It might be awhile before there's an officially certified 802.11ac standard, but in the meantime, companies are ready and willing to forge ahead with router models based on draft specifications, just as we saw in the draft 802.11n days. Asus is one of them, having just announced the launch of its RT-AC66U 5G Wi-Fi router with greater than gigabit wireless speeds on the 5GHz band.
San Jose's networking kingpin Cisco is planning to hand out about 1,300 pink slips, which equates to 2 percent of its workforce, as it attempts to cope with a sluggish global economy and flat sales. The latest round of layoffs come just one year after Cisco announced 6,500 job cuts, but reducing jobs is not a cure-all to Cisco's problems, nor is a weak economy the only thing the company has to worry about.
D-Link just dove into 802.11ac territory with the introduction of its new Cloud Router 5700 (DIR-865L). This dual-band device takes advantage of the upcoming 802.11ac standard currently under development, which makes this a draft 802.11ac router. D-Link advertises up to 1750Mbps of throughput, though that's spread across two bands as 1300Mbps (Wireless-AC) and 450Mbps (Wireless-N).
Cool features don’t make up for mediocre performance
D-LINK’S DIR-827 WI-FI router boasts two features that our current favorite router, Netgear’s WNDR4500, lacks: a USB 3.0 port and an SD media card reader. Both products are dual-band models with radios operating on the 2.4- and 5GHz frequency bands, respectively. The DIR-827, however, supports only two simultaneous 150Mb/spatial streams on each band, where the WNDR4500 supports three.
D-Link positions the DIR-827 as a media router, optimized for streaming audio and video and delivering exceptional performance for online gaming. It’s the big brother to the single-band DIR-657 we reviewed in the December 2011 issue. Like that model, this one is fully DLNA compliant and features Ubicom’s excellent quality-of-service engine that assigns higher priority to data packets associated with those types of apps.
We expected the DIR-827 to be slower than Netgear’s best because it’s outfitted with only a 2x2 antenna array (two transmit and two receive), whereas the WNDR4500 boasts a 3x3 array. And while the WNDR4500 costs $30 more than the DIR-827, we didn’t expect D-Link’s router to be more than 50 percent slower in most of our test locations (although the DIR-827 did beat the WNDR4500 when the client was in close proximity).
Aside from loading alternative firmware (DD-WRT or Tomato, for instance), the easiest way to upgrade a router’s performance is to replace its antennas. That’s impossible with most of the routers we see these days, because manufacturers are using either nonremovable antennas or they’re putting the antennas inside the enclosure. So we were intrigued to see that EnGenius put upgradeable antennas on its extremely inexpensive ESR300H; this router boasts a street price of less than $45.
As you’ve probably guessed, you’ll give up more than a few features in exchange for that low price tag. This is a single-band router with only a 2.4GHz radio, so we wouldn’t recommend it for deployment in an environment crowded with other wireless routers operating on the same frequency band. The ESR300H also lacks a USB port, so you won’t be able to share a printer or storage device over the network. But the feature you’ll miss the most is a gigabit Ethernet switch—the switch on this router is limited to 100Mb/s. If you move a lot of large files around your network using wired connections, you’ll find this router to be agonizingly slow.
The networking gurus at ZyXEL Communications have home entertainment on the brain and announced a pair of five-port and eight-port gigabit switches specifically for that task. The new Aerobeam AVS105 and AVS108 switches automagically prioritize multimedia streams so if you're a Hulu or Netflix junkie, you can be assured of the best possible performance and quality, ZyXEL says.
Now that we've all been spoiled by the 802.11n WLAN standard, a standard that underwent significant growing pains to get to this point (remember all those Draft-n devices?), it's time to start looking ahead to 802.11ac. How far ahead has yet to be determined, but if you ask Broadcom, the company will tell you it could become mainstream by the second quarter of 2013.
The market for routers is pretty well established at this point, but that isn’t stopping companies from trying to build in new features to get you to upgrade. D-Link’s newly announced offerings are looking to connect you in a variety of ways, and at a variety of price points. The company is offering up a low-cost cloud router, a pricey media-enabled option, and more networking goodies.
Trendnet has built up a portfolio of more Powerline Adapters than you can shake a snow globe at, and the networking company almost let 2011 close without one more release. Almost. With just over a week to go before the calendar flips to 2012, Trendnet launched a new compact Powerline AV Adapter, model TPL-306E, that replaces and is about 30 percent smaller than the older TPL-303E series.
Trying to stream HD video into your living room or man cave can test the boundaries of your wireless home network and introduce unwanted lag or ugly jitter. That's a bummer, but if you're having trouble connecting multiple media center devices to your high-speed network, TRENDnet's new TEW-680MB media bridge might be the no-fuss solution you're looking for.