The D-Link DIR-651 Wireless N 300 Gigabit Router

With so many wireless routers on the market, it can be hard to tell one from another. So when you find one that offers something special for its price point, it stands out. That's the D-Link DIR-651 Wireless N 300 Gigabit Router. First, it's fast, offering wireless speeds of up to 300Mbps as well as gigabit Ethernet for super fast wired connections. Moreover, it includes features you might not find in a standalone enterprise-level firewall at three times the price. This is a router that will keep your home or small office network humming.

A setup wizard leads you through the basic configuration options, and a well-designed Web interface offers advanced options. Security is also a snap to set up, so even novice users can enjoy secure connections.

Because this version of the wireless standard is relatively new, many older wireless N adapters won't support the higher speed. But there's no need to worry about a mismatch. Even slower wireless N adapters -- around 70Mbps in my testing -- surpass the 4Mbps data rate of the average home or small-business Internet connection. With 300Mbps, you'll be able to stream music, video, and games and still have plenty of bandwidth for other devices and applications. The DIR-651's range is also exceptional -- more than 200 feet in my testing, without drops in speed. This should be enough to cover most homes and even outside areas, and is as good as I've seen.

The DIR-651 has more functionality than you'd expect to find in a wireless router. The firewall includes aliasing, which lets you pass traffic to an internal web or application server, and port forwarding, which lets you direct selected types of data to non-standard ports. This means that you can run your own email or web server and make it more secure against hackers by using non-standard port numbers. Using application rules, you can set up specific configurations to support gaming, voice over IP (VoIP), and web traffic. The unit offers a selection of pre-defined application rules, or you can configure your own. Rules can include quality of service (QoS) settings, which allow you to prioritize certain types of traffic so bandwidth-sensitive applications like VoIP or video streaming can maintain good quality without dropouts. You can set QoS rules differently for specific times; for example, to prioritize VoIP traffic between 9am and 5pm and video streaming after hours.

The DIR-651 also gives you excellent security features. The firewall's stateful packet inspection keeps a lookout for unusual traffic to help identify and block hackers. This feature once was found only in more expensive, dedicated firewalls; it's an unexpected pleasure to find it in an affordably priced router. The firewall also includes DMZ (a demilitarized zone, or area that's more exposed to the Internet) capability for services, such as online games and some email services, that don't work well behind a firewall. Applications designated to the DMZ function unfettered while the rest of the network remains protected. And if you want to let visitors on your network without giving them your password or access to local file servers, it's easy to set up a temporary guest network.

Another unusual feature is the DIR-651's flexible implementation of network address translation (NAT). NAT shields your network, so outsiders see only one address rather than communicating directly with individual devices. But some applications, especially some streaming and virtual private networking (VPN) protocols, don't work well with standard NAT. The router lets you set up specific rules to enable users to get good results with these protocols.

The DIR-651 protects your network not only from intruders, but from worrisome sites your users may try to connect to. The content filtering controls let you block Internet access from specific devices (based on their MAC address). You can block specific sites -- at all times or only during certain hours -- from any or all PCs on your network. You can also block particular types of traffic, say, BitTorrent, either at designated times of day or around the clock. Rules can be individually set for specific PCs or address ranges.

Built-in VPN support makes the DIR-651 an excellent choice for businesses with remote workers. VPNs allow users to connect over the public Internet to corporate offices without having to worry about their communications being intercepted, because all traffic is encrypted. The unit supports both IPSec and PPTP sessions, as well as multiple concurrent sessions, so several workers can use the corporate network simultaneously. Setup is straightforward and well-documented.

Priced at around $100, the DIR-651 offers a full feature set for either a home or small business network. It has high speed, great range, excellent security, and easy configuration. It's a great option for anyone looking for a fast, flexible, router that offers great value.

[ This sponsored article was written by IDG Creative Lab, a partner of PCWorld. ]

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