ON TOP OF YOUR GAME: GAM­ING ROUTERS SUPERTEST

A NEW CAT­E­GORY OF WI-FI ROUTERS PROM­ISE TO GIVE YOU FLAW­LESS ON­LINE GAM­ING, BUT DO THEY DE­LIVER?

APC Australia - - Contents -

Wi-Fi might be one of Aus­tralia’s proud­est tech­no­log­i­cal cre­ations (thanks, CSIRO!), but we all know how flaky it can be even un­der the best cir­cum­stances. Un­for­tu­nately, not ev­ery­body can lay Eth­er­net ca­ble through their home or use Eth­er­net-over­pow­er­line kits, so Wi-Fi is of­ten the only avail­able op­tion.

Thank­fully, the tech­nol­ogy has im­proved mas­sively over the last few years, but there are still some huge caveats and mis­un­der­stand­ings about the tech­nol­ogy. The big­gest mar­ket­ing mis­truth is the speed that to­day’s Wi-Fi routers are ca­pa­ble of, with many claim­ing com­bined speeds of over 5,000Mbps.

This is usu­ally des­ig­nated on the box as a speed be­gin­ning with the term “AC [in­sert speed here]”. For ex­am­ple, the ASUS RoG Rap­ture GT-AC5300 claims to have a top speed of 5,300Mbps, but closer ex­am­i­na­tion re­veals that this isn’t quite true. Sure, the router can pump out that the­o­ret­i­cal max­i­mum speed, but not to a sin­gle de­vice. In­stead, it uses a sin­gle 2.4GHz net­work to push out 1,000Mbps, with another two 5GHz net­works, each de­liv­er­ing 2,167Mbps. Add the three to­gether, and you have the end re­sult of 5,300Mbps, hence the ‘AC5300’ in the ti­tle.

This ex­tra band­width def­i­nitely comes in handy if you’re con­nect­ing a stack of dif­fer­ent de­vices to your Wi-Fi net­work, but no sin­gle de­vice can utilise all of that band­width, as there’s the is­sue of the num­bers of trans­mit­ting and re­ceiv­ing an­ten­nae. Most of to­day’s high-speed routers use a 4x4 con­fig­u­ra­tion, which means they have four trans­mit­ting and re­ceiv­ing an­ten­nae. How­ever, most lap­tops, tablets and smart­phones only have a 2x2 con­fig­u­ra­tion, which means they can only achieve at most half the speed of each chan­nel. And they can only con­nect to one chan­nel at a time. Again, if you’re load­ing up sev­eral de­vices onto the same chan­nel the ex­tra an­ten­nae will be of ben­e­fit, but if you’re only hook­ing up a cou­ple of de­vices that ex­tra band­width won’t get used.

There are lots of terms be­ing bandied about re­gard­ing the lat­est in to­day’s Wi-Fi routers, but ar­guably the most im­por­tant is MIMO. This al­lows multiple de­vices to con­nect at a higher speed to a sin­gle fre­quency than routers that don’t fea­ture this tech. Un­like a year ago when many de­vices claimed to be MIMO com­pat­i­ble* (*pend­ing a firmware up­date at some in­de­ter­mi­nate date in the fu­ture),

“Nearly ev­ery pre­mium router these days fea­tures QoS, but some do it au­to­mat­i­cally while oth­ers re­quire

the user to con­fig­ure which PC on their net­work gets the most net­work love.”

to­day’s routers ac­tu­ally are MIMO-ready.

The other buzz­word is QoS, or Qual­ity of Ser­vice. This al­lows the router to look at the dif­fer­ent forms of traf­fic be­ing passed through the router, and then pri­ori­tise them based on their needs. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, gam­ing traf­fic is given the num­ber one pri­or­ity, then stream­ing video, and then ev­ery­thing else. Nearly ev­ery pre­mium router these days fea­tures QoS, but some do it au­to­mat­i­cally while oth­ers re­quire the user to con­fig­ure which PC on their net­work gets the most net­work love.

We tested eight of the lat­est pre­mium routers on the mar­ket for sev­eral things. Firstly, how did they per­form dur­ing gam­ing when un­der load and not un­der load; for the for­mer, we ran a 5GB down­load file on a lap­top con­nected to the router via Eth­er­net, while also run­ning

CS:GO and a 4K YouTube video on the client PC. From here, we could use

CS:GO’s de­tailed net­work per­for­mance mon­i­tor to see the dif­fer­ence QoS makes, mea­sur­ing both the ping to the server, as well as the packet loss. As you’ll see, the per­for­mance dif­fer­ence isn’t huge, but this is largely in part be­cause we tested us­ing an Op­tus Fi­bre to the Home con­nec­tion, tested at 95Mbps down and 34Mbps up.

Se­condly, we tested the file trans­fer per­for­mance on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz net­works at both near and far range, by trans­fer­ring a 1GB file us­ing the LAN Speed Test ap­pli­ca­tion. We should point out that, since the April up­date of Win­dows, sim­ply shar­ing a folder be­tween two PCs hasn’t been doc­u­mented well. It took us six hours and two lap­tops to get it work­ing; firstly, the re­moval of work­groups from Win­dows 10 means that both ma­chines must log in to the same Mi­crosoft ac­count, us­ing the same au­then­ti­ca­tion method — one ma­chine us­ing a PIN can’t share with another us­ing a pass­word. Se­condly, we sim­ply could not get our Win­dows 10 desk­top to share a folder with our Win­dows 8.1 lap­top, so had to swap the lat­ter out for a Win­dows 10 lap­top. Note that this lap­top was equipped with an 802.11ac Wi-Fi mod­ule us­ing a 2x2 ra­dio, which is ba­si­cally the norm these days, and ex­plains why the speeds tested are well be­low the ad­ver­tised rate of the router’s max­i­mum.

While our re­sults show that most of the routers were pretty evenly matched, the fact that we only used two de­vices at a time on each router means that those with higher over­all AC rat­ings will per­form bet­ter if you’re us­ing many more de­vices. This is def­i­nitely some­thing to con­sider if you’ve got a house of four or more peo­ple, all us­ing lap­tops or smart de­vices, where that ex­tra band­width will ac­tu­ally be used.

We should also point out that we tested in a res­i­den­tial area, where in­ter­fer­ence from other net­works and even mi­crowaves or garage re­mote con­trols can lower over­all per­for­mance.

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