In many ways the Linksys WRT 3200 ACM is a refreshing router. While some device makers – including router manufacturers – go for sleek, stylish and minimalist designs that are supposed to appeal to customers besotted with the Apple design ethos, there are drawbacks. The main one, perhaps half inched from Apple themselves, is that the more simple and minimalist the design, the less features, customisation and flexibility the end product has.
The Linksys WRT 3200 ACM admirably shuns those pretensions. This is a router that’s not ashamed about what it is. It looks like a router that’s more at home in a small to medium sized office than a San Francisco stylish apartment, but it’s big, brash design allows Linksys to pack in some pretty meaty specifications. The antennae jutting out the body might make Jony Ive break out in a cold sweat, but they help the Linksys WRT 3200 ACM to broadcast its Wi-Fi networks across houses and offices, with the positional antennae allowing you to hone in the network to your devices for the best possible of speeds.
A number of people will also be impressed with how readily the Linksys WRT 3200 ACM embraces custom open-source firmware (such as OpenWRT). This allows you to install software other than the default interface the Linksys WRT 3200 ACM ships with, giving you almost complete control over the features and functions of this router. WRT support is relatively niche, but it’s great to see it included, and sets out the Linksys WRT 3200 ACM’s stall as a powerful and robust router for people who want complete control over their network. At £199.99 ($249.99, around AU$330), this is a mid-priced router that brings some advanced features without breaking the bank.
Alongside the support for open source firmware, the Linksys WRT 3200 ACM boasts MU-MIMO technology that allows for simultaneous streaming, file sharing and gaming on multiple devices on the Wireless AC band.
It also includes Tri-Stream 160 technology, which doubles the bandwidth from 80MHz on network streams – the idea behind these two features is that no matter how busy your Wi-Fi network is, the Linksys WRT 3200 ACM will provide incredibly fast Wi-Fi AC network speeds.
It also comes with a 1.8GHz dual-core CPU, 512MB RAM and 256MB flash memory. Ethernet ports are of the gigabit variety, and there are four of them, with a separate fifth port for connecting to your modem. A USB 3.0 is included for sharing files and printers with your network, and the Linksys WRT 3200 ACM also comes with an ESATA port for file transfers that has a convenient design, allowing it to also be used as a USB 2.0 port.
The LinkSys Smart W-Fi app allows you to configure and manage the router from your smartphone or tablet, but it’s really the open source firmware support that’s the star here. By installing either OpenWRT or DD-WRT you can add advanced features such as secure VPN, TOR network browsing for anonymous browsing, and view advanced network traffic and network intrusion reports.
That’s just the beginning – there’s a huge range of features that are included with the firmware, and you’re not waiting for Linksys to add and test features, instead you’ve got a committed community of network professionals and enthusiasts making and sharing cutting edge features.
Of course, custom firmware comes with its own considerations and concerns, but if you’re an advanced user who wants amazing and innovative features, WRT support has probably already made your mind up on whether or not you want to buy this router.
So with all these impressive features, how does the Linksys WRT 3200 ACM perform? Despite its looks and features that suggest this is a router for network professionals only, the setup procedure was quite simple. With it plugged in and connected to our modem and PC via Ethernet, we browsed to http://linksyssmartwifi.com/ and followed the instructions.
By default you’re taken through the setup process step-by-step, but for the more confident you can also select ‘Manual configuration’. If you trust the Linksys WRT 3200 ACM to do its stuff, you’ll see a ‘Please wait…’ message appear while it configures itself.
This takes a couple of minutes, and you’re helpfully kept informed with what the router is doing at the top of the screen, so you don’t panic and think the device (or your web browser) has crashed. Once done, you’re asked if you want to install updates for your router automatically, then what your Wi-Fi networks and password should be.
You can choose to make the networks (one for the 2.4GHz band, one for 5GHz) have the same name (and appear as one network), if you want the leave the router to handle what device connects to what band.
Next, you need to create an admin password and reminder for accessing your router’s settings and you’re done. It was a pleasantly pain-free and easy to follow process that manages to strike the right balance between automatically configuring the complicated bits behind the scenes, and giving you control over some of the settings.
You’re also asked if you want to create a Linksys Smart Wi-Fi account. This isn’t mandatory, but it gives you remote access to your router when you’re away. We weren’t able to test this out as at the time of the review the Linksys Smart Wi-Fi service was down for maintenance.
Once set up you can view the interface, which is clearly laid out and gives you a good overview of your network and any network attached storage. From here you can prioritise media devices, enable or disable the guest network (it’s enabled by default), set up parental controls, configure wireless and use the OpenVPN server.
On our Ethernet-connected PC we got download speeds of 114Mb/s and a ping of 8ms. With our wireless AC device conncted to the 5GHz network, next to the router we recorded speeds of 133Mb/s speeds and 13ms ping. When we tested the speeds from the other side of the office (about 30 feet away) we got even better results with 159.73Mb/s and 13ms speeds.
However, once we started putting walls between us and the router, performance dropped off, with the device sometimes struggling to keep a connection with the Linksys WRT 3200 ACM’s Wi-Fi. With one wall speeds dropped to 67.29Mb/s with a ping of 8ms. With two walls between us, speeds dropped even more dramatically to 3.97Mb/s.
Floors were less of an issue though. One floor directly above the Linksys WRT 3200 ACM, we got 135.12Mb/s and 12ms ping, and one floor directly below, we recorded 139.96Mb/s and 6ms ping.
So generally performance was very good, though with walls in play the connection dropped markedly – which is a surprise considering we had high hopes for this router. If you have a large house or office and rely on consistent and fast Wi-Fi, you’re going to need to look at Wi-Fi extenders, or carefully consider the position and antenna arrangement of the Linksys WRT 3200 ACM.