Which is the right router for you? (Part 2) - Budget Routers

5/24/2012 4:17:51 PM

Budget Routers

Fortunately, buying a 'proper' router need not cost the earth, in fact some of the cheapest cable routers can be purchased for less than $32. You should certainly buy one with wireless capabilities, however, even if you have no need for that functionality now.

A smartphone purchase or new laptop will necessitate wi-fi, so don't cut corners just to save a pound or two. If investing in a new router, you should also insist on one with 802.11n wireless. An older model with 802.11g may save you a few pounds but puts you behind the times before you even start. An 'n' wireless router will still allow older g-class equipment to connect and will normally extend range and signal quality thanks to the multiple antennas installed.

Description:  Acorp W400G – Budget ADSL-router with many features

Acorp W400G – Budget ADSL-router with many features

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 300Mbps capabilities of other more expensive routers, and only uses a single antenna rather than the MIMO (Multiple In, Multiple Out) configuration of higher-end models. By hunting around we found this capable little router online for just $76.8. That's a fantastic price for an n-grade router and is considerably more affordable than even wireless 'g' models from more illustrious brands like Netgear or Linksys. In our testing, the TP-link offered good wireless speeds, connecting at 43Mbps at close range and 3Mb slower at a moderate distance.

Description:  NetGear Gigabit Switch GS-105 5 port

NetGear Gigabit Switch GS-105 5 port

At longer distances its single antenna will cost you performance, however, so it would be wise to invest in a more capable model if you live in a large house or need to pick up a wireless signal at the end of the garden.

As you'd expect for such an affordable router, the TP-Link is not without its pitfalls. The router's interface is unintuitive to say the least and although it has the features people need on a day to day basis, getting access to them is a frustrating and slow experience. With that said, delving into a router's firmware is not something most people do on a daily basis, so you may be willing to live with these shortcomings. For around an extra $11.2 you can pick up the TP-Link Wireless N-300 (TD-W8961 ND). This model has a nearly identical appearance and features to the N-150, but adds a second antenna for 300Mbps mode. A 300Mbps router offers this ultra-high speed by utilising a feature called channel bonding. In this mode, two adjacent wireless channels are used at the same time in order to double throughput. In congested wi-fi areas this mode will increase interference, however, and may not improve performance.

Most routers ship with this feature disabled, so if you want to experiment with it you should have a browse through your router's firmware features.

Description: TP-Link

If you want a big-name but cheap wireless ADSL router, D-Link's DSL-2680 could be the right choice for you. Available for around $62.4, this compact little router delivers 802.11 n (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) 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 prioritise certain types of traffic so that your streaming of videos is not adversely affected by lower-priority applications like peer-to-peer file sharing. 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 distance.

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