Gaming and Wi-Fi don't traditionally go hand in hand. Latency, lower pings, the possibility of signal drops, interference, your roommate clogging the thing with 4K streams of goodness knows what – these things are not what FPS fiends look for when they're in the high-paced world of online gaming.
Granted, things have improved with the advent of MU-MIMO and more savvy quality of service routines, and wireless AC radios don't exactly lack for power. But best way to connect to the internet for gaming remains an Ethernet connection. And wouldn't you know it: Linksys feels it's time to change all that with the Linksys WRT32X.
Elder gamers will do well to look past the (we have to presume accidental) reference to Sega's mushroom-shaped console add-on: the WRT32X, the ping-friendly sequel to Linksys' own WRT3200, is a hardware/software combination that does far more than just extend the life of a dead format. It's also packed with mega-radical gamer terminology: witness the Killer Prioritization Engine, and the tagline 'designed to dominate'. Plus it's a muscular, looming deep black thing, designed to lurk brooding in a corner, ready to strike.
Wireless Connectivity: Dual band AC3200 802.11a/g/ac/n MU-MIMO (N600, AC2600
Processor: ARM dual-core @ 2GHz
Memory: 512MB RAM
Storage: 512MB NAND flash (OpenWRT ready)
Ports: 1x Gigabit WAN, 4x Gigabit Ethernet LAN, 1x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0/eSATA
Dimensions: 9.7 x 7.6 x 2 in (246 x 194 x 52 mm)
Price and availability
The WRT32X is not cheap. Really. It's £300, US$300, AU$400, for a router. You've got to really want its gaming features to put down that kind of money, particularly if you inspect the specs: this is, for all intents and purposes, a WRT3200 given a gamer lick of paint and a 50% price hike.
If you want one, you won't have to look far. Linksys is a big enough company that it has connections in all the right places, and you'll find the WRT32X stocked in just about every major online retailer. Dig around and you may find a slight discount on its hefty price tag – at the time of writing, Amazon UK was offering 17% off.
Design and setup
Well, it looks like a router. Once you've opened up the new sexy magnetic foam-lined box (check one for gamer cred) it looks almost precisely like the WRT3200 with its blue accents switched out for black.
Four antennas, two at the rear and two at the sides, adjust at whatever angle is most convenient for your home, and there's a set of lights on the front to indicate connectivity and traffic. Ports on the back cover USB and eSATA (which enable convenient and fast network attached storage) as well as a fairly standard five-port switch setup.
Here's how the Linksys WRT32X performed in our suit of benchmark tests. All tests performed in a three-floor terrace surrounded by generally busy Wi-fi channels, on a 200+Mbps connection:
Ookla Speed Test 5GHz (Download | Upload):
Within 5 feet/1.52 meters; no obstructions: 194.2 | 12.1 Mbps
Within 20 feet/6 meters; one floor, two walls: 120.2 | 11.2 Mbps
Ookla Speed Test 2.4GHz (Download | Upload):
Within 5 feet/1.52 meters; no obstructions: 97.2 | 12.0 Mbps
Within 20 feet/6 meters; one floor, two walls: 85.2 | 10.9 Mbps
1.5GB Steam download 5GHz (peak speed):
Within 5 feet/1.52 meters; no obstructions: 9.2 MB/s
Within 20 feet/6 meters; one floor, two walls: 7.3 MB/s
1.5GB Steam download 2.4GHz (peak speed):
Within 5 feet/1.52 meters; no obstructions: 7.9 MB/s
Within 20 feet/6 meters; one floor, two walls: 6.1 MB/s
Inside, as outside, things are much the same as the WRT32X's predecessor. There's the same 1.8GHz processor, the same dual band radio setup featuring N600 and AC2600 connectivity, the same gigabit Ethernet, the same 512MB RAM. This is not, in any way, a bad thing: the WRT3200 is an awesome router, so this is built on a solid foundation.
The real changes are, mostly, logical. There's a shiny new firmware with a gamer-geared interface, which pushes performance to the front. And there's the aforementioned Killer Prioritization Engine, which does a little logical pushing and pulling to ensure that, if you connect to the WRT32X with a compatible device from the likes of Alienware, Gigabyte or Razer, your games get absolute priority on the network. Your family can keep downloading, you can even upload a stream on the same machine; everything else will only be dealt with once the gaming's done.
Testing this required a two-pronged attack: once with some bog-standard networking hardware, and once with a Killer-brand Wi-Fi chip, such as the one found in the astonishing Razer Blade Pro we're lucky enough to have hanging around. Killer kit is also available in the form of add-in cards for desktop PCs or replacements for laptops (if you're willing to pull your machine apart), although this requires even more expense on top.
Our particular tests showed no difference between the usual WAN ping of our router, as measured through the device's firmware, and the ping running under the Killer engine. Our inept fumbling through CS:GO didn't introduce any noticeable changes. We can only surmise, though, that the technology works; eyewitness reports from our hardcore gamer chums suggest that you probably don't need it as long as you're careful about what's happening on your network, but it's a very nice thing to have if you're looking for every tiny advantage.
Results were similarly impressive from traditional networking hardware. There's not an appreciable increase in speed or range over the WRT3200, but that was a high watermark to clear in the first place.
Combined with the performance tweaks of its firmware – and there's a lot of selective options in there, in addition to a much more approachable and easy to fathom interface than most stodgy routers – this is serves up speedy, rangy Wi-Fi that doesn't disappoint.
The WRT32X's firmware isn't just for gamers. It sets a new benchmark for user-friendly controls, and it's incredibly well organised.
The unit's look is subtle and muted, which hides its true power – this is a fast, capable router with specialist gaming hardware inside.
If a tiny bit of lag will make all the difference, and you're not inclined to do manual traffic management, it's perfect.
For all its upgrades, this really isn't a long way away from its predecessor in terms of its hardware makeup – a custom firmware, a pretty paint job, and a niche Wi-Fi interface are hard to justify given the jump in price.
Maybe if you're squarely in the market for premium kit this is for you, but if you're not, it's not.
A rock-solid gaming router that's easy to set up, easy to run, easy to configure, and far too expensive for the average wallet.
We're not going to argue that this isn't an awesome combo, but if you're not looking to shell out quite as much moolah the Linksys WRT3200 will serve you just fine.
- Check out our list of the best routers