Why Move Up to 802.11ac?
It’s been nearly two years since the standard for 802.11ac or Gigabit Wi-Fi was first approved and 802.11ac routers have moved firmly into the mainstream. It’s now getting tough to buy a PC or mobile device that doesn’t offer 802.11ac. Despite the explosion of support for Gigabit Wi-Fi, there’s a good chance that your home—or the home of someone on your gift list—is still being powered by a previous generation 802.11n wireless router. That means many of their devices aren’t performing to their full potential and if that house is anything like typical homes, Wi-Fi performance is going downhill.
And if there are any gadgets under their Christmas tree that rely on Wi-Fi (including tablets, smartphones, media streamers, game consoles and smart devices like thermostats or connected LED lights), it’s going to get even worse once the new gear is fired up.
Give the gift of a new 802.11ac router and the new Wi-Fi network will see benefits like download speeds triple or more the maximum of 802.11n (say good-bye to video game lag and buffering video), support for more spatial streams (allowing more devices to connect with near-dedicated bandwidth), beamforming that targets a connected device and actively ensures it maintains a strong signal even when it moves around, and the ability to have more devices connected simultaneously without the network bogging down and connections dropping.
In other words, you get to be the person who makes all those other gifts better—and that’s a pretty good position to be in.
And there’s no need to worry about stranding older devices. Gigabit routers are backwards compatible with 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi radios as well.
Here are five suggestions for 802.11ac routers that anyone would be thrilled to receive as a gift.
Google OnHub AC Wireless AC1900 Dual-Band Router
Much of Google’s business model relies on people being online. Historically, the weak link in that equation has been reliable and speedy connectivity so it wasn’t really a huge surprise when Google teamed up with TP-Link to release its own OnHub 802.11ac wireless router this year. Ensure people have better Wi-Fi and their online experience will be better and Google makes more money …
The OnHub has impressive technical specs, including speeds up to 1900Mbps, 13 high performance antennas, smart prioritization that ensures each connected device is connected to the band best suited to its capabilities and the support for other wireless standards (including Bluetooth Smart and Weave) for use with smart devices.
But the OnHub’s biggest claim to fame is probably ease of use. It’s designed to look stylish so you don’t hide it in a cabinet and impair the Wi-Fi performance. It has softly glowing colour coded rings that show network status at a glance. Initial set-up is easy and intuitive, and the OnHub receives automatic software updates that continually improve the experience while keeping the Wi-Fi network as secure as possible.
D-Link Wireless AC3200 Tri-Band Gigabit Router
Plug-in’s Steven Hill reviewed the D-Link Wireless AC3200 Tri-Band Gigabit Router earlier this year.
With three simultaneous dedicated Wi-Fi radios (2.4GHz + 2x 5GHz), a dual-core CPU and 6 external high-gain antennas, this wireless router has a reputation for being a monster that’s well suited to high demand activities like gaming or 4K video streaming. Steven found this router enabled him to crank up multiple bandwidth-chewing devices without dropping or frame, while signal strength had increased throughout his home and existing Wi-Fi dead zones were eliminated.
If there’s a house full of hardcore gamers, video buffs or just a whole bunch of connected devices on your shopping list, the D-Link Wireless AC3200 Tri-Band Gigabit Router would make an excellent gift.
Linksys WRT Smart Wi-Fi Wireless AC1900 Router
I reviewed the Linksys WRT Smart Wi-Fi Wireless AC1900 Router last year and at the time, it was one of the most powerful—and intimidating looking— wireless routers on the market.
This black and blue beast was designed to look like the best-selling wireless router of all time, the Linksys WRT54G, only on steroids. When I tested it, I found wireless speeds increased throughout the house, while signal strength was up across the board.
Since then, new Gigabit routers (like the previous D-Link model) have arrived on the scene with more radios for more overall bandwidth and additional bristling antennas so the Linksys WRT’s four don’t look quite so intimidating. But the Linksys WRT Smart Wi-Fi Wireless AC1900 Router remains a solid choice and it’s ability to optionally run open source firmware makes it a favourite with network tinkerers.
D-Link Dual-Band Wireless AC1200 Gigabit Router
There’s nothing particularly fancy or extreme about the D-Link Dual-Band Wireless AC1200 Gigabit Router. It offers dual-band 802.11ac performance for combined speeds of up to 1200Mbps, an attractive cylindrical housing, the ability to share a USB device over a Wi-Fi network and easy set-up with the free mydlink mobile app.
Most importantly, this wireless router is an affordable option that lets you give the gift of next generation Gigabit Wi-Fi performance for under $100.
Apple Airport Extreme Base Station
Finally, the Apple Airport Extreme Base Station.
I may be wrong, but I believe this wireless router is the oldest of the bunch. Despite that, it delivers solid performance with dual-band support, an internal beamforming antenna array and Gigabit ethernet support.
It’s designed to be attractive enough to leave out in the open for optimal performance, its vertical tower design has a small footprint so it doesn’t take up much space and it’s easy to set up and manage using Apple’s AirPort Utility. While it can also be managed with Windows PCs and supports any Wi-Fi device, the Airport Extreme is a long-time favourite of Mac owners.
I have one and even though I’ve reviewed at least a half dozen wireless routers in the past year that would blow the Airport Extreme away in terms of raw performance, it’s still fast enough to support my family’s considerable online gaming and video streaming needs, while I appreciate the dead easy setup and “just leave it to do its thing” operation. Trust me, when you’re busy all day testing out new gear, the last thing you want to do is to have to fuss with your own Wi-Fi network …