Cisco today expands its popular E-Series line of 802.11n Wi-Fi routers to five products covering the gamut of key features including single vs. dual-band support, number of transmit/receive antennas, and 10/100 vs gigabit Ethernet.
Depending on the configuration, the products range in price from $60 for a bare-bones 2.4GHz model with a 2 x 2 antenna array (the minimum required for Wi-Fi Alliance 802.11n certification) and 4 10/100 ethernet ports, to $180 for the model with simultaneous dual-band support, 2x3 antennas for 2.4GHz operations and 3x3 antennas for 5GHz, and 4 gigabit Ethernet ports.
The more antennas, the faster the potential speed of the network: Cisco pegs the speed potential for the 2x2 router at up to 300 megabits per second, compared to 450 mbps for the 5GHz network on the high-end E4200, which has a 3 x 3 antenna array.
Dual-band routers basically let you simultaneously use two Wi-Fi networks, each one operating on different areas of the wireless spectrum. A 2.4GHz network (the only band on the less expensive models) will support legacy 802.11b and 802.11g devices, while the 5GHz band supports 802.11a gear--and also has a larger number of non-overlapping channels, which makes it less subject to interference and therefore a better fit for streaming media, or any high-bandwidth operations in an area where lots of 2.4GHz networks are present (cities, for example)
The routers with gigabit Ethernet support are a better fit for higher-bandwidth wired network tasks-for example, network backups in a small business.
Other differentiators in the products include amplifiers for the radio signals: As with graphics, vendors can either save money and space by integrating them on the Wi-Fi chip, or offload them to their own hardware, which should make for a stronger signal and less stress on the Wi-Fi chip itself. The high-end products also include USB ports for media servers and storage (although Cisco's announcement says you may have to wait for a firmware upgrade, due this summer, to enable this functionality).
To the right is a chart (click it for the full view) showing the price and key features of the refreshed lineup. The E4200 is already available (it's unchanged from the current lineup); the rest of the units are slated to go on sale today except for the E3200, which Cisco says will ship next week.