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Wireless Reviews

WPS

All products support WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup), a means for connecting WPS-capable clients or devices to your router with just a push of a button or entering a PIN code. As noted in the chart, all devices except for the TP-LINK have a physical WPS pushbutton.

All devices with a pushbutton successfully connected and configured my WPS test client, a WDTV Live media streamer except for the TP-LINK. To Activate WPS on on the TP-LINK, you have to log into the router and click on a WPS icon to start the WPS negotiation. Unfortunately, I was unable to establish a WPS connection to the TP-LINK device using either the pushbutton or the PIN code method.

Hands On

So once you have used the tables above to narrow your selection, how do you choose? Since I did briefly use each product, I can provide a little further insight that might help.

Belkin - The Belkin is the only router in this roundup that supports simultaneous dual band connections. Using our Wi-Fi classification system, this technically makes it an N300 router. But given that there are no other products like it, we consider it to be an N150 class product with unique capabilities.

I tested connections on both bands successfully. It is a very basic router with virtually no features for port forwarding/triggering, MAC access control, etc. It only supports one operating mode - Router. QoS is limited to WMM, and the only configuration for the firewall, which supports a wide array of hacker attacks”, is enable/disable. It doesn't ship with a CD with a user manual, but you can find it here.

D-Link - The D-Link router is the only router in this group that has a battery that can be used either to charge USB devices or to power the router if electricity isn't available. Like the Belkin, firewall features, often fairly robust in most D-Link desktop routers, are mostly missing.

Though the instruction manual and the packaging both claim that the device supports a Guest Network, it doesn't appear to. There wasn't a guest network in the firmware (V 2.11) when I originally reviewed the product, nor is there one in the latest V2.13 firmware. This isn't really a negative, however, as none of the other devices supported Guest Networks, either. Of the two devices that supported Media servers, the D-Link did the better job at serving and categorizing media.

Edimax - Edimax products continue to pleasantly surprise us. The Edimax has a surprisingly robust set of features including good, configurable firewall capabilities. Though this product is one of two in our roundup that ships with wireless security disabled, the Smart IQ first run wizard prompts you to change the SSID and to assign a password immediately when you first connect to the router. By default, WMM is enabled and UPnP is disabled. It supports the most DDNS providers (10) and has a unique "Internet Access Keeper" which can store up to 10 WAN configurations including WISP settings.

TP-LINK - The TP-LINK router is one of only two in this roundup to support all five operating modes and is the only router to show current UPnP connections including requesting program, ports opened and status. It also supports all three VPN pass through protocols. As compared to the D-Link, it turned in poorer media streaming performance and functionality, and, as noted above, failed both WPS connection methods.

TRENDnet - The TRENDnet router takes advantage of its direct connection to AC power by providing a high current rapid charge USB port. At its core, the TRENDnet router, like Belkin router, is a very simple device with reaatively few features. The TRENDnet lacks firewall and QoS settings and doesn't support port forwarding/triggering/DMZ or UPnP.

It is also the only router in this roundup that lacks any support for VPN passthrough. This lack of this feature could eliminate it from consideration for business travelers who must use a VPN to connect to corporate servers, or for international travelers who need their fix of US streaming content while abroad. (5/29/14 update: New 1.0.3 firmware supports PPTP, L2TP and IPSec VPN passthrough)

Setup is very easy and it is the only router to provide complete wireless name/password, and login name/password on a large, easy-to-read label on the front of the device. If only the management URL had worked properly. Of the three routers which offer some form of file sharing, the TRENDnet was the only one that offers SMB sharing.

ZyXEL - This router is the other router in the roundup to support all five operating modes. It features very configurable QoS settings. Its firewall features include Port, MAC, IP and URL filtering capabilities, but doesn't appear to have settings to detect external attacks such as DoS (Denial of service). It also lacks support for UPnP as well as port forwarding/triggering features. It does, however, support all VPN passthrough protocols.

To provide a flavor of each router's interface, browse through the screenshots in the gallery below.

Performance

As noted in our most recent review of the D-Link DIR-510L, testing travel routers creates a unique and challenging test scenario. Normally, the tests we run on wireless routers involve the use of a Wired LAN port as well as a DMZ feature. These allow us to separately tested wired routing and wireless performance. Unfortunately, travel routers don't have LAN ports and some lack a DMZ feature, so we can't use our normal IxChariot-based benchmarks.

To address these problems, we created a travel router test process described in "How We Test Wireless Travel Routers". It's worth a read, because the performance numbers in the charts don't directly correlate to those for conventional routers. In addition, to make it easier to cull out travel routers from the many other routers in our Router Charts, Ranker and Finder, we created a new category for Travel Routers.

This new category includes all wireless classes of travel routers, which currently include N150 and AC750 models and will include N300 models shortly. This is a departure from our normal method of classing routers of putting products capable of different maximum performance in different "buckets". So keep this in mind when looking at the charts.

As a case in point, in the WAN to LAN Throughput comparison below, you see that the DIR-501L outperforms all of the other routers in our roundup. Of course, you would expect it to have better performance, since it's an AC750 class router, which supports maximum link rates of 300 Mbps in (N300) in 2.4 GHz and 433 Mbps (AC433) in 5 GHz. Since we test 2.4 GHz using 20 MHz bandwidth mode, the DIR-510L linked at 130 Mbps, while the other products linked at 65 Mbps for the testing.

Travel Router Wan to LAN routing performance comparison

Travel Router Wan to LAN routing performance comparison

Since we can't separate wired and wireless performance for travel routers, why do we show them in the wired performance charts? This is mainly for convenience, since the WAN To LAN throughput chart is the default chart shown when accessing the Router Charts.

For travel routers, the WAN to LAN Throughput chart contains the same value as the 2.4 GHz Downlink chart, or the higher of the 2.4 and 5 GHz downlink values for dual-band routers. The LAN to WAN Throughput chart takes the same approach for travel routers, but uses uplink test values. Total Simultaneous Throughput and Maximum Simultaneous Connection benchmarks are not used for Travel routers.

The wireless benchmarks might be less confusing to use, so here are the 2.4 GHz charts. Note that some products, most notably the older D-Link DIR-505 (not included in this roundup) and TRENDnet TEW-714TRU have significant differences in up and downlink throughput.

Travel Router 2.4 GHz uplink and downlink performance

Travel Router 2.4 GHz uplink and downlink performance

And here are the 5 GHz charts.

Travel Router 5 GHz uplink and downlink performance

Travel Router 5 GHz uplink and downlink performance

Final Thoughts

Normally, we make a recommendation based on price, performance and features. But in this roundup, we have a fairly unique situation. Four of the six routers are priced between $20 and $30 and the most expensive is only $40. So price really isn't a major consideration. Similarly, while there are performance differences, the relatively slow speed of most public Wi-Fi and hotel connections levels the playing field for performance. Thus the decision comes down to what you value most in features.

If traveling light and a small form factor is important for you, the Edimax BR-6258nl is the obvious choice. Its tiny size still packs most of the features that will appeal many travelers. It's limited to only Router and WISP modes, but for most that will be enough. And a street price of $25 makes this a great, virtually no-risk choice.

The best overall value in this roundup is the D-Link DIR-506L. When I last reviewed the product, I concluded that the street price of $100 was going to limit its appeal. But now that you can pick up the DIR-506L for as low as $28 as I write this, it's a real bargain. It supports four of the five operating modes as well as all VPN passthrough protocols. The built-in battery that can charge your devices in-flight means there's one less thing to pack. An though you're not likely to stream too much media in your hotel room, the DLNA server is the best of the bunch.

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