Wireless Networking: Nine 802.11n Routers Rounded Up

Looking back through the archives, we noticed that it had been a long time—indeed, a long, lonely time—since we’d taken a hard look at the wireless networking space, and for that we apologize. With so many amazing things happening in the worlds of CPUs, GPUs, storage, and such, it’s easy to overlook networking. After all, with 802.11n now a finalized standard and the nearly identical Draft 2.0 spec appearing in retail products since mid-2007, there haven’t exactly been any bombshells in the wireless world lately.

And yet...the rest of the market hasn’t stood still. Since the dawn of Draft 2.0, we’ve seen the rise of netbooks, smartphones embracing dual-radio cellular and WiFi, an ever-increasing array of wireless home theater and VoIP devices, and even the first steps toward making cars into hot spots (think Microsoft SYNC). Add to this the unstoppable march to widespread high-def video streaming across any number of platforms and devices. The need for a solid WiFi foundation in your home is bigger than ever.

When early draft 802.11n gear first came available, we were decidedly underwhelmed. It was only marginally better than 802.11g on a good day, especially if you were using one of the dual-channel “turbo” versions. Without channel bonding, it was common for us to see real world, sustained 802.11a or g throughput in the 15 Mb/s range. By 2006, we had multiple antennas and MIMO technology (spatial multiplexing and the sending of discrete data sub-streams along different paths within a single radio link) along with an upgrade to the fetal 11n spec, and sustained throughput jumped to anywhere from the 40s to the 80s in Mb/s. Performance was all over the board and patch updates seemed to be raining from the sky for a while, but everyone eventually realized that we were never going to get even remotely close to that promised 300 Mb/s 11n spec. The wireless-loving public realized, yet again, that vendors had overhyped and underdelivered...and interest in 11n waned.

The thing is that, for better or worse, vendors still need to sell product. Perhaps they were at the mercy of the radio chip manufacturers on wireless performance, but they could still innovate and improve designs in other regards. Now in 2010, the days of simple routers that do little more than offer a few switched LAN ports and handle wireless communications are all but over. If the idea of wireless performance is to make computing life more convenient, then secondary router features definitely serve this same purpose—or should. As we discovered, not all feature implementations are equally brilliant.

We lined up recent releases from Asus, Belkin, D-Link, Linksys, Netgear, Ruckus Wireless, TP-Link, TRENDnet, and ZyXEL, crafted our testing setup, and let the cage match begin. Without further ado, let’s dig in and see what a broad walk through today’s WiFi router scene has to offer the discerning power user.

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  • Which version of the Linksys WRT610N did you use? V1 or V2?
  • deividast
    I want one of those Linksys :) I use now WRT54G and it's doing it's job, but it's a bit slow some times then transfering files from notebook to PC :)
  • vant
    I'm surprised the 610N won. Without testing, the general consensus is that Linksys sucks except for their WRT54s.
  • The testing is flawed in that there could be great variability in adapter performance, as admitted by the author. A true "router" comparison would use a common non-partial built-in Intel wifi link miniPCIe card to isolate router performance. Otherwise, too many variables are introduced. Besides, most ppl buy routers for routers, not in matching pairs since most ppl already own wifi laptops or adapters. Smallnetbuilders tested the Netgear WNDR3700 as one of the best performing routers on the market. Obviously this review unit is hampered by the Netgear adapter.
  • vant
    kevinqThe testing is flawed in that there could be great variability in adapter performance, as admitted by the author. A true "router" comparison would use a common non-partial built-in Intel wifi link miniPCIe card to isolate router performance. Otherwise, too many variables are introduced. Besides, most ppl buy routers for routers, not in matching pairs since most ppl already own wifi laptops or adapters. Smallnetbuilders tested the Netgear WNDR3700 as one of the best performing routers on the market. Obviously this review unit is hampered by the Netgear adapter.

    Good point.
  • The Greater Good
    I will never buy a Linksys again. No 64 bit driver support! What gives?
  • cag404
    I just replaced my Linksys WRT600N with the Netgear WNDR3700. I have not used the WRT610 that is reviewed here, but I can say that the difference in routers is noticeable. The reason I replaced the router was that the WRT600N was dropping my port settings used to provide remote access to my home server, and I got tired of it. Wanted to try a different router so I went with the Netgear based on a favorable Maximum PC review. Glad I did. It has a snappier feel and I get a stronger signal throughout my two-floor house. The Netgear has not dropped my port settings for my home server yet. Also, I didn't like that fact that Linksys abandoned the WRT600N with no further firmware updates after about the first or second one.
  • pato
    Was the Linksys the V1 or V2 variant?
    Which firmware was installed on it?
    I have one (V1), but am very unhappy about the signal range! I have it replaced with a WNDR3700 and have now a twice as strong signal as before!
  • No D-Link DIR-855, DGL-4500, no Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station?
  • Would have been nice to see the WAN-LAN throughput/connections as well for wired connections, but I guess all people but me use wireless for everything nowadays...
  • opmopadop
    I use a Linksys WAG160N, it wasnt reviewed here but I wanted to share that it has the same crappy problem of dropping internet connection. The competition can learn alot by making sure their routers dont suck as much as Linksys's do!
  • Linksys must make an official annoucement/support page about WAG160N, i have two and wired connections can not see wireless ones and vice versa, they even didnt make a firmware for that.
  • Stillglade
    Would be an interesting follow up article to flash the WRT610N with DD-WRT firmware to compare against stock. Basically, answer the question of is it the hardware or the software that makes it so good?
  • Zenthar
    I think Linksys Linksys E series should have been evaluated as well. Assuming a new version would perform at least on-par with the previous one is really bad analysis. There is so many things they could have screwed or even improved (one has to be positive as well).
  • tried 3 different routers and the linksys was the only one that would not freeze up with NETFLIX streaming from my Samsung Blueray player. Netgear, dlink, and Belkin all froze up after a about 75% of the buffering...requiring a power cycle of the router and the samsung player.
    Bit the bullet with the $$ and opted for the Linksys and am very pleased.
  • Try TP-Link TL-WR1043ND , it is ~80&
  • cag404
    CoriassiNo D-Link DIR-855, DGL-4500, no Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station?

    pato, my WRT600N was the v1 variant. I forget the release version of the firmware, but it was the latest version, as Linksys has not released any updates for it in roughly a year (I've had the router since a few months after it was first released). I liked it due to the dual radios, however, but it would drop wireless clients randomly (which was aggravating and required me to reset the router about once every other month) and it would not retain my port forwarding settings for my home server. And I agree with you, signal range was marginal with that router.
  • zelannii
    No Apple Airport Extreme considered????? Its the stick we measure the rest by in many cases, or at least most other sites do. How did you guys miss this one? Please amend to include the Airport in relation to the rest.
  • zelannii
    1) should have tested both with the "matching" adapter, and also with the generic Intel Wireless N chipset which is what 90% of people likely use (and the AMD equivalent). VERY VERY few people buy the matching adapters, especially if one is built in. It's a STANDARD now, so interoperability with "supported" adapters should not be an issue for the vendor (and if it is, that's actually IMPORTANT)!

    2) Should have tested N + G concurrency on 2.4GHz as well as N only on 2.4 + 5GHz concurrency (for devices that had dual radio). This data is important for most people who will run a Wireless N device or two, but likely also have a few smart phones or a game console that only supports 2.4GHz... I know the Airport Extreme currently has a bug making this dog slow, do some of the others?

    3) onyl 2 concurrent devices? how about 5 or 6? I regularly have 7 or 8. I notice performance drops off consistently just based on the number of connected devices, even if only one is "in use" actively downloading, and want to know if some routers hold out better with that.

    4) no feature comparison chart?
  • pluripotent
    I bought that linksys and the connection was so unstable that it was totally unusable. After spending way too much time on it, I got the D-link dual band router, the DIR-855. I stream live talks over the router, and using 2.4 GHz, I would have consistent brief signal disconnections every few minutes. 5 GHz solves that problem, but you need a compatible adapter.

    How much did you guys test the shareport function? (Not much from what it looks like). The shareport function hooked up to an external hard drive only works if you are transferring a file or two using windows. It totally fails when you try to us it with a 3rd party backup program (such as acrea). I personally haven't tried connecting a printer to shareport. I also couldn't get it to work using eraser (a disk erasing utility. I concluded that it just doesn't work with third party apps. So far, none of the driver, firmware or shareport software updates have fixed this problem.

    D-link does have a nice forum on their site where people can post their problems. For fixable problems, other users will helpfully solve your problems. For unsolvable problems (shareport being one of them) the user complaints just keep piling up. Rarely do d-link's own tech support grace the forums. Apparently, D-link is currently collecting all of the shareport grips and cataloging them. Ostensibly, this will result in a fix at some point in the future. Still waiting.
  • dominatorix
    why did you not review the:"Belkin Wireless Router Play Max"???
    or any of the new generative from Belkin???
    There is only 1 Router you should buy for normal use.

    Dlink DIR-655. Best entry level router ever.

    Hell, these routers are so damn fantastic I use them in my company's lab for QA on our telephony VoIP products since they can handle 200 g711 VoIP calls.
  • suddenstop
    Exactly what zelannii said. This test is worthless since the matching adapter is a non existent scenario. Generic intel wireless n would have been perfect, or averaging a couple adapters. Instead of a router test, it's a branded pair test - even article says netgear would have done better with another adapter.

    Also - most of us care a lot about range and antennas. iphones also lock up and reset on some routers. these were all the things i cared about when I researched and bought a router.
  • This is the most amateur testing of wireless routers I ever seen.
    You definatly should have not used a "matching" adapter. Especially not an USB one.
    Pick a few popular laptop, with popular wireless adapters (intel, broadcom and atheros for example), and do the average or something.