When it comes to home and small office Wi-Fi networking, speed has always been important. But optimization is increasing becoming an even bigger deal. The Linksys ac3200 Tri-Band Smart Wi-Fi router is the latest model from this leader in wireless networking and this one combines speed with optimization, making it ideal for congested networks.
Speed Was Job One
In the earlier days of Wi-Fi, the speed (or data throughput) of your network was probably the main thing you focused on. Chances are you had a home PC and maybe a game console online. So long as you bought a wireless router that had decent speed and supported the latest Wi-Fi standards, things would usually go pretty smoothly.
Fast forward to today and speed continues to be important. Current generation video game consoles like the Xbox One and Playstation 4 focus on the online experience. Multi-player gaming combined with HD graphics means your wireless router has to be more capable than ever.
The popularity of HD video streaming (not to mention the arrival of 4K video) means speed —or throughput— is more critical than ever to your network performance. Insufficient speed can result in long waits to download software updates or streaming video that constantly stops to buffer.
The latest and greatest Wi-Fi standard helps to address the current need for speed. Wireless routers that support 802.11ac are capable of Gigabit throughput. But that may not be all you need…
Optimization is the New Target
As you probably know if you live in a typical connected household, speed isn’t everything these days.
We live in a world where the number of devices requiring a Wi-Fi connection have exploded. It’s no longer just PCs and consoles. Houses and offices are packed with smartphones, tablets, Smart TVs, cameras, printers, thermostats, appliances and even light bulbs that use the Wi-Fi network.
A quick survey of my own network shows 40 connected devices at the moment —and not everyone is home!
Making the situation even more challenging, many of the connected devices are mobile and carried to areas in the house or property where Wi-Fi performance isn’t exactly great, even at the best of times.
As a result, even if you plunk a wireless router capable of 802.11ac Wi-Fi into this network, performance isn’t going to be nearly as good as it could be unless you add optimization technology to the picture.
That’s where the Linksys ac3200 Tri-Band Smart Wi-Fi router (coming soon to Best Buy) can make the difference between decent and excellent.
Linksys ac3200 Tri-Band Smart Wi-Fi Router Designed to Optimiize Your Wi-Fi Performance
This is how Linksys described its objectives for releasing the new high performance router:
“…to provide a solution that will help families who have a lot of devices connected to the internet wirelessly achieve better performance on each device or for single users that demand high performance on a single device such as gaming or streaming video.”
Supporting that objective, the Linksys ac3200 Tri-Band Smart Wi-Fi is packed with advanced features, including:
- Six active antennas (three internal, three adjustable external)
- One 2.4GHz radio, two 5.0GHz radios
- Concurrent dual-band wireless operations of all three radios
- Dual-core 1.0 GHz CPU with three integrated coprocessors
- Smart Connect with dynamic band steering
As a result, this new router is capable of some impressive performance, not just in sheer speed for high demand devices (like game consoles), but across the entire Wi-Fi network. What kind of performance?
Data transfer rates up to 600 Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and up to 1300 Mbps on each of the 5 GHz radios for a total of 3200 Mbps (thus the ac3200 portion of the product’s name). It also provides six data streams and dynamic band steering —the router automatically monitors and balances the throughput to devices connected to its 5 GHz radios in real time, ensuring each device has an optimized connection. Beamforming actively targets devices with 802.11ac support and presents them with a focused signal for better responsiveness than a general broadcast.
The Linksys ac3200 Tri-Band Smart Wi-Fi is an upright model and the three internal antennas combined with a trio of user-adjustable external versions mean a stronger Wi-Fi broadcast and the ability to manually optimize performance by customizing the configuration to suit your environment and help to address dead zones.
Linksys Smart Wi-Fi software
The final component that helps this router in its goal of optimizing your Wi-Fi network needs some help from you in the form of network management. Fortunately Smart Wi-Fi software (available using your browser or in mobile app form) makes this easy —you do not need to be a certified networking engineer.
Besides the expected network management tools like setting up guest access, security and parental controls, Smart Wi-Fi offers option to optimize performance through options like media prioritization.
Media prioritization lets you manually allocate higher bandwidth to specific devices or applications so they aren’t competing with all those smartphones and other connected devices for bandwidth. This feature is a powerful option for eliminating stuttering video or game lag in a home where the number of gadgets competing for Wi-Fi bandwidth could tax a less capable router.
Linksys ac3200 Tri-Band Smart Wi-Fi Real World Results
Stats are one thing, but a router that is technically capable of a maximum of 3200 Mbps throughput is going to have a hard time delivering that in a real world environment filled with interference, obstacles and competing devices.
I ran tests using one of the more difficult areas to reach in our home, the master bedroom which is located two floors above the router location and on the opposite side of the house. There is a lot of concrete, insulation, wiring and other obstacles between the two locations. I have an Apple TV set up in the bedroom and it always takes a bit for video to begin playing (media files are hosted on a PC, also in the basement).
With our existing wireless router and the typical Wi-Fi load (Xbox being used, several tablets and smartphones connected, multiple PCs online and various connected devices like the thermostat using Wi-Fi), a 44 minute 1080p TV show would take an average of 8 seconds to begin playing. Occasionally, a video will pause to buffer as other high-demand devices choke the network.
When I switched to the Linksys ac3200 Tri-Band Smart Wi-Fi router, that start time actually increased to an average of 20 seconds.
Optimization to the rescue. Using the Smart Wi-Fi software, I gave the Apple TV priority. I didn’t see a noticeable slowdown on any other devices, but after making the change, the average to spool up for that 44 minute 1080p show dropped to just 5 seconds.
Perhaps as important, in both cases with the Linksys ac3200 Tri-Band Smart Wi-Fi router —both optimized and when being treated as just another device on the network— throughput to the Apple TV remained uninterrupted and I didn’t experience any of those annoying pauses while the video buffered. In other words, in both cases the Smart Connect technology appeared to have done its job in terms of ensuring all the devices received a fair share of available bandwidth.
I took my iPhone 6 —which has 802.11ac support— into the master bedroom and timed downloading a file from iTunes. On the existing network, downloading the 57 MB app took 1:12 on average. On the Linksys router that dropped to 47 seconds (or 35 percent speedier), an improvement due not just to the faster throughput of 802.11ac, but also Wi-Fi optimization via the router’s beamforming capability.
If you’re looking for raw power in the form of speed, ports and broadcast range for a specific device or two (a game console or video streamer), you may be better off with something like the WRT 1900AC. But for a performance punch optimized for a Wi-Fi network trying to balance the needs of a bunch of devices, the Linksys ac3200 Tri-Band Smart Wi-Fi router is more than capable of handling the load.