In light of the Covid environment for the past year, it’s even more essential than before to have a good quality home network that you can rely on; especially for the working-man attending lots of meetings.
We’ve seen popular webcams shoot up in the post pandemic world and it’s no wonder why manufacturers are accelerating their adaptation of the new 802.11ax wifi standard over the past 6 or so months to meet with increased bandwidth demand.
Today, we’re looking at one of these devices; using not one, but two of Linksys’ top tier routers in a mesh that’ll be sure to provide you with all the speed you need…if you can dish out the dosh.
What is the Linksys MR9600 & Wifi 6?
Wifi 6 is the new generation standard introduced in a new category of wireless devices capable of supporting the 802.11ax format. The Linksys MR9600 is the company’s flagship product for these new generation of devices that we’re starting to see from various hardware manufacturers.
Excluding all the technical jargon, I can sum up Wifi 6 as thus: speed go fast – which is definitely what we want.
Since this is my first router review, I’ll be defining some of the methodologies which I’ll be using for all subsequent router reviews.
For theoretical speeds, I’m looking at speedtest results with the highest speeds with each scenario tested 3 times. Note that I’m only looking at single-device speeds as this is what users will care about primarily. For practical speeds, I’m looking at average pings and download speeds from various games, CDNs, servers etc.
For features, I’m primarily looking at:
- WiFi range and coverage (i.e Does it have blind spots? How is the reception?)
- Ease of use and setup for beginners
- Core features for advanced users (i.e port forwarding, routing/firewalls etc. and their ease of use)
- Any additional nice-to-haves (such as various forms of monitoring)
Unfortunately, since I currently do not own a compatible WiFi card supporting 802.11ax, I won’t be able to do any bandwidth testing with regards to the new 6Ghz band. I’ll still be using 802.11ac however, which is the last generation standard which should still provide some measurable gains.
As usual, my baseline comparison would be what I’m currently using as my home setup, the good enough ASUS AC68U and ASUS 802.11AC wireless adapter.
Since I’m on a Gigabit fibre plan, the baseline results aren’t surprising: connecting back to my local ISP on speedtest yields good results; although not quite the full gigabit speed even when plugging in to the router via ethernet cable directly.
Packaging & Contents
The packaging is sparse but straightforward, coming in with everything you’d expect from such a device. Linksys has kindly included additional power outs for your convenience and all major (UK, EU, US/JP) end points are packed within the box which is a nice touch.
As far as looks go, the router doesn’t look half bad with a distinct perforated style on the body and only 4 antennas around it; only slightly less domineering as ASUS’ counterpart but hey, at least it doesn’t look like it’s trying to signal the mothership.
Features & Connectivity
The MR9600 suite of software is chalk full of utilities and useful testing features such as a built-in ping and speedtest with a simple and easy to understand interface; something even basic users will appreciate when it comes to testing and troubleshooting.
On boot, a WiFi profile has already been created for your convenience with the default DHCP and WPA encryption enabled right out of the box with no need for any setup process; just change the WiFi name and password and you’re basically good to go.
On the advanced side of things, everything you could ever need is here: including the host of routing, NAT, firewall/port forwarding and NAS storage control features that make setting up thing like a public server based on your IP address a breeze.
Like everything else these days, Linksys has also created an app that allows you to control some of these features at your fingertips if navigating on a browser just isn’t your thing.
On the physical connectivity side of things, it comes with 4 ethernet connection ports and 2 USB 3.0 connections which is plenty enough for the home user.
Setting up the Mesh network isn’t difficult, though it does require you to download the aforementioned app on your phone for pairing. Once paired though, nothing else needs to be set up as the device can be powered off and still be paired as a node on next boot which is convenient.
I’ve provided a layout of my apartment to give you an idea of how each scenario affects the signal and bandwidth as such:
Penetration testing – Single mode
|Wireless PC, ASUS (baseline)||264/154||4|
|Wireless Laptop, Main bedroom, door closed, Linksys||227/134||4|
|Wireless Laptop, Main bedroom, door open, Linksys||260/144||4|
|Wireless Desktop, bedroom, door closed, Linksys||399/183||4|
|Wireless Desktop, bedroom, door open, Linksys||362/184||4|
|Wireless laptop, WC, door closed, Linksys||5/2||1-2|
|Wireless laptop, WC, door open, Linksys||73/52||2-3|
Even when using the previous generation standard, 802.11ac, the gains in terms of bandwidth are undeniable, up to ~55% gains as far as the baseline are concerned, which is a huge jump in terms of single-device speeds.
While we typically see a decrease in performance with the door closed, the second bedroom can be considered an anomaly in the data where the download speed is slightly faster with the doors closed.
Penetration testing – Mesh mode
Just like testing with a single router, I’ve allocated 2 points in the diagram to show the different effects of using the mesh network when the node is placed in different spots.
|Scenario||Bandwidth [Mbs/s, Download/Upload]||Signal Strength|
|Wireless Desktop, doors closed, bedroom node||345/177||4|
|Wireless Desktop, doors open, bedroom node||410/166||4|
|Wireless Laptop, WC doors closed, kitchen node||123/35||3|
|Wireless Laptop, WC doors open, kitchen node||162/56||4|
As we can see, a mesh network isn’t a cure-all for faster speeds as there is still an overhead for relaying data from one router to another. In places where connectivity is already strong, adding another router actually reduces your speed by a small margin (345 compared to 399) and should therefore be avoided.
Getting yet another Linksys MR9600 router in my use case is certainly overkill. The setup works fine in retrospect but my apartment isn’t large enough to make full use of the extended range.
|Scenario||Bandwidth [Mbs/s, Download/Upload]||Signal Strength|
|Wireless Laptop, WC doors closed, single network||5/2||1-2|
|Wireless Laptop, WC doors closed, mesh network||123/35||3|
However, in our worst-case scenario in the WC with the doors closed, the mesh network makes a significant difference in terms of speed and are the ideal case for a setup such as this.
I’d still suggest only spending money on another router if you live in an apartment with multiple stories or a large home where connection points aren’t close to each other. For the majority of cases, using a home plug or wifi repeater will do if the cost of a mesh network is out of your budget.
Gaming Ping Test
What is our review without a few gaming-oriented tests? As if that’ll happen on my watch.
In this test we’ll be using both an internet ping test and a practical ping test connecting to the game server itself.
As you can see, a faster network on my end simply has minimal to no effect when it comes to affecting game ping as we’ve reached a point where the bottleneck is not on the end user’s hardware.
In cases where speeds were already fast, such as connecting to a local game server, an average difference of 1 ping isn’t going to make much of a difference. In cases where any reduction in ping can help greatly, such as connecting to overseas game servers, a ~5 ping reduction is underwhelming to say the least, when compared to a 55% increase in home network speeds in some circumstances.
Steam Download Test
Our Steam Download test does show where the additional speed can come in handy, however. In our test, a 10Gb game took approximately 5 minutes to download, with speeds averaging from 29-33MB/s, which is typically 10% better than what I would be getting on my ASUS router.
At a MSRP of $499 SGD, it’s an expensive upgrade for sure – though just about on par with other brands’ top end routers such as ASUS and Netgear.
A quick comparison features-wise seem to indicate that these routers are quite close to each other, with the additional cost incurred from ASUS coming in from using a better network switch that supports up to 8x RJ45 ports.
Word from the olive branch is that this particular router will reach a more palatable price point locally on a sale which will see it selling at the mid-300s price range. Look out for that if you’re looking to pick this one up.
While we do see gains in local connectivity even without using the 802.11ax protocol, the primary bottleneck, as far as games are concerned, are still the physical intercontinental gateways that run from continent to continent.
Nonetheless, if you were to look at metrics such as downloading and streaming where there is a locally available Content Delivery Network (CDN), there are still gains to be had. Probably even more if you were using an 802.11ax setup. There’s a healthy boost when looking at steam downloads and that’s always a welcome upgrade.
If you’re still stuck using plain old 2.4Ghz wifi, now is definitely the time to upgrade to something better.
The MR9600 is something that I think is worth considering for on the merit of its good suite of software and hassle-free setup that is about as plug-n-play as you can get from a router – with price as the only major stickler as far as the negatives are concerned.
|The Good||The Bad|
|+ Intuitive UI, plug-n-play||– Steep price undiscounted|
|++ Just about every networking feature you would want||– App required for pairing other nodes|
|+ Doesn’t signal the mothership (probably)|