Trendnet can legitimately claim bragging rights for being the first company to bring a three-stream IEEE 802.11n router to market. Unfortunately, our first impressions of the TEW-691GR are not all that positive. While we never expected this router to deliver actual throughput of 450Mb/s (just as we never expect the far more common two-stream routers to deliver actual throughput of 300Mb/s), its sparse feature set and bipolar real-world performance left us unimpressed.
As you'll see from the benchmark charts, the TEW-691GR proved to be very fast, but only when our wireless client was in relatively close proximity. Trendnet recommends reviewers use a notebook equipped with Intel’s integrated Intel WiFi Link 5300 adapter, because you can’t buy a three-stream USB Wi-Fi adapter today. But since we can’t expect readers to buy a notebook based solely on which wireless network adapter is inside, we elected to stick with the TEW-664UB USB adapter that Trendnet provided.
Could any component in a router’s BOM (bill of materials) cost less than an LED? Don’t think so. So why the heck did Belkin design its Play Max wireless router to use a single LED to inform you of its operating status?
Granted, the Play Max’s street price is $20 to $30 cheaper than many other concurrent dual-band wireless routers, and there might even be a lot of folks who don’t pay much attention to details like the status of their router’s ports or whether or not both of the router’s radios are operating. We do though, and a single LED that glows green when the router has an Internet connection and amber if something is amiss doesn’t cut it.
Lantronix’s SecureLinx SpiderDuo KVM switch is a lot like a crappy IMAX movie on opening day: You pay a premium for the ticket, wait in line for hours, acquire a less-than-stellar seat in the second row, for what? A lame piece of cinema with a ton of window-dressing.
The SecureLinx SpiderDuo looks to be a perfect fit for a corporate environment—it’s setup process is certainly not ready for prime time in the consumer market. You connect the device to a business-grade PC using a provided serial-to-Ethernet cable for initial configuration, during which you can tweak all sorts of network settings based on your internal LAN setup.
As we mentioned earlier, the Linksys E3000 is actually a rebadged WRT610N. We’re taking a second look at it now because it remains Cisco’s best consumer router; as such, we owe it to our readers to compare it to the best of what the rest of the industry has to offer.
We updated the router with the latest firmware for this review and downloaded fresh drivers for the Linksys AE1000 dual-band USB client adapter, so we were quite surprised to see the router perform more poorly than it did when we tested it several months ago. Cisco Connect remains the easiest tool we’ve ever used to establish a connection to a router, but Cisco’s “fix” for a problem we described in our initial review has rendered the router a whole lot less appealing.
TrendNet might pigeonhole its TEW-647GA Wireless N Gaming Adapter as a gaming-console peripheral, but we think it’s much more useful than that. The tiny device is capable of linking any hard-wired Ethernet device—be it an Xbox, a PC, or a Blu-ray player—to an 802.11b/g/n wireless network for a street price less than $50.
Granted, Microsoft’s own Xbox 360 Wireless N Networking Adapter is smaller still (and draws its power from the Xbox 360’s USB port), but that device is nearly twice as expensive and it doesn’t support anything other than the Xbox 360. The TEW-647GA is a lot prettier to look at, too, with its dual antennas stealthily concealed inside its black plastic housing.
Geeks like us invariably get sucked into providing tech support for less tech-savvy friends and family. You know the drill: “Hey, Mike. I just bought this new [insert tech product], but [insert problem]. Can you help me?” Fortunately, there’s a burgeoning class of tech products designed not for us geeks, but for geeks like us to recommend to friends and family. Cisco's’ new line of Valet Wireless Hotspots fits neatly in that category.
Mvix USA builds an extensive line of home-theater PCs, so when we saw the massive antenna on its Solido USB Wi-Fi adapter, we assumed it would outperform any adapter we’ve tested in Maximum PC Lab North’s media room. As it turned out, performance only equaled the best. Where this device excels is at range.
If you’re looking for an adapter to stream media from the 5GHz radio on your dual-band router, you can quit reading now because the Solido operates on the more common 2.4GHz band only. It is, however, compatible with 802.11b, g, and n routers. If your client PC is located in an entertainment center, you’ll want to be aware that the Solido’s antenna is 6.7 inches tall; but if you’re doing that, you’ve probably left plenty of vertical space for ventilation anyway.
It wasn’t much of a contest: Netgear’s WNDR3700 V1 retained its crown as our Best of the Best router with spectacular TCP through-put, a strong feature set, and an even stronger price/performance ratio. It’s the second-most expensive router we tested, but it’s worth every penny.
The WNDR3700’s 2.4GHz radio delivered the best performance at every client location except one (where it placed second), and its 5GHz radio finished first in six of our seven locations. D-Link’s DIR-855 firmware is more customizable, but Netgear’s router offers several important features D-Link can’t match, including a DLNA-compliant media server, the ability to configure either radio as a wireless bridge/repeater, and NAS functionality that doesn’t require a client-side utility.
Of the three routers we’re taking second looks at, none has changed more than Buffalo’s WZR-HP-G300NH. That’s because Buffalo has thrown the firmware we tested earlier out the window and adopted the open-source DD-WRT.
Comparing our earlier benchmark numbers to the performance we recorded this time out, however, we much prefer the Kick Ass award–earning router we tested in January to the one in front of us now. That router turned in the best throughput we’ve ever seen with our client in our well-insulated media room and in our furthest outdoor location; this one took fifth-place finishes in both tests (in a field of seven). We have little doubt the reason for this performance discrepancy is due to the fact that no matter how we configured the router, we couldn’t coax Buffalo’s WLI-UC-G300HP01B USB client adapter to connect to it at a stated data rate faster than 130Mb/s.
In our last router roundup, way back in November 2007, we wrote, “We’re months away from a final IEEE 802.11n standard.” We never imagined that months would stretch into nearly two years before that standards body would finally finish ironing out all the details. But now that the spec has been ratified, 802.11n routers abound—and their prices have dropped dramatically.
Back then, the average price of the 802.11n Draft 2.0 routers that we reviewed—all of which had single-band radios—was $130. The average street price of the six single-band 802.11n routers in this batch has dropped to less than half that. The even better news is that the cheapest router in this roundup also delivered the best real-world performance.
You’ll want to consider features as well as benchmark numbers, of course. If you have complex routing requirements, you’ll want a model with tweaker-friendly firmware. And if you rely on VoIP for telephone service, play online games, or stream video over your wireless network while downloading files using BitTorrent, you’ll want a router with robust quality-of-service features. One of the models we tested allows you to share a printer over your network; another boasts advanced parental-control features.
And then there’s the certification issue to consider: Each of the routers in this roundup implements features of the IEEE 802.11n standard, but not all of them carry the Wi-Fi Alliance’s 802.11n certification logo. We’ll go into more detail about this in our buyers guide.
Read on for our full review of six of the latest mainstream 802.11n routers on the market.