Buying Guide – Router (Part 1) - NetGear DG8334G v5, TP-Link TD-W8961ND

10/19/2012 3:30:43 PM

The average modern household typically contains several devices that can access the Internet. It isn’t just PCs that need an internet connection. Mobile phones, games consoles, and even OVO players can access the Internet to expand their capabilities. That’s why a good router, capable of sharing your internet connection between multiple devices, is practically a household necessity. But what should a good router do? And what features should you Look for when buying one. In this guide, we’ll examine a range of devices to help you answer these questions and more and help you select the right router for you.

Description: what should a good router do?

what should a good router do?

The function of a router is to connect two networks. In most cases, this means your home network, which can consist of anything from a single, stand-alone PC to a variety of different network-enabled devices - and the Internet. Almost all consumer routers contain a switch - the device that allows you to create a network of multiple devices - so you don’t have to buy a router and a switch separately.

Your home network is known as a LAN (Local Area Network), because all of the devices are in the same building, connected to one another as part of a single closed system. By comparison, the internet is a WAN (Wide Area Network). Routers, then, have two main kinds of ports: LAN, and WAN ports. The former tells you how many devices can be connected locally (by physical cables, at least) and the latter tells you how many modems (or other routers) can be connected - usually just one.

That said, not all routers have the same features. Some have four LAN ports, others have eight, and some have none at all. Some come with a modem built in, some don’t. Most modern routers have wireless capabilities, but not all, and you may find one, two, or even four wireless antennas depending on the cost and quality of a router.

This matters because routers with multiple antennas tend to have a better range, support more simultaneous devices, and offer more bandwidth per device, leading to improved performance (for example, lower ping when several people are playing games online). Although the number of computers that can connect to a single router is limited, an average, single-antenna model will comfortably support simultaneous connections from at least eight networked devices without any trouble.

NetGear DG8334G v5

Price: $69.9

Antennas: One

LAN: 4 x 10/100Mbit Ethernet

Wireless: Wireless G

Modem: ADSL2+

The DG834G has shown incredible staying power over the years, enduring for the best part of a decade with only minor product revisions. It’s currently on version 5, which convincingly maintains the device’s reputation for reliability and simplicity. If you believe NetGear’s website, it’s the most popular router in the UK. Looking at this model, it’s not hard to see why.

Description: NetGear DG8334G v5

NetGear DG8334G v5

The popularity of the DG834G is, no doubt, its straightforward nature. It combines an ADSL modem, a router and a switch into a single device, giving you all you need to get multiple devices onto the internet in a single purchase. Although there are variants available (such as the DG834, which has no built-in wireless) the G is the most popular of those, partly due to its features and price, although it also has the advantage of looking simple and stylish, and is discreet enough to fit in any room.

Feature-wise, there’s not a huge amount to go on, but it is reliably consistent if not impressive in any more overt ways. It doesn’t noticeably struggle if there are multiple heavy connections, and it’s unlikely to hang or spontaneously reboot like most cheap models will if you put them under stress. Although it runs wireless G, which has a shorter range and slower speeds than the latest wireless specifications, the quality of its connections make up for that: performance is strong anywhere within the ten-metre range.

There are signs that it’s not quite keeping up with the times, of course. Not only is the wireless slow, the Ethernet ports aren’t even gigabit. It struggles to stream data fast enough for high- definition video without stuttering or buffering, and network transfers of large files will leave you wondering why you don’t just burn it to DVD and walk into the next room, while garners are unlikely to be satisfied with the fairly high ping.

Still, it’s accessible and simple to use, with easy- to-configure settings, good security features and a comprehensive set of networking abilities. Whether you’re a newcomer to routers or someone with more advanced needs, it should fit the bill. You can get better, but not at this price.

TP-Link TD-W8961ND


Price: $54.3

Antennas: two

LAN: 4 x 10/100Mbit Ethernet

Wireless: Wireless N 2.4GHZ

Modem: ADSL2+

TP-Link is the largest small/home office networking provider in China (by market share) and a comparatively recent entry to the international scene, having started branching out in 2005. Still, in this time it’s managed to establish its name as a provider of budget networking solutions. How does the TD-W8961 ND compare?

Description: TP-Link TD-W8961ND

TP-Link TD-W8961ND

On the surface, it’s a fairly standard package: a router, switch and ADSL modem combined, with wireless functionality - in this case, wireless N, which runs at a maximum of 300M bps compared to wireless G’s 54Mbps. As a home router, it ticks all the boxes, and it’s cheaper than NetGear’s more expensive, substantially slower competitor. What could be wrong?

Well, for a start, its performance is substantially worse than the specifications suggest. With two antennas and wireless N support, you might expect 300Mbps connections to be a lock. In fact, benchmarks show it maxing out just below 150Mbps - although not even consistently, as transfer speeds fluctuated wildly even at short ranges. Worst of all, they were sometimes so bad that the broadband connection was faster, and the last thing you want out of a router is for it to be a bandwidth bottleneck!

That said, the actual ADSL link is fine, as is wired performance. Set up is easily accomplished thanks to a setup wizard that incorporates the basic settings for a selection of ISPs, UK providers included. Unfortunately, the interface is poorly built, slow to respond and badly laid out, so if you want to change settings without the wizard, prepare for a bit of a headache.

Design-wise it has some attractive features, including a power button, which is useful for performing quick hard-resets. It’s nice that it attempts to hold the hands of novices, but none of that matters a great deal, because the performance is inexplicably poor. Novices would be better served by a device that didn’t manifest problems even when they’ve put the correct information in. Anyone who requires even slightly more advanced features would be better off elsewhere. The price is attractive, but ultimately it’s not hard to see where the corners have been cut.

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