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Wireless Networking: Nine 802.11n Routers Rounded Up

In reviewing ZyXEL products over the years, we consistently come away with the impression that the company should be more popular than it is. This is another one of those D-Link-ish “we do some of everything” vendors—soup to nuts, print servers to powerline adapters. The margins must be so slim in networking gear that the industry’s players have to span the entire product range just to make a buck. When you try to do everything at once, the tendency is to do nothing particularly well unless you have fairly deep pockets.

ZyXEL, while never dazzling us with unique innovation, has never disappointed us, either. The X550N ($99.93) fits the pattern: boring on the outside, interesting on the inside, with high enough performance and build quality at a low enough price to make the whole package attractive.

As an indication of how serious ZyXEL is about its gear, this router’s manual is over 300 pages and features over 300 tables and illustrations. Having QoS is now ordinary, and a bandwidth monitor is almost expected now, but how about a bandwidth monitor for different traffic types? Interesting, right? The setup wizard comes in six languages. There’s a router/AP mode selector in the maintenance menus (although we still prefer a physical exterior switch). ZyXEL goes beyond the usual basic QoS functionality by not only providing general Wi-Fi Multimedia (WMM) QoS—prioritizing by voice, video, “best effort,” and background—but several common application profiles and a custom configuration area where you can create user-defined QoS profiles. This sort of management depth reflects ZyXEL’s larger presence in the business products world. If you dislike 24x7 wireless broadcasting, use the integrated scheduling matrix to disable it during off hours. All told, there’s just so much great functionality buried in this router that it’s easy just to geek out and get lost in it, forgetting along the way that ZyXEL omits a USB port for NAS and FTP functionality, has no media serving capabilities, or any of the other modern consumer amenities. The overall impression is that this is a router for business and productivity, not entertainment.

From the outside, the X500N is totally ordinary: bland white non-styling, three detachable 2 dBi antennas, a WPS button, and five total gigabit Ethernet LAN and WAN ports. It would have been really interesting to try out the X550NH, which replaces the X550N’s 2 dBi antennas with 6 dBi high-gain alternatives, but we weren’t able to land this variant for our review. You can buy the ANT1106 antenna upgrade for $45.10, which is odd when the entire X550NH package runs only $117.27.

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