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Lifewire / Benjamin Zeman
Open source firmware (OpenWrt and DD-WRT)
Very fast 5GHz throughput speeds
Familiar nostalgic look
Sluggish 2.4GHz throughput speed
Subpar long range performance
High price point
We’ve been using open source Linksys routers for just short of two decades and the high performance of the familiar blue and black reminds us why we’re still Linksys fans. The Linksys WRT3200ACM has one of the fastest processors available for any FlashRouter on the market, and with up to 3200 Mbps dual-band wireless speeds, it offers the fastest, most reliable speed and best performance of any current open source router.
We purchased the Linksys WRTAC3200 Router so our expert reviewer could thoroughly test and assess it. Keep reading for our full product review.
Linksys really kicked off the router customization movement in 2002 with its first open source router, the iconic WRT54G. The WRT1900AC followed twelve years later in 2014 and the Linksys WRT3200ACM Router improved upon it in 2016. It introduced the fastest 5GHz band on the market, is Linksys’ first router with Tri-Stream 160, and it’s capable of Multi-User Multiple Input Multiple Output (MU-MIMO) data streaming and beamforming. This router delivers blazing fast speeds and a number of customized settings with advanced monitoring capabilities you won’t find in a normal router.
The Linksys WRT3200ACM Router sticks with the familiar black and blue design of its predecessors. At 9.68 x 7.63 x 2.04 inches and 28.16 ounces it’s fairly large, and the four inch antennas add some additional height, though each antenna is adjustable and detachable.
The front panel has a series of LED status indicators, while the I/O and buttons are located around back. The Linksys WRT3200ACM covers all the connectivity bases for us and we appreciate the simplistic front panel LED design.
We’re divided about the Linksys WRT3200ACM’s aesthetic. On the one hand it’s a pleasant reminder of the past; on the other, it doesn’t blend well into our home decor. In fact, it looks super vintage and really stands out against all our modern tech and furniture. Linksys has released a similar router called the Linksys WRT32X that is geared towards gaming, has basically the same specs, and is all black. From what we can tell, the difference is in the stock software alone, so it may be a better option for blending in. Overall, though, we love the Linksys WRT3200ACM just as much as we loved the WRT54G and WRT1900AC, which is to say a lot.
Basic installation of the Linksys WRT3200ACM Router is as easy as any other Linksys router, but if you’re purchasing an open source router, chances are you aren’t looking for basic. With that said, you can still use the included four step Quick Start Guide and get things up and running quickly. Covering our favorite third-party firmwares, OpenWrt and DD-WRT, is beyond the scope of this review, but we had no problems installing either.
After unpacking the router, we first attached the four antennas and plugged in the power. The front panel display lit up and we connected the included ethernet cable to the yellow internet port on the router and to our modem. We waited until the power light on the front of the router changed from blinking or solid and opened our web browser.
The Linksys WRT3200ACM performed very well on the 5GHz band.
Like all other Linksys routers, the WRT3200ACM can be configured using Linksys’ setup wizard by going to http://LinksysSmartWiFi.com in your favorite web browser. Alternatively, Linksys has a great mobile app on both Android and iOS. We connected to our new network using the network name and password found in both the Quick Start Guide and on the bottom on the router.
We pulled up the Smart Wi-Fi dashboard in our web browser and the smart wizard walked us through the setup process. If you don’t already have a Linksys Smart Wi-Fi account like we did, you’ll need to create one by entering your email and then clicking the link in the confirmation email. You want to do this while connected to your new network. This associates your new router with your Smart Wi-Fi account.
At this point you can choose to click the “Manual Configuration” link in the bottom left corner of the setup welcome page or continue with the default setup. After finishing the initial setup, you get access to the dashboard user interface to configure your router at a more in-depth level. The browser interface on the left has a menu with a number of options. We’ll take a look at those options a little later in the software section since they aren’t part of the basic setup process.
The Linksys WRT3200ACM is a MU-MIMO Dual-Band Tri-Stream 160 router with 600+2600 Mbps speeds. It’s powered by a 1.8GHz dual-core processor and uses the latest 802.11ac network standards. The 2.4GHz band and 5GHz band run independently of each other, so the router can simultaneously reach theoretical speeds of 600 Mbps on 2.4GHz and a massive 2600 Mbps on the 5GHz band.
Multi-User Multiple Input Multiple Output (MU-MIMO) capability means the router can efficiently handle bandwidth in homes with devices of different speed grades. It’s essentially like each device has its own router because they connect at their fastest speeds and transmit data simultaneously instead of sequentially. That means you can be running multiple devices throughout the house and each can connect at their highest speed.
The Linksys WRT3200ACM also has four wired gigabit ethernet ports to directly connect devices like your gaming console or smart TV. The USB 3.0 and USB 2.0/eSata ports allow you to connect external storage devices and share things like your video collection across your network. The Linksys WRT3200ACM definitely covered all the connectivity bases that we needed.
We tested throughput network performance on a Comcast Business plan, utilizing the 5ft/30ft technique, for both 2.4Ghz and 5GHz bands. The Linksys WRT3200ACM performed very well on the 5GHz band and we consistently got an average of 565Mbps at 5ft but a dip to 235Mbps at 30ft. The 2.4GHz band didn’t perform quite as well. We got about 75Mbps at 5ft and only 57Mbps at 20ft.
We tested coverage across a roughly a 2,000 square foot space and had reliable coverage throughout. We also got decent coverage in the basement, most of our yard, and our parking area. Although the speeds did reduce a lot when we were outside, the connection was still reliable and we were able to do things like pull up a map or watch a YouTube video in HD on our mobile phone while sitting in the car.
The Linksys WRT3200ACM is also ready for 160MHz-channel-width streaming when compatible clients become more available. For the time being we just consider it future-proofing because there aren’t many compatible devices on the market. Overall, the router has killer performance, decent coverage, and was more than we needed. The 2.4GHz speeds weren’t great but we feel like the 5.4GHz speeds more than make up for it.
We’ve said it many times before, Linksys has great stock software. They’ve always been at the forefront when it comes to configuration and advanced settings. The current version of their web browser dashboard and their mobile apps are both great and offer a lot of customization. Everything just works and you won’t run into any frustrations like we did with other companies software.
Guest Access, Parental Controls and Media Prioritization are all easy to setup and use. You can create up to 50 guest networks and password protect them. With Parental Controls you can set up how much time devices on the network have internet access, our outright restrict and block access for specific devices. Media Prioritization allows you to prioritize devices of your choice by simply dragging them from the normal priority field and dropping them into the high priority section.
A good buy, though not a necessity if you aren’t looking to utilize it for its open source capabilities.
There’s also a Speed Test tool to see how fast your upload and download speeds are as you’re tweaking your settings. An External Storage tool allows you to share folders on connected hard drives and set up FTP and Media Servers. Router Settings include Troubleshooting, Connectivity, Wireless, Security, and OpenVPN Server. There’s plenty to explore and we found the router’s stock firmware has everything that the average user would need.
Flashing Linux based alternatives like OpenWrt or DD-WRT is simple, and because the router is made with them in mind, firmware will be more stable than other routers. Currently DD-WRT looks like it is a little behind OpenWrt when it comes to additional features not included in the stock firmware. Both projects are actively working on updates and Linksys does encourage you to go with third-party firmwares, but warns that installing third-party firmware is done at your own risk and will void your warranty.
If you’re new to open source router firmware, we encourage you to do your research first. Open source firmware is really for users who are familiar with building and debugging their own software. It requires more manual maintenance and you’ll need to keep up with any new releases yourself. There are a lot of other less expensive Linksys routers available if you want to test the waters before jumping in with the WRT3200ACM.
The Linksys WRT3200ACM Router typically retails for around $200. Like other Linksys routers, however, you can find massive deals if you are willing to go refurbished. When available, you can find refurb models on Linksys’ own website for $150, and we’ve seen them elsewhere for as low as $100 in the past.
Even if you don’t go with a refurb, the WRT3200ACM is a good buy, though it’s not a necessity if you aren’t looking to utilize it for its open source capabilities—there are other, cheaper options on the market that will serve your needs just as well.
Another router that tends to top the list of open source routers is the Asus RT-AC5300, a Tri-Band AC5300, MU-MIMO-capable router marketed towards gamers. This expensive router has a very large footprint and two antennas on each of the four sides. Its $400 MSRP is significantly higher than the Linksys WRT3200ACM, and the lowest retail price we’ve seen is around $270. Even refurbished, it still goes for $250, the same price as the MSRP of the Linksys WRT3200ACM.
The Asus RT-AC5300 does boast a massive 5,000 square feet of coverage. It averages around 100 Mbps at close distances and 80 Mbps at 30ft on the 2.4GHz band. It has solid performance on 5GHz with a score of 515 Mbps up close and 320 Mbps at 30ft. Overall, it’s a solid performer with a lot of connectivity options.
We’re going to cut right to the chase though—we prefer the Linksys. The router may perform well, but ASUS has a reputation for terrible customer service and problems with warranty support, issues we’ve encountered ourselves. The ASUS mobile app is also hugely inferior to the Linksys mobile app. The hardware is powerful but has a higher failure rate than Linksys, and is also visually unappealing.
One of the best options for open source enthusiasts.
The Linksys WRT3200ACM Router is a great buy from a great company that’s been in the market for a long time. Whether you purchase the Linksys WRT3200ACM new or refurbished, it’s a fantastic value. The only suggestion we have is that you make sure it’s what you actually want and need—if you aren’t going to use it for its open source capabilities, you might want to take a look at some other options. If open source is your jam, you’ll love this router.
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