Internet connectivity is increasingly playing an
essential role in all of our lives today. To enjoy the best of the internet,
it’s vital that we own the appropriate connectivity devices. Perhaps the most
important of them all is the router. The router is responsible for managing the
devices and internet signal. It has the responsibility of managing several
devices on a network, while also providing optimal internet connection. To
achieve this goal, the routers are incorporated with specialized algorithms and
techniques such as the MU-MIMO.
Otherwise referred to as MU-MIMO, this is a set of
several multiple-input and multiple-output (MIMO) resources to support wireless
internet connections. The setup often involves a set of users or wireless
devices, which have one or many antennas, that are involved in communication.
Furthermore, the single MIMO includes a single multi-antenna transmitter that
is equipped with a single multi-receiver antenna. While MIMO technology
involves expensive signal processing, it can make effective use of spatially
distributed transmission technologies. However, the single-user MIMO only
involves the several antenna dimensions of a local device. Special algorithms
are produced to help enhance the MIMO systems when many terminals require
MU-MIMO Works With Wireless Devices
The MU-MIMO technologies were developed to improve
connections where several terminals require access to a wireless network at the
same time. The basis of the 802.11 protocol, is that terminals gain access to
the wireless network in order. If multiple devices request access the router at
the same time, this can lead to a bottleneck of resources. The router has to
determine the best way to address the requests of all these users. Moreover, it
also has to regulate the connection quality. In some cases, the burden
increases when other devices such as smartphones seek access to the router.
However, the MU-MIMO technology plays a significant role in eliminating this
MUMO technology works in a few various methods. In
particular, the technology works by dividing the internet connection into
specific individual streams. The devices will then share the internet
connection equally. The MU-MION router can be available in either the 2×2, 3×3
or 4×4 configurations. These refer to the number of streams the router can
produce at any given time. The MU-MIMO technology is simple to a car wash,
whereby cars get washed after the people ahead of you get their car cleaned.
With MU-MIMO, instead of one carwash port, there are several ports, and as many
as four vehicles can be washed at the same time.
However, there are some important rules to consider
before leveraging the benefits of this technology. Among some of these significant
Devices Don’t Require Several Antennas
Similar to SU-MIMO technology, only devices that are
developed to support the MU-MIMO technology can access the given signals.
However, unlike SU-MIMO, wireless devices don’t need to have several antennas
to access the MU-MIMO signals from the router. Even devices that have one
antenna can still access the MU-MIMO signal. A device with several antennas
would be able to access various types of streams at the same time. Such a
benefit would play a significant role in improving the performance of the
Wi-Fi. That said, a device with several antennas requires more space and power,
and this might affect the cost.
Access Points are Responsible for Much of the Workload
Designed to eliminate the caveats for terminals to
access a signal, the access points in the MU-MIMO technology are responsible
for processing most of the signals. This is one of the main benefits over the
SU-MIMO technology – where most of the bulk of signal processing goes to the
devices. This way, brand manufacturers have improved freedom in terms of the
diversity of features they can incorporate in a router.
It only Works on the 5 GHz Wi-Fi Band
While the SU-MIMO can work both in the 2.4GHz and 5
GHz Wi-Fi bands, the MU-MIMO is not so dynamic. The wireless routers are only
able to accommodate several terminals on a higher bandwidth level. However, the
lower and more congested bandwidth can`t leverage the benefits of the
technology. The only issue is that not many users have reliable access to high
MU-MIMO Does Not Support Infinite Streams or Devices
Even if most users want a router than support multiple
devices, this wouldn’t be feasible due to the high levels of traffic and
congestion. As such, an MU-MIMO router or access point is not able to deliver
an infinite number of streams. A conventional router or access point often has
a maximum limit of about five devices, that it can serve at any given point.
That said, the MU-MIMO router can send different streams to different devices.
For example, a four-stream device can serve as many as four devices at the same
Why is MU-MIMO Important When Buying a Router?
Similar to investing in any form of I.T technology, it’s
crucial that you make informed decisions for the best user experiences. In
particular, it’s essential to consider the MU-MIMO protocol because it will
allow you to enjoy reliable internet connectivity. With a traditional SU-MIMO
router, you might have had to wait for the request from your terminal to be
processed gradually. Furthermore, most of the workload in processing internet
signals is done by the access point. This way, brand manufacturers have more
“space and freedom” to incorporate routers with enhanced features. However,
there are some downfalls to owning the MU-MIMO router, though not significant.
For instance, you can only enjoy the benefits of such technology of the 5GHz
Overall, ever since the advent of Wi-Fi, the typical functionality
of supporting devices such as routers and access points has evolved
significantly. Gone are the days when you had to struggle to get a reliable
internet connection from your home or office router. A good MU-MIMO router lets
several devices enjoy quality internet connectivity, and without any
bottlenecks. Thus, you can experience improved productivity or internet access,
as your router provides reliable connectivity.
Before diving into the Linksys WRT 3200 ACM, it’d be a good idea to know just how far we’ve come after the WRT54G. Ever since the original Linksys WRT54G, demand for open source routers has been high, and there are good reasons why. Today, the WRT54G’s stats don’t stack up too well. In as much as four 10/100 RJ-45 ports could theoretically be sufficient, you wouldn’t want to miss out on streaming in 4K. 802.11g Wi-Fi isn’t something that would excite you too much in 2019. However, we do have one thing to thank it for. It opened a world of possibilities that paved way for modern gifts like the Linksys WRT 3200 ACM.
Retailing at $200-$300 on Amazon, the Linksys WRT 3200 ACM brings a refreshing perspective to not only open source routers, but routers in general. While newer competitors in the router space are going for sleeker and more aesthetic designs, the Linksys WRT 3200 ACM retains the same authoritative look that the WRT 54G once had. You can get a maximum speed of 3.2Gbps on the two dedicated Wi-Fi bands it has – the 2.4Ghz and the 5GHz band. Its open-source readiness remains somewhat unmatched because it is primarily sold as an open-source router. So, what really sets it apart from the wide array of open source routers today?
Features of The WRT 3200 ACM
The WRT 3200 ACM comes with a dual-core processor with a clock speed of 1.8GHz coupled with 512MB of RAM and 256MB of flash memory. Gigabit ethernet ports are a necessity these days, and the WRT 3200 ACM has four of them. The fifth is the regular WAN port which is also a Gigabit port. As it’s a MU-MIMO router, connected devices will enjoy the same fast internet speeds. While we’d want to talk about its Tri-Stream 160, it is far easier to just say that you would get maximum speeds of 3200Mbps. It also has a USB 3.0 port and an eSATA/USB 2.0 port from which you can connect your eSATA device or USB hard drive. The transfer speeds you get when using any of the USB ports is usually dependent on the speed of the processor. As such, the WRT 3200 can offer great data transfer rates to and from your hard drive.
Performance of The WRT 3200 ACM
True, there are routers with much higher specifications than the WRT 3200 ACM, but one thing you’ll love about this router is that it bridges the gap for network professionals and average users. The 512MB of RAM is sufficient for handling multiple applications on the router and generally making multi-tasking easier. MU-MIMO would be difficult to pull off if the RAM was lower than this. You’ll hardly feel the impact of the CPU during regular use, but it does a lot to provide you a good overall experience. You can get actual Wi-Fi speeds of between 133MB/s to 160MB/s depending on how far you are from the router. Of course, this could always go lower if you have a lot of objects in between your Wi-Fi device and the router. On the other hand, the coverage on the 2.4GHz band can at times be spotty as some users have noticed. This means that if you intend to use devices that can only support the 2.4GHz band, you’d have to stay closer to the router.
What Open Source Firmware Does the WRT 3200 ACM Support?
The WRT 3200 ACM works well with DD-WRT firmware and OpenWRT firmware as well. However, as there is conflicting information on whether the WRT 3200 ACM works with Tomato firmware or not, it would be safe to get it only if you intend to use it with OpenWRT or DD-WRT. As the router uses a Marvell chip which has not been fully tested with Tomato, you might not get a stable experience if you do get a version of Tomato firmware that can work on the WRT 3200 ACM.
Pro’s and Con’s of The WRT 3200 ACM
It is primarily open-source ready and you can thus install custom firmware on it
It has decent specifications for a router of its price
Its fast processor enhances Wi-Fi speeds and the general performance of the router
Its 2.4GHz band is not as smooth as the 5GHz band
Who is The WRT 3200 ACM Router For?
Ideally, open source routers are best for the tech savvy. While regular internet users can benefit from the router too, they might never be able to tap the true power of the WRT 3200 ACM with the original firmware. In addition, the WRT 3200 ACM is also more ideal for an office setting. This is because the open spaces ensure that the devices that solely operate on the 2.4GHz bands get to work without any issues. The customizations the router offers make it great for office settings as well. You get to dictate how your VPN should work and choose which devices on your network should get more priority over others. There are also other things that you might want such as:
Stripping ad tracking at the router level
Creating a web server that runs on the router
Accessing the TOR network for completely anonymous browsing
You should buy the WRT 3200 ACM if you are looking for a fast and efficient router for your modern devices such as newer smart TV models and newer smartphones. This is to take full advantage of the 5GHz band in which the router performs exceptionally. The one thing that you might end up liking about the WRT 3200 ACM is that it does not try too hard to be the best open source router and neither does it strive to be mediocre. Instead, it focuses on the things that will actually matter to you regardless of your tech savviness. The fact that it is equally an open source router also means that you get more freedom with this router than most of the others in the market.
Long gone are the days where you had to stick to the cable modem your ISP provides you on top of paying extra just for owning their equipment. Nowadays, you can buy a faster cable modem and even pay less in monthly fees. However, this freedom made things a little murky too. Finding cable modems that will be compatible with your ISP’s internet connection isn’t that easy especially if you are new to all this. For instance, if Mediacom is your provider, you would have to ensure that the cable modem you selected is a Mediacom approved modem. Luckily, you needn’t skim through the entire list as we compiled three cable modems that will surely meet your needs.
Why You Should Get a Mediacom Compatible Modem
Frankly, the cable modems that we’ll talk about will offset you by about $100-$200, and this isn’t cheap. However, there are plenty of long-term benefits to buying a Mediacom approved modem. Thus, you will end up saving a lot more in the future.
The rental modem you get from Mediacom is not always the best. This is because most of them simply do the bare minimum. As such, the speeds they offer will be average. On the other hand, if you buy a Mediacom approved modem, you will most likely experience improved performance because the modems have slightly better specifications. This can be really helpful when you need faster internet speeds.
The initial cost of getting a Mediacom approved modem will be high but focusing on this too much might blind you from seeing the monthly savings you’ll be making. Typically, Mediacom charges you $10 extra every month simply because they leased their cable modem to you. In one year, this amounts to $120 if you regularly pay for their services. You can already tell that buying your own cable modem is the better option as you’d recoup that cash the following year.
Since Mediacom has the liberty to give you a cable modem that it deems fit for your needs, you might soon find out that the modem they gave you has several dead spots. In fact, you’d even be lucky if you were given a cable modem that doubles as a wireless router too. Mediacom approved modems, on the other hand, have varying specifications which makes it easy for you to choose a cable modem that meets your needs adequately and rarely has coverage issues.
There are high chances that the cable modem you pick from the Mediacom approved modems list will be a DOCSIS 3.0 or a DOCSIS 3.1 modem. Since these are backward-compatible, you can easily use them with many other ISPs too in case you relocate to a different region. In addition, these cable modems support Gigabit internet speeds that range from 1Gbps to 10Gbps. While 10Gbps speeds are uncommon especially for home internet users, the cable modems still have you covered a couple of years into the future.
Ideally, Mediacom approved modems let you do much more by offering you improved specifications. This will enrich your internet experience while also helping you save.
3 Best Mediacom Approved Modems
To be clear, there are tons of great cable modems out there that would meet your needs. After all, compatibility is all that greatly matters when picking a cable modem. In this list, we focus on three Mediacom approved modems that would be great for you in 2019 and 2020.
The ARRIS SB8200 is a high end and super-fast cable modem that can achieve a maximum speed of 10Gbps thanks to its 32 download channels and 8 upload channels. It has two Gigabit ethernet ports which give you a lot of flexibility as to how you’d distribute your internet connection in your home. 4K streaming is something the SB8200 can do and much more. While it lacks an internal router like other competing cable modems in the market, the SB8200 shines when it comes to speeds and compatibility with many U.S. cable providers.
Most cable modems simply offer IPv4 internet browsing standards because it is more mainstream, but the SB8200 incorporates IPv6 as well. Today, IPv4 is still more popular than IPv6, but its inclusion on the SB8200 means that getting this particular router will ensure that you are future proof. Of course, the mere fact that ARRIS SB8200 is a DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem already proved that it is worth getting especially if you need high download speeds. Upload speeds on the other hand are relatively lower, and this may not be so good for content creators.
For someone who has already familiarized with the SB8200 from ARRIS, it would be easy to conclude that the Motorola MG7550 is half the router that the SB8200 is, and for good reason. The MG7550 does not have 32 download channels like the SB8200, but only 16. It also has only 4 upload channels as well. As such, you can expect maximum download speeds of up to 686Mbps from the MG7550. Despite having half the specifications that the SB8200 has, Motorola’s MG7550 gets an upper hand by including a decent inbuilt wireless router. Since it is a dual-band router, the speeds of the Wi-Fi signal can hit 1900Mbps.
Unlike the SB8200, the MG7550 also comes with four Gigabit ethernet ports mostly because it serves the function of a router and a modem at the same time. Thus, you might only need a Wi-Fi router if the cable modem’s internal router is not sufficient. It is still possible to stream 4K content with the Motorola MG7550 even though it has a slightly lower download speed. However, it offers far more convenience than the SB8200 because it caters to the basic needs of most home internet users. Pro users will most likely notice the bottleneck that the MG7550 has. While a dual-band Wi-Fi with a maximum throughput speed of 1.9Gbps is enticing, the modem will never truly achieve Gigabit internet speeds since it can only manage 686Mbps.
Third on the list is the NETGEAR C7000 which is a mashup of the SB8200 and the Motorola MG7550. The C7000 doesn’t have extremely high specifications like the SB8200 and neither are its specifications halved like with the MG7550, but it does bring the best of both worlds. To start off, the NETGEAR C7000 is a DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem that is approximately 40Mbps shy of giving you Gigabit internet speeds. This figure of 960Mbps is already higher than what the MG7550 offers (686Mbps) and far lower than what the SB8200 can theoretically achieve (10Gbps). With regard to upload speeds, the C7000 and the SB8200 seem to be head to head as both have 8 downlink channels.
The C7000 also features a dual band Wi-Fi router that’s very similar to the one that the Motorola MG7550 has. It can achieve maximum speeds of 1.9Gbps which is comparable to what the modem itself offers (960Mbps). This makes the C7000 seem like a well-balanced modem for almost any situation. While it won’t offer true Gigabit speeds like the SB8200, it is by far the most reasonable cable modem to get for an average use-case. Since it also has the same 4 Gigabit ethernet ports that were present in the MG7550, there would be more reasons why average internet users would choose the C7000 over the other two.
Minor Considerations to Remember
Before heading out and getting any of the three cable modems, it is worth mentioning that DOCSIS versions matter a lot especially with Mediacom. If you are currently subscribed to the Gigabit internet plan, you’d be forced to only use a DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem and nothing lower. This means that a DOCSIS 3.0 or a DOCSIS 2.0 cable modem would not work. If you have a lower internet plan though, then you’re free to use a DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem. Apart from that, you need to know beforehand if you’ll be needing a cable modem with a Wi-Fi router or not. Sure, it’s never wrong to get a product that comes with an extra feature, but it would be pointless if you’re paying extra just to get something you might not need. Cable modems that come bundled with Wi-Fi routers are great for people who lack Wi-Fi routers. They’re also worth considering especially if you live a minimalist lifestyle and wouldn’t want to crowd your room with several devices.
All in all, as much as choosing the best modem depends on your needs, we can all agree that it is far better to get your own router rather than settle for the one provided by your ISP. There are also plenty of other Mediacom approved modems that you can use with many other ISPs, but you should always remember that the DOCSIS version will play a big role. Folks with Gigabit internet connections should choose DOCSIS 3.1 cable modems over DOCSIS 3.0 or DOCSIS 2.0 modems. While those that don’t have Gigabit internet connections can choose between DOCSIS 3.0 and DOCSIS 2.0, it is wiser to go with DOCSIS 3.0 as it is newer and more common today.
Most people don’t know it yet, but they could potentially squeeze out more power from Wi-Fi routers than they imagined, and OpenWRT routers might be the answer. Unlike smartphones, most routers get less firmware updates during their lifetime. However, with an OpenWRT router, you can unlock even more power from your router to help you achieve more like getting a wider Wi-Fi coverage than before and even having more control over your Wi-Fi’s security. Ideally, OpenWRT is simply a Linux-based firmware that you can install on select routers. Because it gets more updates than your router’s original firmware, it offers better features that even the less tech-savvy would benefit from.
Why Should You Get an OpenWRT Router?
If you are on the lookout for a new router, grabbing an OpenWRT-compatible router would be a great choice. This is because you open up many possibilities with the OpenWRT firmware. The only shortcoming is that OpenWRT doesn’t work on all routers. This means that you’d have to check if your existing router is compatible with the firmware first. You could also check out other router firmware if OpenWRT doesn’t work for you. Below are some notable benefits of the firmware.
Benefits of OpenWRT
Better VPN Handling
You probably know about the many benefits of using VPN even in your home network. They add a layer of privacy and ensure that less parties between you and the website you are accessing can know your true identity. Most people use VPN software on the actual devices they intend to protect. OpenWRT, on the other hand, ensures that you get better VPN speeds because it handles VPN traffic at the router level rather than on the device level. Of course, modern router can also handle VPNs at the router level, but not with the level of control that OpenWRT offers.
Power users will fall in love with OpenWRT merely because of the many customizations they can make to their router’s functionality. Unlike with the stock firmware, OpenWRT lets you change various aspects of your router and even install special kinds of software like BitTorrent clients and even server software! With this kind of capability, your router is probably more of a powerful minicomputer than a router as it can handle more workload than regular routers.
Advanced Security Features
While most people arm themselves with powerful antivirus software on their PCs and smartphones, they can easily forget to secure their home networks too. This creates a security loophole that could jeopardize your entire network’s security, but not with OpenWRT. For one, OpenWRT includes an SSH server which means that you can access your router via secure SSH tunneling. In addition, you can create more controlled network for your guests by only giving them access to guest networks where you determine the level of access a user has on your network.
Who Needs an OpenWRT Router?
Naturally, we assume that only the tech-savvy need great levels of control over routers, but the truth is that even the less tech savvy can benefit. If you need a router that will let you stream Netflix content from a different country, you’d need a router that handles VPN traffic efficiently, and OpenWRT routers are great for this. Forex traders could also benefit from using OpenWRT routers. This is because you can reduce internet lag on OpenWRT routers by using its Smart Queue Management (SQM) feature. Since latency is the amount of time it takes for data to travel from the source to its destination, a faster latency speed means that information travels to and from your computer faster. You can bet that even gamers would find great use for OpenWRT routers.
Best OpenWRT Routers For 2019 and Beyond
Linksys WRT AC3200
Its name alone speaks volumes. The Linksys WRT AC3200 descends from the original Linksys WRT54G that paved way for the OpenWRT firmware in the first place. It is a dual-band MU-MIMO Gigabit router with a maximum throughput speed of 3200Mbps. The 5GHz band offers speeds of up to 2.6Gbps while the 2.4GHz can go up to a maximum of 600Mbps. It also includes four Gigabit ethernet ports that you can connect switches to. As its maximum throughput speeds exceeds 1Gbps, the WRT AC3200 can offer true Gigabit internet speeds unlike some of its competitors. In addition to the four Gigabit ethernet ports and the single WAN port, the router also comes with two USB ports of which one of them doubles as an eSATA port. This easily allows you to connect your external hard drive and use the router as a media server. Since the other USB port is a USB 3.0 port, you can expect fast transfer speeds between your HDD and the router.
Performance-wise, the WRT AC3200 is a beast in its own way. It comes with a 1.8GHz dual core CPU that is crucial in delivering the kind of performance that you need. It also has plenty of RAM memory (512MB) which further enables it to run multiple applications on the router concurrently. For a router with these specifications, 256MB of flash memory makes it even more appealing because it allows you to install plenty of other applications on the router. OpenWRT firmware would have more than enough breathing room in the WRT AC3200. Even if you won’t be installing OpenWRT firmware on the router, you will still get to feel its fast response times.
Netgear Nighthawk X4S AC2600 (R7800)
Before you judge the Netgear Nighthawk X4S AC2600 R7800 because of its slightly lower throughput speed of 2.6Gbps, you should know that it has a 1.7GHz dual core processor, dual USB 3.0 ports, and four Gigabit ethernet ports. Sure, it does seem more like the WRT AC3200, but the R7800 tends to bridge the gap for non tech savvy users by fine-tuning its original firmware to be easier to use. The Nighthawk app, for instance, lets you manage your home network and even setup your router directly from your smartphone.
If your sole focus would be to install custom firmware such as OpenWRT on the router, then you’d be happy to know that the R7800 has beamforming technology. This enables it to boost internet speeds to specific devices by sending the Wi-Fi signals directly to the devices rather than broadcasting Wi-Fi signals to all directions. Just like the WRT AC3200, the R7800 also comes with 512MB of RAM but falls short by incorporating a 128MB flash memory chip. While you’d still be able to install most of the applications you would install on the WRT AC3200, you are likely to run out of storage space faster if you get the R7800. Apart from the two USB 3.0 ports that we had mentioned earlier, this router also features an eSATA port too.
Out of the box, the R7800 comes with plenty of great features that would make even the less tech savvy feel like they have a high degree of control over their routers. The fact that it allows OpenWRT firmware as well makes it a router worth getting.
Zyxel Armor Z2
Zyxel might not be as popular as other router brands such as Linksys, NETGEAR, and even ASUS, but its Zyxel Armor Z2 is worth consideration. Initial impressions would have you thinking that the Armor Z2 is more like the R7800 mainly because it equally has a maximum throughput speed of 2.6Gbps. However, the reality is that the Zyxel Armor Z2 comes with bumped up hardware specifications that allow you to install more applications on your router. This is because of its 4GB eMMC storage and the same 512MB RAM that we’ve seen across all the routers so far.
The Armor Z2 has only two USB ports of which one of them is a USB 2.0 and the other is a USB 3.0 port. It also features four Gigabit ethernet ports along with one Gigabit WAN port. Like the R7800, this router has a 1.7GHz dual core processor as well. The fast processor comes in handy during stream boost optimization and even in beam forming since it enables the router to process and relay information to Wi-Fi devices at a fast rate. The Armor Z2 seems to be the one router that can handle more intense workloads than both the R7800 and the WRT AC3200, and this is mainly because its thermally enhanced design enables it to stay cool at all times.
Wrapping It Up
OpenWRT routers are basically mini powerhouses that can deliver performance when needed. The key distinguishing features between OpenWRT routers and regular routers is that they seem to have more regard for RAM capacity, processor speed, and flash storage. As such, you should be drawn to routers that have high specifications for each of these. Afterwards, you should ensure that the routers are compatible with OpenWRT firmware by doing a quick search online. In most cases, you will likely find that routers with high specifications are actually compatible with OpenWRT and several other custom router firmware such as DD-WRT and even Tomato firmware. Your choice will then depend on your own personal preferences and how much you’re willing to pay for the router.
If you’re not what the internet would call tech-savvy, you’re probably cringing and motivating yourself. Why? Because on a normal day, you certainly wouldn’t want to be hearing about custom firmware for your router, and no one can hold that against you. However, the concept is far easy and closer to you than you know. Huawei, for instance, has been making headlines these past few weeks, and the one important thing you may have gathered is that your brand-new Huawei P30 (the current flagship smartphone) won’t be getting any support from Google in the next couple of months. Well, that’s where custom firmware comes in.
Custom Firmware or Not? What’s the Hype?
The Huawei example may be a bit overkill, but it does lay down the foundation for scenarios where custom firmware could be a deal breaker. Ideally, custom firmware gives you access to tons of features that you wouldn’t easily get from your device, and yes, your router may be capable of supporting custom firmware. Why? You ask. Well, think of your router just like your iPhone XS with an IP68 rating. Apple promises you it can survive 6.5 ft under water for 30 minutes, but what if you want to go 10 ft for just 5 minutes? Will it break? Long story short, it is highly unlikely.
Your router is a tech marvel in itself. Most of the ratings and specifications written on its box are on the lower end of the scale, and this means it can go to much greater heights than you think. Naturally, you cannot go to these heights when you are depending on the stock firmware because that’s usually the first layer that prevents you from messing up your device.
Only custom firmware lets you do that, and in the case of routers, some of the potential benefits to expect include:
The Shortcomings of OEM Firmware
“Disadvantages” is such a strong word to be tied down to stock firmware or Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) firmware mainly because it highlights it in a negative way. That’s why labeling it as “shortcomings” makes more sense. Below are some of them.
Modern routers are able to control bandwidth automatically, but they rely on a set of algorithms that dictate what is “best” for you. In as much as computers have gotten smarter over the decades, you’d still be better off controlling your bandwidth in other ways, and Quality-of-Service can let you do that, but most router firmware lack this.
Unavailability of Bandwidth Consumption Tracking
We’ll be honest here too. Not all routers lack this feature. Modern ones do have them and they do a good job of telling you how much bandwidth you’ve consumed over a specific period of time so that you don’t exceed your quota. However, a good number of routers lack this feature too, and manufacturers are too lazy to release a new firmware.
Remember the iPhone XS water-resistance inference? Your routers are also capable of going the extra mile, but the stock firmware won’t let you do that because most people wouldn’t know how far to go. The short coverage radius you get from your router might simply be because the OEM firmware set a predefined limit.
Only a Spoonful of Security Features
Routers receive updates in a rather sluggish way when compared to smartphones and PCs, but they are the ones that relay all your information to the cloud. Bear in mind that hackers are also looking for ways of stealing your information.
The Benefits of Custom Firmware for Your Router
Custom firmware addresses all the shortcomings of your router’s OEM firmware and gives you much more than you had asked for. Some of the benefits include:
Optimization of Select Features
Whereas OEM firmware takes care of optimization from a general viewpoint, custom firmware lets you narrow down to the very intricate features and optimize them for your own needs.
Capability of Port Mapping
Custom firmware equally lets you configure a device in such a way that only certain external devices can be able to “see” what you’ve allowed them to see. OEM firmware, on the other hand, works by hiding your Local Area Network (LAN). It does increase security, but it locks you out of very many things as well.
Rather than spending extra bucks on a repeater to boost your coverage, custom firmware unleashes your router’s full potential. This allows you to cover a larger area without breaking a sweat.
You also get to keep everyone connected to your router happy thanks to the superior bandwidth optimization that custom firmware lets you have. You will be able to give users the bandwidth that they need so that bandwidth-hungry devices can be allocated more.
Improved LAN Security
Security, in general, is better when you have custom firmware installed on your router. Not only is it because of the fact that custom firmware gets updated much often than OEM firmware, but because it focuses on the small features like LAN security that manufacturers didn’t go too deep to consider.
Battle of The Custom Firmware: DD-WRT vs OpenWRT vs Tomato
Now that we’ve grasped what custom firmware is and how you’d benefit from it, a new challenge presents itself: Which custom firmware should I install on my router? There are a handful of considerations to be made, but we’ll start with the basics. First off, there are three main and popular third-party firmware on the web:
While they do help you achieve most of the features that were discussed earlier, the processes are different, and they all have their own perks and disadvantages. This means that you have to carefully select the one that meets your needs adequately.
DD-WRT happens to be the most popular custom firmware of the three that have been mentioned so far. If you’re wondering what the letters stand for, you’d be surprised to know how far-fetched the name is. DD was coined from German license plates for automobiles from Dresden where the developers resided. WRT, on the other hand, came from the Linksys WRT54G model which was the first router to receive DD-WRT.
As it is the godfather of custom router firmware, its reputation online is quite strong especially with regard to:
Ease of installation and operation
Number of features
Despite this, it does not support as many routers as the other two, and that may be a bummer for people who already own routers that they wish to re-configure. However, it is worth mentioning that it does have a decent user interface especially when we compare the rest.
It is one of the easiest custom router firmware to install and even configure. This makes it an excellent choice for newbies
It has a Wake-on-LAN feature that allows your devices to be “woken up” from a remote location
It is stable, thanks to the many years of development that went towards the project
It comes packed with a comprehensive QoS
It allows you to configure Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) with ease
Its access control features are slightly more advanced than what you would ordinarily get from stock firmware
It has a powerful firewall which means your connections are highly secure (when you implement other security features)
While it has a nice UI, users that are not adept with router firmware may find it a bit challenging to use
Not so many routers support it
How to Flash DD-WRT Firmware on a Router
Find and download the correct DD-WRT firmware for your router
While your router is powered on, type your router’s IP address on your web browser’s address bar (If you did not change the default setting, this should either be 192.168.0.1 or 192.168.1.1)
Login to your router using the credentials you were given. You can check beneath the router for the login details if you did not change anything.
Navigate to the Advanced Settings tab and find a section touching on uploading firmware. Once you’ve found it, upload the file you downloaded from step 1 and then upload the firmware.
Give the router some time to upload and install the firmware then restart it.
Note that these are the general steps since most router interfaces are different.
Ideal DD-WRT Router – NETGEAR Nighthawk R7000
While you’re here, it is worth mentioning at least one router that will bode well with the DD-WRT firmware. NETGEAR’s Nighthawk R7000 is one such router. It comes packed with all the essential features that will give you the most with a custom firmware. They include:
A 1GHz dual-core processor
Dynamic QoS for bandwidth prioritization
Sync feature (great for Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant)
Tomato is more ideal for the kind of person who doesn’t need to have control over all the fancy features that both OpenWRT and DD-WRT have to offer. This makes it the easiest to operate and the easiest to configure too. However, that does not mean that it has crappy features. The advanced firewall features it has ensure your network stays secure. It equally boasts with a few other features such as P2P and the ability to run custom scripts on it.
Super easy to setup and operate
It has few bugs
It has a real-time monitoring feature that let’s you know what is happening to your router at any specific time
It has options for configuration of QoS and VPN
It isn’t supported on many popular routers
It lacks many customization features that are common with both OpenWRT and DD-WRT
How to Flash Tomato Firmware on a Router
The process for flashing the Tomato firmware on a router is ideally similar to that of OpenWRT and DD-WRT. However, Tomato has a neat platform where you can find and download the correct firmware for your router directly from their website. It also provides a link to a detailed flashing guide for each.
Ideal Tomato Router – ASUS RT-N18U
It might not be as fast as the Nighthawk R7000, but we featured it mainly to show you that you don’t always need a high-end router for you to enjoy the benefits of custom firmware. The RT-N18U packs a 256MB RAM along with 128MB of flash storage. It has an 800MHz Cortex A9 processor that is just enough for a fast and reliable performance. Collectively, its three adjustable antennas give you a Wi-Fi speed of about 600Mbps which is still faster than wireless N. You also get five gigabit LAN ports with Turbo NAT technology for faster internet performance. This makes it ideal as a mid-range gaming router.
Coming in from DD-WRT, many people would say that OpenWRT is rather harsh compared because its interface is basic This is a bit odd especially when you consider the fact that OpenWRT was released almost around the same time that DD-WRT was released (15 years ago). This instantly pushes OpenWRT from a free-for-all to an “ideal-for-the-tech-savvy”.
If you thought navigation was the only thing that would be challenging, you would be partly disappointed to know that even configuring some elements is not in plain black and white. However, since OpenWRT is the older one of the 3, it has done a good job of ironing out known issues which has increased its stability. While we’ve mentioned that its UI can be a bit challenging, it would be worth mentioning that its current outlook is a big improvement from what it was before because it once lacked a Graphical User Interface (GUI).
It supports a wide variety of routers thus squashing the DD-WRT firmware
It is the perfect firmware for advanced users who would want to squeeze every feature out of their routers
It is one of the most stable custom firmware on the web because of how long it has been around. It equally gets regular updates because of the large number of users that contribute towards it
It has plenty of customization features. The inclusion of a command-line interface is a dead giveaway
It supports QoS and some not-so-common VPN features
It is not beginner-friendly
It is difficult to navigate because of its UI
Configuration can take time because of the many features it comes packed with
How to Flash OpenWRT Firmware on a Router
Just as with the DD-WRT procedure, this too is a generic instruction on how to go about flashing your router with this custom firmware. You should look up the exact procedure for your router.
Search for and download the correct firmware for your particular router
While the router is powered on and transmitting a Wi-Fi signal, go to your PC and type in 192.168.1.1 or 192.168.0.1 on you web browser’s address bar. Note that your PC has to be connected to your router’s Wi-Fi network
Login to the router using the default logins if you hadn’t changed them
Navigate to the Advanced Settings section and locate where you can upgrade your current firmware
Upload the file you had downloaded earlier then reboot your router after the process is complete
Ideal OpenWRT Router – Turris Omnia
Turris Omnia is one of the many routers that perfectly complements the OpenWRT firmware. This is because it comes with a powerful ARM dual-core CPU running at a frequency of 1.6GHz and either 1GB or 2GB of RAM. Since you’d probably be greeted with Omnia’s UI first, you will find it easy to navigate to the Advanced Settings section where you can upload the OpenWRT firmware for your router. Apart from having impressive hardware specifications, it also has some great security features such as automatic security updates and default security configurations that keep you and your network safe from malware.
DD-WRT vs Tomato
DD-WRT may be older than Tomato, but Tomato outperforms DD-WRT in a number of areas. For one, you get better Open VPN support with Tomato compared to DD-WRT, and this means that you can push anonymity to new heights with Tomato as your custom firmware. As Tomato lets you easily connect to VPNs much easily, it wins the battle when it comes to VPN. Tomato also has a neat peer-to-peer feature that works well with most torrent clients like BitTorrent. It equally ranks better in UI. So, if ease of use is a big thing for you, you might want to go with Tomato.
Tomato easily wins the battle when it’s a matter of DD-WRT vs Tomato, and not just because it gives you more features but because it serves your needs better in the modern-day world. Tomato’s real-time bandwidth monitoring, for instance, lets you record your bandwidth usage on either an hourly basis, weekly basis, or monthly basis. In addition, because its VPN features are far superior, you can use your Wi-Fi router in a dual setup. This means you can have two network connections in your home, one that is directly from your Internet Service Provider (ISP), and another one from your VPN. However, due to popularity of DD-WRT over Tomato, you are more likely to find more support for DD-WRT than Tomato.
DD-WRT vs OpenWRT
DD-WRT and OpenWRT seem like two siblings with almost equal rights, and this makes things a bit challenging. This is especially true when you consider the fact that both of them have been around for almost the same number of years. The most significant difference between the two top contenders lies in how tech-savvy you are and how deep you want to go with your configurations. OpenWRT, for example, takes the lead because:
It’s widely supported by many routers
It’s QoS and superior VPN settings are in most cases unmatched
You get more control over your router with OpenWRT
It gets updated more frequently compared to DD-WRT
Its GUI interface may not be the best in the market, but it does allow for easy configuration
Beyond its struggle for a user-friendly UI, OpenWRT is the preferable choice for the tech savvy who don’t mind getting their hands dirty with a command-line interface. One thing that people don’t realize is that with most of the emphasis being put on the functionality of the firmware, it really doesn’t matter if the UI is pleasant to your eyes or not. In fact, you’d be happy to know that since OpenWRT emphasizes the command-line interface, it makes it lighter in size and less resource-intensive.
Tomato vs OpenWRT
Determining which of these two is the winner also isn’t easy because they are tuned for two different types of users. For one, OpenWRT may be a bit more technical than Tomato, and this makes it favored more by tech-savvy users. However, when we consider Tomato’s VPN features, we find that users who are keen on their privacy would find it more ideal. Of course, this is not to say that OpenWRT’s VPN features are not up to par, but it only indicates that the choice will boil down to what’s important to you as a user. While deciding on these two, you also need to remember that not all routers offer support for both Tomato and OpenWRT.
Thus, before purchasing your router, you’d be wise to find out exactly which one will allow you to run the custom firmware of choice. However, if UI and ease of use is anything to go by, most users would probably go for Tomato here. This is because OpenWRT’s love for command-lines might not be something that excites everyone equally.
Best Overall Router Firmware
The best firmware will depend on your specific needs as a user, but there are certain features that you should definitely look for. With regards to user interface, DD-WRT and Tomato are in the lead. For DD-WRT, this may be because it has forever been the godfather of custom router firmware. Tomato, on the other hand, has proven to be a perfect balance between great UI and functionality, and this is something you shouldn’t take lightly. However, since it is slightly archaic, the chances that your new router supports DD-WRT may be minimal. OpenWRT may come in to the rescue, but it also comes with a command-line interface. It’s not such a bad thing, but if that scares you, then you might want to go for Tomato.
Conclusion and Word of Caution
As you might now know, there are tons of things to consider before you purchase your router and especially if you need to install a custom firmware on the router. In all honesty, DD-WRT, OpenWRT and Tomato are all great, but you would have to weigh in what’s important to you before settling for one particular firmware. Another thing that you might not have known is that when you start dealing with custom firmware, your router’s warranty will also be at risk.
Why? Because manufacturers wouldn’t want you complaining about your router when you went ahead and installed custom firmware then applied the wrong settings. This can get pretty scary if you are totally clueless when it comes to custom firmware installation. Luckily, there exist pre-configured flashed routers that could be ideal for you. They’ll save you a lot of time and have you enjoying all the features of custom firmware without having to do all the work yourself. They are thus great for newbies, but not just any kind of newbie since you still need to know which custom firmware is installed in the router and how it benefits you.
ASUS’s prowess with gaming equipment continues to reverberate all over the world and it certainly isn’t stopping any time soon. Right from its desktop gaming PCs popularly labeled ROG (Republic of Gamers), you can tell that it is serious about hardware, and not just in the PC category alone, but also when it comes to routers. Surely enough, ASUS is justified to create powerful Wi-Fi routers now and then because only they understand the ideal kind of performance that would complement their gaming hardware.
Today, let’s look at a few of their “most confusing” routers – the RT-AC68P, the RT-AC68U, the RT-AC66U, and the RT-AC68W. Right from their names, you can easily tell that they’re all from one series with the main exception being the letters they bear towards the end of their model names. While this most definitely means that they have a lot of common features, they all have some subtle differences that could raise your eyebrows.
Similarities Between ASUS RT-AC66U vs RT-AC68U vs RT-AC68P vs RT-AC68W
Below are some of the features that all these routers share with each other:
They Are Dual-Band Routers
Most modern routers are usually multi-band meaning that they can operate in two different frequencies – the 2.4GHz frequency band and the 5GHz band. This is more common with the AC wireless cards. As such, you get superior speeds from all these ASUS wireless routers.
They Have AiRadar Beamforming
Performance doesn’t stop with the AC wireless cards. ASUS’s AiRadar Beamforming is a relatively new technology that works by directing the Wi-Fi signals directly to the connected client. Think of this like shouting towards someone in a particular direction rather than shouting for everyone at once. The result? Stronger signals regardless of where you’re seated in the house.
They Can Be Controlled Remotely via AiCloud
If you’re worried about your kids going over your bandwidth quota while you’re away, AiCloud will let you remotely monitor and even manage these ASUS routers. It makes it easier to keep track with what is happening at home conveniently.
They Offer the Latest 802.11AC Wi-Fi
While we do know that Wi-Fi 6 (802.11AX) is already knocking on our doors in 2019, we still cannot argue with 802.11AC Wi-Fi because it is still relatively fast and relevant. However, you shouldn’t start celebrating about ASUS incorporating the latest 802.11AC Wi-Fi until you’ve confirmed the speeds your ISP is going to provide you.
They Have Advanced QoS
No one loves a congested network, and with ASUS’s advanced QoS, your network experience will be smooth. If you are a heavy internet consumer, this is a feature you definitely wouldn’t want to miss on.
Differences Between ASUS RT-AC66U vs RT-AC68U vs RT-AC68P vs RT-AC68W
Here comes the challenging part – How can all these routers which only have single varying letters on their model number possibly be significantly different from one another? Well, most of the differences, while subtle, will have a great impact on your experience. In addition to this, you’ll find out that they all aren’t priced equally too.
Because the similarities between the routers exceed the notable differences, it would be wise to go for a specific router from the four that meets your needs adequately. Going for the expensive one just because you believe it is a better router might not be the right way to go about it.
As you can see, there aren’t many differences between the four routers with regards to the basic specifications or what the normal buyer would consider. However, the price tags say a different story.
ASUS RT-AC66U Wireless Dual Band Router
If we were to go by the model series name, the ASUS RT-AC66U comes last in the hierarchy because of the “66”. However, the real question we should be asking is – how does it fair on as a router on its own? From its exterior outlook, it does look pretty much like its siblings. All have four antennas and all have 5 LAN ports (4 Gigabit LAN ports and one Gigabit WAN port). The build also seems visually pleasant, but that’s not something worth debating so much about because ASUS already built a reputation for that. However, only a review of its performance will accurately explain what makes it stand out.
Performance of ASUS RT-AC66U
With its current affordable price tag of $143, it is amazing that the RT-AC66U came with such good hardware specifications. A 1750Mbps throughput speed coupled with a 600MHz CPU to ensure that your network requests are handled efficiently is something to smile about especially when you review other routers like it that are not in this specific ASUS series. As all the other three routers are dual-band, it wouldn’t make any sense pointing this out as a distinguishing feature. However, it is worth noting that the RT-AC66U runs 3×3 MIMO thus explaining why it can manage incredible speeds.
Comparing 600MHz to the others which all boast 1GHz processors makes the RT-AC66U the weaker of all four, but this is partly because this particular model uses an older MIPS-based CPU that will not go the extra mile like the others. For the average user, the 600MHz CPU speed shouldn’t be a big factor because you won’t be running a server with this router. Since even power users can benefit from it, they might only notice performance dips when they connect multiple intensive gadgets to the router.
Best Use for ASUS RT-AC66U
The RT-AC66U is your go-to router if you aren’t into the fancy specifications but would also love to have a Wi-Fi router that can occasionally deliver great performance when you need it. Homes with a reasonable number of devices (about 10-20) can all be served with this router. While this is also an 802.11AC router, you shouldn’t really focus on pushing it to the limit by having too many powerful devices connected to it. If you have gadgets that are 2-3 years old, then this would be a perfect pick for you especially if you are an average internet consumer.
Pros of the ASUS RT-AC66U
It is affordable and reasonably-priced for a router with its specifications
It is easy to set up
It has a fairly good range
Great build quality
Cons of the ASUS RT-AC66U
You miss out on a faster USB 3.0 port because it only has two USB 2.0 ports
Its CPU speed is slower when compared to the other routers in the same series
Its total throughput speed is slightly lower than the other routers in the same series
ASUS RT-AC68U Wireless Dual Band Router
The real power struggle actually begins with the RT-AC68U mainly because all of its features are somewhat identical to the rest of the routers remaining in the series. Visually, for instance, you can definitely tell that this router is a bit different from the RT-AC66U. The build quality is still similar to that of the RT-AC66U, but the RT-AC68U has a slightly different presentation and a different feel towards it. Because its performance is also slightly bumped up from that of the RT-AC66U, it is easy to start judging this router as a better contender, but we shall know about that in a short while.
Performance of ASUS RT-AC68U
While we might have downplayed the RT-AC66U in terms of its total throughput speed of 1750Mbps, the significantly higher throughput speed of the RT-AC68U (1900Mbps) might sound good on paper, but not too helpful for the everyday user unless your ISP is providing you with a Gigabit ethernet connection. As such, the performance of the RT-AC68U is only considerably better than that of the RT-AC66U when both are compared in terms of their ability to work on the higher frequency band i.e. the 5GHz band.
This router will comfortably connect to more devices that operate in the 5GHz band compared to the RT-AC66U which will partly get choked when all its connected devices need to compete on the 5GHz band. Since its total cost is still around the neighborhood of that of the RT-AC66U, it is worth pointing out that this is the better router of the two mainly because this one offers slightly higher performance on paper. When it comes to a real-world scenario, you would be surprised that both the RT-AC66U and the RT-AC68U will not have a very large performance gap between them. However, if you plan on shopping today, then this model would be a suitable pick.
Best Use for ASUS RT-AC68U
As the performance bump isn’t that big, you will still use this router in the same way that another person with the RT-AC66U uses his/hers. The only notable difference will be that you will have a bigger allowance for connecting more devices that can operate in the 5GHz band. In addition, the inclusion of both the USB 2.0 and the USB 3.0 gives you the best of both worlds. This makes the RT-AC68U more like a bridge that ferries you from the “averagely-performing” RT-AC66U to the RT-AC68 series which can be considered as high performers.
Pros of the ASUS RT-AC68U
It gives you both USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports
It has a slightly higher throughput speed which comes in handy when you have a speedy internet connection from your ISP
It is a standing model and thus occupies less horizontal space
It has 4 Gigabit ethernet ports which greatly complement its speed
Cons of the ASUS RT-AC68U
Configuration can take some time because it does not come with a pre-configured network
While the inclusion of a USB 2.0 port is good, most devices nowadays operate well with the USB 3.0 making the USB 2.0 port partly useless
ASUS RT-AC68P Wireless AC1900 Dual Band Router
There’s a lot of debate over the ASUS RT-AC68P online because people keep confusing it with the RT-AC68U. There are some complaints of some users even receiving the RT-AC68U instead of the RT-AC68P. In addition to this, ASUS itself claims that the RT-AC68P has dual USB ports with USB 3.0 and claims that they are ten times faster than the USB 2.0, but in reality, the RT-AC68P has one USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0. It however corrects this on the specifications page and indicates that there is indeed a USB 2.0 port. Other than that, you are likely to know you are dealing with an RT-AC68P the moment you lay your eyes on its surface finishing. It definitely has a more futuristic look compared to the RT-AC68U, but apart from this, you could say that the RT-AC68P is simply a newer version of the RT-AC68U. Perhaps the only notable difference from a general view could be the price.
Performance of ASUS RT-AC68P
Honestly speaking, we found it hard to distinguish the performance differences between the RT-AC68P and the RT-AC68U because they are identical in almost everything right from the maximum throughput speed of 1900Mbps to the speed of its processor which has a clock rate of 1GHz. However, despite the fact that both of these processors are 1GHz, since the RT-AC68P is the newer version, it comes with a slightly faster 1GHz dual core processor meaning that it can process things slightly faster than its predecessor. The difference is not so notable though. In fact, you could easily swap between the two routers and not notice if anything has improved. The only gadgets to really benefit from a slightly faster CPU are gaming consoles where speed and latency are crucial.
Best Use for ASUS RT-AC68P
As the RT-AC68P and the RT-AC68U are somewhat interchangeable, it goes without saying that you will be using this router just the same way that someone with the RT-AC68U will be using his/hers. Both routers are designed for serving large homes, but you would want to go for the RT-AC68P in situations where speed and responsiveness means a lot to you. If you are a gamer, you’d definitely want to go for the RT-AC68P of the three routers that have been reviewed so far. While you could also use this router for 4K streaming, you would be saving some few bucks if you went for the RT-AC66U which can still do a good job at that, but if cash isn’t a problem, then pick this one.
Pros of the ASUS RT-AC68P
It has a slightly faster processor compared to its predecessor (the RT-AC68U)
It is slightly newer
It comes with the latest firmware preinstalled (Version 188.8.131.52.384.45717 at the time of writing)
Cons of the ASUS RT-AC68P
Its similarity to the RT-AC68U makes it more like a duplicate than a new product
It still includes a USB 2.0 port despite many devices using USB 3.0 nowadays
ASUS RT-AC68W Wi-Fi Router AC1900
By now, you must have gotten the drill regarding the ASUS RT-AC68 series. There are subtle differences between the routers, and the last in line – the AC68W – introduces one glaring difference which is color. Almost all the specifications of the RT-AC68P still hold here too. You get a 1GHz processor and a maximum theoretical speed of 1900Mbps. It equally packs a 128MB flash memory storage and 256MB of RAM which is the same as that of the RT-AC68U and the RT-AC68P.
Performance of ASUS RT-AC68W
If color were a performance feature, we would have it listed here, but since that is not the case, then you can expect the same performance that you would expect from the RT-AC68P. Notice that it is more similar to the RT-AC68P and not the RT-AC68U. This router would be great for a large home, but so would the other two. Thus, choosing between the three would only be a matter of selecting the cheapest of the routers in the RT-AC68 series. If you’re are a gamer though, the RT-AC68P or this particular router would be just sufficient.
Best Use for ASUS RT-AC68W
This router falls in almost the same category as the RT-AC68P because it is slightly newer. Since almost everything else in it is constant, it would be best used in large homes. Gamers might use this as their default router, but only if they are not too keen about the superior performance of the routers. Either way, this router will do its part even for the most intensive of gamers. The RT-AC68W is also more than ideal for 4K video streaming because it’s maximum throughput speed of 1900Mbps is enough to serve 4K video streams to multiple people. You should remember that your ISP’s speed is what will ultimately determine the speed that you get on your devices.
Pros of the ASUS RT-AC68W
It is equally a standing model just like the RT-AC68U and the RT-AC68P and it thus takes less space
It is the only router in its family with a different color. This might be ideal for people who want their router’s color to complement the look or feel of their rooms
Just like its predecessors, it is simple and easy to setup
Cons of the ASUS RT-AC68W
It is more of a dirt magnet thanks to its color
It does not have any significant performance improvements over the RT-AC68P
ASUS AC66U vs AC68U: Should I Buy the AC66U Over the AC68U?
You should go for the RT-AC66U if you’d like a cheaper wireless router that will serve your home adequately. However, you would be better off with the RT-AC68U since it is just a couple of bucks more and it comes with slightly much more than the RT-AC66U such as a faster processor and a higher throughput speed.
ASUS AC68U vs AC68P: Should I Buy the AC68U Over the AC68P?
The differences between these two routers are so minimal that you won’t notice any real differences between these two routers. If you are a gamer, you should go for the RT-AC68P rather than the RT-AC68U. The RT-AC68P has a slightly faster processor even though both have the same clock rate of 1GHz.
Rounding It Up
All these routers simply belong to the same family, so pointing out which of the four is the king and which is the servant is a bit laughable. If you are still determined about picking the best out of the four, then you might be forced to look at things like CPU speed and throughput speed, but you need to remember that these differences are so subtle that it wouldn’t make sense to boast about them. In addition, they aren’t too great for custom firmware installation. In general, however, all these routers strike a perfect balance between cost and value because they give you so much for relatively less.
There are more features that make these routers stand out against others from different brands such as NETGEAR and Linksys, but for the sake of highlighting the individual differences between these specific routers, we overlooked most of the features in this review so that you can accurately point out the differences. In reality, any of these routers will give you much more than you had asked for. The cons that we pointed out for each of them were simply in relation to each other and not in relation to routers outside the scope of this article or even other routers from ASUS itself. Of course, ASUS does have even more powerful wireless routers out there, but for a typical household, all these routers would serve just fine. Coupled with the fact that they are fairly priced, we would say they’re definitely great.
There are hundreds of wireless router brands on the market nowadays. Whether you are looking for something to complement your gigabit ethernet connection or looking for something that’s cheap and simple, you are bound to find plenty of options for the specific category you are looking for. One brand that has made its name in the wireless routers space is TP-Link, a Chinese manufacturer of computer networking equipment that has been in operation for over 20 years. It is mostly known for producing cutting edge tech but while keeping the prices of their products low.
While they have a variety of routers, we are going to take a closer look at their Archer series, and specifically the TP-Link Archer C7, Archer C8, and Archer C9. A quick glance at the boxes of these wireless routers will leave you wondering what sets them apart from each other. Visually, the C8 and the C9 look more alike than the C7 because they’re both standing models. The C7, however, might get sidelined because it has the lowest series number, but this shouldn’t be the reason why you leave it out. Below, we’ll discuss each of these routers and find out which one would be ideal for you and why you should pick it over any of the other routers in the Archer series.
Comparison Between the TP Link Archer C7 vs C8 vs C9
First off, all these routers are dual-band meaning that they operate in both the 2.4GHz frequency band and the 5GHz band. This also instantly means that they support 802.11AC Wi-Fi standards. In addition, each of them has 4 Gigabit ethernet ports that facilitate Local Area Network (LAN) connections.
There is also a WAN port which as you might have guessed is also a Gigabit ethernet port. All of them have at least one USB 2.0 port that you can use with your thumb drive in case you wish to set up a local media server. The C8 and C9 include an additionally USB 3.0 port on the side of the router. Of course, it would’ve been great if the C7 equally had a USB 3.0 so that its only difference would be the single-core processor, but for its affordable price, USB 2.0 is actually sufficient. Both the Archer C8 and the Archer C9 have dual-core processors but they run at different clock speeds with the C9 being the fastest of the three with its 1GHz dual-core processor.
Differences Between the TP Link Archer C7 vs C8 vs C9
Unlike what we’ve seen with other brand names, TP-Link may be one of the few companies that actually makes sure that products in one series have noticeable differences between them. As we had earlier mentioned, the Archer C8 and the Archer C9 look more alike than the C7 because of their standing design. Other than that, all have different CPU configurations. The C7, for instance, is a single-core processor while the C8 and the C9 have dual-core processors with 800MHz and 1GHz clock speeds respectively.
It is also worth mentioning that both the C8 and the C9 have two USB ports with one of them being a USB 2.0 and the other being a USB 3.0. However, the real question is whether the inclusion of a USB 3.0 port makes them any special. Well, if you plan on purchasing an external hard drive and hooking it up to the router, then a USB 3.0 port would be better.
TP-Link Archer C7 Wireless Dual Band Gigabit Router (AC1750)
The Archer C7 happens to be the cheapest of the three wireless routers in the Archer series, but its performance cannot really be termed as cheap. For about $80, TP-Link gives you the C7 which has a maximum throughput speed of 1.75Gbps and has a single core processor (720MHz) that helps in handling your network requests more efficiently. We won’t deny that the C8 and C9 have better specifications, but for a router that costs so little, such specifications are impressive.
Archer C7 Performance
With 1.75Gbps, you can bet that the C7 can be pushed to handle 4K streaming, but only to a certain level. While it is a great entry-level router for a gamer who is just starting off, its single-core processor can only take so much. It was also interesting that TP-Link decided to make all the four ethernet ports to accept a gigabit connection. This means that you will find this router quite ideal in case your ISP only managed to give you a cable modem without a wireless router. The C7 would complement any cable modem without any fuss.
Archer C7 Pros
It is quite affordable and gives you more value than you would expect from routers from other brands
It is easy to setup and even allows you to use the TP-Link Tether app that lets you easily manage your network remotely
You can setup guest networks easily and even manage the internet speed of the guest network
It has a high throughput speed which enables it to handle 4K content easily
Archer C7 Cons
It lacks a USB 3.0 port
Its single-core processor might not be powerful enough to handle a lot of tasks at a go
With the C8 and the C9 being priced in the range of the C7, it becomes obsolete and unnecessary since the C8 and C9 are clearly more advanced
Archer C7 Best Use
This is the ideal router for a home that is not too intensive on internet usage. As such, you can use it for light duties such as HD streaming, but you could use it for 4K content as well if you won’t be sharing the network with too many people. Typically, about 10-20 people can use the Archer C7 without noticing any performance issues. This router might also be great for small businesses such as coffee shops where there aren’t too many people connected to it at the same time.
TP-Link Archer C8 Wi-Fi Gigabit Router AC1750
TP-Link’s Archer C8 goes a notch higher in terms of performance, but not too high up. The C8 has a dual-core processor with a clock speed of 800MHz. While you might argue that the difference is minimal when compared to the C7, the C8’s dual-core processor makes it capable of handling much more workload than the C7. In addition, it has a USB 3.0 port that might be great for plugging in your external hard drive and a USB 2.0 port that you can use with your flash drive. The maximum throughput speed of the C8 still stands at 1750Mbps, but it is bound to offer you much more because of its dual-core processor that can handle wired and wireless connections simultaneously.
Archer C8 Performance
It is easy to assume that the C7 and the C8 are equal because they both offer maximum throughput speeds of 1.75Gbps, but the C8 can cast its wireless signals farther than the C7. This is due to the fact that the C8 comes with beamforming technology that locates wireless devices then beams the Wi-Fi signals directly towards it. This enables the C8 to sustain a much stronger Wi-Fi connection easily. The 800MHz dual-core processor mostly comes in handy when your workload increases, but if you aren’t overworking the router, then you won’t notice any considerable difference between the performance of the C7 and the C8.
Archer C8 Pros
It has a slightly more powerful 800MHz dual-core processor
It has dual USB ports (USB 3.0 and USB 2.0) which means you have the best of both worlds. You can plug in your faster devices on the USB 3.0 and the slower ones on USB 2.0
It comes in a new design which makes it visually different from the C7
The beamforming technology enables it to have a larger range than the C7
Archer C8 Cons
While it is fast, the C9 beats its speeds yet it is also offered at a similar price
Archer C8 Best Use
The C8 is ideal for medium to large homes that don’t want to spend more money on purchasing repeaters and other networking equipment that can boost Wi-Fi signals. The beamforming technology makes your work easier since you can sit anywhere in your house and enjoy strong Wi-Fi signals. In addition, the C8 is also capable of handling 4K content, but you should be careful not to strain the network by adding too many users
TP-Link Wireless Wi-Fi Router Archer C9 (AC1900)
The Archer C9 is the fastest router in the series in almost all respects. It has a maximum throughput speed of 1900Mbps which is faster by 150Mbps. In addition, it has a 1GHz dual-core processor that enables it to handle multiple devices simultaneously. Its three long-range external antennas coupled with its beamforming technology enables it to transmit Wi-Fi signals longer and more efficiently than both the C7 and the C8. Since it also comes with the benefits of the C7 and the C8, the C9 stands out as the most ideal router in the series that you should consider.
Archer C9 Performance
Its wireless range is of course better than that of the C8 mainly because it has a faster Wi-Fi speed of 1900Mbps and it has a faster processor. It is also more capable of handling 4K content as compared to the C7 and C8. While these two can be able to handle 4K content too, they are bound to struggle at some point especially if you add many users to the network and occasionally have some users playing demanding online games. For a typical home, the C9 would be a great investment because it would take long before it becomes incapable of handling your demands.
Archer C9 Pros
It is the faster wireless router of the three with maximum speeds of up to 1900Mbps
It has beamforming technology which means it can transmit Wi-Fi signals farther away. This is important in big homes that do not want to spend extra cash on purchasing repeaters
It has a fast 1GHz dual-core processor which enables it to process multiple requests easily
It has both the USB 3.0 and the USB 2.0 port
It is easy to install and setup thanks to the TP-Link Tether app
It has an elegant design
Archer C9 Cons
It lacks some advanced but essential customization features such as VPN
When compared to routers from other manufacturers with some of its specifications, the C9 looks too basic and might not meet the need of tech-savvy users
Archer C9 Best Use
The C9 is great for a household that isn’t too keen on heavy internet usage. A home with about three 4K TVs, five smartphones, and five laptops can enjoy the C9. While it can be used for gaming, its lack of optimization features only makes it ideal for light to medium gaming as the ideal routers for gaming usually need to be heavily configurable.
Choosing between the Archer C7, C8, and C9 isn’t as difficult because their prices are almost the same and their differences are quite noticeable.
Archer C7 vs C9: Which Should You Buy?
Since the difference in price is minimal between these two routers, you should simply go for the C9 because it offers much more than the C7 and is newer. In addition, you also get two USB ports with the C9 while with the C7, you only get one. We would still pick the C9 as the ideal option if you wanted to upgrade to a router in the Archer series.
Archer C8 vs C9: Which Should You Buy?
Once more, the situation is ideally the same. The C9 should come first before the C8 because it has a better performance than the C8. While all three routers are great especially if you are an average internet user, it is only the C8 that gives you enough room for expansion.