Best wireless router: 8 reviewed
13th Jul 2011 | 10:30
Find the best Wireless N router for you
The wireless modem router your ISP provides could well be insufficient for your needs. Your wireless signal will weaken or disappear when you move your laptop into another room.
If you have several wireless devices - PCs, phones, printers and so on - it may struggle to keep up with the amount of data going back and forth.
The solution is to upgrade a a router that features Wireless N technology, which will enhance the speed of your wireless network, increase its range and allow you to connect more devices to it without it falling over when all systems are go.
We're going to show you which of these routers offers the best performance, which is easiest to set up, and which has the most useful added features.
Don't worry if your home is among the 20 per cent of UK households on a cable broadband connection - we've made sure there are cable routers included, too. Whichever type of broadband you've got, there's a faster router out there for you.
Wireless routers tested
Asus RT-N56U - £100
Belkin Play Max N600 HD - £66
D-Link DIR-825 - £93
Draytek Vigor283Vn - £239
FRITZ!Box Fon WLAN 7390 - £238
Linksys E4200 - £140
Netgear RangeMax DGND3300 - £100
TP-Link TL-WR1043ND - £42
The Asus RT-N56U doesn't look like your typical drab slab of a router. In fact, it doesn't really look like a router at all.
The RT-N56U is Asus' effort to stand out from the rather boring-looking crowd. Not only are its looks unconventional, the location of its connections is too - side-mounted as opposed to located at the rear of the unit.
Although this is handy because it makes them easier to access, it also means that they stick out like a sore thumb when the unit is in use.
Belkin Play Max N600 HD
Although the award for cheapest router of the day sadly can't go to the Belkin Play Max N600 HD - the TP-Link has the other routers on test here licked in that regard - it nevertheless offers the greatest range of features and the best performance for its price tag.
Its nearest competitor, the Asus RT-N56U, costs over £30 more and doesn't seem to offer many more features to justify the expense, even if it does look somewhat more interesting.
For example, Belkin's router supports cable connections, unlike the Asus.
There's some funny marketing magic going on with the D-Link DIR-825. On the outside of the router's box, D-Link promises a quad-band device - presumably a bid to get one over all the dual-band routers on the market, which are currently the top of the range in terms of performance. But look closely and you'll see that this is actually just another dual-band router.
Quad-band or otherwise, the DIR-825 offers pretty exhilarating performance, with the 1GB test files taking just two minutes to transfer from one PC to another over wireless, while at the 10M range it took six minutes 10 seconds.
Draytek Vigor 2830Vn
Looks aren't normally important when you're choosing a router, but the Draytek Vigor2830Vn is a bit of monster. Then again, it's not designed to be propped up next to a home hi-fi - this device is intended for small business use.
This is made clear by the fact that the ports are located on the front for ease of access, and because the Vigor2830Vn is bursting at the seams with features.
As well as being ADSL and cable internet compatible, there's the option of having up to three different internet connections active at once: the main ADSL one, an Ethernet port for connecting another modem and a port for adding a 3G modem - which would be useful as a backup if your primary or secondary internet were to fail.
FRITZ!Box Fon WLAN 7390
The FRITZ!Box Fon WLAN 7390 combines an ADSL2+ and VDSL modem in one. Whether you have a regular broadband internet connection running through your phone line or a fibre optic cable one, you can replace your old modem altogether.
This is great if you aren't sure which type you need, or if you think you might change the type of broadband service you use in the future.
This convenience comes at a price, and the FRITZ!Box costs over twice as much as a regular router that simply upgrades your standard modem. In fairness though, you get a lot more with the FRITZ!Box than a conventional router and modem combination.
The E4200 is a breath of fresh air. In a sea of devices that offer only limited support, it's almost surprising to use a router that feels as if it's been designed to welcome new users with open arms, rather than frighten them off.
The installation process is remarkably easy. Jargon isn't thrown at you as you configure the router - everything is explained in plain English.
During the setup process you're given the option of either choosing the default network name and password, or changing it to your own - an option that some other routers hid under layers of menus.
Netgear RangeMax DGND3300
Although the Netgear RangeMax DGND3300 doesn't have the feature set of the FRITZ!Box Fon 7390 or the Draytek Vigor 2870Vn, it's a pleasant surprise to see that for about £100 less than either or these routers (and only marginally more than most of the others on test) it offers the luxury of a built-in modem.
Rather than having an additional box sat next to your current modem router, you can replace it altogether and have one device that does it all.
This doesn't apply if you have a cable internet connection, because the modem is ADSL-only. Instead you'll need the WNDR3300, which is the cable alternative.
Just £42 for a superfast modem? Seems fishy. That's the price you'd pay for a standard Wireless G router, not a dual-band Wireless N model.
Ah, that's the thing. The TP-Link TL-WR1043ND - one heck of a mouthful - isn't actually a dual-band router; it's just a lowly single-band. Surely that means it has no chance against the dual-band devices in this test.
Well, no. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Although the TP-Link doesn't benefit from the 5GHz transmission band, it has a crude way of making up for this, using three antennas to ramp the standard 2.4GHz signal to its maximum. And it works, with the fastest recorded transmission speed of the 1GB test file over wireless.
The best wireless router is...
There's some good news to be had from this test - no matter which router you choose, there's a clear advantage to upgrading an ageing router with a newer, faster one. The difference is noticeable at just two metres, and at 10 metres, with a couple of heavy-duty walls in the way, it's quite dramatic.
In both cases, a Wireless G router was around 10 times slower than the best-performing Wireless N router. If you're using wireless a lot, then a Wireless N router is an essential upgrade.
Some of them perform marginally better than others, so rather than concentrate solely on performance you need to factor in what sort of features they offer and how easy they are to setup and use - the difference in the test was quite substantial.
Value award: TP-Link TL-WR104 3ND
With one of the fastest performance at both short and long range, for the cheapest price. TP-Link might not be a household name at the moment, having previously focused on business-orientated products, but it's now moving into the consumer market. Judging by the ease of use, excellent performance and competitive price of the TL-WR1043ND, we're sure it's going to do well.
Editor's choice: FRITZ!Box Fon WLAN 7390
The FRITZ!Box Fon WLAN 7390 might be expensive, but it's cash well spent. The sheer amount of features this router offers and its impressive performance put it well ahead of the competition. It combines some of the best features of professional offi ce-based routers with the user-friendliness we've come to expect from the top home wireless routers.
Liked this? Then check out Upgrading to a Wireless N router: what to look for
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