Best AC1900 Wi-Fi router: Buffalo WXR-1900DHPD vs. Linksys EA7500
Open-source firmware fans will be attracted to the DD-WRT NXT firmware that Buffalo chose, but Linksys has built the better router.
Linksys EA7500 Max-Stream AC1900 RouterMacworld Rating
For most people, an AC1900 Wi-Fi router hits the sweet spot. It delivers enough speed to support media streaming, and enough features to handle the needs of most homes without blasting a hole in your pocketbook. They’re not the most powerful, but they’re much less expensive than higher-end routers equipped with all the latest whiz-bang features.
This review compares two of the newer contenders: the Buffalo WXR-1900DHPD (notable for its use of open-source DD-WRT NXT firmware), and the somewhat more conventional Linksys EA7500 (one of the lowest-price routers to offer MU-MIMO).
I’m not a big fan of the router industry’s methodology when it comes to identifying 802.11ac router speeds. Manufacturers sum the maximum theoretical speeds available on each frequency band (often rounding up or down) and precede that with the letters AC.
The Buffalo WXR-1900DHPD and Linksys EA7500 routers reviewed here are classified as dual-band AC1900 routers because they deliver maximum throughput of 1300Mbps on the 5GHz frequency band and 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz frequency band. You will never see real-world speeds anywhere close to those numbers, because they don’t take protocol overhead and other factors into consideration. But, generally speaking, an AC1900 router will be faster than an AC1300 router (867+450) and slower than an AC2400 model (1734+600).
You also need to look at more than benchmarks to determine a router’s true value. If a router doesn’t support all the features you need, it could deliver the fastest throughput and the longest range in the world, but not be the right solution for your needs.
That’s particularly true of Buffalo’s WXR-1900DHPD. While enthusiasts will be drawn to its DD-WRT NXT open-source firmware, that firmware in its current iteration seems half-baked in that it doesn't expose all of the router's hardware features. The router's USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports, for instance, are completely non-functional.
When I benchmarked the Buffalo WXR-1900DPHD using a Windows 10 desktop PC as a server and a Windows 10 laptop outfitted with a D-Link DWA-192 USB 3.0 Wi-Fi adapter as a client, it edged out the Linksys EA7500 at close range while using channel 36 on the 5GHz frequency band (it didn’t fare as well at long range). What's more, it performed even better (including at long range) when I switched the router to operate on channel 153 on the 5GHz frequency band.
When I benchmarked its performance with an 802.11n client on the 5GHz frequency band, on the other hand, the Linksys delivered the superior performance—and by much higher margins.
Wireless performance with a Windows client
Check out the benchmark charts below to see how the two routers fared against each other on Windows. If you're only concerned about raw performance, and you're running Windows, then Buffalo's router (the orange bars) might better suit your needs.
Wireless performance with a Mac client
Interestingly enough, I had a very different experience on the Mac platform: The Linksys clobbered the Buffalo on both 802.11ac channels and at every test location (the MacBook Pro I use for benchmarking has an onboard 3x3 802.11ac adapter, so I didn’t perform 802.11n benchmarks with it). Either router will deliver enough bandwidth and speed to stream 4K video, but if you have a Mac client, the Linksys EA7500 will deliver more of both—as well as better range, too. Just look at the green-bar victories in the charts below.
Network-attached storage performance
If you don’t want to spring for the cost of a NAS box, you can plug a USB storage device into the Linksys EA7500, and use it to share files or stream media over your network. This will work on both the Mac and PC platforms, but Mac users won’t be able to use that storage for Time Machine backups.
The Linksys EA7500 is very fast when it comes to transferring files to and from a computer hardwired to the network. I'm using a hardwired connection to measure storage performance in order to remove the Wi-Fi bottleneck. But don’t compare the PC numbers to the Apple numbers. I used portable SSDs with USB 3.0 ports for both tests, and the Windows PC I used has an SSD, too—the iMac, however, does not. Buffalo’s router also has USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports, but they’re not exposed in the firmware and are therefore not usable.
Which is the better router?
The Linksys EA7500 is a very good router for $200. It’s easy to set up and use. It has a strong set of features (although it is missing OpenVPN and Time Machine support). And it’s relatively fast. Linksys puts a lot of emphasis on the EA7500’s MU-MIMO support, but that standard is just too new to be all that relevant; don’t buy this router for that feature alone.
Buffalo’s WXR-1900DHPD proved faster in most of my Wi-Fi benchmarks (with a PC, that is—it was slower with a Mac), and it’s a little less expensive, but it falls far short on the features front. Its firmware doesn’t even support all of its hardware, which is not what you expect to see from open-source firmware. It’s an attractive and well-made router with a weak price/performance ratio. I can’t recommend it in its current form.
For more deeper looks at each router, you can click either the arrows below or click on the product names at the bottom of this page to read more detailed reviews.
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Linksys EA7500 Max-Stream AC1900 RouterMacworld Rating