Feature Rich RoutersAlthough the TP-Link N-300 is a fantastic
bargain buy, an extra $24 or $32 will buy you an equivalently specified router
from some better-known brands (at least here in the UK) like Netgear or Belkin.
These manufacturers generally provide slick interfaces that are easy to
navigate, and benefit from large user bases that can be tapped into should you
get stuck. The Netgear DGN2200 costs under $96 and looks quite different from
its predecessors. While the last generation of Netgears had a white and grey
finish, the GDN2200 is much more contemporary with the now-ubiquitous glossy
piano-black finish. The device has two antennas, allowing the full 802.1 1 n
300Mbps speed to be accessed with a suitable wireless dongle or PCI card. Just
remember the channel bonded 300Mbps mode won't always give you the best
performance. If you live in the countryside it's worth a shot, but if you're in
the city with a congested 2.4GHz band, the un-bonded 150Mbps mode could well
yield the best results.
Netgear's interface is extremely slick and
easy to navigate, and despite the router offering some pretty advanced features
we never felt out of our depth. WDS, and QoS are both supported and users can
create up to four separate network IDs, each with their own security settings.
This allows you to have a separate SSID for your games consoles with relatively
light security support and a higher security SSID for your PCs and smartphones.
The QoS settings also enabled us to play World of Warcraft smoothly even when
running BitTorrent in the background, with the router correctly
down-prioritising the peer-to-peer network so that our gaming latency was not
Play Max N600 HD
An extra $32 over the DGN2200 buys you the
Belkin Play Max N600 HD. This dualband router allows you to run two networks
simultaneously, a 2.4GHz network for older a/b/g devices and a 5GHz band
network for newer PCs and laptops. It also has a lot of features that may
appeal as value added extras compared to cheaper routers. The Vuze BitTorrent
client, for example, allows you to download content from the world's most
popular peer-to-peer protocol even when your PC is turned off, storing the data
on a USB-attached storage device. Considering the router consumes only 10W in
use (compared to an average PC's 50 to 100W when idling), this could save you
many pounds a year in electricity savings, not to mention improving your carbon
As with the DGN2200, the Belkin has plenty
of advanced networking features including QoS, the ability to create networks
with separate SSIDs, a dynamic DNS and WDS.
The interface of the Belkin Play Max N600
is slick and speedy. It's also easy to navigate. For those who want on-tap
access to the router's more advanced features, Belkin also offers a taskbar
application. Personally, we like to keep our PC as free of memory-resident
applications as possible, but if you want the ability to switch between QoS
settings with just a couple of mouse clicks, the Play Max is a great choice.
Netgear also provides a gigabit
dual-wireless band router in the form of its DGND3300. You can pick this model
up for around the same price of the Belkin, and although it lacks some of the
bells and whistles of the Play Max, it is still a very capable router. A 'Push
'N' Connect' feature allows you to add computers to the network quickly and
securely using WPS security, ideal for novice users, while the router looks
after its own house keeping duties by automatically checking for firmware
updates and applying them in the background. Its eight internal wireless
antennas also grant it excellent wireless range and speed, with the device
connecting at a leading 12Mbps to our laptop even when 20m away - impressive
for a consumer router and even more astounding when you consider that the
antennas are all housed internally.
Each of the routers we've mentioned in this
article have cable router analogues. If you're a cable broadband customer,
simply look at the manufacturer's website to see what the cable equivalent is.
You can expect prices to be similar, even though the model you will need lacks
an internal ADSL modem.
Some manufacturers are already going beyond
the speeds offered by 300Mbps 802.11 n. The Linksys E4200, for example, claims
to offer a 450Mbps connection speed. Seeing as even the fastest 300Mbps devices
only connect at around 70 to 80Mbps under ideal real-world circumstances, these
speeds are wildly optimistic, but the device is nonetheless impressive. The
Linksys's trick is to use a 5GHz 3x3 MIMO mode to boost range and speed, though
you will need to use a compatible wireless adaptor. Linksys bundles the E4200
with a single compatible USB adaptor and you can buy extras for around $48.
If you would rather not bust out over $240
on a 450Mbps router, again TP-Link has an alternative or you. Its TL-WR2543ND
matches the impressive feature set of the Linksys, but at $116.7 is actually
more competitively priced than most high-end 300N devices. Just bear in mind
that most devices like smartphones and tablets do not support the 450Mbps 3x3
5GHz connection mode out of the box. It is therefore only worth splashing out
on these if you don't mind also buying compatible adaptors, or are lucky enough
to own an Ultrabook featuring a Centrino 'Ultimate N' wireless cards, which can
connect automatically. In our testing, these 450Mbps products connected at
around 90 to 100Mbps. A far cry from the published speeds but still way faster
than a normal 802.11n connection.