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LAN & WAN Reviews

Introduction

It seems like wherever you look these days, there's a budget router solution available. Whether it's at Fry's, online, or even at the neighborhood thrift shop, routers tailored towards the small- or home-office and the casual user sell for little more than the price of dinner and a movie. And, unlike the bare-bones budget routers of yesteryear, these routers come with a decent amount of features such as SPI-based firewalls and UPnP built into them.

But how do you tell the cherries from the lemons in the affordable router arena? This router roundup looks at six of the budget routers on the market, examining features and performance in order to make sense of the crowded playfield.

All the products in this roundup are serviceable, no-frills routers that use smaller amounts of memory (2 to 16 MB) and processors with integrated 10/100 switches to keep costs down. Three of the routers are based around a Marvell 88E6218 Link Street SOHO Integrated Gateway router chip, while two use the Infineon ADM5120P and one uses an Amlogic AMRISC 9041. This is our first sighting of the Amlogic chip, but you'll see that it's a powerhouse. It is also the only chip that doesn't contain an integrated switch.

The other key feature you won't find in this group is wireless capability, since its addition easily pushes a router over our target price limit of $25.

I can't find it for $25!
and
Why didn't you include [this] product?

When we started this review, all of these routers were found in TG Stores, Froogle or in other online sources for $25 or less for new (not refurbished) product, shipping charges not included and with no sale or rebates required.

By the way, our original target list of products also included Netgear's RP614NA, Belkin's F5D52314, SMC's SMC7004VBR and Startech.com's BR4100DC. But all were above $30 for new, non-sale, non-rebated product, so they didn't make the cut.

Note that many of the routers carry an MSRP of $30 or $40, so be sure to shop around before you make your purchase. Prices may vary depending on retailer, sales, rebates, closeouts, etc.

While the features available on specific devices vary, there are several features that are common in this group. Each device includes four auto MDI/X 10/100 LAN ports and one auto MDI/X 10/100 WAN port, a DHCP server (which can be disabled), and DMZ functionality. The administrative panel on all products is accessible with a web browser via standard HTTP (instead of secure HTTPS) and can be used to upgrade firmware (from a downloaded file) and reboot or reset the router.

Finally, all of the devices support static and dynamic IP, and PPPoE protocols for their WAN connections. Another feature that was common to all of the routers was their firewalls' capacity to block WAN pings (except for the Zonet), along with their lack of support for proxy or JavaScript blocking.

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