Router Wrangling: 3 Of the Hottest New Devices Reviewed

Michael Brown

Different tools for different tasks

Looking to replace your aging wireless router? We benchmarked three brand-new models at Maximum PC Lab North, but each one is so different from the others that this shouldn’t be considered a three-way comparison. Belkin’s N750 DB is a dual-band model promising throughput of 300Mb/s on its 2.4GHz radio and 450Mb/s on its 5GHz radio, while D-Link’s DIR-657 is a more conventional single-band (2.4GHz) model claiming throughput of 300Mb/s. And Trendnet’s EW-692GR is the first dual-band router to deliver three 150Mb/s spatial streams (450Mb/s in aggregate) on both its 2.4- and 5GHz radios.

Belkin N750 DB

Belkin’s N750 DB offers a better-than-average feature set, but the router’s performance is a mixed bag. At most of our test stations, it delivered very good performance from its 5GHz radio but mediocre throughput from its 2.4GHz radio. Belkin arrives at the N750 model number by adding the 300Mb/s theoretical throughput on its 2.4GHz radio to the 450Mb/s theoretical throughput of its 5GHz radio. This is nonsense, of course, because you can’t bond the two together to achieve throughput that even approaches 750Mb/s.

The features include dual USB 2.0 ports to enable network sharing of both a printer and attached storage (drives can be formatted with either FAT16/32 or NTFS). Belkin provides software that will automatically back up the hard drives on attached clients. The N750 DB supports a guest network, too, which gives you the power to share your broadband connection while barring guests from accessing other computers or storage on your network. The guest network, however, operates on only the 2.4GHz band.


Prefer to lay your router flat? Too bad! The base on Belkin's N750 DB is permanently attached.

Belkin describes its Video Mover feature as an app that enables you to “play videos from your library on your TV—wirelessly—through devices like… a DLNA-compliant Blu-ray player,” but the N750 DB itself is not DLNA certified, and the router is very light in terms of quality-of-service features. There are no provisions for shaping network traffic to assign audio and video streams higher priority than a torrent, for example. And while it does have a UPnP server, none of the server’s features are exposed to the end user for tweaking.

Belkin ships the N750 DB with channel bonding disabled on its 2.4GHz radio to eliminate the chance it might stomp on your neighbor’s wireless network. Since we don’t have any neighbors, we turned it on for our tests. Channel bonding is enabled on the 5GHz radio, which operates on a much less crowded frequency (actually, Belkin doesn’t give you a choice in the matter).

The N750 DB would be a much better value if it delivered faster performance on the 2.4GHz frequency band. As it stands, it’s a good choice for inexperienced users with simpler needs, or if you just need a router that can share a printer and network storage. Advanced users will want something that delivers faster throughput and more freedom to tweak.

Belkin N750 DB
$100 (street)

www.belkin.com
Benchmarks: Belkin N750 DB

2.4GHz Band
5GHz Band
Belkin N750 DB Netgear WNDR3700 Belkin N750 DB Netgear WNDR3700
Bedroom, 10 feet (Mb/s)
76
101* 135* 109
Kitchen, 20 feet (Mb/s)
46.3
85.8* 100 103*
Patio, 38 feet (Mb/s)
61 67*
61.4 65.9*
Home Theater, 35 feet (Mb/s) 41.2* 38.2 0.6 6.4*
Outdoors, 85 feet (Mb/s) 7.3* 4.2 N/C 5.3*

Asterisk (*) denotes best score. TCP throughput measure using JPerf.N/C indicates no connection at that location. Additional benchmarking methodology can be found here .

D-Link DIR-657

D-Link markets this single-band (2.4GHz) router as particularly well suited for gaming and media streaming, and it is endowed with very good quality-of-service features, but QoS can’t magically render the 2.4GHz frequency band any less crowded. And given our relatively pristine test environment, the best word to describe the DIR-657’s range and TCP throughput is pathetic.

While we realize that our room-within-a-room home theater presents a significant challenge to most 5GHz routers, the 2.4GHz DIR-657 could barely send music streams there wirelessly; streaming video to our TV was a nonstarter. The router couldn’t connect to the client located in our second outdoor test location at all—it’s been a long time since we experienced that problem with a router operating on the 2.4GHz frequency band.


D-Link's DIR-657 is pretty enough, but its performance leaves us cold.

D-Link’s DIR-657 is certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance, too (as is Belkin’s N750 DB), so the D-Link (and the Belkin) ships with channel bonding disabled. We turned it on for our tests—and then triple-checked it to make sure it was actually on, because the numbers we got were so low: just 48Mb/s with the client sitting a mere 10 feet from the router. Performance curiously jumped by more than 20Mb/s when we moved the client to the kitchen, doubling the distance and putting a wall in between the router and client, but it went off a cliff—to just 11Mb/s—when we moved the client out to the patio.

D-Link deserves credit for going to the trouble and expense of obtaining DLNA certification. This interoperability standard has proliferated throughout the consumer electronics industry during the past couple of years, providing confidence that your computers, TVs, media streamers, and other networked devices will play nice together. The DIR-657 is also outfitted with a USB slot for sharing mass storage devices on your network, and it has an SD Card slot to make it easy to transfer your digital photos, movies, and music to other devices on your network. The aforementioned quality-of-service features come courtesy of Ubicom, which has long delivered the best automatic QoS tools in the industry. If you want to tweak these settings on your own, D-Link provides 10 sets of controls for doing so.

Perhaps a firmware update will change our opinion of the DIR-657, but we can’t recommend this product in its current state.

D-Link DIR-657
$100 (street)

www.dlink.com
Benchmarks: D-Link DIR-657

2.4GHz Band
D-Link DIR-657 Netgear WNDR3700
Bedroom, 10 feet (Mb/s)
48
101*
Kitchen, 20 feet (Mb/s)
69
85.8*
Patio, 38 feet (Mb/s)
11 67*
Home Theater, 35 feet (Mb/s) 1.9 38.2*
Outdoors, 85 feet (Mb/s) 0.1 4.2*

Asterisk (*) denotes best score. TCP throughput measure using JPerf.N/C indicates no connection at that location. Additional benchmarking methodology can be found here .

Trendnet TEW-692GR

Trendnet was first‑to‑market with a dual-band USB adapter capable of supporting three 150Mb/s spatial streams on both the 2.4- and 5GHz frequency bands, and now it’s first‑to‑market with a router that does the same.

If you’re just looking for a fast wireless router, the TEW-692GR is a good choice and it’s priced right, too. But if you want a speedy wireless router that boasts all the latest bells and whistles, keep looking: This one doesn’t have a USB port, it provides very little in the way of quality-of-service tweakage, and we don’t like the way Trendnet implements guest networks.


If you're willing to give up a few features, Trendnet's TEW-692GR delivers plenty of speed.

Actually, the missing USB port doesn’t bother us all that much. If you want storage attached to your network, a NAS box or a home-brew rig running Windows Home Server are vastly superior alternatives to plugging a USB drive into your router. And if you need to share a printer on your network, networked inkjets are incredibly cheap these days.

Some of the other missing features are more serious: The router has the typical UPnP server, for instance, but it doesn’t come with the peace of mind that DLNA certification provides. And while you can set up multiple guest networks by establishing up to three additional SSIDs on each band (assigning them separate logins and passwords, or leaving them open, if that’s how you swing), but Trendnet doesn’t provide any means of restricting guests to Internet access—leaving your network somewhat insecure.

Aside from a stunted feature list, it’s hard to argue with this router’s wireless performance. At the time of our review, the TEW-692GR was street-priced just $5 more than our current favorite, Netgear’s WNDR-3700, and it was considerably faster on both frequency bands—at least at close range. Netgear’s product boasts many more features, however, and it delivers slightly better range.

Trendnet TEW-692GR
$135 (street)

www.trendnet.com
Benchmarks: Trendnet TEW-692GR

2.4GHz Band
5GHz Band
Trendnet TEW-692GR Netgear WNDR3700 Trendnet TEW-692GR Netgear WNDR3700
Bedroom, 10 feet (Mb/s)
121*
101 141* 109
Kitchen, 20 feet (Mb/s)
99.4*
85.8 103 103
Patio, 38 feet (Mb/s)
55.1 67*
53 65.9*
Home Theater, 35 feet (Mb/s) 31.9 38.2* 4.9 6.4*

Asterisk (*) denotes best score. TCP throughput measure using JPerf.N/C indicates no connection at that location. Additional benchmarking methodology can be found here .

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