There’s considerable demand apparently (voicemail, emails, and comments) for me to cut to the chase and draw some preliminary conclusions, based on my experiences so far. At this point in time, Dec 07 2013, I’ve got a month of 24×7 use of the winner in my house under my belt, so I’m beginning to really form stronger opinions. I don’t really know which firmware of the 3 routers was the most stable. Given I returned 2 of the routers last month, I’ll never know, as as I wrapped up testing them each off and on for weeks to see which had the best combination of reliability, features, and speed. I had to replace my nearly 3 year old Cisco/Linksys E4200, sinced it was holding me back from getting the new 150Mbps down/50Mbps up I had just been upgraded to, a wonderful problem to have.
It just happened that the timing of that fast rollout in my neighborhood was roughly aligned with the release of 3 strong new AC1900 options. That put me out on the bleeding edge, with an expected lack of firmware maturity. It seemed likely that it’ll be a bit of a rough ride for any AC1900 choice, at least to the end of 2013. But so far, that has not been the case. In well over a dozen years, with over a dozen routers I’ve owned over those years, all 3 of these 802.11ac routers seemed to have pretty stable firmware.
So, which AC1900 WiFi router do I currently recommend? I chose the Linksys EA6900, but…
the best choice for you may very well be different:
- If you are a power user and prefer a bit more geeky UI, including a deeper look at the underlying Linux logs, then the ASUS RT-AC68U seems likely to be a great choice for you. Many more WiFi advanced settings tweaks available, for the the advanced user to tinker with.
- If you are after absolute best WiFi performance overall (according to other benchmarks), and/or want to do a minor tweak to turn on telnet access to many of those ASUS-like peeks under the hood, then the Netgear R7000 may be the way to go for your family.
- If minimizing downtime for gamers or VPN (work-at-home) users is your highest priority selection criteria, then the Linksys EA6900 currently seems to be the best choice, considering it rarely reboots when making routine changes like creating DHCP reservations, or altering port forwarding rules. I demonstrate this in the video below.
As I mentioned, my family’s move to well over 150Mbps of internet download speed in my town is what drove us to seek out a newer, faster routers, and a new cablemodem too actually. My previous Cisco/Linksys E4200 router was holding me back, never exceeding 100Mbps for wired connections.
The benefits of a faster router that is also less likely to affect my family with downtime outweighed any residual concerns I had about the eventual possible impact of the Belkin acquisition of Linksys. Yes, the Linksys had slightly slower informal benchmark scores in various reviews, but I didn’t really see significant differences with my own informal tests in my own home. With the Linksys, I actually did a little better with wired internet performance, and 2.4GHz and 5GHz reception finally reached to the furthest corners of our home.
So in the end, I only kept the Linksys EA6900, which meets my busy family’s needs. That means I also faced “eating’ those considerable (but fair) sizable restocking fees, as I processed the RMAs on the ASUS and Netgear routers. If you appreciate this article, please consider using the shopping links in the original article below, which will allow you to easily locate the best prices on Amazon, NewEgg, and other resellers, around the world.
For a far more in depth review, including WiFi tests using equipment I do not have, you really should also read:
AC1900 First Look: NETGEAR R7000 & ASUS RT-AC68U by Tim Higgins on Oct 07 2013.
Linksys EA6900 Wireless AC Router SMART Wi-Fi Dual Band AC1900 Reviewed by Tim Higgins on Oct 23 2013.
Thank you for your patience with this part-time article that’s continuing to grow in length, and readership, over time. For the latest updates, scroll down to the bottom, and don’t forget to check out the excellent comments with with screenshots as well. Also consider dropping a comment below, sharing your own opinions and/or firsthand experiences.
Here’s the original blog post that began the story of my quest to replace my E4200, back on October 5, 2013.
The release date is expected to be Oct 09 2013 on Amazon, not sure on Newegg. But I should have some hands-on time by Friday Oct 11 2013. I’ll keep this article up to date, and do a quick unboxing video too. See also ASUS product page, specifications, and manual.
The effort to find a viable replacement for my Cisco/Linksys E4200 router (Jan 2011) might go well. Or not. I’ve had buggy first-release firmware before, on Linksys, Netgear, and D-Link routers that I’ve tried in the past. So I know full well what I might be getting into. The planned very real “deployment” is the only sure way to know whether actual usage works out for my busy family, and I’m curious to see if they can nail the firmware, right out of the chute. Only after we get some time with the unit will we really know if the effort and expense were worthwhile. Otherwise, it’s an RMA/fail, and probably a look at the Linksys EA6900, which also has the Broadcom chipset.
I’ll be retesting our family Lenovo Yoga 13 out, which is one of many devices susceptible to microwave interference on the 2.4GHz channel in my home. See also TinkerTry’s How to prevent microwave cooking from slowing down your entire home’s WiFi, using 802.11n 5GHz WiFi published on Dec 04 2012, and Fun with Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 published on Dec 23 2012.
The ways I’ll be measuring success in my household include:
- stability, stability, stability
- corporate SSL or IPSEC VPN needs to stay connected for days, without dropping
Are my wired devices that pass through the router just as fast as when directly attached to my new cable modem?
Any issues with streaming/Xsplit broadcasting/Starcraft gaming/Skype/Google+ Hangouts/YouTube Live Events?
- Apple TV / Airplay
Do they work fine? See also:
My Linksys/Cisco E4200 v1 router flaked out every time I used iPad AirPlay Mirroring with an Apple TV, here’s a fix.
Are both Ooma lines happy, even when network is being abused?
- FAF (Family Acceptance Factor)
- Interruptions in service
Do I have to reboot after I tweak QOS or port forwarding?
Even if the web UI doesn’t prompt me to reboot, if the device acts wonky after such tweaks that I’ll routinely be making, that wind up requiring a reboot to get normalcy back. That’s an epic fail for my family.
Yes, I’m replacing both my cable modem and router, and upgrading my level of Cox service, all coming up this week. Even had Cox at my house yesterday, to replace a bunch of suspect cabling to the pole, that was hanging far too low over the street anyway, as winter approaches.
For enthusiasts who live alone, something like a pfSense or Untangle might make more sense, for managing network resource,s with a lot of granular control. I’ve also dabbled with DD-WRT and Tomato firmware in the past. But our family is kind of over all that. One outage or incident with a bug is enough to get these sorts of options kicked out of my home “enterprise.” Having been down all those roads before, for our home, a physical device works best for us. I want to give this ASUS device a fair shot, given the (mostly) good word I’ve heard about their venerable entries into the SOHO 802.11ac marketplace, including the predecessors, June 2012′s RT-AC66U, and June 2013′s RT-AC56U.
Given it’ll reside in my home office, where I do real work all day, I’m hoping it doesn’t put out much heat, despite its dual cores. I’ll be measuring and publishing watt burn too. At idle, and under load. See also @ASUSUSA tweet.
To hear how it all works out, including my upgrade to Cox Ultimate on Oct 09 2013, stay tuned by signing up to get automatically notified of updates and comments. Just click on the Subscribe button in the Disqus section below, type in your email address, and hit enter. No login required. Sample illustrated here.
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I have no immediate 802.11ac testing plans, and no accurate way to benchmark. That’s ok, there’s a lot of info out there already.
Tom’s Hardware Asus Also Claims “World’s Fastest” Router With RT-AC68U
by Kevin Parrish on Sep 27 2013
SmallNetBuilder Inside Story: ASUS RT-AC56U & RT-AC68U
by Tim Higgins on Jun 03 2013
SmallNetBuilder Inside Story: ASUS RT-AC56U & RT-AC68U – ASUS RT-AC68U: Where Does AC1900 Come From?
by Tim Higgins on Jun 03 2013
Asus RT-AC68U AC1900 802.11ac router – Performance
by Gordon Kelly on Sep 18 2013
Gigabit Wi-Fi: 802.11ac is here: Five things you need to know
by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols on Jun 21 2013
What if a USB 3.0 device is passed through to an ESXi 5.5 VM, with 802.11ac abilities? Why? Well, a VM could then have guest WiFi access, with excellent speed, even with my server located far away from my WiFi router. This could be a simple, safer, better way to collaborate on WebEx or join.me sessions, for example. See also my USB 3.0 passthrough demo at youtu.be/D74ZGS1e_7s. Unlike the Cisco/Linksys WUSB6300 and AE6000, it’s unfortunate that ASUS only makes USB 2.0 devices for 802.11ac, the USB-AC53 and the USB-N66. Then again, referring to the TinkerTry Superguide: Timeline of USB, SATA, and Thunderbolt speeds tells me it shouldn’t really matter, meaning, USB 2.0 can handle up to around 481Mbps anyway. This would mean VT-d/VMDirectPath not needed either, since ESXi handles USB 2.0 easily/natively. So traditional assignment of the USB 2.0 device to any VM (possible in Hyper-V too) could actually be a better option anyway. Hmm. Thoughts?
Search for more:
You’re probably looking around for comparisons between the big 3 1900 Mbps choices right now, ASUS RT-AC68u, Cisco/Linksys EA6900, and Netgear R7000. I completely understand, it’s what I do. If you also found this article helpful, please consider revisiting one of the shopping links above when it comes time to buy. Here’s that Google search for AC68U EA6900 R7000, google.com/#q=AC68U+EA6900+R7000. See also Amazon reviews of the EA6900 here.
Oct 08 2013 Update:
Having the R7000 now on order (see my related comments below), I’ve renamed article title from
Firsthand experience with the ASUS RT-AC68U Router
Firsthand experience with ASUS RT-AC68U and Netgear R7000 802.11ac routers
given I’ll now be trying both, but only keeping one. Yeah, I admit, I wasn’t expecting such a performance difference. See also this new artice:
AC1900 First Look: NETGEAR R7000 & ASUS RT-AC68U by Tim Higgins on Oct 07 2013
Oct 10 2013 Update:
I received unfortunate news from Amazon today
”ASUS (RT-AC68U) Wireless-AC1900 Dual-Band Gigabit Router”
New Delivery Estimate: October 29, 2013 – November 04, 2013
We will make every effort to get the delayed item(s) to you as soon as possible.
See also the visitor comments below.
Oct 10 2013 Update 2:
No problem, ordered from Newegg’s listing here instead. Should have my RT-AC68U tomorrow evening.
Did an unboxing video, and some testing of the wired connection speeds, so far, slightly lower latency and very slightly faster speeds were noted, compared to going through my older Cisco/Linksys E4200. Working on the video uploading soon.
Oct 11 2013 Update:
Got to be honest. The Netgear is needing to reboot for many of the admin changes I routinely do. This isn’t good. No warning or confirmation.
Say you want to make changes like add a new DHCP reservation, or change the ‘Traffic Meter” month-end date. You then click the ‘Apply’ button, and the R7000 just tells you to wait, while breaking the internet connection for the entire family for nearly a minute. So while the verdict on WiFi speed tests throughout my home is still out (haven’t gotten to that yet), it’s looking fairly unlikely that this Netgear R7000 will be replacing my E4200. My ASUS RT-AC68U arrives later this evening, lets see if it needs to reboot as often. Manuals just don’t cover this topic, but according to the emulator site above for ASUS, it would seem it doesn’t require as many reboots. Looking forward to finding out for myself!
Also finding QOS, no matter how much I tuned it to give the MAC address of my Ooma Telo VOIP device priority, is letting me down. Poor call quality. I realize I need more time, but this is looking like I need to let go of working on this R7000 for a bit. And yes, I’m using the latest firmware it offered me, see screenshot above, V22.214.171.124_1.0.15.
Oct 12 2013 Update:
I was able to work with the ASUS RT-AC68U for a couple of hours very late last night, but unfortunately, ongoing issues with my Cox internet service kept me from concluding much of anything about speeds quite yet. Cox cable guy at my house again today, and coming back shortly, to continue to look into why my service keeps slowing down to my neighborhood.
As far as preliminary impressions? Unfortunately, it doesn’t look favorable. Like the Netgear R700, the ASUS RT-AC68U requires reboots for many routine functions as well, such as setting up DHCP reservations, and making any changes to port forwarding. These are changes I make fairly often in my home lab. This is annoying, particularly since there’s no warning you’re about to bump the internet for your whole family for about a minute, as you click the “Apply” button.
Still would like to do a bit more testing of the 2.4GHz (with microwave running) and 5GHz coverage of my house before returning everything. Not sure those tests will change my thinking much though, since I don’t like having to arrange for “change control” meetings with the entire family every time I want to make a change. And we use VOIP for phone service.
So now the question becomes, do I bother to quickly RMA both the Netgear R7000 and ASUS RT-AC68U, and order the Cisco/Linksys EA6900? Or, are the very few reviews out there to be believed, that they’re really headed the way of Belkin’s line of consumer friendly routers (since Belkin bought Linksys earlier this year), which could also means less feature-rich.
First, I need to get my internet speeds stabilized, so I can do at least repeatable comparative speed tests. It may be some days before I settle on a new plan. I’m also considering whether I should just return all 802.11ac gear, keep my Linksys E4200, and using that $ toward a new microwave that doesn’t take down the Yoga 13′s 802.11n (2.4GHz only) WiFi every time we’re cooking. Even with the Netgear, this problem was still there. Will need to try other channels too.
Did some preliminary WiFi tests with the ASUS last night, while everybody else was sleeping. Also noticed that external antennas may not be having the better 5GHZ coverage I had been hoping for. I’ll be doing some more testing in the days ahead before I can conclude much of anything, thank you for your patience!
Oct 15 2013 Update:
Article renamed again, now that my Linksys AC1900 Dual Band SMART Wi-Fi Router (EA6900) has arrived. Don’t think this title will be getting any longer, since I now temporarily own all premium AC1900 contenders on the market in the US currently. Yeah, that’s a little crazy, but I’m now all-in. This began as a small side-project, and has now grown into a quest to see if replacing my E4200 is worthwhile, mostly to see if these latest antenna designs and beam forming technologies can reduce 5GHz dead spots in my home. See also All Beamforming Solutions Are Not Equal.
Filming this 3rd unboxing tonight, then getting HD video of all 3 unboxings up soon. More interesting will be the head-to-head iPhone 5 tests of WiFi on the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. Looking forward to these informal, entirely self-funded tests myself. Meanwhile, check out
AC1900: Innovation or 3D Wi-Fi? by Tim Higgins Oct 08 2013.
In the end, the best justification for buying an AC1900 router won’t be for the 2.4 GHz 600 Mbps link rate, but for a higher-performance design that will deliver benefit for the clients you already have.
and the excellent dialogue going on right here, seen below. Add your 2 cents worth, no sign-up required!
Oct 17 2013 Update:
Good news, it appears I’ve found a router that doesn’t need to be rebooted to change DHCP reservations or change port forwarding. This is promising. It’s the Linksys AC1900. Like my E4200, few reboots needed.
Next tests will be WiFi coverage throughout my home, particular hoping to determine if my 5GHz dead spots are gone, but I’d also like to see if the 2.4GHz coverage and speeds are better as well. Honestly, it could be the weekend before I get to this, as I’m doing some traveling to the VTUG Fall Forward 2013 at Gilette Stadium this week. But don’t be disappointed, I’ve left you with a good video demonstration of the E4200 UI compared to the EA6900 UI, including the out of box experience, a firmware update, and some routine admin tasks that don’t require reboots and don’t bump the internet. Check it out right here.
Further testing, with all 3 devices connected to one laptop, are certainly in my plans as well.
Not sure if my unboxing videos will be valuable, if I do publish them eventually. They didn’t come out great (some technical issues), and it seems to make more sense to focus on performance and WiFi testing next, using an iPhone 5 and a laptop (both 802.11n 5GHz capable) for speed tests. Want to weigh in here? Let us all know, in the comments below!
Oct 23 2013 Update:
I now have all the connections and gear in place, and I’m finally indoors at home long enough to tackle this. Even better, my Cox Ultimate internet is finally stable now too. Thank you for your patience, as my own time is wearing out quickly, since I’ll need to RMA at least 2 of these 3 routers soon, while I still can.
I’ll probably go with one MAC address on all 3 routers on the WAN interface, for quick and easy speed tests, without having to reboot the cable modem between runs. I’ll also getting them all on the same LAN at once, for easy Web UI admin changes, keeping only one router’s WiFi powered on at a time, to reduce WiFi inteference during tests. This WiFi testing will take place in my upstairs, normal location, to determine of the 2.4GHz and 5Ghz signal penetration is better, throughout my home, in the family’s normal usage scenarios.
Oct 24 2013 Update:
TinkerTry commenter Squiid has kindly alerted me (in the comments below) that there’s now an excellent full review of the Linksys EA6900, now up on SmallNetBuilder:
Linksys EA6900 Wireless AC Router SMART Wi-Fi Dual Band AC1900 Reviewed by Tim Higgins on Oct 23 2013.
Given the apparent concern over what Belkin’s purchase of the Linksys brand will mean down the road, I’ve written to Belkin PR, referencing this article, and its very constructive comments. If I’m able to get a reply, I’ll publish that official PR response here.
Oct 28 2013 Update:
All 3 Web UIs seen here, with all 3 simultaneously attached to my laptop, with unique IPs and duplicate WAN MAC addresses. This will make testing with the same cable modem quick and easy, avoiding modem reboots.
I’ve also now tested whether WebUI access to all 3 routers from Safari on iOS 7 on an iPhone 5 is an option, and the answer is yes, but only the Linksys has the web optimized Linksys Smart Wi-Fi app. It’s not a great idea to have WiFi access to admin functions turned on anyway.
Nov 03 2013 Update:
Well, the testing has been done, now the details and videos need to be compiled and published. Short version is a bit surprising, that the Linksys EA6900 performed a bit better than the others, at the furthest corners of our home. Also performed faster for wired connections. So the winner for our house is the Linksys EA6900. Not just for good uptime reasons, but for speed reasons as well.
Nov 04 2013 Update:
Brief video overview of the design of the 3 routers now available!
Nov 07 2013 Update:
Full WebUI feature set walk through now available, with comparison that focuses on testing the downtime each admin change has on users (DHCP reservations, port forwarding, QOS tuning).
Nov 08 2013 Update:
It’s done, the ASUS and Netgear routers were dropped off at UPS, for refund. The Linksys EA6900 is the keeper for my family. More video and information about my various speed tests to be posted. But the gist/summary is that there’s just less downtime/fewer pings lost with the Linksys for the admin functions I regularly do, as seen in the video.
Dec 07 2013 Update:
Yep, pretty darn happy. Only one brief breakup of a Ooma based VOIP call, but will never know if that was actually a Google Voice issue, or QoS issue within the router. Not bad, given I placed and received hundreds of calls. While actively doing huge downloads and uploads. This is going well, and there haven’t been any new firmware upgrades since the one I applied when I first got the Linksys EA6900, nearly 2 months ago. That means I’m still at firmware 126.96.36.199465.
Speeds of VMware Appliance download over Akamai CDN is fantastic, at about 90Mbps sustained. Very nice. After tweaking for compatibility mode, I even got Windows 8.1/IE11 downloads to go from roughly 5Mbps to 25Mbps, a nice 5x boost. Of course, my cablemodem and my ISP factor in here. But in the end, these are also the sort of results that help justify my recent $300 investment ($190 router, $80 cablemodem, $30 restocking fees for ASUS).
I won’t claim it’s perfect, as others are reporting issues (true of ASUS and Netgear too, of course).
Be on the lookout for separate blog posts about:
- life beyond 100Mbps, with little tricks and tips I’ve learned along the way
- Summary of how to deal with IE11 and MSDN (including Download Manager and Akamai accelerated download testing from Microsoft MSDN and VMware)
- my own “best practices” way I locked down my EA6900 (turn of UPnP, turn off WiFi Protected Access, turn off Admin over WiFi), without loosing the functionality I require
- my own “best practices” for tuning QoS for VOIP (in my case, Ooma), and for a single gaming system to get a priority boost as well
See also this tweet dialogue, where I found it funny how Linksys jumped in within hours.
Finally, I’ll need to update this article with the raw data I recorded in a Google Doc, where my informal, around the home test results reveal my own test results with various devices (laptop, iOS, Android). Stay tuned!
Dec 11 2013 Update:
Here’s a very rough draft of the promised Google Doc Spreadsheet I used to capture data as I roamed about my home, with bolded results for the winners in any particular category. Overall, pretty much neck-and-neck results.