In our last router roundup, way back in November 2007, we wrote, “We’re months away from a final IEEE 802.11n standard.” We never imagined that months would stretch into nearly two years before that standards body would finally finish ironing out all the details. But now that the spec has been ratified, 802.11n routers abound—and their prices have dropped dramatically.
Back then, the average price of the 802.11n Draft 2.0 routers that we reviewed—all of which had single-band radios—was $130. The average street price of the six single-band 802.11n routers in this batch has dropped to less than half that. The even better news is that the cheapest router in this roundup also delivered the best real-world performance.
You’ll want to consider features as well as benchmark numbers, of course. If you have complex routing requirements, you’ll want a model with tweaker-friendly firmware. And if you rely on VoIP for telephone service, play online games, or stream video over your wireless network while downloading files using BitTorrent, you’ll want a router with robust quality-of-service features. One of the models we tested allows you to share a printer over your network; another boasts advanced parental-control features.
And then there’s the certification issue to consider: Each of the routers in this roundup implements features of the IEEE 802.11n standard, but not all of them carry the Wi-Fi Alliance’s 802.11n certification logo. We’ll go into more detail about this in our buyers guide.
Read on for our full review of six of the latest mainstream 802.11n routers on the market.
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.
Home broadband routers are remarkably complex devices that few ever take the time to truly understand. As long as the lights are blinking, and webpages load, most people are inclined to leave them be. The few brave souls who venture into the firmware are often rewarded with a maze of menus that betray the true complexity of these underappreciated appliances. Wireless channels, security modes, and even port forwarding can be frustrating concepts for those without a networking background, but are absolutely critical to understanding how to optimize your home network.
In this guide we will teach you the finer points of security, as well as give you surefire ways to boost your router's performance. Topics covered include:
How to Safely Secure and Isolate a Network
How to Maximize Your Route's Broadcast Strength
How to Make Your Router Play Nice with Skype and BitTorrent
Third-party router software has been around for a while, but we can’t help but keep recommending it to users who want to add undocumented features to their home network. Our favorite router firmware package is still Tomato, which we favor for its compatibility with a wide range of router brands and models, user-friendly interface, and powerful feature set. We’ll show you how to upgrade your router’s firmware to the newest version of Tomato and then configure the Quality of Service settings to manage your network traffic.
Going green is something that just about everyone is worrying about these days, and NETGEAR is no exception. Having recently announced a new line of Wireless-N routers with the Prius driving consumer in mind, they’ve finally thrown their hat into the eco-friendly ring.
NETGEAR’s new routers will be shipping in packaging that has been made from at least 80% recycled materials, as well as boasting a fancy new on/off switch that will allow users to save energy when the network isn’t in use. There’s also a separate on/off switch that will allow users to turn off only the router’s wireless component.
The inside of the routers will be getting quite a makeover as well, "The enhanced wireless speeds and greater coverage provided by Wireless-N technology enables the simultaneous use of applications such as voice-over-IP, video and multimedia streaming, console gaming, and Web surfing. The launch of these new Wireless-N networking solutions makes it easier and more affordable for consumers to replace their existing routers or modem routers and upgrade their WiFi networks to support these more bandwidth-intensive applications. The new product family is feature-rich in terms of performance capabilities and ease of use as well as energy-efficiency,” says Som Pal Choudhury, NETGEAR’s senior product line manager for advanced wireless products. And when he says affordable, he means it. These bad boys will run you only $89 for the router, and $119 for the router with a built in DSL modem.