Routers are a dime a dozen these days, and potential shoppers are bombarded with literally hundreds of nearly identical options. How then are you supposed to narrow the field? Well if range is the most important consideration, and you don’t have any issues with bizarrely phallic objects, then the RT-N12HP router from Asus just might be worth your consideration.
In case you’re wondering why we’re reviewing an 802.11n router when the first 802.11ac routers have already reached the market, we have several reasons. First and foremost, the latter didn’t make it to the Lab in time for our print deadline. Secondly, the IEEE isn’t expected to formally ratify the 802.11ac standard until early 2013. The 802.11ac routers on the market today are based on Draft 2.0 of the standard, so there’s a remote chance they could be rendered obsolete when the standard is finalized.
Yes, there are 802.11ac routers on the market, but they’re based on Draft 2.0 of the standard, and the Wi-Fi Alliance did not have a certification program in place at press time.
Is there anything more frustrating than dealing with a wireless dead zone in your home or office building? Sure there are, but no matter how it compares to other unfortunate events, dealing with weak Wi-Fi signals can be a maddening affair. Amped Wireless set about solving this problem with its new AP20000G dual-band Wi-Fi access point. According to Amped Wireless, this high power device will extend the range of your Wi-Fi coverage by up to 7,500 square feet.
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.
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).
Cisco faced a bit of consumer backlash last week when it pushed out a Firmware update that not only took away much of the advanced control users have come to expect, but actually forced them to agree to a list of anti-porn and anti-piracy clauses. Anyone with automatic updates turned on woke up Thursday to find not only could they not access their router locally, they needed to sign in through Cisco Cloud connect just to access the basics. Cisco has since backpedaled on the incident, and is in full on damage control with a new blog post.
Hard drive maker Western Digital is branching out into the realm of wireless home networking products with the launch of its My Net family of dual-band routers. It's a logical extension for WD, which makes and sells a series of WD TV media player devices capable of tapping into home networks, though the router market is perhaps an even more crowded segment. WD's focus is on ease-of-use, and the company is also debuting its FasTrack technology that instantly sniffs out and detects entertainment traffic, which it then fast forwards to game consoles, media players, smart TVs, and other Internet connected devices.
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 original Linksys E4200 (you can read our review at goo.gl/TEfmG) delivered two 150Mb/s spatial streams on its 2.4GHz radio and three 150Mb/s spatial streams on its 5GHz radio (for theoretical throughput of 300- and 450Mb/s, respectively). This updated model features a new chipset that delivers theoretical throughput of 450Mb/s on both its radios.
So all the changes are under the hood—the enclosure’s industrial design is identical, and that includes the lid that prevents us from plugging hooded Ethernet cables into the four-port gigabit Ethernet switch. We didn’t encounter any problems getting the router to power up a 2.5-inch USB hard drive this time, but it could be because we switched to a newer 500GB drive (we had been using a Verbatim Clōn; we’re now using a Western Digital My Passport Essential). There’s a UPnP media server onboard, but the router is not DLNA certified. If network-attached storage isn’t important to you, the USB port can be used to share a printer instead.