Linksys WRT 1900AC: The classic Wi-Fi router re-imagined

Linksys WRT 1900AC: The classic Wi-Fi router re-imagined

Summary: It may look a lot like the iconic WRT 54G, but under the surface lies powerful and open hardware for the most demanding prosumer Wi-Fi users.

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Linksys WRT1900AC Router_cropped-620
The Linksys WRT 1900AC. Art: Belkin/Linksys

When many of us hear "Wi-Fi router" a lot of us think about a blue and black box with flashing lights and antennae sticking out of it. More specifically, we think of one Wi-Fi router in particular, the iconic Linksys WRT 54G, which was one of the most widely-sold home networking devices in the last decade.

The WRT 54G series was popular because it was inexpensive and also extremely hackable. The well-documented Broadcom and (later Atheros) chipsets which were used in the device enabled the Open Source community to create alternative firmware releases such as DD-WRT, Tomato and OpenWRT which run on the Linux operating system.

While Linksys never officially endorsed these alternative firmwares, and maintained a policy of voiding the warranty or refusing support if you used them, many of us Wi-Fi power users still chose to install them because they added a lot of other features which were not offered out of the box, many of them related to security and signal/performance diagnostics.   

Some twelve years after the release of the original WRT 54G, the industry has changed considerably, which has included heavy commoditization of the Wi-Fi and home networking product ecosystem.

Linksys, once the dominant player in the space has since been joined by NETGEAR, D-LINK, ASUS and numerous other vendors making nearly identical products, not to mention that many service providers and telcos have also issued their own integrated OEM Wi-Fi routers/residental gateways included as part of basic service offerings.  

Linksys as a result fell on hard times -- first being somewhat neglected by its parent company Cisco in the last several years, releasing extremely commoditized and less-reliable products which were far less open as well, making the installation and development of alternative firmware products like the aformentioned DD-WRT much more difficult.

Linksys began its re-birth just before being sold to PC accessories company Belkin in January 2013. At Winter CES this week, the company is announcing the WRT 1900AC, a powerful dual-band 802.11AC router that not only visually evokes the original WRT 54G that made the company into a home networking giant, but also demonstrates a commitment to Open Source and extensibility that the company never truly embraced from an official capacity when it was a Cisco subsidiary.

Aside from its classic looks that will make any Wi-Fi geek smile, the WRT 1900AC integrates a dual-core, 1.2Ghz ARM processor with 256MB of RAM, 3 MIMO spatial streams, 4 removable antennas for increased range, gigabit WAN and 4 gigabit ethernet ports, as well USB 3.0 and eSATA for external storage.

However, what will most attract the Wi-Fi power user is the 128MB of flash as well as support for open firmware from the day of introduction.

Unlike its namesake, the openness and performance of the re-imagined WRT series won't come cheap though. At $299 retail when the device ships this spring, it's likely only going to attract the most hardcore Wi-Fi geeks with very specific requirements and complex home networks. However I look forward to giving it a spin myself when I can get my hands on one.

Are you interested in the new, open Linksys WRT 1900AC? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Networking, Open Source, CES

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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16 comments
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  • I'll pass

    While the ability to use external storage and third party firmware is appealing, I'll pass with a price of $299. I can build a atom class system and buy a competitor router for less.
    Linksys WRT 1900AC sounds like an expensive turkey.
    Scatcatpdx
  • Old WRT54G

    My daughter had an old WRT54G in her attic and since I was having trouble with a much newer Linksys router I asked her for it. I figured I would try it before hacking it. It works so well I haven't I haven't touched a thing.

    Do you know how much power the new router will have. I have been thinking of installing an outside antenna to a router.
    calfee20
  • If they're serious (or DD-WRT is about it), then I'll be serious

    I've tried a lot of consumer (and even low-end business class) routers over the last couple of years and for my needs have found all to be wanting. I need the router to route at Gbps speed, and none has done it for me. Many are fine gateways (different from routers), and many do WiFi reasonably well, but good reliable routing at high speeds is not something anyone has done seriously in this space, AFAIK (confirmed in conversations with others). So support VLANs, static routes, without NAT, preferably with a friendly interface.

    I suppose people with such requirements are a small fraction of the market, so if we have to pay more for such a router, so be it, so long as it actually works.
    PaulThomsen
  • I am still using a WRT 54G as my home Wifi Router. Works great !

    Thinking about upgrading recently, but at $299, I will just wait a while longer. They will be selling on Amazon in 6 months for $199 (or I will buy something else).
    jkohut
  • I'll pass it over

    seeing that Linksys are now owned by Belkin. I have had several Belkin branded modems in the past and I can still hear them barking. They were ....ing dogs and they couldn't or wouldn't fix them.
    bd1235
  • How Much !

    Who do they think they are ?

    Apple ?
    Alan Smithie
  • Really? "Linksys never officially endorsed these alternative firmware..."

    I bought several of the 54G units that were specifically designed to have new firmware installed. I think they were model 54GL.
    raleighthings
  • I'd highly recommend the open source firmware . . .

    "The WRT 54G series was popular because it was inexpensive and also extremely hackable. The well-documented Broadcom and (later Atheros) chipsets which were used in the device enabled the Open Source community to create alternative firmware releases such as DD-WRT, Tomato and OpenWRT which run on the Linux operating system."

    Which, if you value your security and want a really solid, stable router - I'd actually highly recommend. The default firmware had issues that made the routers horribly insecure, and stability wasn't all that great.

    I do remember the days of constantly resetting routers to get the entire network going again - something I never needed to do after installing the open source firmware.

    "Some twelve years after the release of the original WRT 54G, the industry has changed considerably, which has included heavy commoditization of the Wi-Fi and home networking product ecosystem."

    Actually, the 54G pretty much *WAS* the "commoditization of the Wi-Fi and home networking product ecosystem" - it was a cheap, mass produced router, and ended up in many, many homes.

    "However, what will most attract the Wi-Fi power user is the 128MB of flash as well as support for open firmware from the day of introduction."

    Well - that has my attention. Because, honestly, I'm likely to stick to open source firmware on future routers.

    "Unlike its namesake, the openness and performance of the re-imagined WRT series won't come cheap though. At $299 retail . . . "

    Ouch. Okay, maybe not.
    CobraA1
  • Atom for a router/firewall

    Hello, I personally have a Intel Atom based router/firewall. I built it 2 or 3 years ago. It's a dual core atom with Hyper Thread, 1GB of ram, and a Sata to Compact Flash adapter for OS storage. I added a Quad port Gb Nic from Ebay for 50 bux. I spent less than 300$ This machine had no problem routing traffic in excess of Gb a second on a intranet while maxing a 50Mb internet connection. I do a lot of testing for work at home so I'm very demanding of my equipment. I need something that can push the bandwidth with out misalignment of packets. I can tell you first hand that an Atom processor can do this. However at this price with only 256MB of ram I'd strongly suggest build it yourself. Then take your old access point and set it as pass thru and plug it up it. (I used Endian - Linux based firewall on it.) If your a FPS games you know every milisecond of lag counts against you. Making sure you have 10X more hardware then you need is usually they way to go. Not because you need it, but just because you can.
    thehinac@...
    • No...bad idea

      Yes, I want to use a modified PC as my router/firewall because I love spending all my free time tweaking settings.

      Even in an enterprise it RARELY makes sense to use a custom device. Get a sonicwall or cisco set it and you are done.

      I have yet to see a custom device that was cheaper once you factor in soft costs like managing it. And at home? Why would I want to spend even MORE time on a computer?

      I built a spam filter one time using old PowerEdge servers because I did not want to spend $3,000 for an enterprise filter. DUMB. I ran that thing for 3-years. DUMB. Then I went to a "retail" spam filter....set it and forget it.

      I mean, if you really enjoy tweaking settings and baby sitting devices then a DIY is great. I developed a lot of skills doing DIY routers/firewalls/spam filters/etc. But for enterprise or an "in-production" device....DIY is never a viable solution.

      Your $300 DIY device is WAY more than my $500 Sonicwall...enterprise class used off of ebay.
      inverse137@...
  • !Sleek!

    A very good job to the Design Team!
    Leonelurquiza@...
  • I hate plagiarism

    Someone has some explaining to do:
    http://www.utahpeoplespost.com/2014/01/the-blue-and-black-linksys-wrt-54g-wi-fi-unveiled/
    LongLiveThePC
    • It's not plagiarism...

      It's "article marketing".

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Article_marketing
      chuckycheeze
  • Routers and DD-WRT

    I won't even consider a router unless I can replace its firware with something open-source. Why? DNS. DNS is broken on almost every consumer--grade router I've seen. Router designers like to use a DNS Proxy to serve IP address for the Internet. But what about your LAN?

    "Windows has its own name resolution service" a Netgear tech has told me on several occasions. "DNS isn't needed for the local domain."

    Err -- What about non-Windows systems like Linux? "We don't support Linux."

    Well that's just spiffy! I have 22 devices on my home network, ONE of them is a Windows box.

    What really irks me is that these guys are almost certainly using dnsmasq to implement DHCP for the router and it IS a full-fledged DNS server, only they're configuring it to be a DNS proxy instead. It wouldn't cost them anything to configure it to serve up local addresses too!
    R. King
  • Will it run CeroWrt?

    The CeroWrt firmware (http://bufferbloat.net/projects/cerowrt) is a research branch of the OpenWRT firmware that aims to reduce lag/latency in home routers. We've largely succeeded - no lag, even when uploading and downloading big files.

    But our current reference hardware, the Netgear WNDR3800, is getting really long in the tooth, and becoming less available. So the WRT1900AC is quite interesting, as it's touted as a high-performance router that could work for us.

    I'm trying to reach the technical and marketing contacts within Linksys/Belkin to find more details. Watch our site (above) to see what I learn.
    richb-hanover
  • Absolutely interested!

    As people become more aware of the actual state of network security in their own homes and that they need a more hands on approach to it. This device if fully adaptable to making real anti-virus anti intrusion and able to operate as home server director of individual devices, it will be the first in a whole new category for the local home integrator setting up the "internet of things" devices proliferating in the burgeoning market. By keeping it in the open-source community and allowing for customization by giving it some real horsepower, it will redefine the Soho router away from the commodity category and make it more like the app market. Very exciting! Once people see what can be done with the extra flexibility and muscle, they will be begging for it. Instead of looking at another 'wireless router' box priced too high for wal-mart. Apps/custom market are the key for success. If they would make a model with a cable/dsl modem built in it would be complete rout.

    Anyone at Belkin reading this, I am offering my services as beta builder/tester. ;)
    theselfthinker