​CES 2015: Linksys 1200AC, an inexpensive, open-source 802.11ac Wi-Fi router

Want 802.11ac Wi-Fi speeds at an affordable price and with open-source software under the hood? If that's you, then you're going to want to check out Belkin's Linksys 1200AC.

Las Vegas -- I love my Linksys WRT1900AC, but with a $279 price-tag, some small-office/home-office (SOHO) and small businesses are reluctant to open their wallets for it. Now, at CES, Belkin, Linksys's parent company, is introducing a new lower-priced 802.11ac Wi-Fi router: The WRT1200AC Dual Band Gigabit Wi-Fi Router for $179.99

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The new Linksys WRT1200AC gives you both affordable 802.11ac Wi-Fi and a fully open-source firmware.
For a hundred bucks less you also get less of a Wi-Fi router. Instead of a 3x3 MIMO antenna rig, the new WRT1200AC comes with 2x2 MIMO. Otherwise the pair are closer in specifications than you might expect.

While the throughput is not quite as fast as WRT1900AC you can still "hope" to see speeds as fast as 1.3 Gigabits per second (Gbps). In practice, I've hit highs of 500 Megabits per second (Mbps) with the WRT1200AC's big brother in a small office. I'd expect to see 400Mbps from the 1200AC, which is still better than you'll see from an 802.11n router.

The dual 2.4 and 5GHz band AC1200 router is powered by an ARM 1.3GHz Dual-Core Processor. This is backed by 128MB of Flash memory, 512MB DDR3 RAM. A Belkin product manager said that the memory can be upgraded. It also comes with eSATA/USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports, four Gigabit Ethernet ports and a Gigabit WAN port.

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What some users will really, really like about the WRT1200AC isn't the hardware but the firmware working with it. In partnership with Marvel, Linksys is happy to announce that the open-source Wi-Fi driver for the WRT1900AC chipset has been released to OpenWrt, the makers of one of the most popular embedded Linux firmwares.

This driver is available now in the the latest open-source firmware image snapshot. At this point, only Linux and OpenWrt experts should try to work with it.

Serious Linux firmware developers will recall that making the Marvell 802.11ac wireless chipset truly functional with a fully open-source driver has been a goal, which wasn't achieved when the 1900AC was released. This time around, though, they seem to have gotten it right. As a member of the OpenWRT developers team posted on the group's mailing list: "It's been a bit of a rocky ride, but we've got there in the end."

For WRT1900AC owners, the new, more fully-open source firmware is also available.

Still, Linksys admits, "This is an initial release, with plans to send the driver to the upstream Linux kernel after refinement. Full open source firmware is planned to be available for the WRT1200AC router at time of release."

"Linksys is all about quality and performance. We wanted to expand on our WRT line to provide customers a whole home networking solution that extends the WRT networking experience throughout the entire home or office via storage solutions or additional range," said Mike Chen, Linksys's VP of product management in a statement. "The new WRT1200AC router enables us to cater to an audience that want all the benefits of a WRT router but at a more friendly price point."

The WRT1200AC will be available in spring 2015. I can see it doing well, not just in homes, but also in SOHOs and small businesses.

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