Buying Guides -> Hardware -> Networking
Diet N Routers
Team CHIP | 29 November 2010
Diet N Routers
With wireless G routers being phased out and N routers still on the higher side of the Rupee scale, 150 MB/s "entry N" routers are easy on the pocket and do almost the same job.
By Francis D'SA
What would you need a wireless router for? If you ask yourself this question, the answer is probably “For Internet access on my laptop”. Wireless routers are usually used at home or small offices, where laptops are also commonly used. Most broadband Internet connections employed in small offices or homes are of around 2 MB/s bandwidth. Hence a 54 MB/s wireless G router is more than sufficient. So why would one ask for a 150 MB/s or 300 MB/s wireless N router? The simple answer: maximum throughput over a greater distance. Where a 54 MB/s router’s signal would cover a restricted area, 150 MB/s and 300 MB/s routers can beam signals further away and over a larger area.
150 MB/s wireless N routers are able to give you a considerable throughput with increased signal coverage at almost half the price of an N (300 MB/s) router. Wireless N routers promise higher speeds at greater distances and the built-in MIMO technology helps in increasing throughput while also reducing signal loss in dead spots. The next question you would ask is, “Why should I opt for a 150 MB/s or 300 MB/s router when I don’t even have a 4 MB/s Internet connection?” Well, if you have a wireless networking setup at home or at the office and use multiple computers with constant exchange of data such as email, music or videos, you would definitely need a faster networking system.
Wired networking can transfer data at blazing speeds of up to 1 GB/s, but as of now, wireless technology still remains at a maximum of 300 MB/s. Wireless G is much slower and is soon on its way out. Wireless N (300 MB/s) is still expensive, but is highly recommended where the network needs to be beamed in a larger area. For example, large offices, malls, and hotspots are better off with wireless N rather than a wireless G router. Wireless N (150 MB/s) routers are ideal where the data transfer is not a high priority, like in homes and small offices. These routers are basically used for Internet browsing and network gaming in a smaller coverage area. The cost of a 150 MB/s router is almost half the price of a wireless N router. So if you are on a tight budget, but still need a good speed and greater signal coverage, these are the right ones for you.
This roundup features eight 150 MB/s wireless N routers, which are intentionally manufactured for small offices and home use. Flip through the next few pages to find out which one is the best of the lot and pick out the one that suits your needs.
When it comes to picking a router, I would personally recommend the best wireless N 300 MB/s-based router which can be tweaked using an open source firmware such as the famous linux-based DD-WRT or Tomato. By opting for a third-party firmware, you can tap the true potential of the router by boosting the signal strength beyond the factory-set limits and even exposing certain features that the regular router firmware don't usually offer. You can do pretty much the same with any router, but you would run the risk of frying the insides and losing your warranty. Features such as multiple SSIDs, transmitting power, routing or access priority rules, creating APs or WDS networks, hotspot creation, and a lot more can be added.
After testing the routers in this comparison, I think the Buffalo AirStation WHR-HP-GN router is well worth its price. It had the maximum throughput in almost all the test zones. The router not only performs the best, but it is also sleek and looks great. It is also one of only three routers in this roundup to sport a physical wireless-mode on/off switch—a great feature to quickly disable the wireless mode when not using it while keeping the wired network untouched. This is beneficial when you think there is a threat from someone who has wirelessly gained access to your router. You won’t need to go through the painful process of logging in to the router’s firmware and disabling the feature via a Web interface.
If you’re looking for a portable router which can be easily carried around with you outdoors, you should have a look at the edimax 3g-6210n. This router is as small as a 2.5-inch laptop hard drive, supports 3g broadband internet dongles and is battery-operated—yes, battery operated. Edimax is one of the first manufacturers to embed a battery in a router, making it a great gadget if you frequently go outdoors or travel to lan parties. The router can also double up as a wireless client, which can benefit desktop computers, older laptops or ip cameras, which may not have wireless lan connectivity but need to be added to your network.
The Buffalo HighPower N150 was the smartest looking router in the roundup. It is sleek and has a glossy all-white shell. It is equipped with a vertical stand, which can also be removed for a wall-mounting option. Apart from its great looks, this one was the best performer as well. The Buffalo WHR-HP-GN does not feature any USB port for 3G or USB storage support, but offers standard router features such as security, firewall, LAN/WAN options, etc. An addition of a USB port would have brought great value to the product and could be beneficial in small office environments where printer or storage drives could be shared on the local network. The router also features the physical switch for the wireless transmitter to help turn off the wireless transmitter while keeping the router’s physical LAN functional. This helps keep intruders from accessing the network via the wireless mode.
Setting up the router is very simple and a setup wizard welcomes you and helps through the complete process of setting up the wireless network. The router can also be configured to be used as an access point and can even be paired with another similar router with a WDS option to create a bridge network for additional signal coverage. This is especially beneficial when you need wireless network coverage in houses with many rooms, large-sized offices or even open outdoor areas.
The router performed flawlessly, with consistent data throughput in all the test zones. This is because it adopts the automatic channel switching feature, which scans for other routers in the vicinity that are operating on a similar or overlapping channel. The router is backed by a two-year warranty and is a good choice for home use or an average-sized office where multiple computers are wirelessly networked. The Buffalo HighPower’s impressive test results helped it bag the Best Performance title.
Verdict: If looks and performance are a priority, this one is the right choice.
For: Aesthetics, great performance, wireless mode switch.
Against: Transmission power cannot be adjusted, no USB support.
The Netgear WGR614 has the best build quality of the lot and it looks good too. It has a white matte-finish shell, which is resistant to scratches, but can get easily stained if it’s not handled with enough care. It does not sport any options for wall mounting or antenna replacement, but it can be placed horizontally or vertically using the bundled stands. The Netgear too has neither a USB port for external storage nor 3G Internet support. The router’s feature-set is very similar to that of the other routers, but one feature that sets this one apart is the option of creating multiple SSIDs. This option allows you to create additional isolated wireless networks for guest users who can be only allowed to access the internet and keep them from intruding into restricted shares.
Symbolized stickers are placed on the router, LAN cable and power adapter respectively for an easy and quick step-by-step installation for new users. The internal setup of the router too is simple and easy to follow. There’s a built-in automatic firmware update feature which makes it easy for the user by eliminating the need to hunt and download the model-specific firmware. The Netgear features a physical switch on the rear for power, which is a feature often missing in most routers. The top features two switches, one each for wireless mode and WPS.
On the performance front, we found that the Netgear WGR614 has a sluggish data throughput when compared to the other routers we tested in this roundup. But it did have a consistent throughput at all test zones. However, this won’t affect Internet speed in any way as we’re still a few years away for having affordable broadband connections of more than 15 Mb/s. This router is best suited for those who want to setup wireless Internet at home or in a small office on a strict budget.
Verdict: A rugged and feature-rich router to help set up a wireless network at home.
For: Good looks, multiple SSID feature, power and wireless switch.
Against: No wall mounting option, sluggish wireless network speeds.