MIMO or MU-MIMO, that Is the Question

Category: Hardware Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001

I promise this won't hurt, but we're going to throw a couple of acronyms at you: MIMO and MU-MIMO.

Both of these letter puzzles are designed to make your life in the Wi-Fi  (oops, there's another one) universe easier.


MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) technology hit the WiFi universe first and was designed to increase the range of Wi-Fi signals by using three or four antennas that were attached to the exterior of routers. Basically, it did this by allowing multiple transmissions at the same time with a minor loss of download speeds. Unfortunately, unless you were in the same room with the router, or fairly close, the benefits were hit or miss.

Enter, stage right, MU-MIMO, (Multiple User Multiple Input Multiple Output) technology, which has increased the range of these routers. In fact, the ones we tested were able to deliver an average of 45 megabits per second download speed (using 90 mbps service) in parts of our house that were unreachable using standard MIMO routers.

Two of these routers stood out, delivering the best performance of any we tested: the Linksys EA7500 Max Stream AC1900 MU-MIMO Gigabit Router ($219.99) and the Netgear Nighthawk X4S WIFI Gaming Router ($249.99). Neither of these routers are inexpensive, but it's worth the extra few dollars to eliminate the need for purchasing range extenders and other paraphernalia to extend signals throughout the average, multi-story house or office.

The Linksys router has three antennas and was extremely easy to set up using the Linksys Setup Wizard that pops up on your screen once the router has been detected. We were able to change the SSID (name) of our router, passwords, channels, etc. with a minimum of effort. It also tested the speed of our signal during the initial installation process.

The only problem we ran into was that it would occasionally reset the SSID to the original network name, but a reboot solved that problem.

The router's ability to handle download speeds of up to 1.9 gigabits per second using the shorter-range 5 gigahertz band means that homes or businesses using an average 300 megabit per second service have more bandwidth capacity than they need to play games, download huge files, access the Internet or watch videos.

Another great feature is that it can be used as a wireless bridge to connect to another Wi-Fi router extending the range of your signal in larger houses or buildings.

Other key features include:

The Netgear X4S, which was also easy to set up using the Network GENIE, is equipped to handle the highest speed of any router we've tested. Built with the online gamer in mind, it can handle wireless speeds of up to 2.5 gigabits per second and has a wireless range that can handle the average size home or office with minimal signal loss. In fact, we were able to achieve Wi-Fi speeds up to 54 mbps (on the 5 ghz band) in our office using 90 mbps service. This was far superior to the 17 or 18 mbps speeds were were getting using a standard router.

The X4S has four external antennas, instead of the three used by the Linksys. We're not sure if the extra antenna made a difference in the download speeds we were getting, but the X4s was a hair faster.

It also has a 1.7 gigahertz dual core processor, but the difference in performance is minimal. And, like the Linksys EA7500, it can be set up as a wireless bridge to extend the coverage of your network.

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