Draft-n wireless routers
Speed up your home network with these wireless routers, including faster speeds, better gaming and VoIP handling and automatic security.
A new raft of wireless routers dubbed “second-generation 802.11n” have hit the shelves, and the Wi-Fi Alliance is now beginning to certify products for the 802.11n draft 2.0 specification. So, the time is right to round up a selection of the latest offerings, and see if any progress has been made since the original batch of pre-n products was launched.
At the time of testing, two models had been given the thumbs-up – D-Link’s RangeBooster N 650 DIR-655 and Netgear’s WNR854T – although you can find a full list of certifications for the underlying chipsets at www.wi-fi.org. Essentially, the sticker indicates that the router is interoperable with other certified products, backwards compatible with previous standards and offers the latest security protection. However, there’s no concrete guarantee that products will be firmware upgradable to the final 802.11n standard.
Still, this is no reason to avoid the seven routers on test here. Most offer significantly better throughput than 802.11g when paired with each manufacturer’s own client adapters. The Buffalo, in particular, smashed through all previous Wi-Fi speed records we’ve seen at PC Authority and, while it isn’t cheap, it offers tomorrow’s technology today.
Four of the seven boast Gigabit switches, which not only means a serious speed boost for wired computers, but also removes the 100Mb/s bottleneck, which could be an issue given that most promise wireless speeds of up to 300Mb/s. Another reason to upgrade is for the extra features on offer. If your existing router doesn’t support quality of service, for example, you could be missing out on smoother online gaming or clear VoIP calls. Meanwhile, WMM (Wi-Fi Multimedia) technology ensures quality of service on the wireless network – crucial if you don’t want your videos or MP3s skipping as they play on your wireless media streamer.
Finally, some of the routers here offer automatic wireless security, so you never need to worry about IP addresses and WPA2 security – it’s as simple as pushing two buttons. Read on to find out which router stood head-and-shoulders above the competition.
Next page - How We Test (click below)...
How we test: We test wireless routers in a real-world situation by installing them in our offices. This is because, unless you live in a remote location, you’re bound to find other wireless networks within range.
We could take the routers into the middle of a huge field to test the best-case scenario, but the results wouldn’t be representative of what you’re likely to see in a crowded Wi-Fi environment.
Thus, the seven routers on test all have to contend with the challenges of interference from other networks, cordless phones, microwaves and obstacles such as walls.
To ensure the best performance, we update each router and corresponding PC Card with the latest firmware, and install the latest drivers.
Throughput and coverage: To test transfer speed, we hook up our usual test rig (with its Gigabit Ethernet controller) via a CAT-5e Ethernet cable to each router. The matching PC Card is installed in a Samsung Q35 notebook.
In our short-range test, we place the Q35 notebook 1m away from the router. We copy a 100MB file to the Q35 three times, and average the time taken in order to calculate speed in Mb/s.
To test medium-range throughput, we repeat the tests 15m from the router. The signal has to pass through one partition wall along the way.
Finally, to test long-distance coverage, we take the Samsung 25m away, where the signal has to pass through three walls, and again repeat the tests. Naturally, the results above are only a guide – coverage will vary depending on your specific building and the amount of interference from other wireless networks.
Centrino Wi-Fi: Since manufacturers’ PC Cards are expensive, we repeat all these tests with a standard 802.11g Centrino laptop: the results are also above. Many brand-new laptops have draft-n Wi-Fi built in, but don’t get out your credit card just yet. We also tested all the routers in this Labs with both an Asus A7S notebook fitted with an Intel PRO/Wireless 4965AGN card, and a MacBook with an Atheros AR5008X-based adapter.
Disappointingly, even with the latest drivers and firmware, both laptops refused to establish a connection with all but one of the routers when they were set to allow only 802.11n Wi-Fi. When we set each router to allow 802.11g/n connections, both notebooks would only connect to each router at 54Mb/s – the speed of 802.11g.
The only exception was the Trendnet, which allowed connections at 144Mb/s. But, the results were disappointing. At near and medium distances, speed hovered around 20Mb/s, and at long range it was still slow at 3Mb/s.
Results: To give you an idea of what these routers allow you to do, streaming an MP3 needs no more than 0.2Mb/s, while CD audio requires 1.4Mb/s. Video is much more demanding, with even highly compressed DivX files requiring around 4Mb/s. For standard DVD quality you’ll need to have a constant 11Mb/s, but high-definition video with multichannel surround sound is out of the question at long range. At medium range it’s now a realistic proposition, with all but the Belkin managing to hit the required 20Mb/s mark with its own PC Card adapters.
Firmware upgrades can yield big performance improvements so, while we’ve used the very latest versions available for testing, future versions could improve routers that didn’t perform so well here.
Ratings: You’ll find Performance, Features & Design, Value for Money and Overall ratings at the bottom of each review. The Performance score is derived using a weighted combination of all the test results from each router and converting them into a score out of six. Features & Design involves awarding points to all the features mentioned on the feature table, including warranties, as well as subjective scores for style.
Value for Money is calculated by combining the purchase and delivery price of each router; we then factor in a weighted combination of the Performance and Features & Design scores to arrive at a final value rating. The Overall score is simply a straight average of the other three ratings.
Next page - Ratings Explained (click below)...
Ratings explained: The star ratings you’ll find at the bottom of each review are relative only to the products on test in any particular Labs. A one out of six rating doesn’t mean the product is the worst of its type ever to be made, just the least impressive that month. Likewise, a six out of six score isn’t necessarily an indication of perfection.