Earlier today I had a friend tell me he recently saw his home internet usage double and wanted advice on how to track down where the data use was coming from. I knew the best place to monitor this for home purposes would be at the router, so as a favor I did some research on the capabilities of the flagship routers from each vendor. The TP-LINK Archer C9 AC1900 Dual Band Wireless AC Gigabit Router was the ONLY one with the capability to track data usage per connected device. I think this is a very important feature which requires solid device capabilities and a good firmware/UI team to implement, so not only is it useful but it speaks to the quality and usability of the device as a whole. I’m considering getting a new router myself, so thought it would be worthwhile to weigh the pros and cons of all the best home wireless routers and share my analysis with the world. Follow on to see what wins for specific scenarios and why.
I had previously been inspired by the capabilities of a specialized 802.11n router called the Pepwave Surf SOHO which has support for failover to 3G/4G USB modems for (W)WAN access and impressive per-device bandwidth usage tracking outlined in this video:
I looked through the manuals of the most capable/fastest/newest 802.11ac routers from every major vendor I could think of:
- ASUS RT-AC3200 Tri-Band Wireless
- NETGEAR R8000 AC3200 Nighthawk X6 Tri-Band
- D-Link AC3200 Ultra Wi-Fi Router DIR-890L/R
- Linksys EA6900 Smart Wi-Fi Router AC 1900
- ZyXEL NBG6716 Simultaneous Dual-Band Wireless AC1750 HD Media Router
- Buffalo WZR-1750DHP AirStation Extreme AC 1750 Gigabit Dual Band Wireless Router
- TRENDnet TEW-828DRU AC3200 Tri Band Wireless Router
Some of them have basic views of data throughput by interface, so you can see how much total data is going over Wi-Fi, LAN, and WAN individually. Some even let you see the data transmitted on specific LAN ports and on 2.4GHz vs 5GHz. So in some cases they can help you identify which devices are consuming bandwidth, but mostly only indirectly. That’s not very helpful.
The two products I was most hopeful about are the Netgear Nighthawk X6 and the ASUS RT-AC3200, as they seem to be the highest-end and best reviewing home wireless routers on the market currently, and carry price premiums to match (~$280 and ~$300 USD respectively at time of review).
It is one of the most functional views of all devices other than the TP-LINK.
I will say though the ASUS RT-AC3200 seems to have the best interface and manageability features overall, aside from this one key lacking feature. Their ‘App Analysis’ feature even allows you to see under each device which apps are consuming the most bandwidth (I assume for particular common apps where packet analysis makes that obvious), but only in real time. I am hopeful that ASUS will prioritize implementing tracking of per-device total bandwidth use over time.
For the worst performers, Linksys and TRENDnet were especially bad. They didn’t have any view of even the total data throughput. Their interfaces in general seem to be the most limited as well. I would stay away from any of their router products.
This TP-LINK router is the only flagship 802.11ac router on the market which allows you to see a by-IP view of data throughput over time. The manual covers it (as of REV1.0.0) under Chapter 5.19.9 (Advanced > System Tools > Statistics).
It is not pretty, but it is highly functional and provides the most relevant info at a glance. The TP-LINK Archer C9 is not one of the most capable flagship models, as those are currently the “AC3200″ / “Tri-Band” models which sport two 5GHz radios, and come with hefty premiums (cost >$250). It does have a 1GHz dual-core processor and Broadcom chipset like those more premium systems though, and supports beamforming — a premium feature that reduces dead spots and improves signal strength throughout the home.
I looked into current flagship models from major brands and was only considering stock firmwares initially, but then thought it might be worthwhile to consider previous flagship models and non-stock firmwares as well (e.g. DD-WRT). There was only one viable option from that search though. This option is more expensive (~$200) for similar capability to the TP-LINK router and will take more work: get a
Netgear R7000 Nighthawk AC1900 and flash it with DD-WRT. This provides more customization options, but is not for those who want a turnkey solution. You would need to install and configure YAMon to provide per-device data usage information.
Last year’s ASUS flagship, the RT-AC87U is more capable, but also carries a hefty premium at ~$250 and has yet to have a stable DD-WRT release, so I cannot recommend it.
There are only a few options for modern, highly capable 802.11ac home routers with the ability to effectively see how your network is getting used.
For most, the ~$150 TP-LINK Archer C9 AC1900 Dual Band Wireless AC Gigabit Router will be the right choice. It is a turnkey solution, has all the modern technology, and doesn’t carry a premium for extra radios.
For those who want an openly configurable platform and don’t mind a premium for it, the ~$200 Netgear R7000 Nighthawk AC1900 will be their stop.
For those who need the capabilities provided by an extra 5GHz radio (such as support for a very large number of connected devices) or possibly some of the other management features provided, the ~$300 ASUS RT-AC3200 Tri-Band Wireless Gigabit Router will be their best choice. It offers a realtime view of usage per device, but lacks data for usage over time. It doesn’t currently have support for DD-WRT, but is likely to in the future. Again, hopefully ASUS will recognize the importance of tracking usage per device over time and incorporate this in their own future firmwares.
For those who need the most range out of their device (e.g., they live in a 4,000+ sq. ft. home), they’ll likely be interested in a 4×4:4 router, but there really aren’t any options for per-device bandwidth tracking with these currently. If you need 4×4:4 though, the best option is the ~$250 ASUS RT-AC87U Wireless-AC2400 Dual Band Gigabit Router.
I hope I have made your choices clearer!
Note: If you found this article useful and plan to buy one of these devices, please use the referral links in my post.