A New Year is upon us now, along with a plethora of new tech toys from the holiday season. Your new tablets, smartphones, gaming consoles, and other internet connected devices have been finally been unwrapped and setup to your liking. But now you notice that your internet connection isn’t working so well, not receiving coverage every room or maybe not even connecting at all. Is this shiny device defective? Or is it time to replace that wireless router lurking in the corner with the dust bunnies?
Many people haven’t upgraded their routers in a long time or are limping along with the wireless gateway built into the modem provided by Telus or Shaw. With internet services using up more and more bandwidth it’s your router which is likely holding your devices back. In fact while you might be paying for an upgraded internet package your old router could be choking your connection, cutting you off from the extra that you’re paying for.
Today we are looking at three high end router solutions from D-Link, Linksys and Netgear. First off we have the D-Link DIR-868L wireless AC router, capable of 1750Mbps with a matching receiver. It features both dual band and beam forming technology to get the most signal and speed possible out of a wireless connection. There are also four wired gigabit Ethernet ports on the back of the router for any wired devices you still have along side a power button and USB port for hard drive sharing.
Next up on the block is the Linksys EA6500 Router. Able to hit the same 1750mbs that the D-Link, it also features the same dual band wireless technology, gigabit ethernet ports, and USB sharing port for networked storage and printers. The Linksys isn’t the largest router on the block but it is far larger than the D-Link. One thing that they both lack is any external antennas which looks better but may mean diminished range in certain cases.
Lastly is the Netgear R7000 Nighthawk. The Nighthawk has the same dual band wireless technology as both the D-Link and Linksys and the same Beam Forming as the D-Link but is rated for higher speeds, 1900 Mbps. The Nighthawk also features support for alternate firmware such as DD-WRT or Tomato (see MyOpenRouter.com for more info on that). One thing you will notice about the Nighthawk is the size, bigger than both the Linksys and D-Link the main body alone is about the width and depth of a 10” tablet, which makes it one of the biggest routers that I have seen in the past 10 years. That means there is plenty of room for the four gigabit ethernet ports, USB sharing port, and an array of three external antennas.
Our testing hardware consists of a Google Nexus 5 phone and a Google Nexus 7 tablet. The Nexus 5 is capable of wireless AC on 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz, while the Nexus 7 is only capable of wireless N on both frequencies. This should reflect what the average consumer has in their homes. Android thankfully has many benchmarking apps which will measure the theoretical speed listed through the OS. Actual speeds during transfers will very according to signal strength and devices connected to the network.
To keep the results as accurate as possible, all three routers were setup as similar as possible. After setting up the routers, tests were run in 5 locations of a 3 level townhome and each test was run 10 times to ensure accurate testing. A streaming video was played in each testing location before the speedtests were run, to ensure that the beamforming technology had a chance to try and improve the signal as much as possible as well. 600 tests were done in total on the 2.4 and 5ghz range between the two devices in all test locations. So now that we have the testing methodology, what do the numbers look like?
First off we have the 2.4Ghz graphs on the Nexus 5.
All three routers start off with roughly the same speed in the close range test, but quickly we see the Netgear jump ahead in throughput in the bedroom. It was quite a big difference in speed here, going from almost no signal at all to a full signal that can support streaming video. For the rest of the locations, all three routers keep within close range of each other.
On the Nexus 7, we got similar results with a couple changes.
This really shows the difference between the wireless receivers in the two devices, with the Nexus 7 getting much better speeds at the farthest testing location. The D-Link also increased its speed enough to enable streaming video in bedroom, while losing a bit of signal in the kitchen.
Now that we see the speed available on the regular 2.4Ghz band, we can really see the speed benefit on the 5Ghz band.
We will first start off with the Nexus 7 results on the 5Ghz Wireless N band. When comparing the results to the 2.4Ghz frequency, all the results are roughly double the previous chart. This makes streaming video available in all locations, which is a big difference for those people looking to have Netflix on multiple TVs in the house. Even with these better results, we echo the other charts with the Netgear getting the best results in most of the locations.
And now for the final chart in this blog post, with the Nexus 5 running on the match AC wireless standard.
This graph really shows the future of what we can expect to see out of wireless AC devices, with the speeds reaching up to 433Mbps on the Netgear. While all the speeds are much better then the wireless N standard, we can see that AC is very much affected by the signal strength. Streaming video is available in all locations, but we are also able to get enough speed to support multiple devices simultaneously streaming or surfing the internet.
In closing, we see that all the routers did quite well in testing. They were able to reach out to all testing locations, which the included router from my Internet service provider could not handle. We do get a bit of a speed boost on the Netgear across the board, but it really isn’t that apparent except for the first bedroom testing location. For someone looking for the smallest router possible with great performance, the D-Link really shows that it is possible to get these types of results without being the size of your entire desk. For those looking for a long trusted name, the Linksys router performs well in most situations, only falling behind a bit in speed in some locations.
Better speeds can be achieved on computers in all three cases by using a matching receiver with each router also. Presently most devices you can buy feature Wireless N technology, this includes your smart phone, tablets, streaming devices, and game consoles. Wireless AC is slowly starting to filter down to devices we’ll start to see better speeds across the board but in the mean time Wireless AC routers are the right call because they have greater range, handle bandwidth better, and offer some future proofing as the devices you buy become more sophisticated.