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Wireless Reviews

AC1900 Dual Band Wireless Router
At a glance
ProductLinksys AC1900 Dual Band Wireless Router (WRT1900AC)   [Website]
SummaryMarvell-based AC1900 class router with Gigabit Ethernet ports and USB 3.0 / eSATA storage sharing
Pros• Establishes a new high in router storage sharing performance
• Supports non WDS bridging and repeating
Cons• Smaller feature set than other top-end routers

Typical Price: $243  Buy From Amazon

Introduction

Updated 5/11/2014: Component info added
Updated 4/15/2014: Rerun storage tests with eSATA results

Linksys' WRT1900AC has finally arrived after much pre-launch hoo-hah. Parent company Belkin has a lot riding on this product, since it is the first fruit of the design team forged from, hopefully, the cream of the crop of former Cisco/Linksys and Belkin engineers and represents the rebirth of the Linksys brand.

My coverage will be in two parts. This first installment should cover most of the "speeds and feeds" so that you can get an idea of whether it blows competing routers out of the water. (Spoiler alert: it doesn't.)

The second part will go back and look at its performance with an assortment of wireless adapter types to take a look at device compatibility. Since this is the first router in a long time based on Marvell silicon and since most of the AC stuff out there is Broadcom based, compatibility / interoperability deserves a special look. The second look will also include some stress testing and longish-term reliability testing.

Much has been made of the back-to-the-future design of the 1900AC, so I won't belabor this. Basically, it will seem very familiar to anyone who ever had a WRT54G or its variations. The router is impressively large, but not the hulking beast some overexcited fanboys would have you believe. In fact, its footprint is pretty much the same as NETGEAR's R7000 NightHawk.

Like the original, the WRT1900AC is designed to stack with other members of its family that will roll out over the coming year. You'll note the top of the router has bumps vs. recesses; this is meant to keep other components from being stacked on it and blocking airflow and, most notably, its internal fan (more on that in a bit).

The front panel is nicely styled and the indicators are bright, but not overly so. In a nod to tech-averse significant others, the indicators can all be shut off except for power. You'll note that the wireless activity lights are multi-segmented, but they don't function as signal level / quality indicators.

Linksys WRT1900AC front panel callouts

Linksys WRT1900AC front panel callouts

One of the 1900AC's unique features is its eSATAp port, which is a combination eSATA / USB port. This gives the router three ways to connect external storage, USB 2.0, USB 3.0 and eSATA, but only two at once. I'll report on file copy performance later.

All switches (power, WPS and recessed reset) are on the rear panel. I would rather have wireless on/off switch than power and have the WPS switch on the front where it's easier to reach.

Linksys WRT1900AC rear panel callouts

Linksys WRT1900AC rear panel callouts

Unlike ASUS' AC offerings, the WRT1900AC has slots on its bottom so that it can be wall or ceiling mounted.

I thought it odd that Linksys includes a CD with the router, since an increasing number of people don't own a device that will read one. Even more curious is that all the CD contains is the obligatory legal notice and a PDF User Manual, which is not yet available for download from the product support page. Until Linksys posts the manual, you can download it here.

For setup, all you need to do is plug in your modem cable, power it up and try to hit the internet with a browser. You'll get redirected to a setup wizard that will get you up and running in no time. The wizard doesn't break new ground, it's the same as on the EA series routers.

Inside

Updated 5/11/2014: FCC docs available

Linksys has temporarily suppressed the inside photos in its FCC filings until the end of this month. I didn't dive in and take apart either of the two routers Linksys sent, since I want to run more tests and don't want to risk affecting performance.

No matter, since it is common knowledge that the WRT is a Marvell-based router. WikiDevi has some pretty good info on the WRT's components, which I've entered into the comparison table below. The main unknown is which amplifiers are used for the radios. Now that the FCC short-term confidentiality period has expired, we have better information on the components. This forum post by sfx2000 has lots of pictures, including the two below, plus a comprehensive component analysis.

The first photo is the assembly with outer covers removed. You can see the extensive heatsinking and cooling fan. The heatsink covering the radio module (bottom left) has been removed.

b_550_0_16777215_00_images_stories_wireless_linksys_wrt1900ac_linksys_wrt1900ac_assembly.jpg

Linksys WRT1900AC board

The second is the board (rotated 180°) with radio module, heatsinks and RF shields removed.

b_550_0_16777215_00_images_stories_wireless_linksys_wrt1900ac_linksys_wrt1900ac_board.jpg

Linksys WRT1900AC board

Table 1 has been updated with missing and corrected component information. Note the switch is not integrated in the CPU and the 5 GHz radio uses a Skyworks SKY85402 vs. the SE5003L1 used in most other AC radios I've seen.

Linksys WRT1900AC Linksys EA6900 NETGEAR R7000 (Nighthawk) ASUS RT-AC68U
CPU Marvell MV78230 Armada XP @ 1.2 GHz (ARMv7) Broadcom BCM4708A Broadcom BCM4709A Broadcom BCM4708A
Switch Marvell 88E6172 in BCM4708A in BCM4709A in BCM4708A
RAM 256 MB 256 MB 256 MB 256 MB
Flash 128 MB 128 MB 128 MB 128 MB
2.4 GHz Radio Marvell 88W8864
- Skyworks SE2623L 2.4 GHz Power Amp (x4)
- Broadcom BCM4360
- Skyworks SE2623L 2.4 GHz Power Amp (x3)
- Broadcom BCM4360
- Skyworks SE2623L 2.4 GHz Power Amp (x3)
- Broadcom BCM4360
- Unidentified 2.4 GHz Power Amp marked 397 649e 230(x3)
5 GHz radio Marvell 88W8864
- Skyworks SKY85402 5 GHz Power Amp (x4)
- Broadcom BCM4360
- Skyworks SE5003L1 5 GHz Power Amp (x3)
- Broadcom BCM4360
- Skyworks SE5003L1 5 GHz Power Amp (x3)
- Broadcom BCM4360
- SiGE 5023L 5 GHz Power Amp (x3)
Table 1: Component summary

User forums are already abuzz about the WRT's fan, with some poster's bemoaning its inclusion as a reliability risk while others applaud it as a reliability enhancement. What I can report is that the fan is smart and doesn't come on unless needed. The router got quite warm in the Octoscope test chamber, but when I opened the chamber to rotate the router, I never heard the fan run.

It wasn't until I ran a multi-hour stress test using four up/down IxChariot pairs and had one router sitting on a desk beside me that I noticed the fan occasionally turn on for a short while, then off again. When running, the fan was hardly noticeable in my quiet home office and again, that was with me sitting right next to it about 18" away from my ear.

What was noticeable was a strong smell when the router was running warm in the test chamber. Even though the chamber has forced cooling, the air exchange rate isn't high. I was able to detect a very faint version of the same smell (I had to put my nose right over the router) during the stress test mentioned above.

When I reported this to Linksys, here is what they said:

... that is normal. It is the flux from the solder. The smell is more apparent because of the increased venting holes. This router has
been stuffed in a closed oven and baked at 40 degree C with full WLAN and WI-FI loads. It will take the beating...

There are three temperature sensors in this router. One is internal to the CPU, another is near the Wi-Fi module, and the third is near the DDR (memory). If the temperature rises to within XX°C of the junction temperature limit of any one of those components, the fan will turn on at a low speed. If the temp rises to within YY°C of the limit, then the fan speed will increase to maximum. This latter case is only likely to occur in extreme cases; we can trigger it by concurrently passing traffic on all interfaces (Wi-Fi, Ethernet, USB, eSATA) while the router is inside of a 40°C heat chamber. In most cases, the average user would not stress the router enough for the fan to turn on at all. Even if it does turn on, it would start at the low speed, which is very quiet. In many cases you would not hear it unless you place your ear next to the router.

I'll come back and add pictures once the FCC ID docs are released or someone else takes one apart.

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