You’ll pay for four Ethernet ports even though you might need only one
If you plan to build an 802.11ac network, and you want to connect multiple 802.11ac clients, this is the device to use. It’s a far superior alternative to buying two 802.11ac routers and configuring one as a bridge.
The best way to stream media long distances inside and around your home is over an 802.11ac network. But with the exception of Buffalo’s bulky AirStation AC1300, none of the manufacturers building 802.11ac routers are selling 802.11ac bridges for the client side of the network. Asus, Belkin, D-Link, and Netgear all expect you to buy two of their routers and reconfigure one of them as a bridge with a four-port gigabit switch. That’s not only expensive, but reconfiguring a router to operate as a bridge is a pain in the neck.
Cisco is a little late to the 802.11ac party, but they brought something special with their new EA6500 router. The Linksys WUMC710 (aka the Wireless-AC Wi-Fi 5GHz Universal Media Connector Bridge with 4-Port Switch) is a compact, dedicated 802.11ac wireless bridge. You can connect four hardwired Ethernet clients to the bridge (e.g., a smart TV, a Blu-ray player, a media streamer, and a home theater PC), and the bridge will establish a wireless connection to your router.
There’s no real need to go into the bridge’s firmware to configure anything. Connecting the bridge to an 802.11ac router is as simple as pushing the WPS button on the bridge and then pushing the same button on the router. WPS (the acronym stands for Wi-Fi Protected Setup) is a widely adopted wireless security standard that you’ll find in virtually every new wireless router, including all of the 802.11ac routers currently on the market.
With a street price of $149 as of November 2, 2012, the WUMC710 will save you $40 to $50 over the cost of buying two identical 802.11ac routers and configuring one to operate as a bridge. The asymetrically shaped bridge is also much more compact than the typical router, measuring about 1.5 inches wide at the base, 7 inches deep, and 5 inches tall. If you need to connect just one client to your 802.11ac network, a USB adapter might be the better and less-expensive option. To our knowledge, only Netgear has such a product (the $70 A6200), but we have not yet tested it.
We benchmarked the WUMC710 with the Linksys EA6500 router and experienced TCP throughput on par with our current favorite 802.11ac router, the Asus RT-AC66U (with one configured as a router and the second configured as a bridge). As you can see from the chart below, the only exception was in our outdoor test, where the client is outside the house, 75 feet from the router. The WUMC710’s TCP throughput was about half that of the RT-AC66U operating as a wireless bridge. Still, that’s more than enough bandwidth to stream high-definition video. The WUMC710 actually outperformed the RT-AC66U when the client was was located in our home theater.
If you plan to build an 802.11ac network, and you want to connect multiple 802.11ac clients, this is the device to use.
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Michael is TechHive's lead editor. He built his own smart home in 2007 and used it as a real-world test lab when reviewing new products. Following a relocation, he is in the process of converting his new home, an 1890 bungalow, into a modern smart home.