If you are a casual, residential Wi-Fi user who is shopping for the best home wireless router in 2013 and your budget is $50, do not hesitate to buy one of the wireless n routers. Just as the current standard, 802.11n, superseded the 802.11b and g standards, 802.11ac provides benefits that go far beyond 802.11n. However, it will take a couple years for it to make financial sense for the budget conscious. Right now in 2013, an 802.11ac wireless router is quadruple the price of capable entry-level 802.11n wireless routers.

Purchase price is not the only thing to take into account. To take advantage of the absolutely wonderful features that 802.11ac provides, the devices and gadgets that you want to use wirelessly must be compatible. Of course there are already 802.11ac-compatible products because the chipsets have been available to manufacturers since 2011 and 2012.

Buffalo Technology and NETGEAR, among others, already sell top rated wireless routers that conform to the new standard. The current Apple MacBook Air can handle it. The Samsung Galaxy S4 is also on the 802.11ac standard. However, if you are on a budget, you are probably not interested in buying new premium wireless routers, laptops, tablets and smartphones just to take advantage of the new Wi-Fi standard. The best wireless routers on the new standard will not be available with budget price tags for some time to come. To fully support 802.11ac and provide you with all of the benefits, these wireless internet routers must include more than one antenna to take advantage of the required sub frequencies. If you are on a budget and don't want to spring for the latest Wi-Fi upgrade and replace all of your gizmos, you will be fine with an 802.11n wireless router for a couple more years.

But what if you were not on a budget? Well, in that case, by stepping up to 802.11ac, you leap far beyond the very capable 802.11n world. With a theoretical speed of 1.75 gigabits per second, this wireless standard laughs at wired home networks, which top out at one gigabit per second. The ac standard also supports simultaneous high-definition video streams to multiple devices. The new standard is backward compatible with your older devices. But to take advantage of the new features, your devices will need to support the standard. In other words, your old Wi-Fi-client devices will still work, but not any more quickly than they work now with your 802.11n wireless router.

The key advantages of 802.11ac, then, are:

  • Speeds triple those of 802.11n
  • Longer ranges so that you will have fewer dead spots within your home
  • Greater reliability for better media streaming
  • More bandwidth in support of mobile devices
  • Backward compatibility with 802.11a and n on the 5GHz band

The main drawback for those on a budget is the absence of ac compatibility with your existing devices. If you are not made of money, buy an affordable wireless n router, keep the wireless gadgets that you already have and be happy with them for a couple more years. When the majority of wireless client devices support the new ac standard, and prices on residential Wi-Fi routers inevitably drop because of increasing mass production, then you could ditch n in favor of ac.

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