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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.
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).