Linksys WRT32X AC3200 dual-band Wi-Fi gaming router review: Gaming with this Linksys router is Killer
Is a router really going to make your champion in League of Legends kick more butt? Probably not, but the Linksys WRT32X does give you an edge over gamers whose routers often lag behind due to their network traffic. With its Killer Prioritization Engine (KPE), the WRT32X can help you make sure anyone streaming Netflix in the other room doesn't increase your ping.
For $300 (about £225 in the UK or AU$390), this Linksys AC3200-class dual-band router is in line with other gaming routers and works great with gaming PCs. Folks with only regular devices can save $100 and buy the Asus RT-AC3200 or the D-Link DIR-890L/R both of which are tri-band. Or get the Linksys WRT3200ACM router because, well, it's the same hardware as the WRT32X, just without the gaming-centric Killer software.
You've seen this Linksys style before
Gamers should be familiar with the way the WRT32X looks, as it mimics previous routers in the WRT series, like the WRT3200ACM or the WRT1900AC, except this one is all black. The four detachable antennas are short and the router itself is small enough at 9.7 by 7.6 by 2.0-inches and 1.76 pounds to snugly fit on any shelf. It has the standard four gigabit LAN ports and one gigabit WAN port, but offers a USB 3.0 port and a combo eSATA/USB 2.0 port for network storage or a printer.
The WRT32X has blue LED lights galore on the front, including power, internet, 2.4GHz, 5GHz, eSATA, USB 2, USB 3, LAN 1-4 and WPS. They are generally benign and don't distract you if the router is in plain view. If they do, you can actually shut them off in the router GUI, which is nice. Overall, it's a pretty cool-looking router and should fit nicely into your sea of home electronics.
Router menu falls short in usability
Linksys kept the menu and setup simple. Maybe too simple.
Just plug in your router, enter its IP address in a browser, accept the terms, update the firmware, create your SSIDs (Wi-Fi names) and passwords, create your router password, enter your email and register the router. Game on.
While this router has the same hardware specs as the WRT3200ACM, the menu on the WRT32X lacks customization options like parental controls. The software is also not part of Linksys' Smart Wi-Fi line, so you can't access it away from your home or from an app. The menu, in general, is a bit of an eyesore with fonts of all shapes and sizes and a few settings that may be overlooked because they are hidden unless you click a link.
You would think that since Linksys only had to create new software for this router, they would have spent more time designing a user-friendly interface. Very disappointing.
A gamer's delight when it comes to features
The feature that sets the Linksys WRT32X apart from other routers is Rivet Network's Killer Prioritization Engine. This allows "Killer Mode," which detects PCs with Killer networking cards and prioritizes gaming network traffic automatically. Your gaming PC will also show you a new tab in your Killer Control Center software, where you can update your router settings, including setting bandwidth limits, launching the router UI and turning the KPE on and off.
It's important to note that if none of your devices have Killer hardware, the WRT32X will work as just a regular router and the extra money you paid will be a waste.
Going beyond gaming, the Linksys WRT32X does still have attractive features for everyday users with its powerful 1.8GHz processor, 512MB RAM and 256MB flash memory. It also has beamforming, which focuses your Wi-Fi signal on individual devices and MU-MIMO, which dedicates a single stream to multiple devices on your 5GHz band simultaneously for more reliable speeds.
The WRT32X is one of few routers to support Tri-Stream 160, which allows three spatial streams on 160MHz-wide channels on the 5GHz band. It is dynamic frequency selection (DFS) certified by the FCC, which means it can use more channels to find a better signal, but only if your device is DFS-certified too. Most phones , tablets and smart devices cannot take advantage of this right now.
Overall, the WRT32X offers theoretical speed of 2,600Mbps (3x867) on the 5GHz band. However, most devices will max out at 1300Mbps since they can only use 80MHz wide channels. The 2.4GHz band offers 600Mbps, creating the AC3200 rating (600+867+867+867). Check out the performance tests below for how close it actually gets to those speeds.
Unlike the Asus ROG Rapture GT-AC5300 gaming router, you'll only find four LAN ports on the WRT32X and you won't find dual-WAN capability to connect a second internet connection or link aggregation to create a two gigabit wired connection. The Linksys WRT32X is also only a dual band router, so you only get one 2.4GHz band and one 5GHz band (as opposed to two 5GHz bands to help alleviate network congestion). However, using the Killer Prioritization Engine gives your games highest priority and keeps them from suffering latency issues.
Network prioritization for all of your devices (Killer-enabled and non-Killer-enabled) is available from the WRT32X menu. It can be a bit confusing, but basically turning on the KPE also activates the regular router UI prioritization. Regular devices can be put into categories of Higher (Priority 2), Normal (Priority 4) and Lower (Priority 6). The traffic from Killer devices are in their own section and are automatically prioritized when the KPE is turned on. According to Rivet Networks, here is how the automatic priorities work:
Killer Automatic Prioritization
|Priority 1||Games on Killer PC|
|Priority 2||Voice on Killer PC|
|Priority 3||Video on Killer PC|
|Priority 4||General web on Killer PC|
All traffic from other devices
|Priority 5||Web downloads on Killer PC|
|Priority 6||Bulk Downloads on Killer PC|
Lacking in speed, but plenty for gaming
According to Linksys, "Killer reduces peak ping by up to 77%" calculated from the reduction of peak ping rate from 74 milliseconds (ms) to 17ms when using the Killer Prioritization Engine on the WRT32X and a Killer-enabled PC using a 10 megabits per second (Mbps) down/2Mbps up internet connection that has multiple devices consuming the 10Mbps connection.
That's probably a little confusing, but it basically says that you need near ideal conditions with low bandwidth to achieve those results.
My ping never got to 17ms, but with KPE on while using a Killer-enabled PC, I was able to restore my ping to its normal state after streaming and downloads from other computers made it rise. I did have to restrict my bandwidth to 15Mbps to experience a difference, but the KPE stabilized my ping in less than 30 seconds and kept it at the normal rate for the duration of my game.
The WRT32X does what it promises, but only if you have a PC with Killer hardware, like MSI, Dell (Alienware and XPS models), Razer or Gigabyte.
The WRT32X was pretty average when it came to my speed tests. The 5GHz band peaked at 770Mbps from seven feet away, but dropped all the way to 116Mbps 50 feet and two rooms away. The 2.4GHz band was very consistent, staying above 150Mbps everywhere I tested, maxing out at 172Mbps. This should give you good coverage throughout a mid-sized home.
Should you buy one?
The Linksys WRT32X is made for hard-core gamers who can't risk their ping jumping up and down, even for a few seconds. The menu isn't as user-friendly as those on most newer routers, but it has all the standard features that you would want in an AC3200 router to keep your network running smoothly in the immediate future.
My recommendation is that if you play games occasionally, you can find another router like the Asus RT-AC3200 with regular network prioritization that will help. For hardcore gamers with Killer PCs, this router is a must have.
Linksys WRT32X Specs
|IEEE 802.11 Standard||a/g/n/ac||CPU Processor||Dual core 1.8GHz|
|Class||AC3200||RAM Memory (MB)||512MB|
|Speed (Mbps)||3,200 (600+2,600)||Flash Memory (MB)||256MB|
|Frequency||Dual band (2.4GHz+5GHz)||Guest Wi-Fi||Yes|
|Ethernet Ports||1 Gigabit WAN; 4 Gigabit LAN||Parental Controls||No|
|USB Ports||1 USB 3.0; 1 eSATA/USB 2.0||MU-MIMO||Yes|
|Antennas||4x4 external; 3 streams||Beamforming||Yes|
|Security||WPA2-Personal; 128 Bit AES Link Encryption||Setup||Web browser|
|Size (in)||9.68 by 7.63 by 2.04||Weight (lbs)||1.76|