Ten... dual-band wireless routers
His and hers Wi-Fi
Product round-up A wireless routers is one of the most important items in any gadget lover’s home. Performance, range and reliability are essential criteria to consider when deciding when buying a router. Also, bear in mind the configuration software, as routers can do quite a few tricks these days and accessing features from the on-board browser interface needs to be as painless as possible.
With the latest 802.11ac standard only just emerging with actual router hardware, you'll be hard pressed to find any mainstream device that supports this protocol, as yet. Currently, all mid- to high-end routers support the 802.11n wireless standard, with many operating at both 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies. 5GHz wireless networks usually perform better, since the frequency is used by fewer devices, and there’s less interference, but its range is limited.
On test are ten wireless routers that have had their innards probed for user friendliness and broadcast powers measured for speed. The router tests were performed by transferring a 5GB file from a high-performance NAS to a MacBook Pro using FTP, over both the router’s 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless networks. To get an idea of best throughput, this was done over a distance of 1 metre. The same test on the 2.4GHz wireless network was set up in a room outside the thick external walls of a house, at a distance of roughly 15 metres.
While most networking firms put plenty of effort into making their devices look attractive, they don’t always put the same effort into the software and on-board interface. This doesn’t apply to the Asus RT-N56U, since its stunning ‘diamond-embossed’ exterior is paired with a logical and well designed software interface that keeps text-heavy menus to a minimum, with plenty of attractive graphics and icons instead.
As with Cisco’s E2500, it only supports a theoretical 300Mbps antenna configuration, but is chock full of other hardware. In addition to the usual four Gigabit Ethernet ports, there are two USB 2.0 ports, so you can add plenty of storage to create a makeshift NAS.
At 2.4GHz, the RT-N56U, coming in at 9.7MBps, but at 5GHz, it jumped to 18.9MBps. Long-range performance was good too, with the test file shuffling along at 4.6MBps.
Reg Rating 80%
More info Asus
AVM Fritz!Box WLAN 7390
The Fritz!Box 7390 is undoubtedly expensive, but its unique extras somewhat justify the price. In addition to ferrying wireless data between computers and devices, it has advanced telephony functions that no other router offers.
When connected to an analogue telephone line, the 7390 manages all your calls, with a built-in answering machine, fax, address book, call logging and support for various VOIP services (unfortunately, not including Skype).
It’s also a DECT base station for cordless telephones, with AVM both selling its own MT-F handset, and the 7390 is compatible with other firms’ models. With the Fritz!App Fon for Android or iOS, you can also answer landline calls using your smartphone.
It performs well too. At 2.4 GHz I measured 10.8MBps, which jumped to 16.39MBps at 5GHz, while at long range it still managed a very respectable 7.1MBps. The on-board interface is exceptionally clean, concise and consistent, which helps when configuring the 7390’s more advanced functions.
However although the 7390 is excellent, if you’d rather keep your fixed-line telephone and router separate, a more affordable router is sufficient.
Reg Rating 80%
More info AVM
Belkin Play N750 DB
The Play N750DB’s product name comes from the combined performance of its five internal antennae, which are (theoretically) capable of 300MBps performance at 2.4GHz and 450Mbps at 5GHz. Along with four Gigabit Ethernet ports and dual USB 2.0 ports, it has everything offered
Belkin has a few proprietary functions, which are fairly similar to what’s offered from other routers, but with a self-explanatory name. Aside from Self-Healing, which is for diagnostics, Video Mover and Precious Memories are related to the N750 DBs NAS functionality, for media sharing to DLNA devices and file backup
The N750’s short-range performance at 2.4GHz was reasonable, managing 9.1MBps, but performance at 5GHz was more impressive, clocking in at 17.9MBps.
Belkin claims its ‘multi-beam’ technology improves wireless coverage, as it combines data streams more efficiently than the usual MIMO technique. In tests, I found its 5.5MBps long-range performance wasn’t the best I’ve seen, but is still a great speed to achieve through a solid outer wall.
Reg Rating 70%
More info Belkin
Buffalo AirStation Nfinity WZR AG300H
Buffalo’s WZR-AG300H is one of the few routers to use the DD-WRT open-source firmware, which contains a wealth of routing functions that other manufacturers don’t offer. Its support for Radius and bridging functions, for example, are far more comprehensive than anywhere else.
On the outside, there are some unusual switches to disable the routing or manually switch the QoS setting to prioritise media playback. Likewise, the unique rectangular antennae resemble wings, lifting away from the device.
Its wireless performance was limited. The WZR-AG300H is only rated at 300Mbps, but even then it clocked up transfer speeds significantly slower than other routers with the same configuration. The test file transferred at 8.9MBps at 2.4GHz and 11.6MBps at 5GHz, and at distance this dropped to 3MBps.
I suspect advanced users will still find much to like though, especially the performance monitoring tools, although these benefits will most likely be wasted on a typical consumer.
Reg Rating 75%
More info Buffalo
Cisco Linksys E2500
At £75, the snazzy-looking Linksys E2500 is relatively kind to your wallet, but unfortunately it lacks a few features found on other routers. There’s no USB port nor Gigabit Ethernet, as the LAN ports are only capable of 100Mbps speeds. The antenna configuration only supports 300Mbps, while other routers can manage 450Mbps, although this is only a theoretical speed.
There’s still plenty to like though. Setup is very straightforward with the Cisco Connect software and guest networks, IPv6 and dynamic DNS services are supported. It can also be flashed with the DD-WRT open-source firmware (but does not ship with it).
I measured adequate performance, at both short and long range, but nothing spectacular. In tests, the E2500 managed 9.8MBps at 2.4GHz and 12.1MBps at 5GHz, while at long range the E2500 achieved just 2.8 MBps.
Unfortunately, while I can live without a USB port, the omission of Gigabit Ethernet is severely limiting when transferring large files over a wired network.
Reg Rating 65%
More info Cisco
D-Link DIR-857 HD Media Router 3000
D-Link’s flagship router is something of a beast, in terms of both its strong performance and long list of features. It has a triple-stream antenna configuration, theoretically allowing for up to 450Mbps. Along with the full array of usual features, such as Gigabit Ethernet, there’s also an integrated USB 3.0 port and even an SD card slot at the back.
As with other routers, these can be used to create a do-it-yourself NAS, and D-Link’s excellent SharePort software is an alternative to opening network ports to access your files remotely. There’s also a handy SharePort app for iOS and Android mobile devices which works well too.
I measured some astonishing speeds, with the DIR-857 managing 15.7MBps at 2.4GHz and 21.4MBps at 5GHz, while long range file transfers were still an impressive 4.6MBps. The DIR-857 is one of the fastest routers tested, and although this performance comes at an eye-wateringly high price, lest we forget it also comes with a shed load of handy features.
Reg Rating 80%
More info D-Link
The Edmimax interface certainly has an odd layout. The graphical iQoS settings occupy an entire top-level menu, along with another simply labelled ‘S’, that houses statistics, the device status and logs. The rest of the important settings are under General Setup, where each menu option leads to further lists of options, and it becomes confusing.
Still, the BR-6675ND showcases the performance 450Mbps routers can attain at 5GHz. It beat every other router tested, transferring the test file at 26.7MBps. Its 10.8MBps transfer rate at 2.4GHz performance is less impressive though, only marginally better than most of other routers on test.
However at long range, once again, the BR-6675ND made it to the winners podium, with an impressive 6.1MBps. If you can live with the interface, which is unappealing and somewhat confusing, but chock full of settings, the BR-6675ND is a reasonably priced powerful router and most definitely worth considering.
Reg Rating 85%
More info Edimax
Netgear N750 WNDR4000
The N750 is another dual-band router that supports the 450Mbps wireless standard at 5GHz, but only 300Mbps at 2.4GHz, along with the usual four Gigabit Ethernet ports, WPS button and USB port for file sharing. There’s also QoS, DynDNS, IPv6 certification and port forwarding, although VPN passthrough controls are absent. Separate SSIDs for 2.4GHz, 5GHz and guest networks are supported, along with a comprehensive content filtering system. Netgear makes it simple for users who prefer not to use the bundled Genie software to set up the router, since the on-board interface can always be accessed by typing http://www.routerlogin.net into a web browser. Graphics and icons are somewhat sparse on this interface, but it's still easy to navigate. I had no trouble instantly finding the right settings.
Performance was a mixed bag. At short range the N750 is one of the best routers I’ve used. 12.6MBps at 2.4GHz and a whopping 23.7MBps at 5GHz is not to be sniffed at, but the thick walls between our laptop and the router at long range caused initial connection problems, followed by a slightly disappointing average transfer rate of 3.3MBps. Considering the price, I’d appreciate better range.
Reg Rating 70%
More info Netgear
TP Link WR2543ND
While it looks and feels plasticky, at £55, the WR2543ND is exceptional value for money, since its specifications include everything offered by more expensive routers, and even lacked by others. There are four Gigabit Ethernet ports, 3x3 MIMO external antennas, and a USB 2.0 port for sharing printers or storage. Most of the usual software functions are supported too, such as DynDNS, QoS controls, VPN passthrough and a DoS/SPI firewall. A downside is that the WR2543ND cannot output both 2.4GHz or 5GHz wireless networks simultaneously. The interface is also something of a step back in time, with text-heavy menus and a distinct lack of graphics and icons.
But the excellent performance makes up for it, since I measured 10.8MBps at 2.4GHz, and 17.8MBps at 5GHz. At long range it fared well too, achieving 5.3MBps. Budget-conscious buyers who don't need simultaneous dual-channel functionality should look no further.
Reg Rating 75%
More info TP Link
Zyxel NBG 5715
The NBG 5715 is a router that amazes and disappoints in equal measure. As well as the usual WPS button and Gigabit Ethernet, it’s the only router to come with two integrated USB 3.0 ports, with the potential of creating a high-performance NAS simply by adding USB 3.0 external storage. But instead, Zyxel forces you to instal its dreadful NetUSB Share Center software, which then maps the storage to a spare drive letter.
This is a shame, because the NBG 5715’s interface is otherwise excellent. Graphical menus, tables detailing the status of each network port, a firewall, VPN, QoS and content filtering are all there.
Performance is a similar story. I measured fantastic short-range performance, with the NBG 5715 achieving 12.8MBps at 2.4GHz, and a mind-blowing 25.6MBps at 5GHz. In our long-range tests though, this dropped to an unappetising 1.9MBps. ®
Reg Rating 70%
More info Zyxel