Wireless Routers: The Truth About Superfast Draft-N

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Features to Look For

QoS helps ensure smooth streaming media and VoIP calls by prioritizing multimedia packets on the network. All but the Netgear lines had this feature when we tested, and Netgear planned to add it via firmware updates. (Note that QoS support must be present in both your router and your adapters to work.)

UPnP enables automatic peer-to-peer connectivity of networked computers, hard drives, game consoles, streaming-media players, and even kitchen appliances, so that they can recognize one another and share data intelligently. We were pleased to see that all the tested routers had this capability.

Note, however, that in calculating the PCW Ratings we did not give draft-n products extra points for upgradability potential, since without vendor guarantees the value is uncertain at best.

Indeed, our bottom-line advice is to hold out for certified 802.11n products (turn to "What's Ahead for 802.11n" for more on the standard's progress), unless you just can't wait to get the added bandwidth for entertainment applications and large file transfers.

Wait If You Can

Remember that unless you upgrade all your adapters to match, you won't see the true benefits of any of these high-speed network technologies; this requirement adds nearly $100 per device to your investment in potentially nonstandard equipment. Just upgrading one adapter doesn't work well, since using older 802.11b/g devices at the same time can seriously affect router performance.

Also, older adapters are unlikely to support WPA2 encryption, which is needed to get the maximum out of draft-n. Finally, consider that for now new adapters are primarily for notebooks--only a few vendors also offer desktop cards, and most consumer electronics vendors are expected to hold off on products with fast Wi-Fi support until 802.11n is ratified.

If you must have added range now, consider the Netgear RangeMax 240, which earned the top rating in this group for its combination of performance, design, and features. If you're willing to take a performance hit in order to gamble on upgradability to the eventual standard, look at Netgear's draft-n-compliant RangeMax Next line, the only one in our tests that could approach the range of the Airgo-based products.

Though the Belkin N1 Wireless and Linksys Wireless-N routers had top-rated features, design, and usability, they faltered in performance. The Buffalo AirStation Nfiniti line performed similarly to the Belkin and Linksys products, but It suffered some serious flaws, such as a lack of strong WPA2 encryption--a must-have for this class of router.

Another option--if you are on a strict budget and are primarily concerned with improved range (as opposed to top speed)--is to invest in even older and cheaper Airgo-based gear, such as Belkin's Wireless G-Plus MIMO router. This unit's range is nearly as good, and its price is much lower.

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