In my last blog entry I described how my WRT54G was the bottleneck in my new 50Mbps broadband service. Finding a replacement has ended up being substantially more difficult than I expected.
A point of confusion is that there are numerous different speeds. There's the speed of the wired ports, which is generally 10/100/1000. Then there's the speed of the wireless connection, generally 11/54/108/???. Then you have the WAN to LAN speed, which is the speed at which the router can actually route packets. This has *nothing* to do with the numbers above. Most older routers can't route more than 20 to 25Mbps, at which point they max out and become unresponsive. The routers that seem to be designed to have the best WAN to LAN performance are the "gaming" routers.
Very few routers include the specifications for the WAN to LAN performance. Of the ones that do, the specification is usually taken with important features like SPI (Stateful Packet Inspection) turned off. One Cisco router advertises 800Mbps WAN to LAN performance. What they don't tell you is that performance drops to 20Mbps (a 97% drop!) if you turn on IPS (Intrusion Protection System.)
The only reference I've found is the chart at smallnetbuilder.com. Make sure you select WAN to LAN Throughput. Less than 15% of the routers listed break the 150Mbps barrier. I chose this number because 100Mbps broadband is coming and I want some horsepower left over for features like SPI.
So if we look at the top routers, we learn that almost all of them are over $100 and many of them are over $150. This is a pretty big jump over the $40 routers that litter the bottom end of the list. A careful review of the routers on Amazon and NewEgg shows that many of these routers have serious problems. For example, the D-Link DIR-825 has been out for over a year and has achieved five stars on NewEgg with just 35% of reviewers. The somewhat better rated Linksys WRT600N is no longer for sale, and its replacement, the WRT610N, took a 20% performance hit and also falls to just 35% for five star ratings.
The D-Link DGL-4500, one of the "gaming" routers I mentioned earlier, has a more respectable 55% of five star ratings, has been out for two years, and costs $150. Personally, I've had several bad experiences with poor D-Link firmware in the past, so this isn't my first choice.
You might think I'm just being picky looking at the number of 5 star ratings, but the LinkSys WRT54GL router is a prime example of doing things right. After 2500 reviews, it has 84% five star ratings, and this router is prized by the hard-to-please hardcore techies.
At this point I'm leaning towards the Netgear WNDR3700. It's only been on the market for a couple of months, but has garnered 72% of five star ratings from the early adopters - impressive in an industry that usually requires a year of firmware updates to get things right. I've had troubles with Netgear in the past, but this whole situation seems to be be a matter of choosing the best of a dubious lot.
One router that hasn't shipped yet is the WNR3500L. It's based on open source and is generating a lot of buzz, but you can't get one yet. It's worth watching.
If you try to look at the cheaper units, the ratings become even more disparate. There are many more 1 star ratings for the LinkSys WRT120N than there are 5 star ratings. The Belkin N1 Vision F5D8232-4 suffers from similar ratings. The D-Link DGL-4300 is highly rated, but it runs hot. That makes sense - it's four years old, absolutely ancient technically.
Lastly, if you have Macs in-house, the AirPort Extreme seems to generate universal admiration. The MB053LL/A model scores well in the chart mentioned above, but there are several other models that aren't listed. The AirPort can be used with Windows, but it's much easier to configure with a Mac.