It’s not every day a company jumpstarts a hardware platform, particularly one as none glamorous as networking kit for the home, back in 2002 Linksys did just that with the launch of the WRT54G router, a device which is surprisingly still sold to this day due to its low cost and wide support from the open source community. The WRT54G was also the first device that introduced me to Linksys, back then the interface presented a breadth of options, many of which were often confusing to the average home user. Technology has progressed greatly since 2002 and vendors have moved to slicker, easier to use interfaces and devices which favour a more closed approach, which is where the WRT 1900ACS steps in.
Presenting the WRT 1900ACS
So as is the usual way of things with our network reviews, we start with the packaging. While smaller than the behemoth of a box that the EA9500 ships in, this is still a rather large box considering its contents. Externally we have the usual consumer style marketing extolling the virtues of the contents of the hardware with various photos showing off the router itself. Internally reason for the size becomes instantly apparent. This is probably one of the most protected routers I have encountered in terms of its packaging, featuring large, layered foam inserts to hold the various contents.
First up, with have the router itself, underneath which we have the installation CD and removable antenna, under the padded insert we then have the bottom of the box, featuring computer nets for the PSU and an Ethernet cable. Assembly of the router is completed within minutes and simply needs the antenna to be screwed into place. The router itself is vaguely reminiscent of the original WRT54G range, featuring a nice, clean blue and black design with venting to the rear and bottom of the router. The front panel extends over three quarters of the front of the device and has LED indicators for power, internet, 2.4Ghz and 5gGhz Wi-Fi, eSATA, the two USB ports as well as the four Ethernet ports and WDS status. To the rear we have a WDS button, 4 GigE LAN ports a GigE WAN port a USB 3.0 port, a combined eSATA and USB 2 port along with a reset button, the power connector and an on/off switch.
Form wise the device features an angled recline on either side, keeping what could be a clumsy looking device looking rather fetching, the 4 antennae are also tapered with rounded backs, all in all presenting something that wouldn’t look totally alien sat in someone’s entertainment set up. Making a router not stand out visually is always a challenge and it’s something Linksys have been getting very right of late even with the insane number of antenna seen on devices such as the EA9500. One feature I have always solved about the WRT range, which harks back to Linksys ‘appliance’ approach is the fact that the devices feature the ability to stack on one another, previously allowing for modems, switches, Wi-Fi connections and similar to be handled by separate devices all in a single footprint, thankfully this is a direction that has been retained with the revamped line, allowing for an 8 port switch to be sat underneath the WRT 1900, giving you a potential 10 LAN ports to play with in a single, neat little footprint. While both devices have 12 LAN ports, each device will lose a single port to connect them together.
So, we know how it looks externally, but what’s inside? The way many people may be using the device calls for something with a reasonable amount of power and thankfully Linksys have not disappointed here either, with a Marvell Armada 38X dual-core 1.6GHz ARMv7 CPU and 512Mb of DDDR3, there is certainly enough horsepower for running the stock firmware and plenty of overhead for running more advanced features via OpenWRT. Wireless is provided by more chips from Marvell, 4 x 88W8864
– Skyworks SE2623L power amplifier for the 2.4 GHz channels and a further 4 x 88W8864
– RFMD RFPA5522 for the 5Ghz channels. In addition, there are additional Low Noise Amplifiers for both the 5ghz and 2.4GHz channels. Cooling is provided by a large heatsink which covers just short of half the of the PCB, so the device should be silent in operation.
In terms of the OS, we have the usual user friendly approach that I have already praised for its ease of use, with a simple, intuitive interface that gives users access to exactly what is needed to get things up and running, having already covered off the firmware in my review of the EA9500, I won’t repeat myself here, suffice to say its relatively intuitive and gives users the necessary options to get their network up and running.
One difference I will mention however is the inclusion of VPN support, based around OpenVPN, allowing you to connect from remote devices that may be on insecure public hotspots to your connection at home, adding extra piece of mind when out and about. This while becoming much more common is still not as pervasive a feature as I would like so is something that always pleases me to see, even if it is a trifling thing to include. Configuring the VPN options is relatively trivial, needing the IP or domain of your WAN, setting up users and downloading a config file to your client devices. While I tested using the default 172 based range Linksys set with no real issues, I would normally prefer to use something that matched my LAN, something which Linksys provide instructions for here (link) another thing I noticed was that by default, the VPN configuration seems to not be set to route all traffic, at least not from my mobile and instead simply lets you route to devices on your LAN via IP address, while handy there is a potential need to have all traffic pass to your VPN server for privacy and security reasons when using public Wi-Fi; thankfully the config file can be readily amended to enable this.
Linksys WRT 1900ACS£149.99
- Native open Source support out of the box
- Genernally good 5Ghz performance
- Nice looking unit that is stackable with an 8 Port switch
- Default GUI is very user friendly
- Poor 2.4Ghz performance over distance lets this down.