We weren’t impressed with the last Linksys-branded router that passed through Maximum Lab North. The dual-band Linksys E3000 (in reality, a rebadged Linksys WRT610N) delivered humdrum performance and lacked a number of important features we expect to find in a high-end router. The E4200 fares better, but we’re still scratching our heads over some of Linksys’s decisions.
Netgear has developed a bad habit of branding its new routers with two different model numbers. Take the WNDR4000—or is it the N750? Both names are printed on the box, and the router itself is labeled “N750 Wireless Dual Band Gigabit Router WNDR4000.”
We don’t much care what our routers look like, because they’re usually hidden inside a closet (unless we’re benchmarking them). But Asus’s engineers lavished as much attention on the RT-N56U’s skin as they did its guts: This dual-band router is a looker, and it’s also pretty damned fast.
You’ve been getting by with the cheapie router you bought two years ago, so why should you upgrade now? In a word: Performance. And features. Oh, sorry. That’s two words. We looked at a host of budget offerings in our last router roundup (February 2010) and didn’t find much to get excited about. This time, we asked seven manufacturers to send us the best consumer routers in their stables regardless of price tags.
In most cases, that meant a simultaneous dual-band router capable of running 802.11n wireless networks using the typical 2.4GHz frequency band and the less-crowded 5GHz band, plus a guest network that isolates its clients from your primary LAN. In all cases, it meant a router with an integrated four-port gigabit switch and at least one USB port for sharing a printer or a storage device over the network (some have two USB ports to support both functions). In an interesting twist, however, no one submitted a product using a three-stream wireless chipset promising raw throughput of 450Mb/s.
We thought the 1.5x1.25-inch LCD on Trendnet’s TEW-673GRU was pretty cool at first. It informs you of the router’s status, provides real-time performance numbers, displays the time and date, and more. But our enthusiasm wilted when the display became corrupted to the point of being illegible. That’s unfortunate, because there’s a lot else to like about this router.
The TEW-673GRU is a dual-band model with two USB ports to support both a printer and a portable hard drive. It finished second in terms of TCP throughput on the 2.4GHz band (taking third place on the 5GHz band), and it turned in the fastest transfer speeds as a NAS device.
In terms of features, D-Link’s DIR-855 came the closest to matching Netgear’s routerlicious WNDR3700. It’s a simultaneous dual-band model that allows you to run guest networks on either the 2.4- or 5GHz frequencies, it provides a USB port for sharing either a printer or a storage device, it’s equipped with three removable/upgradeable antennas, it sports an OLED display, and its firmware is a tweaker’s paradise.
But the benchmark performance we experienced with the DIR-855’s 2.4GHz radio in no way justifies its astronomically high street price of $240. Netgear’s WNDR3700 V1 spanked the DIR-855 on both frequency bands, has almost as many features, and costs $90 less than D-Link’s router.
The Belkin Play Max’s claim to fame was a fat set of hardware features and a generous collection of apps that ran not on the router but on client PCs connected to the router. In relaunching the Play Max as the Play N600 HD, Belkin has kept all the hardware features but axed three of the apps (the music library tool Daily DJ, the backup utility Memory Safe, and the MP3 tagger Music Labeler).
No big loss, as far as we’re concerned; we’re far more interested in the hardware. Like its predecessor, the Play N600 HD features two wireless radios, so you can operate distinct networks on the 2.4- and 5GHz bands, plus a second guest network (on the 2.4GHz band only) that provides Internet access while isolating visitors from your LAN. You’ll also find two USB ports, so you can share both a mass storage device and a printer across your network (but not with clients on the guest network).
The Asus RT-N16 is a single-band router with three removable (and therefore upgradeable) antennas, but the third antenna didn’t help the router rise above third place overall in terms of TCP throughput. It did, however, do a solid job of penetrating our media room.
The RT-N16 is equipped with two USB ports, so it can support both a portable USB hard drive and a printer. USB storage devices are shared using SMB/CIFS, so the shares appear when you use Windows to browse your network. This is a far superior alternative to forcing you to install a client to access the shares, as some of the other routers do.
We’re long-time fans of Logitech’s Wi-Life security cameras—we’ve used them to remotely monitor Maximum PC Lab North since the home was built in 2007. Now we can’t wait to retire that system and replace it with Logitech’s all-new and vastly superior Alert system.
Logitech wisely carried forward everything we dug about the old Wi-Life product line: The cameras (there are indoor and outdoor models) are equipped with customizable motion sensors, they can be programmed to record video when those sensors are activated, and the software sends alerts via email (or a message to your phone) with video clips attached.
When gamers gather to discuss performance issues, complaints revolve around graphics cards, CPUs, and bloated game code. Not too many gamers will pipe up and say, “Y’know, that integrated NIC on my motherboard is really costing me some frag.”
Bigfoot hopes that will change with the Killer2100. In this third iteration of its Ethernet card for gamers, Bigfoot has focused narrowly on building a card that minimizes lag while maintaining maximum bandwidth.
In our discussions with the folks from Bigfoot, they were frank about their past products, noting that the first Killer NIC painted with too broad a brush. For example, few users took advantage of the Linux kernel on the K1, nor did many use the integrated BitTorrent client. While gaming-PC vendors shipped thousands of cards, hardware reviewers, ourselves included, were unimpressed.