Group test: 12 dual-band routers reviewed

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There are several interesting things to note from the figures this month. The most telling is that three-stream 802.11n routers don’t seem to have heralded universal improvements in speed.

True, the three-stream (450Mbits/sec) routers in this Labs all have raw speed in abundance, and in general they’re quicker than their two-stream (300Mbits/sec) counterparts. At close range, the three-stream routers occupy most of the top speed slots. The single-band Buffalo three-stream router is top of the 2.4GHz charts, with a speed of 19.5MB/sec.

However, an advantage isn’t guaranteed. In fact, the fastest router over 5GHz is the humble 300Mbits/sec Asus RT-N56U, which also placed near the top in the close-range 2.4GHz test and both long-range 5GHz and 2.4GHz tests.
Of course, this has no bearing on how quick USB sharing is. Here the RT-N56U again shines, with a significant lead over all the other routers.

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View from the Labs



The eagle-eyed among you may have spotted a discrepancy between this year’s performance figures and last year’s routers Labs.

First, we’ve moved from expressing performance in megabits per second to megabytes per second. This makes it easier to understand how fast a router is. Take the ASUS RT-N56U, for instance: in 5GHz mode at close range, it transferred our large test files from the router to our wireless laptop at an average of 24MB/ sec. It’s a small jump to work out how long, say, a 1GB file will take to download. It’s a shade under 43 seconds in this case, in case you don’t have a calculator handy.

But we’ve also had a change in test equipment forced upon us. Our trusty test laptop, a Lenovo W500, shuffled off this mortal coil. In its place, we’ve instituted a Gateway NO50, another business machine with the same 3x3 antenna configuration and wireless chipset – an Intel WiFi Link 5300.

You might think there wouldn’t be much difference, but there is. In the last Labs, the best speed we achieved over 2.4GHz at distance was around 8MB/sec; this time the fastest hit an average of 5.6MB/sec. Over 5GHz the gulf is even more marked, with average speeds hitting 6MB/sec last time and now struggling to breach the 3MB/sec barrier. This is almost certainly down to the placement of antennae in our new laptop.

In Labs, where every router is tested using the same equipment, this isn’t a problem, but it illustrates the need to improve hardware at both ends of the connection. Getting the best wireless router is important, and there’s a great selection of hardware to choose from here, but neglect your laptop hardware at your peril.

There are several interesting things to note from the figures this month. The most telling is that three-stream 802.11n routers don’t seem to have heralded universal improvements in speed.

True, the three-stream (450Mbits/sec) routers in this Labs all have raw speed in abundance, and in general they’re quicker than their two-stream (300Mbits/sec) counterparts. At close range, the three-stream routers occupy most of the top speed slots. The single-band Buffalo three-stream router is top of the 2.4GHz charts, with a speed of 19.5MB/sec.

However, an advantage isn’t guaranteed. In fact, the fastest router over 5GHz is the humble 300Mbits/sec Asus RT-N56U, which also placed near the top in the close-range 2.4GHz test and both long-range 5GHz and 2.4GHz tests.
Of course, this has no bearing on how quick USB sharing is. Here the RT-N56U again shines, with a significant lead over all the other routers.

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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