2014 will be the year you upgrade your network to 802.11ac

We saw more than a dozen new 802.11ac routers at CES 2014, including several travel models.

ces network products3

Networking products from here to yonder at CES

LAS VEGAS—Networking hardware was all over CES this year. I might have seen more new routers, Wi-Fi adapters, and range extenders than I did new PCs (excluding Lenovo's flood, perhaps).

And why not? With Haswell CPUs delivering about 5-percent more performance than third-generation Core processors, there’s not a lot of motivation to upgrade if you have a high-performance PC from the last couple of years (although battery life on laptops is a whole other matter—mobile Haswell parts are pretty awesome in that regard). 802.11ac routers, meanwhile, are on their way to delivering twice the throughput of 802.11n equipment.

Here’s a quick rundown of the most important products at the show. As I said, there was a lot to see, so I won’t cover everything here.

Amped Wireless RTA30

Amped Wireless RTA30 High Power AC1900 Wi-Fi Router

This will be the first AC1900 Wi-Fi router from Amped Wireless when it arrives on the market mid 2014.

The router will deliver throughput up to 1.3Gbps on the 5GHz band and throughput up to 600 mbps on the 2.4GHz band. It will have four high-gain antennas, one USB 3.0 port, and a gigabit switch.  Amped Wireless has not released pricing information.

Amped Wireless PCI20E

Amped Wireless PCI20E High Power AC1200 Wi-Fi PCI-E Adapter

Amped Wireless also announced a new 802.11ac Wi-Fi adapter that adds wireless-networking capabilities to a desktop PC.

Unlike USB adapters, this one plugs into an internal PCIe slot on your computer’s motherboard. It connects to an external module with dual antennas that you can place on top of your desk.

Amped Wireless says it will deliver “three times the range of standard Wi-Fi adapters.” It’s expected to sell for $80 when it ships later in the first quarter, or you can pre-order one directly from Amped Wireless now.

Asus RT-AC87U

Asus RT-AC87U 802.11ac Wi-Fi Router

The Asus RT-AC87U was the most exciting router I saw at CES. Based on Quantenna’s new 4x4 MU-MIMO chipset, the RT-AC87U supports four spatial streams on the 5GHz frequency band to deliver a physical link rate of 1.7 Gbps.

Quantenna is describing this class of 802.11ac router as “Wave 2” (read this story for more details). I’m sure you’ll also need a client device that supports four spatial streams to get the most out of this router, but I can’t wait to test one.

Note: Asus tells me the photo they provided “is not the FINAL product design, just current concept.”


Asus DSL-AC68U DSL Gateway/Router

Asus also announced the DSL-AC68U dual-band 802.11ac wireless modem router, a gateway/router combo that can replace the crappy hardware your ISP foisted on you.

The device supports DSL and DSL2, so it can be used with services such as AT&T’s U-Verse.

Unfortunately, An Asus spokesperson told me there are no current plans to offer the DLS-AC68U in the U.S. market. I hope the company changes its mind.

Buffalo WXR-1900DHP

Buffalo AirStation WXR-1900DHP AC1900 Router

Buffalo joins the AC1900 club with its WXR-1900DHP.

Like the Asus RT-AC68U, Linksys EA6900, and Netgear Nighthawk, the new AirStation delivers physical link rates of 1300 mbps on the 5GHz frequency band, and 600 mbps on the 2.4GHz band.

Buffalo’s Director of Product Management, Brian Verenkoff, described the router as a “tier one product at a tier 2 price point,” because the router will be street priced at around $180.

The new AirStation will have both USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports, to support both a shared printer and shared storage. Unfortunately, it won’t support hard drives formatted with NTFS (a baffling shortcoming that seems limited to Buffalo routers).

Note: This slide was updated on 1/10/2014 to correct its title.

Buffalo WMR-433

Buffalo WMR-433 Wireless Travel Router

I saw several travel routers at CES this year. Buffalo’s Brian Verenkoff told me they’re extremely popular in Asia because most of the hotels there are limited to wired ethernet connectivity.

“Nearly every Japanese businessperson travels with a router,” said Verenkoff. “Some hotels charge a separate fee for each device connected to the hotel’s network. If you use this router and log in with one device, all the subsequent devices can connect to the Internet via the travel router.”

The WMR-433 is a 1x1 device that can operate in either 802.11ac mode (with throughput of 433 mbps on the 5GHz frequency band) or in 802.11n mode (with throughput of 150 mbps on the 2.4GHz band). It can be powered via a laptop’s USB port, or you can plug it into a USB power adapter (but Buffalo does not ship one with the router). It will sell for $50.

D-Link DIR-510 travel router

D-Link DIR-510L Portable Router and Charger

D-Link showed a portable 802.11ac router at CES, too, but it only sounds as though its DIR-510L will be faster than most.

It's a dual-band model, so D-Link is summing the bandwidth of its 2.4- and 5GHz networks in order to market it as a "750 mbps" router.

The D-Link DIR-510L seems pricey at $100, but it has compelling features: It can share a hardwired Internet connection, or you can plug in a 3G/4G USB adapter and share a mobile broadband connection.

You can also plug a USB storage device into its second USB port and stream music and video to UPnP and DLNA-capable clients.

Finally, you can use its onboard 4000-mAh battery to charge other mobile devices such as your smartphone or tablet.

engenius esr2300

Engenius ESR2300 ProAV Wireless AC2300 Gigabit Router

Engenius is marketing the ESR2300 to professional users and prosumers who are looking for a high-speed, long-range router.

Priced at $300 and available in the second quarter of 2014, the ESR2300 is a concurrent dual-band router that delivers speeds up 1700 mbps on the 5GHz frequency band using 802.11ac, and up to 600 mbps in the 2.4GHz frequency band using 802.11n.

Linksys WRT1900AC

Linksys WRT1900AC

Linksys is bringing its classic WRT brand back in a big way, literally: The WRT1900AC weighs five freakin’ pounds.

You can read my in-depth preview of the new Linksys WRT1900AC here, but the gist is that this is an AC1900 router that delivers 1300 mbps of bandwidth on the 5GHz frequency band using the 802.11ac protocol and 600 mpbs on the 2.4GHz frequency band using the 802.11n protocol.

It will be outfitted with one USB 3.0 port and one USB 2.0/eSATA combo port (the latter being a feature that I think is unique in the router market). Although it has four antennas, it does not support four spatial streams.

The WRT1900AC is expected to sell for $300 when it goes on sale later this spring.

Note: This slide was updated on 1/13/14 to correct the name of the router (it was previously reported as the Linksys WRT1300AC).

netgear pr2000

Netgear Trek (PR2000)

Netgear’s Trek (aka model number PR2000) represents yet a third take on what a travel router should be.

This one plugs into an electrical socket, so you don’t need to carry a wall wart or suck juice from your laptop. But you can power it that way if it’s more convenient or if your laptop’s battery is your only source of electricity.

The Trek has two RJ45 ports, one for a WAN and the other for a LAN. It can connect to and share a wired broadband connection, or you can connect it to a Wi-Fi network and hardwire it to your laptop. It will create its own private, firewalled network in either scenario, which you can share with other people or other devices.

If you’re tapping into a unsecured public hotspot, the firewall will prevent anyone from eavesdropping on you.

The Trek will be priced at $50.

TP-Link Archer AC1900

TP-Link Archer AC1900 Wireless Dual Band Gigabit Router

TP-Link might be the biggest router manufacturer you've never heard of—at least if you live in the U.S. The company’s brand is much more prominent in Europe and Asia.

TP-Link’s AC1900 Wireless Dual Band Gigabit Router is a 3x3 model that supports speeds up to 1300 mbps on the 5GHz frequency band (802.11ac) and 600 mbps on the 2.4Ghz frequency band (802.11n). It has a single USB 3.0 port for sharing either a printer or storage over the network.

It’s expected to sell for around $180 when it ships in the second quarter of 2014.

Trendnet TEW-818dru

Trendnet TEW-818DRU

Trendnet will also join the AC1900 crowd with its TEW-818DRU. It will use the same form factor as several earlier Trendnet routers, including the TEW-812DRU V2 that I reviewed earlier in January. Here’s hoping this one performs better and has more features.

The press release didn’t reveal a whole lot of details, other than to report that this will be a concurrent dual-band router delivering speeds up to 1300 mbps on its 5GHz frequency band (using 802.11ac) and up to 600 mbps on its 2.4GHz frequency band (using 802.11n). It will have two USB ports, one of which will be USB 2.0 and the other will be USB 3.0.

The TEW-812DRU is expected to sell for $260 when it ships in February.

Today's Best Tech Deals

Picked by PCWorld's Editors