Closing Thoughts (for Now)

It’s really up to the notebook manufacturers to make sure that their WiFi implementations are up to snuff, and that means doing more than a quick test for connectivity in ideal test conditions. The QA and engineering departments at the very least ought to be testing at 5, 25, 50, and 100 feet, using standard Windows operations (i.e. not just IxChariot or iPerf). If there are issues, they should be ironed out before customers (and reviewers) get the product. With that said, a good foundation for wireless networking can go a long way toward improving bandwidth and stability of your connection.

Intel’s adapters aren’t always the best, but they’re rarely the worst, provided you get one of the non-budget offerings (i.e. avoid the 1000 and 2000 series parts). Realtek unfortunately comes in near the bottom of my ranking list in many cases, but most notebooks with Realtek WiFi are already cutting corners—they’re the 1x1:1 2.4GHz only solutions that are so common. The fact is, whether you're using an adapter from Qualcomm/Atheros, Broadcom, Marvell, Realtek, or Ralink, you can have a good adapter in some cases or a downright awful one in others. Broadly speaking, most solutions with two streams end up being better than any of the single stream solutions.

Of course, it's not just about spatial streams. Oddly enough, for a company that has been on the forefront of wireless technologies, as Anand detailed in our MacBook Air 2013 review OS X is not scaling TCP window size beyond 64KB and thus fails to get optimal performance out of 802.11ac. (I assume an OS/driver patch will address this at some point, but that hasn't happened yet AFAIK.) OS and driver issues can definitely put a clamp on WiFi performance, which again is why the notebook makers need to exercise due diligence and test in real-world scenarios to ensure their hardware is working properly.

As I said earlier, one of the best things about 802.11ac wireless is that it raises the bar for wireless adapters. No one can get away with selling you an 11ac adapter without including at the bare minimum a dual-band chipset with support for 5GHz and 2.4GHz networks. If you live in a packed subdivision or apartment complex, 5GHz networking is almost required these days. Ideally, though, I want more than just the bare minimum; I want two 80MHz streams on my 802.11ac connections, and three would be even better. Intel’s 7260 provides two streams, and so do most of the current crop of 802.11ac routers. Hopefully, we won’t see as many solutions going for the bottom of the barrel single stream implementations; they’re not worse than 802.11n, but they’re not much better than two stream 5GHz 802.11n either.

Consider this a warning shot across the bow of the notebook manufacturers: we’re going to be paying more attention to your wireless implementations going forward. I can understand why a $500 or less budget laptop needs to cut every corner possible to hit that price point, but when we’re looking at $1000+ laptops we don’t want to see such blemishes. It may not always be as painful as using a bad LCD on an otherwise excellent laptop, but a bad WiFi implementation that loses connectivity if you’re more than 40 feet from the router in can be even worse in some cases.

We’ll be doing some full reviews of 802.11ac routers in the near future, including the Western Digital AC1300 and Linksys AC1200. The full reviews will better characterize performance as well as other features. Until then, at least right now it looks like most 802.11ac routers are using two streams (867Mbps maximum theoretical throughput), which is at least a nice upgrade over the 300Mbps so many 802.11n routers offer. Meanwhile, Apple's latest AirPort Extreme and Time Capsule go whole hog and give us three streams and up to 1300Mbps. Now if I could just get (Windows) laptops with three 802.11ac streams, I might actually be willing to give up my Gigabit Ethernet and wires!

 

A Quick Test of Real-World Wireless Performance
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  • JarredWalton - Monday, July 08, 2013 - link

    I'll be looking into that in the full review. AFAIK, Killer at present does not have an 802.11ac offering (though I'm sure one is in the works). Their current top solution is the 1103, which is 3x3:3 802.11n.
    http://www.killergaming.com/solutions/Wireless
    Reply
  • GuniGuGu - Monday, July 08, 2013 - link

    Cool, look forward to it. I'm just curious really if the 7260 on 802.11 ac makes any improvements on latency? Reply
  • 0ldman79 - Friday, July 12, 2013 - link

    What latency issue?

    Wireless latency is typically +1ms of wired links until you saturate the link or have signal or interference issues. It has been this way since 802.11G, and 802.11B didn't add much latency over 10/100.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, July 15, 2013 - link

    Nope. Not even close. It will be typically a 5-10ms, but on many implementations you'll suddenly get some huge spikes of >100ms for a few seconds, then back down again. And that's at short, "ideal" ranges -- go to where you only get moderate signal quality (e.g. when 802.11n is connecting at 30-50Mbps instead of 150-300Mbps) and latency issues become even worse. Reply
  • 0ldman79 - Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - link

    Oh, do educate me on how wireless works.

    I've only got a couple of hundred long range wireless links out there, as well as a 8-10 hotels I've built wireless for. If you are having latency issues on wireless then you have either poor signal, interference or poor quality hardware.

    I was going to give you a snapshot, then I thought about we can't attach pictures.

    My ping to google averages 17ms, 7 miles from my fiber optic line, 2 wireless hops. My edge router averages 15ms to ping google. My farthest link, around 50 miles from my fiber and 5 hops deep averages 27ms.

    Run proper hardware. Most of this stuff at Walmart pales in comparison to what the actual hardware can do. The consumer level routers are made with the cheapest chips they can get because that is what people will pay for.
    Reply
  • Flunk - Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - link

    There is a big price premium you pay for commercial-grade equipment. Yes, it's much better but it's overkill for most people's home use. What most people want is a $50 Walmart-grade router and there is nothing wrong with that. You get what you pay for. Reply
  • 0ldman79 - Saturday, July 20, 2013 - link

    There was a price premium, not so much any more. Ubiquiti has their Unifi and regular old wireless routers, between $50-110. The Ubiquiti stuff is comparable to Linksys to configure.

    Mikrotik has a few models out now, RB751 2HnD, RB951 2HnD, though admittedly the Mikrotik units are not quite as easy to program. They're working on it though, several presets are there for, more or less, plug and play.

    Not exactly what I would call difficult to program or expensive from someone who is complaining about wireless making them lag.
    Reply
  • 0ldman79 - Saturday, July 20, 2013 - link

    Almost forgot, Trendnet has been around for a while now, they run quite a bit of Atheros stuff, their Realtek based hardware is pretty solid as well and most of it is cheaper than the Walmart-grade equipment. Reply
  • 0ldman79 - Saturday, July 20, 2013 - link

    Almost forgot, Trendnet has been around for a while now, they run quite a bit of Atheros stuff, their Realtek based hardware is pretty solid as well and most of it is cheaper than the Walmart-grade equipment. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, July 22, 2013 - link

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/4590/

    Run proper software. Ping uses ICMP, where normal software uses TCP or UDP. Most games use UDP, and while a 7ms average seems great, it could be 2ms 95% of the time and 228ms 5% of the time, which would suck for action gaming.

    The problem with latency of this form most often comes from the wireless clients and drivers, not the router. 802.11ac likely doesn't change that, but since it has been nearly two years since my last look at latency, it's something we certainly need to revisit.
    Reply

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