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Network World - Wireless routers are always something of a mystery. They combine a number of features into a single box and are usually complex to set up, but require little attention after that.
Set up properly, they can provide high-speed wired and wireless access to a wide range of devices, securely connect to storage and printers, route between parts of your internal network and protect against hackers. (See how we conducted our test.)
If that sounds like a tall order, it is. That is why wireless routers tend to be one of the more frequently returned items in general use. Wireless routers are also inconsistent in the services they offer, the way those services are presented to users, the ease with which they are enabled or disabled and the ease with which they can be found and made available by the system administrator.
The wireless routers in this test all share certain features, however. They are all dual-band wireless routers meeting the 802.11n standard. Each has four Ethernet ports, and a port for your Internet connection. All are designed for some sort of automated setup, and all will provide adequate service in a moderately sized office. Dual-band routers transmit and receive on 2.4GHz and on 5GHz at the same time.
We tested products from Linksys, Asus, Netgear, Belkin, EnGenius and Trendnet. In addition to looking at setup, documentation, manageability and feature sets, we conducted performance tests to see how far the router could deliver a streaming music video to a laptop before data loss became apparent, and far the router could deliver ping packets before packet loss occurred.
Our Clear Choice Test winner is the Linksys router, which offered the best combination of distance, speed, flexibility and security. And it's future-proofed through support for IPv6. However, it was relatively expensive. And we did find some minor flaws, such as the lack of status lights.
A close second is the stylish Asus RT-N56U. While it doesn't have IPv6 support, the Asus does everything else well, and won our performance tests. One minor quibble: Its stand is a little flimsy, so it tends to physically fall over. But a little duct tape can fix that.
The Netgear N600, with its included asymmetrical DSL (ADSL) modem, can simplify the implementation for users who have DSL lines, but it's less useful for other types of Internet service. The Belkin device had some hiccups when it came to setup, and its security features weren't the strongest, but it did perform well at 2.4GHz.
EnGenius is the low-cost alternative. It's not as feature-rich and polished as the others, and performance wasn't as strong, but in some cases it's half the price of a competing product.
Trendnet was the only product with external antennas. However, they didn't translate into a performance advantage.
We found that all of the devices provide adequate Internet access. But be aware of the limitations each has shown. Even though your work or home environment is certain to be different from the test lab, the relative performance should be approximately the same. In other words, a router that didn't work well at 5GHz in the test probably won't work well at 5GHz for you, either.