Tri-Stream 160

Of course, the real difference here is how it should perform over Wi-Fi, since the WRT 3200ACM is the first retail router which supports Tri-Stream 160, while the terminology may not hold much meaning for many, effectively it allows for double the bandwidth per stream on 5Ghz Wi-Fi networks, where other routes such as the 1900ACS may have only used 80Mhz giving up to 433Mpbs per stream for combined throughput of upto 1.3Gbps, the WRT 3200ACM uses 160Mhz – giving a theoretical max throughput of 867Mbps per stream, naturally double the max theoretical throughput to 2.6Gbps! Of course the one downside to this currently is there is literally only a single device on the market that will support 160Mhz bandwidth and it just so happens to be this router, meaning that two of them are required to fully test the functionality of Tri-Stream 160. Because of this, The max theoretical speed that any device I can test on this device can achieve is 1300Mbps, just like any other 3×3 AC Router on the market. I’ll certainly be revisiting this device for an update on this review, or even a re-review when I can test the full capability of Tri-Stream 160 in the hopefully not too distant future.

linksys-li-wrt3200acm-4

 

So, unfortunate lack of ability to test out the full capabilities of the device aside, we have a rough understanding of how the device should perform, at least on paper.  But ultimately it means little if the router can’t perform in the real world, which is how we tend to run tests on devices here. While lab results are useful for giving an understanding of the sheer raw performance of a device, technology is rarely, if every used in a lab environment, so as ever we ran performance testing at home, testing results in a variety of locations and conditions from within the same room through to a tiled bathroom, full of piping to really put routers to the test. Granted, this is by no means scientific, but it should provide a rough and ready guide for those looking to purchase networking kit for use in the home as well as setting some rough expectations on overall performance.

Performance Testing

Firstly, while I’ve not been testing the router for the same duration I have others in terms of authentication stability, at this stage after seeing no drops to my ISP in over a fortnight, I’m more than happy to say the WRT appears to be rock solid on the WAN front. At this stage, it’s not even worth checking the sync data, as there have been no drops since I installed the router on the 14th of November.

Start Time RAS Response Location RAS
2016-11-14 19:08:06 Access-Accept North nge001.old
2016-11-14 19:06:41 Access-Accept North nge001.old

 

Next up is general Wi-Fi performance.

livingroom

livingroom

 

As ever we start with the baseline test – the room the router is in. While this is only running on the 80Mhz frequency, so on paper should see similar levels of performance to routers that provide 3X3 80 connectivity we’re already showing benefits from the upgraded internals with speeds jumping up above those of the WRT 1900ACS, at least on the 5Ghz front. It seems performance is lacking on the 2.4Ghz band, with speeds generally being lower than those observed on the WRT1900 ACS.

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Moving from room to room the 2.4Ghz range suffered heavily. To confirm this I conducted 2 tests per day from all locations over the course of a few days and found performance on 2.4Ghz bands to be consistent, while 5Ghz testing generally proved to be generally superb and if not generally better than models offering similar performance, then at least on a par. The only real exception to this was the torture test that is a tiled bathroom, where speeds were seen to be all over the place with packets being dropped or received out of order, which can cause your connection to appear to be sluggish or even seem to be none functional in the worse cases.

 

Closing Thoughts

While it’s unfortunate that I was unable to really test the headline feature of the WRT 3200ACM, the overall improvement on the 5Ghz range does suggest that this should certainly have the potential to really shine when using extra bandwidth that the extra 80Mhz would provide. The internal spec bump has certainly helped overall performance over the WRT1900ACS in this area, once again putting Linksys into the performance spotlight. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the 2.4Ghz spectrum, which saw performance levels around 50% or worse than the 1900ACS, I would hope this is rectified with future firmware updates, since components wise I can see no real obvious reason for the performance drop. This said however 2.4Ghz while still in use is falling increasingly out of favour as more and more devices ship with 5Ghz support as standard, with 2.4GHz as a fall back if 5Ghz is not available; indeed the only none 5Ghz device I could quickly find to hand was a Nintendo 3DS XL, though the rise of home automation devices has seen a resurgence in use of 2.4Ghz frequencies, since these devices lack the bandwidth requirements of devices like Laptops, Smart phones and similar, so the lower throughput while not ideal shouldn’t have a significant impact on this kind of hardware.

In terms of recommending the WRT 3200ACM over the other WRT routers it becomes a harder sell, since while 5Ghz performance is markedly better not only is the device is more expensive, thanks to the fact the 1900ACS has seen a drop in price due to no longer being the flagship product, there is simply no support for 160Mhz Wi-Fi on the market currently beyond buying another WRT 3200ACM; something which in many cases may be overkill for most users unless you are looking to use it as a wireless bridge from one part of your home/office to another due perhaps to not being able, or being unwilling to run Ethernet cabling. Combine this with the lower performance on the 2.4Ghz range and it does become more difficult to push people to this router over the WRT 1900ACS. Certainly, if you are in the market to buy a WRT device you would do well to consider the 3200 if it is within your budget but as an upgrade over an existing 3X3 80 router, it’s not something I would urge you to rush out to buy, at least not until there is more support for 160Mhz Wi-Fi.

 

WRT 3200ACM Review
A magnificent router that takes a page from the history books to provide a good user experience with great features and security. It also helps that it's incredibly fast.
Physical Design95%
Software Features90%
Performance94%
Value91%
What's Right
  • Super Fast
  • Intuitive GUI
What's Wrong
  • Poor 2.4GHz Performance
93%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (1 Vote)
97%