Four Wi-Fi tools deliver mixed results

During our review of 802.11ac routers, some of the vendors sent along additional products that they thought we might be interested in. Here are short reviews of four WiFi tools that you might find useful in your network.

Netgear Centria

The Centria looks just like the Netgear R6300 router we tested, until you take a look at the back. There you'll find a bulge, and a door. Inside the door is a 2Tbyte SATA hard disk. But of course it's also a router.

The idea behind the Centria is to deliver multimedia networking in a single package. The device is an 802.11n router, a four-port Gigabit Ethernet switch, and a storage server. In addition to the internal hard disk, there's a pair of USB ports for more storage or for a printer.

The storage supports the DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) standard, so there are many devices that can access the content on this device, including Windows and Macintosh computers, some Android phones, and with the right app, iOS devices. What's more, the Centria consolidates the information from other media servers on your network, so you get one unified view of your multimedia content.

Otherwise, it works just like any other 802.11n router, which means it's fast, but not as fast as the Netgear's 802.11ac R6300. This is really a nice solution that combines a wireless router and network storage.

D-Link AC1200 Dual Band USB Adapter

The AC1200 is designed to give your computer an 802.11ac link to your network. Unfortunately the idea is better in theory than in practice. Testing revealed that if you follow the instructions and load the software that comes with the AC1200, the WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) doesn't work, and the device only works on 2.4GHz.

If however, you ignore the instructions and just plug the AC1200 into your Windows 7 computer, press the WPS button on the device and on the router (you'll get no indication that anything is happening on the device), then it works fine.

But because it doesn't have enough antenna hardware to support three spatial streams it's not a lot faster than our ThinkPad T-410 is without it. We got 175Mbps with the device, and 140Mbps just using the antennas in the laptop. Both were communicating with the Netgear 6300.

Asus USB-N66

The USB-N66 is a pyramid shaped device that glows purple, and plugs into your computer's USB port, where it can be an 802.11n USB adapter. It can also work as a wireless hotspot, and there's a high power mode that requires two USB ports to provide the extra power.

The device works as advertised, and provides throughput (using ixChariot) of 140Mbps. There's an installation CD that makes the device far more confusing to set up than it needs to be. To use it as a USB adapter you only need to plug it in and provide the required security information.

Asus EA-N66

The EA-N66 looks just like the USB-N66 in that it's a small pyramid that glows purple. It's an 802.11n Ethernet bridge that supports three spatial streams. You can use it to support one Ethernet device, such as a television set.

The instructions that come with the EA-N66 tell you that setup is simply a matter of pressing the WPS button on the device and on the router. Trouble is, there's no WPS button on the device. You need to set it up with a computer with a wired Ethernet interface, and then browse to the Web based configuration page. Once there, all that's required is a couple of clicks. Once in place, it works as expected, and it supports 140Mbps throughput, just like the other 802.11n devices.

If there was a common theme with these devices, it's that, with the exception of Netgear, the instructions are lousy. By that I mean they are frequently simply wrong. Worse, the software that comes along may not be useful, and in the case of the D-Link adapter resulted in slower operation than the tests showed without it. Again, that was not the case with the Netgear device. Each of these devices actually turned out to be useful in some way, but not always in the way the manufacturer seems to have intended.

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