- Dual-band routers can give you faster Wi-Fi than single band units
- Some models use the newest 802.11ac protocol
- Ease of set-up is especially important
- Speed claims can be misleading
The newest version of 802.11 wireless networking, called 802.11ac, aims to replace 802.11n as the fastest gun in town. It’s still in an unofficial pre-draft stage yet, but that hasn’t stopped manufacturers including it in their latest batch of dual-band routers, claiming it provides much better performance. So should you ditch your old router for one of the new generation?
We bought and tested 10 of the latest dual-band routers – half of which have 802.11ac – to see how they compare for speed, distance and signal penetration.
Please note: this test is of dual-band wireless routers. Of the 10 models on test, four have a built-in modem, but we did not specifically test this capability.
Models on test
How we test
We look at ease of use of both the hardware and software and the router’s performance.
Performance testing for each router involves transferring data over several distances, using clear line-of-sight without obstructions to establish the maximum throughput capable at short, mid-distance and long-distance marks. We then test signal penetration by using a brick wall as an obstruction - a common scenario in many homes.
We measure transfer speeds by timing how long it takes to transfer 500MB of data using each router. As there were no readily available 802.11ac internal access point cards at time of testing, we used an external Linksys WUMC710 access point at the other end for 802.11ac transfer tests and internal adapters for the 2.4GHz tests.
Speed is measured on 2.4 GHz and on 5GHz. As 802.11ac is a 5GHz-only protocol, the 2.4GHz testing is conducted using 802.11n. The 5GHz testing is done using 802.11ac where available, otherwise 802.11n is used.
Testing is conducted over:
- Short distance (2.5m) – this provides the maximum throughput speed as a benchmark for the other distances.
- Mid-distance (35m)
- Long distance (70m)
- Obstructed (10m distance through a single domestic brick wall).
All testing is done at a remote location free from interfering signals, as the 2.4GHz band in particular is used by many domestic devices. No other devices were in use during testing.
The ease of use evaluation takes into account hardware and software. The hardware evaluation includes how easy the router is to install and how easy it is to perform major tasks with the hardware, including help manuals (if any).
The software evaluation includes installation and configuration of any required software, including wizards and/or help instructions or other documentation, taking into account menu layout and ease of configuration.
CHOICE applies the following interpretation to the scores achieved in our tests. When we describe a result as "excellent", "poor" etc, it usually relates directly to a numerical score in that range.
- 0 - 24 Very poor
- 25 - 45 Poor
- 46 - 54 Borderline
- 55 - 69 OK
- 70 - 79 Good
- 80 - 89 Very good
- 90 - 100 Excellent