Budget 802.11n wireless networking

Set up a fast wireless network without breaking the bank

Faster and farther-reaching networking are just a couple of the advantages of an 802.11 draft-n based wireless network, so if you're in the market for a new wireless router, you should ensure that you get one that's capable of running the latest standard.

It was once a product for early adopters and gamers, but the 802.11 draft-n standard (which still hasn't been ratified, but is in draft mode version 2.0) can now be found in many low-cost solutions, so you need not spend more than $200 — and in some cases no more than $130 — to get a product that's capable of giving you the fastest wireless networking speed.

With an 802.11 draft-n router, you'll be able to transfer data at a rate of 300 megabits per second, as opposed to 54Mbps for an 802.11g network. Not only does this mean that single file transfers will run faster, it also means that there will be more bandwidth available for multiple file transfers. For those of you who like to stream video to a receiver that's attached to your TV, the extra bandwidth means you can do this while still being able to use the wireless network to transfer files to other computers.

Before you're able to achieve the fastest speed that 802.11n has to offer, you will need compatible adapters, too. Many new laptops over $2000, such as the Toshiba Portege M800 (PPM80A-03H009) and Pavilion dv9800 (dv9821tx), have the ability to run at 802.11n speed, so if you've bought yourself a new laptop recently, check if it already has this capability. If you're not in the market for a new laptop, then you'll need to purchase an adapter for your existing one; these aren't very expensive.

You can get 802.11n adapters in PC Card, ExpressCard and USB form, and which one you choose will depend on your situation. Generally, we recommend that you buy the same brand adapters as your router — and the ones that are recommended for your router — as this minimises the chances of incompatibility. Incompatibilities can result in the speed of your network running slower than it should; for example, you might only be able to run at 802.11g speed. A PC Card adapter can cost $50-$80.

Our picks for a budget router are as follows:

Minitar 802.11 Broadband Router (MWNAPR-1)
Price: $129
Description: Suitable for ADSL or cable Internet connections, has QoS, good filtering options, small footprint.

TP-Link TL-WR941N
Price: $159
Description: It looks plain, but it's easy to configure and it produces decent file transfer times in our tests.

Linksys WRT160N
Price: $169
Description: This router looks good; in fact, it's the only budget router to have internal antennas.

All of these routers support the latest encryption algorithms (WPA2) as well as Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS), and they can be used to distribute an ADSL2+ or cable Internet connection. They all provided similar reach in our test environment, and in this respect, they're just as good as the more expensive routers on the market. In fact, the only thing missing from these is built-in support for VPN protocols, but they all support VPN passthrough, so you can still telecommute to work if you want.

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Elias Plastiras
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