How We Test Wireless Routers

Paul Lilly

Say hello to Maximum PC Lab Midwest

For the past several years, we’ve been testing routers at Maximum PC Lab North , a 2,800-square-foot home located on 10 acres of what was once a dairy farm. The new location is Maximum PC Lab Midwest, a 1,400-square-foot home flanked by houses on either side, a yard extending into a wooded area out back, and a semi-busy road in front. The new location offers a harsher, more real-world testing environment.

We measure the performance of each router in five separate locations starting with the Bedroom in a spot 10 feet away from the router with no obstructions. The next test takes place in the Dining Room 15 feet from the router and separated by two walls, followed by the Entryway with 20 feet and three walls of separation. The final two tests take place outside in the Driveway (35 feet) and Backyard (90 feet) toward the edge of a wooded area.

When possible, each dual-band router is configured to run in 802.11n-only mode on the 2.4GHz channel and 802.11ac-only mode on the 5GHz channel, both with WPA2 encryption and channel bonding. We use the open-source Jperf utility, a GUI front end for Iperf, to measure throughput in each of the five locations. Our Jperf server is an HP Envy Ultrabook with a Core i5 processor wired directly to the router being tested, and the client PC is a Dell Inspiron laptop with a Core i3 processor.

Since the client PC doesn’t support 802.11ac natively, we run the tests with a Linksys USB6300 dual-band USB adapter. We compare the 802.11n scores to our zero-point router, an Asus RT-N66U.

Jperf's wealth of settings aren't just good for benchmarking; you can use the open-source app to troubleshoot your network, too."

Finally, we also test each router’s attached storage performance by plugging in a 32GB Lexar JumpDrive P10 USB 3.0 flash drive. We chose this drive because it’s one of the fastest on the market with up to 265MB/s read and 245MB/s write performance. Once configured, we use a stopwatch to time how long it takes to write a single 3GB file to the flash drive and then again with a 1GB folder containing several smaller files. We repeat both tests to read the large and small files to the hardwired server PC.

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