Buying Tips: Router Bargains

11/29/2012 11:06:03 AM

Routers may be boring, but it's worth paying them some attention. We pick out some of the best deals around

Too many users put up with the arcane routers provided to them by their ISPs, unaware that even the cheapest of third party models could vastly improve the wireless network strength and overall quality of their network. What's definitely the case is that if your modem lacks an Ethernet interface, it's time to upgrade. With Windows 8 just around the corner, you can be certain drivers won't exist to make your modem work when Microsoft's new OS begins shipping.

First of all you need to find out what kind of router you need. If you use a cable service such as that provided by Virgin, a router with a built-in ADSL modem won't work for you. Instead you'll need a cable router with a network input. This then plugs into your cable modem and distributes its services throughout your home. If you are on an ADSL connection, a suitable router will completely replace the box provided by your Internet provider.

Budget Routers

Unless you are on a shoestring budget we'd recommend you opt for a Wireless N router rather than one using the older G standard. Virtually all new wireless devices like phones, laptops and some games consoles use 802.1 In wireless. This is two or three times the speed of a G network and will often improve the range of your network thanks to their use of MIMO (multiple in, multiple out) antennae.

Description: A cracking value router

A cracking value router

The Wireless N-150 (TD-W8951ND) from TP-Link is a great option for those on a budget. This ADSL 2+ compliant device features four 10/100 Ethernet ports for wired devices and an 'N-Lite' specification wireless capability. This means it doesn't support channel bonding for the 300MB/S capabilities of other more expensive routers, and only uses a single antenna rather than the MIMO configuration of higher end models. By hunting around we found this capable little router online for just $38.99 from - that's a fantastic price for an N grade router and is considerably more affordable than even wireless G models from brands like Netgear or Linksys.

Description: D-Link DSL-2680

D-Link DSL-2680

Or maybe the D-Link DSL-2680 is the right choice for you. Available for $40from eBuyer, this compact little router delivers 802.11n (150Mbps) wireless and a simple-to-use interface. A few compromises are apparent as soon as you open the box - the DSL-2680 has only two wired Ethernet ports (two fewer than most routers offer) and a couple of useful features such as WDS and QoS are missing. WDS or 'Wireless Distribution Service' allows you to extend the range of your wireless router by adding additional access points or routers to the network. 'Quality of Service' controls allow you to prioritize certain types of traffic so that your streaming of videos is not adversely affected by peer-to-peer file sharing for example. Wireless performance of this D-Link model was pretty good when close up, but we found its use of internal aerials cost it dearly in longer range testing, managing only half the speed of the TP-Link N-150 at a 20m range.

Mid-Range Routers

Although the TP-Link N-150 is a great bargain buy, an extra $20 or $30 will buy you an equivalently specified router from some bigger brands like Netgear or Belkin. These manufacturers both have years of experience at making easy-to-use interfaces and benefit from established user bases who will be able to easily lend assistance should you get stuck. The Netgear DGN2200 costs $75.99from WAE+ and looks quite different from its predecessors. While the last generation of Netgears had a white and grey finish, the QDN2200 is much more contemporary with the now-ubiquitous piano black glossy finish. The device has two antennae allowing the full 802.11N 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 are in the city with a congested 2.4GHz band, the un-bonded 150Mbps mode could well yield the best results.

Description: Netgear DGN2200

Netgear DGN2200

An extra 48.55$ over the DGN2200 buys you the Belkin Play Max HD. This dual band router allows you to run two networks simultaneously, a 2.4GHz band 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 Bit Torrent 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 50-100W when idling) this could save you many pounds a year in electricity savings, not to mention improving your carbon footprint. As with the DGN2200 the Belkin has a plethora of advanced networking features including QoS, the ability to create networks with separate SSIDs, a dynamic DNS and WDS.

The router facilitates its BitTorrent downloading and NAS features via a USB port that allows you to connect external hard disks or pen drives. The USB storage facilities are extremely well implemented; plug in a drive and a drive letter is assigned automatically, and it appears in Windows Explorer. The router also offers four gigabit ports for its wired networking ports; up to ten times faster than the Netgear. If you shuffle most of the data over your network between wired devices this feature alone is worth the additional expenditure.

Description: Belkin Play Max HD

Belkin Play Max HD

The interface of the Belkin Play Max is slick and speedy. It is 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. The best price we found this router for was $127.98 from both eBuyer and Lamdatek, both of whom are offering the product for the same price.

Description: Netgear DGND3300

Netgear DGND3300

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 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 housekeeping duties by automatically checking for firmware updates and applying them in the background. Its eight internal wireless antennae 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 antennae are all housed internally. We managed to find this router for $129.55 from - a great price for one of the best routers on the market and arguably a better choice than even the Play Max.

Cable Routers

Most of the routers we have mentioned today have cable router analogues - if you are 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. As always, keep your eyes peeled: these were the bargains we found on our shopping trip. You might find an even better one!

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