Which is the right router for you? (Part 3)

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Feature Rich Routers

Although the TP-Link N-300 is a fantastic bargain buy, an extra $24 or $32 will buy you an equivalently specified router from some better-known brands (at least here in the UK) like Netgear or Belkin. These manufacturers generally provide slick interfaces that are easy to navigate, and benefit from large user bases that can be tapped into should you get stuck. The Netgear DGN2200 costs under $96 and looks quite different from its predecessors. While the last generation of Netgears had a white and grey finish, the GDN2200 is much more contemporary with the now-ubiquitous glossy piano-black finish. The device has two antennas, allowing the full 802.1 1 n 300Mbps speed to be accessed with a suitable wireless dongle or PCI card. Just remember the channel bonded 300Mbps mode won't always give you the best performance. If you live in the countryside it's worth a shot, but if you're in the city with a congested 2.4GHz band, the un-bonded 150Mbps mode could well yield the best results.

Description: TP-Link N-300

TP-Link N-300

Netgear's interface is extremely slick and easy to navigate, and despite the router offering some pretty advanced features we never felt out of our depth. WDS, and QoS are both supported and users can create up to four separate network IDs, each with their own security settings. This allows you to have a separate SSID for your games consoles with relatively light security support and a higher security SSID for your PCs and smartphones. The QoS settings also enabled us to play World of Warcraft smoothly even when running BitTorrent in the background, with the router correctly down-prioritising the peer-to-peer network so that our gaming latency was not affected.

Description: Belkin Play Max N600 HD

Belkin Play Max N600 HD

An extra $32 over the DGN2200 buys you the Belkin Play Max N600 HD. This dualband router allows you to run two networks simultaneously, a 2.4GHz network for older a/b/g devices and a 5GHz band network for newer PCs and laptops. It also has a lot of features that may appeal as value added extras compared to cheaper routers. The Vuze BitTorrent client, for example, allows you to download content from the world's most popular peer-to-peer protocol even when your PC is turned off, storing the data on a USB-attached storage device. Considering the router consumes only 10W in use (compared to an average PC's 50 to 100W when idling), this could save you many pounds a year in electricity savings, not to mention improving your carbon footprint.

As with the DGN2200, the Belkin has plenty of advanced networking features including QoS, the ability to create networks with separate SSIDs, a dynamic DNS and WDS.

The interface of the Belkin Play Max N600 is slick and speedy. It's also easy to navigate. For those who want on-tap access to the router's more advanced features, Belkin also offers a taskbar application. Personally, we like to keep our PC as free of memory-resident applications as possible, but if you want the ability to switch between QoS settings with just a couple of mouse clicks, the Play Max is a great choice.

Netgear also provides a gigabit dual-wireless band router in the form of its DGND3300. You can pick this model up for around the same price of the Belkin, and although it lacks some of the bells and whistles of the Play Max, it is still a very capable router. A 'Push 'N' Connect' feature allows you to add computers to the network quickly and securely using WPS security, ideal for novice users, while the router looks after its own house keeping duties by automatically checking for firmware updates and applying them in the background. Its eight internal wireless antennas also grant it excellent wireless range and speed, with the device connecting at a leading 12Mbps to our laptop even when 20m away - impressive for a consumer router and even more astounding when you consider that the antennas are all housed internally.

Cable Routers

Description: TP-Link TL-WR2543ND

TP-Link TL-WR2543ND

Each of the routers we've mentioned in this article have cable router analogues. If you're a cable broadband customer, simply look at the manufacturer's website to see what the cable equivalent is. You can expect prices to be similar, even though the model you will need lacks an internal ADSL modem.

The Future


Linksys E4200


Some manufacturers are already going beyond the speeds offered by 300Mbps 802.11 n. The Linksys E4200, for example, claims to offer a 450Mbps connection speed. Seeing as even the fastest 300Mbps devices only connect at around 70 to 80Mbps under ideal real-world circumstances, these speeds are wildly optimistic, but the device is nonetheless impressive. The Linksys's trick is to use a 5GHz 3x3 MIMO mode to boost range and speed, though you will need to use a compatible wireless adaptor. Linksys bundles the E4200 with a single compatible USB adaptor and you can buy extras for around $48.

If you would rather not bust out over $240 on a 450Mbps router, again TP-Link has an alternative or you. Its TL-WR2543ND matches the impressive feature set of the Linksys, but at $116.7 is actually more competitively priced than most high-end 300N devices. Just bear in mind that most devices like smartphones and tablets do not support the 450Mbps 3x3 5GHz connection mode out of the box. It is therefore only worth splashing out on these if you don't mind also buying compatible adaptors, or are lucky enough to own an Ultrabook featuring a Centrino 'Ultimate N' wireless cards, which can connect automatically. In our testing, these 450Mbps products connected at around 90 to 100Mbps. A far cry from the published speeds but still way faster than a normal 802.11n connection.

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