First Look: Belkin revives, updates Linksys WRT router

First Look: Belkin revives, updates Linksys WRT router

Summary: It's fast, it has a super-strong signal and it's blue and black like Linksys devices from the old days. Unfortunately the software hasn't advanced as quickly as the hardware.

SHARE:
TOPICS: Wi-Fi, Networking
18

 |  Image 1 of 7

  • Thumbnail 1
  • Thumbnail 2
  • Thumbnail 3
  • Thumbnail 4
  • Thumbnail 5
  • Thumbnail 6
  • Thumbnail 7
  • Return of the blue and black

    The new Linksys WRT1900AC from Belkin is a hot rod prosumer router with power and speed and even a bit of panache. The software is good, the feature set is very good and the hardware is impressive.

    Linksys was once the big name brand in small network hardware. In the late 90's and early 00's they had a wide variety of products and broad market share. (Around that time I was co-author of two editions of "Linksys Networks: The Official Guide" Osborne-McGraw Hill.)

    Linksys may have peaked with the WRT54g in 2002, an extremely popular router that was based on Linux firmware, was the target of a great deal of enthusiast customization, both of software and hardware. But Linksys was bought by Cisco which seemed to do nothing with the brand except let it decompose.

    It was then bought by Belkin. which is attempting to revive the hacker/performance-oriented Linksys image of days gone by. The WRT1900AC, pictured here, certainly looks like a classic Linksys device, although it's physically larger. As the name implies, it supports 802.11ac, with speeds up to 1300Mbps (depending on lots of variables, mostly environmental).

    Belkin wants to bring back more than just the physical products. They also intend to nurture the hacker culture inspired by the old WRT line, publish source and provide online facilities for users who want to develop or use customizations. We will examine this move in greater detail in a later article.

    The MSRP for the Linksys WRT1900AC is $279 ($249.99 for a limited time). Not cheap! Then again, neither is a duded-up Corvette.

  • Real-world load

    We didn't do actual performance testing since it's realistically is quite a challenge. Instead we brought it to a local coffee shop, Village Coffee in Maplewood, NJ. Village Coffee has had free Wi-Fi for years, but their router was an old and unreliable Belkin model. Many times a day it would drop the connection and they would pull and reinsert the power cord in response to complaints.

    The WRT1900AC was easy to set up and physically install. Pretty soon there were a dozen or more devices on it (many of them, no doubt, people in neighboring apartments and shops — the cafe wasn't all that crowded). Subjective performance testing showed excellent results and it didn't drop connection like the old one (admittedly not much of an accomplishment).

Topics: Wi-Fi, Networking

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

18 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • re: Linksys WRT1900AC software

    Although the hardware is exciting, I wish I could agree with the statement that the "software is good". 

    According to my conversations with the Belkin/Linksys product manager in February, they have chosen to start with a relatively outdated Linux kernel (3.2) that doesn't take advantage of any of the security improvements that have occurred in the last two years. 

    That old kernel also misses out on all the research into decreasing latency and gamer's lag that's available in a modern router architecture. Over the last two years, the CeroWrt project (http://www.bufferbloat.net/projects/cerowrt) has virtually eliminated lag in home routers, even during heavy file uploads and downloads. Now you can game, use voice and video chat, browse the web without "the Internet being slow". All the stable changes from CeroWrt are being pushed into the current OpenWrt Barrier Breaker development tree.

    I am hopeful that Belkin/Linksys can bring their firmware up to incorporate these newer technologies once they ship the initial version.
    richb-hanover
    • Even so..

      If they don't improve it, others probably will. Thanks for digging that fact up though.
      Larry Seltzer
  • The question is: Is it reliable?

    My experience with home routers, even prosumer ones, has been one of replacement every few years. They all seem to begin dropping wifi connections after extended use (1-3 years). I can't think of a single person I know, including myself, who hasn't had to replace theirs at some point. And this is not limited to LinSys.
    ye
    • DIR-655

      My DLink DIR-655 made it to 6 years before it started needing multiple reboots per week. IIRC, it was expensive when I bought it, but based on its lifespan I think I got a steal!
      bmgoodman
      • That's the exact model I have.

        Made it three years before I had to replace it
        ye
      • DIR-615

        Same story, its poo!
        Raid6
    • i have a really old one

      10 years old wrt54g v2, running the dd-wrt firmware, but that is the exception rather than the rule.
      abpbl6
    • re: consumer router reliability

      I installed one of the original WRT54Gs in my parent's house back in 2002 or 2003, and as far as I know, it's still in use. I have upgraded the firmware to the latest stock version, and they installed some aftermarket antennae in order to boost reception through the house, but the core hardware is still going strong over ten years later . Then again, I've heard from my co-workers who have had to replace their home routers at least twice in that same time span. they reported the same symptoms as use: poor signal reception, dropped connections, and their routers were actually quite hot to the touch. Their routers were Belkin models so it's definitely not limited to one brand. I've had my current router for only two years so I can't vouch for it's reliability. Before that, I use my girlfriend's wifi (from a combo modem/router provided by the telco, which was replaced twice), and before that, I bought a low-end Linksys router, whatever the equivalent of the WRT54g was circa 2006. I moved out a few years later and didn't take the router with me. Given the pace of new technology in home wireless networking, it almost makes sense to replace the router every few years if you're interested in new tech. My co-workers used the router-replacement to upgrade to newer tech each time and were happy with the results.
      morlamweb
  • router reliability

    One problem with many consumer routers and modems is that they are designed to run hot. They are small devices with no fan to cool them and they are usually mounted such that convection cannot work either. So they sit there and slowly cook.

    They need to be mounted so that the air can flow in through the cooling slots on one edge and out on the other. This usually means mounting them vertically. Most routers/modems have mounting slots on the base to facilitate this. All you need is a couple of screws, spaced the right distance apart, in a piece of timber and slide the router on to them. Any half competent DIY can do it.

    This is not a recommendation for a brand but some router manufacturers actually provide brackets to allow vertical mounting. For example, Netgear does it with some of its products.
    bd1235
    • we did it right then

      at least I think we did. page 2 of this story shows how we mounted it (with high-strength velcro) sideways
      Larry Seltzer
  • Skydog is now for everyone

    I don't want the management console on the cloud. What if I want to created a closed network for a group of people without access to the Internet? The Skydog immediately becomes a brink and useless.
    laman
    • perhaps

      What you say is true, but the market for such needs is tiny.
      Larry Seltzer
  • Belkin has a tough road to hoe

    as Linksys products have ALWAYS been problematic for me. Whether it is when I got my very first router, and it had to be rebooted 3x week [not a heat problem, as it was kept in a 58 F room], or the latest one obtained because it was a good deal [EA-2500] that had a nasty habit of negotiating its connect speed down, but NEVER back up, necessitating a reboot to come back to useful speeds. This has been observed on many Linksys products, whether manufactured under the aegis of Cisco or not.

    I have done a lot of home and small office networking in my time, and I have found that the easiest way to avoid problems is to avoid Linksys branding. No other product brand has ever given as much trouble.
    chrome_slinky
  • DD-WRT significant change

    Even this week I just purchased a few WRT54GL routers for business use. Setting them up as Access Points. Granted, it's limited to Wireless G, but I have round these routers to be extremely reliable when flashed with the DD-WRT firmware. For $50, they are hard to beat and the feature set with the DD-WRT is very good to hard to believe. Seems Cisco was smart enough to keep this model router in production.
    cs2inc
  • Still not sure about Belkin

    The only home networking gear I've ever had outright fail on me was Belkin. Others have caused issues, some have craptastic interfaces, but Belkin's was the only one that just stopped working immediately. With other stuff, I at least had warnings, like dropped throughput, or the inability to maintain WiFi, or any number of other symptoms.

    YMMV, of course, but that's been my personal experience. Looks like I'm moving to another make of router once mine fails.
    mongarz
    • You're right about Belkin

      They make one product well, ethernet cable. Their routers are cra*.
      thinker999
  • mixed bag...

    My original 'classic' WRT54G lasted years, and then the Wi-Fi went out. After that I had a horrible period of time with multiple routers of several brand, all of which crapped out very quickly or just never worked right (reboots to unhang or get signals back, etc.) even brand new. Several got returned under warranties. One even had some issue that required me to reboot my cable modem every few days when plugged into that router. I finally got a Cisco E3000 that has worked very well for a few years now. Overall, I'd have to say that the quality in this space is garbage.
    jreuter
  • Looks promising

    I had an old one yrs and yrs ago. Last about 5 yrs before it died.
    tcavadias