Rockspace AC2100 hands-on: Slightly outdated, but still an excellent router for the average user
Over the years, I often found myself helping some relative, neighbor, or friend setting up a new router. In most cases, I tried to explain to them about tweaking the settings, but I also advocated the use of alternative firmware like DD-WRT or OpenWrt. Unsurprisingly, I failed almost every time and the reason is obvious: the average user just wants something that works out of the box and can be managed as easily as possible. If there's no need for management, that's even better.
I won't give other names now, but I will say that today's topic, namely the Rockspace AC2100, is the router with the easiest installation procedure that I ever had the chance to work with. As you can imagine, I am not comparing this wireless router to some niche products aimed at networking specialists and hardcore users. Since I always enjoyed discovering underdogs that can beat a bunch of mainstream brands with at least two decades of experience, it was both a pleasure and a challenge to have this networking accessory under my scope.
Today, we will take a look at the Rockspace AC2100 and see how well it performs, how it can be managed, and what brings to the table when compared to other wireless routers within the same price range, and a few other details.
Box contents, design, build quality
Hardware-wise, everything you need to get started is in the box. However, if you ordered a UK or US unit and you live in a country with different power sockets, you might need an adapter or you could just use a compatible power supply. The retail package looks good and all the technical details are mentioned on it, although I wasn't able to find anything (except the fact that a dual-core processor is involved) about the chipset on the box or in the Quick Installation Guide. This is a piece of information that's irrelevant for most home users, so I don't consider it an issue.
Alongside the router and the Quick Installation Guide mentioned above, the retail box also includes a power adapter (see the details in the image above) and a slim Ethernet cable.
The router is entirely black and its top cover looks like a LEGO-compatible baseplate. Some might love it, some might hate it, and most will not notice it for most of the time. While I like the rather original design approach, I think that having a top cover that is not flat makes it harder to wipe off dust. Since there are plenty of routers with non-flat top covers, I don't see any problem here.
The four antennas might feel flimsy to some users, but I think they're all right, at least as long as the user doesn't try to adjust their angle too much (a 90-degree angle or less, which can be a bit awkward when mounting the Rockspace AC1200 on a wall).
Before moving on, I must add that the build quality of the router itself is excellent. All the materials used look and feel great, and even the packaging uses materials in line with the retail boxes of the big brands in this market.
Specs, features, real-life usage
The essential specs mentioned on the retail box (the fact that a router has LED indicators is far from important in my book so I'll skip it, alongside a few others):
- 1 WAN and 4 LAN Gigabit ports, as well as one USB 2.0 for file sharing.
- 4 6 dBi omnidirectional antennas.
- Up to 2033 Mbps dual-band WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac: 2.4 GHz up to 300 Mbps, and 5 GHz up to 1733 Mbps with 4X4 MU-MIMO for better signal coverage.
- WPA/WPA2-PSK security, with WPA3 sadly not available.
- IPv6 support.
Some of the specs and features might not say much, and many routers claim to offer IPv6 support, for example. Sadly, while more and more network providers claim to have IPv6 connectivity up and running, only a few routers manage to use it properly. Fortunately, this is not the case with the Rockspace AC2100 and, for me, this is an essential positive attribute.
While I performed various connectivity tests, the results are subjective, depending a lot on my local network configuration. However, there are a few key facts that I must highlight before moving on:
- Compared to my previous router, which can deliver up to 450 Mbps output on a single 2.4 GHz band, wall penetration of the signal produced by Rockspace AC2100 is impressive. Two concrete walls away, for example, my previous router wasn't able to deliver usable WiFi connectivity. The AC2100 manages to deliver steady connections at over 40 Mbps.
- When connected to the AC2100 via my phone, I was able to get both up and down speeds of over 500 Mbps.
- In most cases, the AC2100 delivers internet connectivity to two PCs via LAN cables and at least 4 or 5 wireless devices without breaking a sweat (Gigabit connection, real maximum speed goes above 800 Mbps, while the theoretical limit of my subscription is 940 Mbps down and 450 Mbps up).
The entire setup process was very easy, as you can see in the movie embedded at the end of this article. Adjusting the settings as needed was also a very simple job, as we will discuss in the next section.
When it comes to managing routers, my previous experiences have managed to teach me one thing: If it works, don't fix it! While the Rockspace AC2100 doesn't support any alternative firmware, the official software environment looks great and provides more than enough for the average home user. In addition to the excellent administrative panel accessible via any web browser, Rockspace AC2100 users can also take advantage of the RS WiFi app for Android, which is available for iOS as well.
While I could go on for quite a while talking about the settings available in the mobile app, I will only say that this app is the best of its kind that I have seen so far. If you think otherwise, please let me know in the comments section and I will do my best to look for the router you will mention. However, I must say once again that I love being able to turn off the router's LEDs. For one of my previous routers, which belonged to a big brand, I had to flash OpenWRT and then spend some time researching until I was finally able to turn off all the LEDs, so this is one of those things that shouldn't be taken for granted.
The images below should give you a better idea of what to expect from the Rockspace AC2100 regarding the settings available.
The good, the bad, and the truth
At US$79.99, the Rockspace AC2100 is not the cheapest dual-band wireless router on the market, and some might consider that the lack of WiFi 6 connectivity and WPA3 support cannot be compensated by anything. However, I think that the ease of installation and management, combined with the good speed and coverage area can make up for those drawbacks, at least for the time being.
While I cannot complain about the two possible issues mentioned above, I think that the antennas could be replaced with better ones capable of offering an improved range of adjustment and, maybe, a bit sturdier as well. I would also love to see this router providing support for DD-WRT or OpenWRT, if not both.
If you can live without WPA3 and WiFi 6 (I know I can, at least for now), then you should take the Rockspace AC2100 for a spin. Otherwise, you might want to shell out US$20 more and go for the Rockspace AX1800, which has them both in the list of features (and no LEGO-lookalike baseplate on top, if that design choice doesn't matches your preferences).
Disclaimer: The author of this review received the Rockspace AC2100 wireless router from Rockspace free of charge for the purpose of testing.