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Wireless Reviews

Smart Connect

For Smart Connect testing, the Archer C3200 was located in the wireless testbed upper test chamber with the door open. The bridge mode R7000 was in the lower chamber with the door closed. This allowed using the testbed programmable attenuators to control the signal and therefore the link rate of the R7000. I set 20 dB of attenuation so that the R7000 throughput wouldn't dominate the other AC devices. All other devices were located within 6 feet of the Archer C3200, outside the test chamber and all received a nice, strong signal.

Like all other AC3200 routers except ASUS' RT-AC3200, the Archer C3200 treats Smart Connect like a black box. The only thing you can do is disable and enable it.

It took some work to track how clients connected to the C3200's three radios because TP-LINK splits the needed information between two screens. NETGEAR still provides the best device connection summary as shown below. Radio, MAC address, device name and IP address are shown in one compact view.

NETGEAR R8000 device connection table

NETGEAR R8000 device connection table

For the C3200, I had to bounce between two screens shown in the composite image below, using MAC addresses to figure out what was connected where. In the end, the information was there, but it was work to extract it!

NETGEAR R8000 device connection table

TP-LINK Archer C3200 Smart Connect client connection tracking

I first disabled Smart Connect and connected all clients to the 5GHz-2 radio set to Channel 153. The IxChariot plot below shows this test yielded 80 Mbps of total throughput from the five clients. Total uplink throughput on this run was 99 Mbps.

Total downlink throughput - All clients on 5GHz-2 radio

Total downlink throughput - All clients on 5GHz-2 radio

Smart Connect was then enabled with a different SSID set so that clients wouldn't just reconnect with their previous SSID. All clients were then associated with the new single SSID. Note the R7000 bridge used as a 3x3 AC client must be assigned to a band, so I chose 5 GHz.

Table 3 shows the devices, type, device descriptions shown in the Client Name column in the table above and Legend panel in the following IxChariot plots and the C3200 radio they initially connected to.

Device Type IxChariot Legend Client Name Connected To
Moto X smartphone 1x1 AC MotoX android-d4c09709-7bf9e7df 2.4 GHz
NETGEAR R7000 in client bridge mode 3x3 AC R7000 bridge Not shown 5 GHz-1
Laptop with NETGEAR A6200 USB adapter 2x2 AC NETGEAR A6200 x220i 5 GHz-1
iPad 2nd gen 1x1 N iPad2 SNB-iPad2 5 GHz-2
iPod Touch 5th gen 1x1 N iPod 5th Gen Tim-Touch-G5 5 GHz-2
Table 3: Smart Connect Test devices

The C3200 was then power-cycled to let the clients reconnect on their own. This test yielded 282 Mbps total throughput running downlink and 235 Mbps total throughput running uplink, gains of 252% and 137%, respectively. Comparing the two plots shows all clients gaining throughput except for the iPad.

Total uplink throughput - First Smart Connect run

Total uplink throughput - First Smart Connect run

For the second test, the router was power cycled and the clients were allowed to connect. After checking connections, I found everything connected to the same radios as in the first run. Test 2 resulted in 268 Mbps total downlink throughput and 232 Mbps total uplink.

For the last test, I moved the iPad and iPod Touch to a hallway table around 20 feet from their previous spot and once again power-cycled the router. The move significantly reduced their signal level to see if Smart Connect would change things up a bit. Nope. Everything once again connected exactly the same as before to yield total throughputs of 273 Mbps downlink, 208 Mbps uplink.

All the results are compiled in Table 4 along with the % change in throughput in each direction compared to the initial run with all clients connected to the 5GHz-2 radio. In all three test runs there was a total throughput gain from Smart Connect in each direction.

  Total Downlink (Mbps) Total Uplink (Mbps) % change downlink % change uplink
Reference 80 99 N/A N/A
Smart Connect Trial 1 282 235 252 137
Smart Connect Trial 2 268 232 235 134
Smart Connect Trial 3 273 208 241 110
Table 4: Smart Connect Test summary

All the IxChariot plots are in the gallery below, so that you can see how individual devices behaved.

So how does the Archer C3200's Smart Connect compare to other AC3200 routers? Table 5 compares the best results from all four products and shows the Archer C3200 with the highest total throughput gain from Smart Connect.

Product Without (Mbps) With (Mbps) % gain
TP-LINK Archer C3200 80 282 252
NETGEAR R8000 83 247 198
Linksys EA9200 86 237 186
ASUS RT-AC3200 138 205 49
D-Link DIR-890L/R 221 322 46
Table 5: Smart Connect Total Throughput gain comparison - downlink

Closing Thoughts

Judging from SNBForums discussions, there's not a lot of love for Broadcom's Smart Connect technology. Many users report constant device disconnects and some devices that won't connect at all with it enabled. So some AC3200 router buyers end up turning Smart Connect off and manually assigning devices to get some benefit from their high-priced purchase.

Some of this isn't Broadcom's fault. Some devices are designed to hold on to their connection come hell or high water and refuse to be moved, even if the new connection has the same SSID, as Smart Connect presents.

So in that light, the Archer C3200's achievement of consistent gains in total throughput in our testing is an impressive achievement. Whether it's luck or good design, I don't know. But the gains were consistent and the devices stayed connected.

That said, most folks looking to step up to an AC router will find better bang for the buck from an AC1900 class router, or AC1200 class if you have only a few wireless devices and/or a smaller space to cover. AC3200 class is primarily for folks with a lot dual-band capable devices in simultaneous use. Think three or four people watching streaming video, with some also downloading a large file or Torrent, while other household members just trying to catch up on Facebook or email.

If this sounds like your house, AC3200 might be for you. But if you want to keep the usual futzing around that comes along with Smart Connect to a minimum, the TP-LINK Archer C3200 could be your best bet.

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