Updated 4/22/15: Amped Wireless RTA1200 now legal
Wireless marketeers have been hard at work convincing us it takes a $300 router to step up our network's wireless performance. But for many buyers, they're expensive overkill. Most mobile devices have N150 or AC580 (1x1 N or AC) class radios, as do CE products like Blu-ray players and "smart" TVs. So they'll never reach the higher link rates that AC1750 and higher class routers support and won't provide anywhere near the throughput the big numbers on the product boxes imply.
With AC1200 class routers' 2x2 (2 Transmit, 2 receive) radios, you'll still get a throughput boost from the improved RF performance and more efficient wireless protocol bit-bashing today's AC radios provide. Our tests with a 2x2 N client (Does An AC Router Improve N Device Performance?) showed throughput improvement between 60 - 400% when switching from a top-of-class N router to an assortment of AC routers. That batch of tests didn't include any AC1200 class routers, but there should be similar gains, since the main limitation is client link rate in both cases.
So you can think of AC1200 class routers as the new entry-level router, well suited to the needs of many buyers with small apartments and a handful of wireless devices to connect. Unlike yesterday's entry-level N300 routers, AC1200 routers are simultaneous dual-band, usually have Gigabit Ethernet ports and even support USB storage and printer sharing. And with 100 Mbps+ connections more prevalent even in the internet backwaters of the good ol' US of A, even cheaper models support routing speeds well north of 500 Mbps!
In this series, we will be looking at a total of five AC1200 class routers. As we gathered products for review, it became clear they broke into two groups. This Part 1 covers three better-known brands with better performance: Linksys' EA6350; NETGEAR's R6220 and TP-LINK's Archer C5.
This group originally included Amped Wireless' RTA1200. But we put it aside when we couldn't find its FCC ID in the FCC ID database, since we don't review products that aren't legal to sell in the U.S. We alerted Amped to the problem immediately, but have yet to receive an explanation.
The RTA1200 now has a valid FCCID and is legal for sale in the U.S.
Because this is a round-up, we won't be doing a deep dive on each product. Instead, we'll focus primarily on features that are unique or worthy of mention. Common features can be found in this table, generated by the Router Finder. We'll cover comparative storage, routing and wireless performance in their own sections so that you can easily compare the products.