might struggle to reach. And the router's fast network storage performance will turn it into a viable network storage solution when you add an external hard drive to it.

On the other hand, if you have a slow Internet connection, spending money on an expensive router generally won't help improve your online experience. In this case, a router of an older Wi-Fi tier, such as the Asus RT-N66U, will get the job done at a much lower price.

linksys-wrt-1900acs-9689-001.jpg
8.3

Linksys WRT1900ACS Dual-Band Gigabit Wi-Fi Router

Score Breakdown

Setup 8Features 8Performance 9Support 8
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