GCN LAB REVIEW
Wireless-N routers ready for prime time
Late last year, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers ratified the 802.11n wireless networking standard. We at the lab decided to see how this has affected the small-office wireless environment.
We received workgroup-level 802.11n wireless routers from Buffalo Technology, D-Link Systems, Edgecore Networks and Netgear.
For the most part, the devices were extremely easy to set up, often requiring only the setting of an IP address to get the local computer and wireless client to talk to each other. We also found that they all had basic router functions, such as port forwarding and a firewall. And without exception, each router had all the latest security features, such as Wi-Fi Protected Access, WPA2 and WPA2-PSK certification, in addition to Wired Equivalent Privacy 64-bit and 128-bit encryption.
In our file transfer tests, each of the routers in the review had the best times for at least one of the distances. That implies that each has different strengths and would be best suited for specific implementations, depending on the number of users and how far they need to communicate.
In addition to performance testing, we graded each one on how easy it was to set up and make changes to the settings. We also looked at additional features the devices might have, such as access point modes, extra local-area network ports or dual-band radios. Last, we looked at the unit’s price as compared to how it fared in the other categories.
Nfiniti Wireless-N router does well in mixed company
The Nfiniti Wireless-N Essential High Power Router and Access Point (WHR-HP-G300N) has the longest name but is the smallest and lightest router in the review. At a half a pound and an inch wide, an administrator should be able to easily find a place for the Nfiniti.
The Nfiniti’s features were all easily accessible through the Web-based administration interface. We were able to alter wireless and network settings without any difficulties. The AirStation One-Touch Secure System allowed us to connect with other AOSS-enabled devices with the push of a button.
We were a bit concerned that we couldn't find a way to adjust the power of the wireless radio. Although that didn’t affect the testing, we felt that the inability to restrict its effective service radius gives administrators less flexibility, and thus we felt it was worth mentioning.
With only 10/100 ports for the local-area network and wide-area network connections, the practical limit for the Nfiniti is only 100 megabits/sec because the wireless traffic eventually must go out one of the wired ports. However, the radio performed well within that constraint. It came within 3 percent of that limit with a single user going from Ethernet to wireless and within 1 percent when sending packets the other way. It did just as well in the 10-user test as in the mixed 802.11g and 802.11n test, and it lost no significant bandwidth.
In our open-air file transfer tests, the Nfiniti held its own at the longer distances, even squeaking out the top speed at 80 feet, an effective throughput of 6.91 megabits/sec. It didn’t do as well as the others at 60 feet, but, as that was the first distance outside the office, a few feet away from the building, we expected some of the routers to have a little trouble with it.
The Nfiniti’s retail price of $70 is a good one, considering its radio’s power and overall ease of use. It would do well for any workgroup that has AOSS devices to connect or has a mix of 802.11g and 802.11n users.
Buffalo Technologies, www.buffalotech.com
Buffalo Nfiniti Wireless-N
Pros: Router and access point modes; small and light.
Cons: 10/100 ports limit connectivity; no power adjustment.
Ease of use: A
DIR-825 Extreme N router excels at short distances
D-Link’s DIR-825 Xtreme N Dual Band Gigabit Router comes in a bright white case that is unmistakable, and it has features that aren’t available on some of the others in the roundup.
One feature unique to the D-Link is the SharePort, a USB port in the back that can be connected to a printer or external drive for access without the need of a computer. We can see this feature getting a lot of use in a workgroup environment.
Of course, we were pleased to see that the D-Link had two independently controlled radios to support the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. When both are operational, the router can optimize bandwidth use by various kinds of traffic.
In our tests, we achieved some anomalous results with the Xtreme N. Because it has gigabit ports, the practical limit of traffic to and from an n wireless client approaches 300 megabits/sec. However, although it approached that limit at times, the results were not consistent. That implies that there might be some buffering problems when the traffic reaches the near-constant levels that the VeriWave test equipment exposes them to. Fortunately, the mixed 802.11g and 802.11n tests and security tests showed no significant drop in those levels.
Fortunately, the D-Link did manage to redeem itself in our file transfer tests, proving to be the king of short distances. It was clearly the fastest at 40 feet, churning out an effective transfer rate of 13.96 megabits/sec, even though it was hampered by the same 10/100 connection from the computer that every other product was. However, at longer distances, it dropped to the back of the pack.
D-Link has set the list price for the DIR-825 Xtreme N Dual Band Gigabit Router at $200, which is decent for a dual-band unit with its features. The government price of $180 is much better. This router would be good for a closely grouped set of users who have a variety of media they access wirelessly.
D-Link Systems, www.dlink.com
D-Link DIR-825 Extreme N
Pros: Dual-band radios; good throughput at short distances.
Cons: Some buffering problems in tests.
Ease of Use: A-
Price: $200 ($180 government)
Barricade N router priced right for small groups
The SMCWBR14S-N3 Barricade N from Edgecore Networks, formerly SMC, is a handy little router that can adequately meet a workgroup’s basic wireless needs — and do so at a very low price. However, the low cost does mean that you will have to do without the stronger signal strength that you find in more expensive units.
The Barricade N has 10/100 ports for its local-area network and wide-area network connections. Although it’s not alone in that for this roundup, we felt that if you want to put 300 megabits/sec in huge orange print on your box, you might want to consider not having 100 megabits/sec choke points built in. Of course, allowing more speed would significantly affect the price.
In the VeriWave tests, the Barricade N came within 2 percent of its practical maximum of 100 megabits/sec when sending data from the Ethernet side to the wireless. In the 10-user test, the performance dropped to nearly 30 percent of the single-user test. We achieved a similar result with the mixed 802.11g and 802.11n test and security test. However, in all cases, when going from wireless to wired, the throughput was back up to where we expected. So the Barricade N should perform adequately unless it’s overtaxed with users. If you have more than 10 wireless users at the same time, you might not want to install this router.
Although it was at the bottom of the roundup at the shorter distances of our file transfer tests, the Barricade N managed to pull into the lead at the 60-foot mark, producing an effective throughput of 10.68 megabits/sec. However, at 100 feet, we were unable to maintain a strong enough wireless signal for the duration of the file transfer and thus could not produce an effective throughput figure. It also had the slowest upload rates at all other distances.
The Barricade N SMCWBR14S-N3 from EdgeCore Networks has a list price of $60, the lowest in the review and not bad for a no-frills router. The government price of $46 makes it even more palatable. It would perform decently for a workgroup that has basic routing needs at close distances and doesn't have too much traffic at once.
Edgecore Networks, www.edgecorenetworks.com
Edgecore Barricade N (SMCWBR14S-N3)
Pros: Very inexpensive.
Cons: 10/100 megabits/sec ports; limited range.
Ease of Use: A-
Price: $60 ($46 government)
ProSafe Wireless-N VPN Firewall router big on features, capacity
The Netgear ProSafe Wireless-N VPN Firewall (SRXN3205), as its name implies, has many additional features not found in other routers in the roundup. And they are all packed inside a sturdy metal case that you can mount on a wall or rack.
The ProSafe’s antenna array had, in addition to the two dipole antennae, a patch antenna in between. That addition allows the ProSafe to boost the signal in the direction the antenna faces, which can be especially useful if your implementation has long-distance users in roughly the same direction. When combined with the dual radios in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies, you end up with a formidable broadcast device, especially at greater distances.
We were especially pleased to see that in addition to router and firewall functions, the ProSafe also had extensive virtual private network capability, both for IP security and Secure Sockets Layer.
The gigabit ports on the ProSafe allowed it to excel in the VeriWave throughput tests. It managed to maintain optimal speeds in the multiuser test and showed less than a 10 percent drop from optimal when dealing with mixed 802.11g and 802.11n users.
Although the ProSafe had lower-than-average effective throughputs at close distances, it improved in relation to the others with distance, finally coming out on top at 100 feet, with an effective throughput of 3.16 megabits/sec. In addition, the ProSafe came out with the fastest upload times — wireless client to wired computer — at every single distance interval.
Netgear is selling the SRXN3205 for $259. That is a good price for a router that has all of the capabilities and power of the ProSafe. It would do well in an environment with many users who are at moderate to long distances from the router. And it earns the Reviewer’s Choice designation for this review.
Netgear ProSafe Wireless-N VPN Firewall
Pros: Good performance at long distances.
Cons: Setup a bit complicated.
Ease of Use: B+