Trendnet’s TEW-652BRP looked promising in our first benchmark test, with the client in the kitchen and closest to the router. Achieving TCP throughput of 68.4Mb/s put it in third place behind Belkin’s N Wireless and D-Link’s DIR-615. Performance went downhill from there, with the TEW-652BRP placing fifth, fourth, and last in our patio, bedroom, and media room locations, respectively. It couldn’t maintain a connection to the client at all in our most distant outdoor tests.
Feature-wise, the TEW-652BRP is about as basic as they come. You can establish routing rules for special applications, such as games, but QoS features are limited to the minimum required to achieve Wi-Fi Alliance certification.
Unlike the Linksys WRT120N, Netgear’s WNR2000 does carry the Wi-Fi Alliance’s 802.11n certification, but that logo didn’t help this router perform any better in our benchmark tests. On the other hand, this was one of the few routers able to maintain a usable connection in both of our long-range outdoor tests.
Netgear’s router was barely faster than the Linksys at close range, delivering anemic TCP throughput of just 47.1Mb/s, compared to the WRT120N’s equally paltry 45.4Mb/s. But the WNR2000 was slower than the rest of the field with the client on the patio (TCP throughput of 14.7Mb/s), and its performance dropped to the single digits when the client was located in the bedroom and in the media room (5.1- and 5.0Mb/s, respectively). We wouldn’t recommend this product to anyone interested in wireless media streaming unless the client is very close to the router.
We hope Linksys’s marketing effort with the WRT120N won’t blossom into an industry trend, but we know it will. Linksys advertises this router with the tagline “Step up to the speed of Wireless-N!” Read the data sheet, however, and you’ll find this: “Complies with IEEE 802.3u, 802.11g, and 802.11b standards, and [is] compatible with some 802.11n features” (emphasis ours). The 802.11n standard has achieved sufficient brand recognition that many consumers won’t look past the N in the product’s name, and they’ll fail to notice that the Wi-Fi Alliance certification logo on the WRT120N’s box extends only to 802.11b/g.
Yep, this is a single-stream router, and the benchmark numbers reflect that design: The WRT120N achieved less than half the throughput of our zero-point router, Trendnet’s TEW-639GR, in our kitchen, bedroom, and patio tests. It did beat the snot out of Trendnet’s other router, the TEW-652BRP (reviewed on the next page), but the Trendnet’s street price is nearly half that of the WRT120N.
D-Link’s DIR-615 carries a $70 list price, but most of the retailers we checked were selling it for around $40 when we wrote this feature. At that price, this router is an absolute steal.
The DIR-615 was slower than our zero-point, Trendnet’s TEW-639GR, in four of our six test locations, but it and the Belkin N Wireless were the only models in this group fast enough to wirelessly stream high-definition video to our media room. And unlike most of the rest of the field, it had no problem delivering usable bandwidth to the client in both of our long-range outdoor test locations. Taking the zero-point out of the equation, Belkin’s N Wireless router was faster at the two locations where the client is closest to the router, but the DIR-615 was faster than everything everywhere else.
Router manufacturers have a bad habit of assigning the same names to several different products, or completely changing a router’s underlying architecture and changing only the version number. Belkin has two routers it calls N Wireless (and a third called the N+ Wireless). For the record, we reviewed its model F5D8236-4.
The N Wireless is very short on features, but it turned in first- or second-place performances at four of our six test locations. It delivered TCP throughput of 76.2Mb/s with the client in the kitchen, 38.1Mb/s on the outdoor patio, and 20.3Mb/s in the double-walled media room. (Its throughput in the media room was two to five times faster than everything other than the D-Link DIR-615). Once we moved the client to our more distant outdoor locations, however, the router and client couldn’t maintain a connection at all.
Asus isn’t a huge player in the router market, but the company has come up with a few noteworthy models in the past few years. We’d happily count the RT-N13U as one of them if it delivered reasonable throughput or decent range.
This was the only router we tested that was capable of sharing a USB printer, and while Asus claims it can support multifunction devices, it guarantees compatibility only with the ones the company has tested. We plugged in an Epson Stylus NX515 and could print documents, but we couldn’t get the scanner function to work. (You’ll find a list of supported printers here). The RT-N13U was also the only router we tested that was capable of hosting a USB hard drive, but the router permits only FTP access to that storage.
Trendnet’s TEW-639GR 802.11n router is an ugly duckling that will never grow into a beautiful swan. It also just happens to be the fastest router we’ve tested in some time. It performs well at range, includes a Gigabit Ethernet switch, and with an $80 street price, it’s cheap, too!
The three external antennae aren’t to blame for this router’s homeliness—in fact, we welcome that design choice if it accounts for the router’s excellent performance. Rather, it’s the ultra-cheap plastic shell and the glowing indicator light that screams “wireless router!” like the vacancy sign at a no-tell motel that make this device look so cheesy.
Before we dive into a discussion of what this router can do, let’s cover any limitations that might be deal-breakers for you. This is a single-band router that operates on the 2.4GHz frequency band only, so if your air space is crowded with other people’s APs or you’re looking for a router to pair with your dual-band media streamer, look elsewhere. Likewise if you’re using a VoIP device, since the router’s quality-of-service features are limited to enabling Wi-Fi Multimedia. Lastly, Trendnet didn’t outfit the TEW-639GR with a USB port, so you can’t set it up to function as network attached storage or use it to share a printer over your network.
When you’re ready to step up to the world of cellular broadband connections, there are lots of options. The removable PC Card, USB, and ExpressCard modems deliver great performance and work with pretty much any PC, but they’ll connect only one machine at a time to the Internet—that is, unless you can successfully set up connection sharing in Windows. And while we love the always-on nature of modems integrated in notebooks, their permanent association to a single machine makes the external cards seem positively promiscuous by comparison. Enter the MiFi 2200.
Inside this tiny device—it’s about the same size as a stack of six credit cards—is not only a 3G wireless modem, but also a Wi-Fi access point and a battery to power the whole thing. That’s right, the MiFi 2200 lets you and four of your closest pals connect to the Internet anywhere there’s a 3G cell signal. We tested the MiFi with two computers and a Wi-Fi-enabled phone and were pleased with the results. The battery-powered MiFi seems designed to work with PCs that are no more than 10 feet away. While we had signal further out in some test environments, we found it worked best up close.
Don’t be fooled by the Vantec ezShare’s unassuming looks. This simple six-foot white cable with its Type A USB plugs on either end is actually one of the easiest ways to quickly moves files between two computers. Just plug one end into an available USB port on a box running Windows (XP and up), and plug the other end into the second box.
A Windows Explorer–like app will auto-launch on each machine, letting you drag and drop folders and files between the two PCs. If this sounds an awful lot like Data Drive Thru’s Tornado (reviewed November 2007), that’s because the two products are pretty similar. The file-explorer UI and software functionality of both products are virtually the same. It’s close enough that we have a pretty strong suspicion that the underlying chipsets and software come from the same factory in China. There are a few key differences, though.
D-Link’s DIR-685 Wi-Fi router generated a lot of buzz at CES this past January. And when we took a gander at its spec sheet, we thought it a contender for Best of the Best in the router category; something that would finally displace the Linksys WRT600N, which is becoming hard to find. Alas, ’twas not to be.
The problem certainly isn’t with the DIR-685’s feature set: This router is absolutely loaded with goodies. The 3.2-inch color LCD can inform you of the router’s status and configuration; present digital photos from Flickr, Picasa, and Facebook; display RSS feeds, such as sports scores, weather reports, and stock quotes; and a lot more (this is one router your significant other won’t insist be hidden in a closet).
Next up, there’s a 2.5-inch internal SATA hard drive bay, which can turn the router into a NAS box (complemented by a built-in FTP server and BitTorrent software). There are two USB ports featuring D-Link’s SharePort technology, which allows you to plug in both an external hard drive and a printer and share these devices with any computer on the network. The router’s four-port gigabit switch automatically powers down any ports not in use to save a modest amount of energy.