As the upgrade to the originalthat came out more than a year ago, the new WRT1900ACS is now the best router from networking giant Linksys.
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, the , 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.
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, 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 speed||CPU||Peripheral ports||Dimensions||Weight||Current Price|
|Linksys WRT1900ACS||1.3Gbps (5GHz) / 600Mbps (2.4GHz)||Dual-core 1.6GHz||One USB 3.0 and one USB 2.0/eSATA||9.7x7.6x2 inches (26.6x19.3x5.1cm)||3.2 lbs (1.45kg)||$230 (MSRP)|
|Asus RT-AC68U||1.3Gbps (5GHz) / 600Mbps (2.4GHz)||Dual-core 800MHz||One USB 3.0 and one USB 2.0||8.7x6.3x3.3 inches (22.1x16x8.4cm)||1.4 lbs (0.64kg)||$180|
|Linksys EA6900||1.3Gbps (5GHz) / 600Mbps (2.4GHz)||Dual-core 800MHz||One USB 3.0 and one USB 2.0||10.1x7.3x1.6 inches (25.7x18.5x4.1cm)||1.2 lbs (0.54kg)||$100|
|Linksys WRT1900AC||1.3Gbps (5GHz) / 600Mbps (2.4GHz)||Dual-core 1.2GHz||One USB 3.0 and one USB 2.0/eSATA||9.7x7.6x2 inches (26.6x19.3x5.1cm)||2.11 lbs (0.98kg)||$195|
|Netgear R7000||1.3Gbps (5GHz) / 600Mbps (2.4GHz)||Dual-core 1,000MHz||One USB 3.0 and one USB 2.0||11.2x7.3x2 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.
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.