As you are perfecting the configuration of your Smart Home technology preferences and capabilities, no matter what components you choose, there is always one constant. All of your Smart Home components require a fast, reliable, and secure, home network with internet access. All smart home control interfaces, operate with some kind of central hub. It's either a hardware hub residing in your home, such as Iris, or it is a virtual one that you interface via your smart phone, watch, or tablet - such as HomeKit and Nest. No matter what, this hub requires internet connectivity in order to send configuration changes, such as the adding or removing of components, or firmware updates for the hub itself.
Now, add all of these components which will individually transmit data across your home network to a virtual hub, or even the minimal internet usage of the Iris system - as it uses its own proprietary Z-Wave technology for all of its components to talk to the hub in your home (and we'll talk more about those smart home solutions in a later article), you already have tons of internet connections in your home to contend with. Every Smart TV, multimedia component, desktop, laptop, tablet, home security, cell phone, and smart home device in your home requires internet connectivity to communicate either continuously or periodically. All of this demand requires either an extremely robust networking device, with multiple channels or subnets for you to segregate specific devices to use specific channels or networks, or requires multiple routers so that you can share the load between them.
So, as we review the routers listed within this article, we will be addressing several factors. We will be assessing them based upon networking features, bandwidth, security, and versatility. Price will also be a factor, but we will base the price upon whether or not the device may or may not require you to buy multiple devices to manage your home. Of course, the size of your home and the sheer number of smart home features you wish to manage within it, will also impact your in-home network's final configuration. One person may require multiple devices, even if we assess that only one is needed for the average sized home, as a massive home will require multiple devices due to range limitations or physical barriers across an extremely large home. Keeping that in mind, we'll try to keep our assessment for a home that has at least two stories, a basement (finished or not), and has a one level average square footage of at least 900 square feet. You're looking at at least three floors of coverage, and being able to support all of the networked devices within in. So, with that all having been said, let us begin...
NETGEAR Nighthawk X10 – AD7200
For the first router on our list, let me preclude it with the following statements: "This router is for the technically inclined or highly IT proficient individual." and "You get what you pay for." The Nighthawk X10 wasn't the first AD router to hit the market, but it is the first AD router released by Netgear. If you know Netgear, you know that they were going to ensure that their AD router was the most feature rich and capable AD router on the market. With their $399.99 on Amazon price point (with free shipping), and their long list of the X10's capabilities, you will soon find out why.
The Nighthawk X10 utilizes both 802.11ac and 802.11ad networking communication specifications. It also features Multi-User Multiple Input, Multiple Output (MU-MIMO) data streaming, 60GHz 802.11ad networking, and 160MHz Wi-Fi technology. Yes, it has all three of the latest features to hit home networking within the last year! It has six ethernet connections, yes we said SIX ethernet ports, two of which can be combined to become an aggregate 2Gbps connection, AND it has a server 10Gbps data port in case you have a high end server that you want to incorporate into your home networking and media design. It boasts two USB 3.0 ports to allow for you to attach one or more NAS devices, a network backup storage device, or even a printer.
In regards to the Nighthawk X10 router being the backbone for smart home and multimedia solutions, it can also be utilized as PLEX media server. This will require you to configure a PLEX.tv account, and then to configure your Nighthawk X10 as your media server. However, once completed, your will be able to access and stream your media from anywhere in your home. Yes, you will have to spend even more money after buying this router to fully take advantage of its rich feature sets. However, as I disclosed at the beginning - you get what you pay for, and this router is definitely for the technology inclined buyer looking to future proof their home network.
Talon AD7200 Router TP-LINK
The Talon AD7200 Router (TP-LINK) is definitely one of the most amazing routers, for its price point, that you can configure for you home. It has superior short range and lightning fast wireless capabilities, four ethernet ports for hard wiring network ports and/or devices to your router, and three USB 3.0 ports for adding network USB devices to enhance its capabilities. Retailing for $348.99 on Amazon (with free shipping) it is a large investment for your home networking solution. However, with proper placement in your home, it can properly ensure that it is the only device you need.
It utilizes both 802.11ac and 802.11ad networking communication specifications, has WEP, WPA, WPA2, and WPA2-Enterprise wireless security encryption available, has the fastest Multi-User Multiple Input, Multiple Output (MU-MIMO) scores seen to date, and communicates on three different frequency channels, including a 60GHz channel. The 60GHz radio band achieves theoretical speeds of up to 4600Mbps, the 5GHz band achieves theoretical speeds of up to 1733Mbps, and the 2.4GHz band achieves theoretical speeds of up to 800Mbps. Obviously, the lower the frequency, the greater the range and increased wall penetration of signal in your home. So, organizing components for specific frequency bands will be depending upon their location in comparison to the location of your router. Long distance with one or more walls in between, 2.4GHz band. Medium distance with one wall between or none, 5GHz frequency band. In the same room and within 25 feet of your router, and no walls between, 60GHz frequency band.
The Linksys WRT32X is the latest router to be released by Linksys, retailing for $199.00 on Amazon as NEW or $139.99 as CERTIFIED REFERBISHED, which prioritizes console gaming and live streaming for gamers who stream. It boasts the ability to reduce peak ping by 65% with its proprietary Killer Prioritization Engine, which auto-detects XBox to prioritize WiFi gaming and video streaming. In first person and third person shooter games, and other titles that rely on lightning fast reflexes, even the slightest difference in response time can make the difference between winning and losing.
The Linksys WRT32X is also equipped with the Linksys innovative Tri-Stream 160 technology, the WRT32X delivers the fastest WiFi speed which never lags. Not available on other WiFi routers, Tri-Stream 160 effectively doubles the bandwidth for the 5 GHz band to power data-heavy activity with ultra-fast 2.6 GBPS WiFi speeds. The WRT32X has Dynamic Frequency Selection (DFS) certification from the FCC. This equates to allowing operation of 160MHz Tri-Stream160, but it also triples the channels available at 80MHz, so that the router can operate cleanly and clearly without interference, degredation, or signal loss.
The WRT32X also exhibits MU-MIMO technology, and can handle even the most bandwidth-intensive and device saturated household environments. MU-MIMO builds upon spatial multiplexing, beamforming, and scheduling algorithms to increase the average overall throughput and to distribute bandwidth fairly between devices. Each device receives its own dedicated data stream, ensuring devices don't compete with one another for bandwidth. Multiple users can simultaneously engage in 4K video streaming, play online games while streaming, and perform other bandwidth-intensive operations without latency or buffering.
The WRT32X features a performance-grade 1.8 GHz dual-core CPU, custom-built firmware, four external adjustable antennas with high-power amplifiers, and a high-efficiency heatsink. With it's custom management interface, designed specifically for gaming and the management and prioritization of gaming devices, it allows for fast and easy management of gaming devices without negatively impacting smart home devices. Aesthetically, it boasts a sleek and stealthy design, with a matte-black finish and blue LED lights, allowing it to be both functional and appealing to the eye, making it the perfect complement to any gaming configuration.