Linksys WRT3200ACM Review (Page 2 of 5)

Page 2 - Physical Look - Hardware

If you have been around long enough to remember how wireless routers looked like before Wi-Fi became ubiquitous in the modern home, the Linksys WRT3200ACM reminds me of the legendary WRT54G first released in 2002. It is interesting how we have a stack of WRT54G routers -- sealed in box, too -- at the Wireless Networking Research Laboratory at the University of Calgary. When you place the two side by side, you will notice one key difference: The latest 802.11ac model is about 130% of the physical size of the original. That said, the blue and black design is a great interpretation of a modern classic; bringing back memories of the days when it was actually novel to be able to surf the web without wires.

As you can see in our photo above, the Linksys WRT3200ACM lays flat on your desk, rather than aligned vertically to save space, like many modern routers. It is equipped with four dual band detachable antennas for some epic multi-user multiple-input and multiple-output wireless communication. At the top, the entire black area is ventilated to ensure the 1.8GHz dual core processor, 512MB RAM, 256MB flash memory, and all the associated electronics stay thermally stable. In the blue area, Linksys' bold branding will ensure you will not mistake this device for any other brand. An array of LEDs resides behind a darkly tinted piece of plastic indicating the WRT3200ACM's power, internet, 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, eSATA, USB, LAN (Including activity and speed), as well as WPS status. Adjacent to the LED section is once again Linksys' branding along with the WRT3200ACM model name.

Turning the Linksys WRT3200ACM around, we can take a closer look at the four dual band antennas attached to the router, along with a generous array of ports and switches. These include a Wi-Fi Protected Setup button, four Gigabit Ethernet ports, one Gigabit uplink port, one USB 3.0 port, one eSATA/USB 2.0 combination port, reset button, 12V DC power input, and a power switch.

Why four antennas, you may ask? The use of multiple antennas for communications has been the foundation of many modern wireless technologies; ranging from short range unlicensed bands such as Wi-Fi to long range licensed bands like LTE cell phone networks. The fundamental principle lies in the fact that multiple antennas allow the designer to enhance performance using beamforming and diversity techniques. Beamforming, in the simplest explanation, allows power to be directed towards a certain direction. Diversity exploits multipath -- where the same signal can arrive via different paths due to reflection and refraction in the propagation channel -- to enhance the received signal quality. Multi-user MIMO, otherwise called MU-MIMO, lets multiple antennas from multiple users to communicate with multiple antennas on base station. Obviously, the more antennas on the access point the better, but we are bound by the laws of diminishing returns.

As its name suggests, the Linksys WRT3200ACM is advertised as an AC3200 router. This means it operates at 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz band via one 40MHz channel with three streams, while two 80MHz channels, also with three streams each, on the 5GHz band provides 2600Mbps for a total of 3200Mbps theoretical throughput. We will evaluate the performance of this router in just a moment. Unfortunately, not many devices on the market today have 160MHz channel bandwidth support.

More ventilation holes can be seen at the bottom of the Linksys WRT3200ACM. Four integrated plastic feet with rubber bottoms provide about a centimeter of additional clearance between the router and your table. The cross-shaped holes on the rubber feet lets you wall-mount your router should you prefer that; this is a great option in my opinion. Meanwhile, a label at the top shows information like the serial number, default SSID, as well as Wi-Fi password. Of course, you are free to change your wireless network name and encryption key in the web configuration interface, but this will get you going right off the bat if you are the type to stick with default settings.

Page Index
1. Introduction, Packaging, Specifications
2. Physical Look - Hardware
3. Configuration and User Interface
4. Performance Tests
5. Conclusion