The new, faster, OpenWrt-driven Linksys “WRT3200ACM” WiFi router offers MU-MIMO per the latest AC Wave 2 spec, plus DFS certification and Tri-band support.
Belkin’s Linksys division has updated its line of OpenWrt and DD-Wrt supported dual-band WiFi routers. Compared to last year’s WRT1900ACS, which similarly ran an open source OpenWrt stack on a dual-core Marvell processor, the WRT3200ACM has a faster clock speed and compliance with the recently certified 802.11ac Wave 2 spec, among other additions. Announced with a $280 price, the router is on sale now for $250.
WRT3200ACM, front and back
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The WRT3200ACM, or more formally, the Linksys AC3200 WRT Gigabit MU-MIMO Wi-Fi Router, now has a 1.8GHz (up from 1.6GHz) SoC with 512MB RAM and twice the flash memory at 128MB. It also adds the Wave 2 compliant MU-MIMO (multiuser multiple input, multiple output) technology for simultaneous WiFi connections to multiple devices.
The WRT3200ACM now offers DFS (Dynamic Frequency Selection) certification “to use clear Wi-Fi channels for less interference,” says Linksys. The company also tosses in even more cutting edge Tri-band support with its Tri-Stream 160 technology. The Linksys Smart Wi-Fi app has been updated as well.
WRT3200ACM from an angle
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Physically, the 246 x 194 x 52mm WRT3200ACM model is almost identical to the WRT1900ACS model and the previous WRT1900AC, which first rebooted the hackable Linksys WRT54G router design from over a decade ago. As before, you get four Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports, a GbE WAN port, an eSATA-ready USB 2.0 port, a USB 3.0 port, and four detachable antennas.
Linksys has once again partnered with the OpenWrt project and Marvell to provide the OpenWrt 15.05 (“Chaos Calmer”) support in OpenWrt’s stable and development branches. DD-Wrt is also supported. This built-in open source Linux support enables customizations such as adding privacy controls or implementing VoIP or other applications, says Linksys.
MU-MIMO, DFS, and Tri-band
Like the ACS and AC models, the ACM supports dual-band 802.11ac, but it advances to the Wi-Fi Alliance’s Wave 2 spec. Wave 2 adds MU-MIMO technology, doubles the maximum channel bandwidth to 160MHz, adds a fourth spatial stream, and supports more 5GHz channels.
MU-MIMO is the key new feature, although of course it requires that your client devices also support Wave 2. “With MU-MIMO, the whole household and small office can enjoy 4K and HD TV streaming or other high bandwidth applications to multiple devices all at the same time,” says Linksys.
The Wave 2 technology is implemented by the new Marvell processor. Linksys doesn’t list the model, but it appears to be the dual-core, Cortex-A9 Marvell Avastar 88W8964, which is the only Marvell SoC among the first five processors certified for Wave 2. The technology uses spatial multiplexing, beamforming, and scheduling algorithms to boost throughput and maintain bandwidth even when there is competition from multiple devices.
Tri-Stream 160 explained
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The DFS certification from the FCC triples the channels available at 80MHz for optimally clear airspace. DFS also enables a single 160MHz stream, per Wave 2, enabling the third whiz-bang feature on the ACM, Tri-Stream 160. This implementation of Tri-band technology provides three 160MHz streams at up to 867Mbps instead of the previous 433Mbps, claims Linksys. Tri-Stream 160 “effectively doubles the bandwidth of the 5GHz band to power data-heavy activity with ultra-fast 2.6Gbps WiFi speeds,” says the company.
There are now 86 products that are certified for 802.11ac Wave 2, with many more on the way. So as long as you’re willing and able to buy all new gear, it should not be too long before you’re getting the full MU-MIMO mojo working.
As for Tri-Stream 160, don’t hold your breath. As noted in this CNET preview, there are no Tri-band clients out there, “and there won’t likely be any anytime soon.” Others have suggested the technology is overhyped anyway, with few real-world benefits.
The CNET story notes a fair amount of bugginess in the ACM. However, it adds: “To be sure, most routers are pretty buggy when first released (especially Linksys WRT ones) and only smooth out once the firmware is updated weeks or months after launch.”
For the record, the WRT1900ACS has been well reviewed at CNET and other sites, and is currently on CNET’s list of recommended routers. At $200, it’s probably a better choice than the $280 ACM, but with the ACM’s special price of $250, it’s hard to turn your back on the future.
Of course, there are plenty of other interesting options in routers these days, almost all running Linux. These include the Eero mesh networking system, Google’s OnHub, and the new cloud-connected Roqos Core. Like the latest Linksys, they all promise to diminish those frequent screams around the house of “Who the hell is stealing my bandwidth?”
The Linksys WRT3200ACM is available now at a special price of $250, but will normally be sold at $280. More information may be found at the WRT3200ACM product page.