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Summary and Conclusions

The main objective of this article was to see how a sampling of both consumer and enterprise-grade 802.11g access points perform under heavy traffic loads. I have to admit that I was operating in uncharted territory, since manufacturers provide no guidance - other than the maximum number of STAs - regarding the loads their APs are designed to handle.

One could argue that the loads that I subjected the APs to far exceeds what they would experience under normal use - especially in a properly-designed WLAN. But, in my mind, how products behave under stress is indicative of the robustness of the underlying design.

Given the unknowns involved, I want to thank 3Com, ASUS, Buffalo Technology, Gigabyte, Linksys and SMC for agreeing to participate in this review. I also want to thank CMC for making this test possible at all by the loan of their Emulation Engine. It's an interesting piece of gear that makes what would otherwise be a daunting task, easy.

All that being said, the most surprising result was how relatively poorly the most expensive "enterprise-grade" APs - the 3Com 3CRWE725075A and SMC2552W-G "twins" - fared under heavy loads. I wasn't able to determine the specific cause of their poorer performance, but at least under the test conditions that I used, they consistently were beaten by the less expensive consumer-grade products.

The other observation that I feel safe in making is that only the Broadcom-based Buffalo Tech WLA-G54C and Atheros-based Gigabyte GN-A17GU completed all the 32 STA load tests. I'm not sure why the diminutive WLA-G54C bested the other Broadcom-based designs, but its robustness was consistent throughout the testing. I'm guessing that the Gigabyte's use of the Renasas processor and newer Atheros MAC / baseband chip made the difference over the other Atheros-based products.

There are obviously many factors that need to be considered when choosing an access point and I wouldn't choose a product solely on the basis of these tests. But I know I learned something by this exercise and hope that you have, too. Let me know if you'd like to see more of this type of test.

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