Group test: 12 dual-band routers reviewed

Group test: 12 dual-band routers reviewed

Unhappy with your wireless network performance? With the 2.4GHz frequency band becoming ever-more congested, the best way to give your Wi-Fi the boost it needs is with a dual-band router.

When wireless first came along in the 1990s, it was a brave, exciting new world. But in the many years since, as the availability of wireless has steadily spread, the number of devices jostling for attention in the frequency band used by most laptops and mobile devices has exploded.

The result is heavy congestion, and if you’re still using a single-band 2.4GHz-only router, the likelihood is that, at one time or another, your wireless router has had its performance compromised by the activities of neighbouring wireless networks, microwave ovens, video and TV senders, Bluetooth devices and even baby monitors.

TWIN TURBO





If you want smooth HD video streaming over your wireless network, snappy backups and a reliable, steady connection, you need a dual-band router. Dual-band routers operate in a different radio frequency band – 5GHz – that’s far less congested, and can offer faster speeds and more reliable operation.
That’s why 11 of the 12 routers we’ve reviewed this month are dual band. But before you dive into the meat of the Labs, there are a couple of crucial things you ought to know. First, all dual-band routers are not made equal. Some have only one radio inside and that means choosing between running either a 2.4GHz network, or a 5GHz one.

As some wireless devices only operate in the 2.4GHz band, you’ll either end up running a router like this in 2.4GHz mode, thus wasting all its 5GHz potential, or running two routers at once – a rather unsatisfactory compromise, and not very green. If a router doesn’t offer concurrent or simultaneous dual band, then it’s probably best avoided.

SPEEDY STREAMS



Some of the more expensive models also offer a 450Mbits/sec top speed, where routers have previously been limited to 300Mbits/sec. This claimed throughput figure depends on the number of 150Mbits/sec streams a router supports and how many antennae it has.

A standard 300Mbits/sec router supports two streams, with two antennae for transmitting and two or three for receiving data (also referred to as 2x2 and 2x3 configurations). The Cisco Linksys E4200 on the other hand, supports three 150Mbits/sec streams, in this case with three antennae for transmitting and three for receiving data (a 3x3 configuration).

Many routers also offer one or two USB ports for sharing storage, printers, and even 3G dongles, which can be useful if your ADSL or cable ever goes down.

HOW WE TEST

The Wi-Spy DBx allows us to monitor the RF output of neighbouring networks and other devices
The Wi-Spy DBx allows us to monitor the RF output of neighbouring networks and other devices


Assessing the performance of a dual-band wireless router is complicated. Not only do we need to provide an idea of how fast it can go, we also need to indicate how well it performs at long range, and we need to test these aspects of performance in both 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency bands.

To test these elements, we use two laptops running Windows 7, one connected to the test router via Gigabit or 10/100 Ethernet (whichever is available), the other connected via wireless, using the 3x3 stream-capable Intel WiFi Link 5300 chipset. We then set up the router to use WPA2 security with AES encryption and, where available, enable channel bonding to ensure maximum performance.

To assess speed, a series of small and large files is copied to and from a Windows share on the wired laptop. We run these tests in the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency bands at a range of 2.5m to assess top speed. Next, we run the tests in each frequency band with the wireless laptop placed at a distance of 40m from the router, with one 19mm-thick wooden wall and a double-glazed window in the way. This test indicates how each router performs at range. You’ll find a full breakdown of speed figures at the bottom of the feature table, and graphs on the Results page at the end of this Labs.

During testing, we monitor the airwaves using another laptop equipped with a Wi-Spy DBx radio frequency spectrum analyser. Supplied to us by MetaGeek, this allows us to ensure each router is using the optimum channel, and that no other devices in the vicinity are causing interference during testing.

Finally, where available, we also test the speed of a router’s USB shared storage feature. This time using a portable USB 3 hard disk as the source, we connect a laptop to an Ethernet port on the router to disc over the the maximum speed of USB transfers.

Wireless Routers - Feature Table

click to view full size image
click to enlarge

Click to see our test results on the next page...



Looking for the reviews of the 12 routers? They're in the sidebar at the start of this story (scroll up).





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This Group Test appeared in the Jan, 2012 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine

See more about:  dualband  |  routers  |  homenetworking  |  cisco  |  dlink  |  netgear
 
 

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Comments: 6
workingdog
14 March 2012
Not knowing anything about routers, when I read this article I wondered if you'd ever done a test on the Apple Time Capsule which I believe (correct me if I'm wrong), is a dual band router? Does it fit into this category?


Comment made about the PC & Tech Authority article:
Group test: 12 dual-band routers reviewed?
Unhappy with your wireless network performance? With the 2.4GHz frequency band becoming ever-more congested, the best way to give your Wi-Fi the boost it needs is with a dual-band router.

What do you think? Join the discussion.
rubaiyat
14 March 2012
As usual I am gobsmacked that Apple's products get no mention.

As several PC magazines and web reviews have pointed out Apple's wireless routers, all dual band, have the apparently undesirable quality of not requiring perpetual restarts. They so suck, all they do is just work!

Where are there job opportunities in that, may I ask?
photohounds
14 March 2012
No good router needs restarts - mine Billion's up for 249 days. Probably the date of the last power outage.
rubaiyat
14 March 2012
…and do you see a Billion amongst this line up?

I spent another idle hour in the PC stores near Central station yesterday. All the time, all I could think was do PC users have absolutely no sense of discrimination? Who buys this rubbish?, then in walk the usual pair of idiots who "have read PC XXX…" magazine's reviews on what at one glance is substandard rubbish.

Like hanging out in the flagon section of the liquor store with Wino State magazine tucked under your arm.

PS If you have gone 249 days without a power outage TransACT is looking after your suburb a lot better than they are mine.

When I moved here, in beyond living memory, I thought they were running the network on brown coal to match the outages.

Edited by rubaiyat: 14/3/2012 05:34:28 PM
weary74
17 March 2012
I think some of the previous posts have missed the point. These are new routers that have been submitted for testing. It doesnt say that previous tests on Billion or Apple products arent still relevant, just that they havent submitted anything new. Billion products have always been good, but the documentation and UI has always been lacking final polish. And Apple like most of its products, are overpriced for the features included. Just keep in mind the review is about new dual band routers.
rubaiyat
17 March 2012
The Apple products are not overpriced for what they are. I have had 2 Airport Extremes and they do just work, except when struck by lightning which is why I have a second. Features, support and what is offered varies.

e.g. You say Billion products lack documentation and polish.

Well cheaper routers are typically cheaper for a reason. If you won't pay for polish, don't expect any.
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