Linksys wins dual-band contest

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Wireless routers are always something of a mystery. They combine a number of features into a single box and are usually complex to set up, but require little attention after that. 

Set up properly, they can provide high-speed wired and wireless access to a wide range of devices, securely connect to storage and printers, route between parts of your internal network and protect against hackers.

We take a look at six routers which delivered 802.11n connectivity over 2.4GHz and 5GHz.

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Asus aces performance test

The Asus RT-N56U router came in first in our performance testing and second overall in our test. This is a stylish, feature-rich device that includes two USB ports, four Gigabit Ethernet ports, and claims to be able to handle 30,000 concurrent sessions. It has strong security features and uses beam forming at 5GHz to boost performance. It does not support IPv6.

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Belkin's beam forming delivers strong 2.4GHz performance

The Belkin N750 DB is a vertically mounted device with ovoid sides that sits on its bottom edge with an attached stand. It includes four Gigabit Ethernet ports and two USB ports for storage or printing. This device includes beam forming, but that feature apparently only works at 2.4GHz. Streaming video worked at 2.4GHz for virtually the same distance as the Linksys (about 250 feet downrange) but the distance supported at 5GHz was only about 50 feet. The AirCheck ping test at 2.4GHz was longer than most others.

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EnGenius ESR7750: The low-cost alternative

At $79.99, the EnGenius ESR7750 was significantly less expensive than the other products in this test. Performance wise, EnGenius was at the lower end of the spectrum. And it was the only device in this test that didn't support Gigabit Ethernet. The ESR7750 provides a wide range of settings, including for both the 2.4- and 5-GHz portions of the router, a firewall and features such as network address translation (NAT), port mapping and quality of service (QoS).

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Linksys E4200: Top of the heap

The Linksys E4200 is a step beyond the other wireless routers in this test in a number of important ways. This is the only device that supports a 3 x 3 MIMO antenna system, which allows three spatial streams. It's also the only router with full support for IPv6, including a built-in IPv6 firewall. Unlike some of the other devices in this test, the E4200 does not treat 5GHz as an afterthought. Streaming media worked up to 265 feet on the test range before there was any evidence of loss. File transfer times increased over even modest distances, as was the case with the other devices in this test.

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Netgear N600: Includes ADSL modem

The Netgear N600 DGND3700 wireless router includes an ADSL modem as well as an Ethernet port for connection to other types of Internet access. The router provides logging and allows port forwarding and you can set up blacklists in the firewall. One nice feature is that the router will send you an email if it detects malicious port scanning or a DoS attack, and the email will include the logs that relate to the suspected attack. Testing of the N600 showed that it had ranges somewhat shorter than the best of this test, but they weren't so short as to limit the usefulness of the device.

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Trendnet: Comes with external antennas

The TRENDnet TEW-673GRU is the only wireless router in this test with external antennas. It's also the only device in this test with external controls and an LCD panel. The external antennas make the router more location sensitive than some of the other devices in this test. However, the existence of the controls proved to be handy when an install failure left the router in an indeterminate state. The 2.4GHz side of this router showed better performance with streaming content loss occurring at about 175 feet. The router uses two channels at 2.4 GHz to provide better throughput.

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