Wireless Networking: Nine 802.11n Routers Rounded Up

How We Tested

We’ll state right up front that we didn’t use dd-wrt (www.dd-wrt.com) or any other “hacks” on these routers. There are always decisions to make in coming up with a standard testing methodology, and we ultimately decided that our roundup would proceed from the assumption that most users would want warrantied product used according to manufacturer recommendations. This meant going with the most current firmware offered by the vendor at the time of our testing. In some cases, yes, we could have obtained faster results with dd-wrt, and perhaps that will be an interesting study for a different day. For now, we’re going vendor-approved only.

For similar reasons, we required that vendors provide us with a “matching” client adapter. The last thing we wanted was for testing to get derailed by accusations of “well, our router has issues with that XYZ adapter” or some such thing. Fine. Theoretically, if the vendor provides the router and client adapter, this should provide the highest assurance of compatibility and optimization. So that’s how we designed our testing. Too bad it doesn’t always pan out that way in real life.

We tested across three locations from a ground floor corner dining room in a two-story, 2,600-square foot home in a neighborhood smack in the middle of Oregon’s “SiliconForest” area. Thus our test neighborhood was populated with Intel, Radisys, Tektronix, IDT, and plenty of other tech industry employees, seemingly all of which run at least one home wireless network. Throughout our week-long testing period, there was never a time in which we detected fewer than ten competing WLANs with at least a 60% signal strength, and those are just the ones we could see.

We used two notebooks for testing: an HP Compaq nc8000 as the server and a Dell Latitude E6400 as the client. Location 1 placed the client 10 feet away from the server—at the opposite end of the dining room table. Location 2 was straight across the ground floor, about 70 feet from the server with one wall separating the PCs. Location 3 moved the client upstairs, with multiple barriers and about a 50-foot separation.

We had several concerns to address in testing. We wanted firm numbers on sustained throughput for both TCP and UDP, so we started with a 1GB folder and measured transfer time both to and from the server notebook, which was Ethernet-connected to the router. We actually did this twice, first with the folder stocked with scores of various system and media files, just to reflect the extra overhead of a normal folder transfer, and then with the folder containing a single 1.00GB ZIP file. A 1GB folder is pretty big in wireless testing scenarios, but we felt the jumbo size was important to help average out anomalies from environmental fluctuations, such as a neighbor using a microwave oven. We converted the results into MB/s readings.

Next, we swung in with Ixia’s IxChariot to examine both throughput and response time. Note the interesting difference between IxChariot’s shorter, more synthetic transfer rates and those obtained with our 1GB folder transfers.

Then we brought in Ruckus Wireless’s Zap command line benchmarking tool, seen on Tom’s Hardware in a couple of prior wireless articles, and used it to derive average throughput speeds for both TCP and UDP data. However, because some readers justifiably question our use of a Ruckus-made tool in testing Ruckus gear, we circled back with the Advanced Networking Test in PassMark’s PerformanceTest suite, a great benchmark collection that deserves more attention than it gets.

All routers and adapters were patched with the latest factory firmware and driver versions before testing. Similarly, all routers were configured for maximum channel width.

For curious programmers, we created a custom routine to automate the running of some of these benchmarks, since each location run-through took about four hours. Here’s a look at the diagram used to create our test set.

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  • Dandalf
    I'd buy the Linksys if it didn't have a bloody spoiler on it. Chavviest router I ever saw.
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  • madskillz12_1
    £20 cashback on the Linksys until 30/4/10 as well. You'd be mad not to.
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  • daglesj
    Belkin routers are a joke. I bought a low end one as a spare. It couldnt get a speed of higher than 2Mbps. Any other router would get 6Mbps+. After several attempts of getting a sane response from Belkin India, one of their techs finally admitted that model has an issue with the Firewall. Switch it off and speed goes back up. He said a firmware update would sort it. Nearly a year later...yup no firmware. A couple of my customers have the new Belkin N spec routers. Really bad.
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  • chronicbint
    Surprising, I am on my second Belkin N router and they have all worked perfectly well.
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  • hairystuff
    I've realised with Belkin routers they sometimes have multiple revisions of the same product code/model number, some of the revision work really well and others are pure trash, I've noticed this with D-Link aswell but generally the differences are marginally acceptable.
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  • gagaga
    I'm not normally a fan of Apple gear, but I can get 14MB/s (equal to 112Mb/s) from my airport extreme (the older 2 aerial one) on big files.

    Guessing the laptop (Vaio TZ) has a big influence - that has three separate aerials and the top-end Intel card, and the fact mine is the only 5GHz network in the area...
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  • Accurim
    What did you use with the WRT610N? I'd be interested in getting it based on the benchmarks but I'd have to get the same client adaptor also.

    I believe you did your testing with a laptop also, if I were to get a desktop adaptor would this be fine:
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16833124342
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