The next Wi-Fi standard, 802.11n is not officially finished, but with the arrival of Draft 2.0,, the products have improved over the Draft 1.0 products we reviewed last year (from Linksys, Netgear, Belkin, D-Link, Buffalo and - this year - Apple).
Although the performance has improved, there are still issues when working with other vendors' equipment or with 802.11b/g equipment, we found in a review which covered Draft 2.0 802.11n kit from Belkin, Cisco-Linksys and Netgear.
For each vendor, we tried connectivity between similarly branded clients and routers. Next, we checked their ability to connect to another client of the same brand on an ad hoc basis. To test the range of these products, we also took a client adapter into a far and dimly lit corner where connectivity using products based on 802.11b/g protocols is nearly impossible and tried to stream a video. Last, we tested for interoperability between 802.11n clients and an 802.11g router.
Linksys' business-like Wireless-N
This equipment is less notable for its looks - the router is a simple rectangular box with rows of flashing LEDs on the front panel - and more notable for the fact that the router has a built-in IPsec virtual private network (VPN). Clearly, Linksys, which is a division of Cisco, is aiming this router at telecommuters and others who must sometimes connect to corporate networks.
This equipment is also notable for its installation, which is far less automatic and far more manual than the other routers. You access the router through a browser using the IP address provided in the guide. Your options at that point are legion, but for the majority of us, it will just be a matter of choosing the security passphrase. It’s the kind of thing an IT geek would not break a sweat over, while the average person will have to stop and think about it for a minute.
Perhaps befitting its business-like target audience, this equipment is more expensive than the other equipment we looked at, at around £130. For that money, you get more security and a little pop-up box at the lower-right corner of your screen alerting you when you have a 1 Gbit/s connection, which, of course, requires a gigabit port on your PC. In practical terms, it means a 921 Mbyte MPG file can be copied from wired gigabit workstation No. 1 to wired gigabit workstation No. 2 in about 25 seconds.
That was via a wired Ethernet connection. Wirelessly, the USB version of Linksys’ adapter logged a solid 54 Mbit/s to a b/g router for an eight-minute and 15-second transfer time for our 921 Mbyte test file from the dark and distant corner of our test area. Linksys matched the same streaming performance we found with the other two brands. Jumps from one end of the video's timeline to the other produced no noticeable lags. Back or forward, even hops into the middle, made no difference.
Bottom line: The Linksys was the overall performance winner, especially when connecting to legacy equipment, although some of its specific test results didn't match that of the Belkin router and adapters.
The Linksys was the overall performance winner, especially when connecting to legacy equipment, although some of its specific test results didn't match that of the Belkin router and adapters. It's the easy Draft 2.0 802.11n choice if money isn’t a factor - consistent, working well with legacy equipment, and with built-in Gigabit routing capabilities as well as support for VPNs.