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December 16, 2010 10:13 AM   Subscribe

Help me find the awesomest router on Earth that's ~$150 or less & that has all of the features that I require.

We currently have a Netgear WNDR3300 and while it's okay for the most part, we sort of hate it. I'm looking to upgrade to a better, faster, and more reliable router. Price is not too much of an issue, but I'd prefer it to be less than $150.

Our sitch: At any given time, we have 5-6 desktops/laptops/netbooks (3 PCs & 3 Macs) attached to our network (there's only two of us, but we're nerds). Most of our media is on a number of external hard drives, which are attached to two of the desktops, but occasionally there will be something that needs to be accessed on one of the laptops or netbooks. Usually, this is a HD movie, which means that we need a router that is really really good at wireless streaming (we have a Mac mini attached to one TV and a Windows machine attached to another). We also need a router that can broadcast on both G & N and simultaneously at 2.4ghz and 5.0 (between the computers and our various handheld devices, there are quite a few different configurations that are necessary). I would also like the router to have a USB port that works well (I've read a lot of reviews for routers where people have been complaining about the USB storage feature of their respective router).

So far, I'm looking at these two routers:

Netgear N600
Cisco-Linksys E3000

I would love to hear from anyone who has either of the above routers and/or can recommend something else. Oh and: other than my iPod, I prefer to not give Apple my dollars so I don't plan on buying the Airport Extreme (the Macs are my SO's), but I'm open to hearing why I should reconsider. Thanks in advance for any help!
posted by eunoia to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I just recently bought the Cisco Linksys 3000 router. Costco has it on sale right now for $120 dollars in their store. We too are of the nerd tribe, and so far it has met all of our data needs including two people playing online games while another surfs the web wirelessly and a movie is streaming from a wired connection. All this with no latency issues at all for any user. We upgraded from a Linksys WRT54G and that router would not have been able to handle the parsing of all that data without noticeable connectivity issues.
posted by skewedoracle at 10:18 AM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: skewedoracle: Have you used the USB port at all? Also, despite its uselessness in our current setuip, I seriously miss my WRT54G.
posted by eunoia at 10:39 AM on December 16, 2010

How does the WNDR3300 disappoint you, aside from not having a USB port? Any new router likely won't perform any better wireless-wise. The default firmware does suck, though. Put DD-WRT on it and see how you like it then. I have a WNDR3300 with DD-WRT and am quite happy.
posted by zsazsa at 10:40 AM on December 16, 2010

Response by poster: zsazsa: We're already using DD-WRT, but we still have various problems with speed and connectivity. It's possible that it's something other than the router that is causing these issues, but we've tried pretty much everything configuration-wise and the problems still persist.

But, thanks for reminding me that being able to use DD-WRT on the new router is pretty important.
posted by eunoia at 10:49 AM on December 16, 2010

Buffalo started making a really powerful dd-wrt native router recently that is worth considering.

posted by iamabot at 10:50 AM on December 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

I prefer to not give Apple my dollars so I don't plan on buying the Airport Extreme (the Macs are my SO's), but I'm open to hearing why I should reconsider

I once bought a Linksys to modify to a bridge for an Xbox360, and a Netgear for my parents 3500 miles away.

The Linksys was bricked by a bad firmware and could not be reset, and the Netgear innards failed about a month after the warranty expired.

Our dual-antenna Airport Extreme is reliable and fast, has USB for file and printer sharing (we use ours for printer sharing) and a few Ethernet ports for wired connections.

To replace the Netgear, I ended up buying a single-antenna AE for my parents a year ago, and they haven't had any issues since, either.

It looks like an Airport Extreme costs only $20 more than the Netgear you list above. I'd argue our extra $20 has been pretty well spent. I also like fewer tech support calls from my parents.

I will never go back to Netgear or Linksys garbage ever again, though. In my experiences, they make junk. YMMV.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:02 AM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I know that you don't like giving Apple your money, but I do have to admit that I love my airport extreme.

I have set up other routers (linsys, cisco, belkin, etc) in other places with a variety of complex set-ups. The airport extreme is just easier. Minutes vs. hours easier. And it doesn't mysteriously stop working, requiring reboots of the entire system.

Also, considering the amount of streaming you want to do, why not put snow leopard server on your mac mini and use it as your media server? It has all those USB ports for a reason- you might as well take advantage of them.
posted by rockindata at 11:04 AM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: First: wireless is simply not fast enough to stream HD reliably, no matter what you buy. You can sometimes get a 720P signal over 5 GHz N, if you're fairly close and the router is good. If you want to stream all HD content without issues, the best solution is always running an Ethernet cable, preferably Cat5e hauling gigabit. 100Mb Ethernet is fast enough, but gigabit costs very little more, and has lots more headroom.

If you absolutely can't run a wire, current powerline networking can usually handle HD, depending on the quality of your electrical system.

Wireless, even N on 5Ghz, just doesn't quite cut it a lot of the time. Wireless is an inherently poor medium for moving a lot of data quickly.

Assuming you have to do wireless, I can't directly tell you what to buy, but I can give some opinions on what NOT to buy.

That Buffalo unit doesn't do 5 Ghz, only 2.4. Great router otherwise, real bummer that it doesn't do 5. If it did, that would be my default recommendation for almost everyone.

Linksys hasn't really gotten a router right since their (very old) WRT54 series. I would avoid them for the most part.

I'm cyrrently using an Airport Extreme, and while it's pretty fast, I have it relegated to just doing bridge duty. It simply isn't flexible enough to serve me well as a main router. It'll only work with specific private IP ranges, and offers relatively few features. It doesn't adapt to you, you're expected to adapt to it, and I don't like it as more than a bridging access point.

D-Link makes some really good stuff. Their DGL-4100 and 4300 were very well thought of in geek circles. That's probably where I'd be looking first. I don't have any specific models to tell you about, as I haven't been reading much about wireless routers lately. But if I were buying something new today, I'd be looking first at D-Link.
posted by Malor at 11:16 AM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: iamabot: The Buffalo router would be high on my list except for the fact that it only broadcasts at 2.4ghz and because of a set of wireless speakers that we have (that are on the same frequency), we need a router that can also do 5ghz.
posted by eunoia at 11:17 AM on December 16, 2010

Best answer: I have the Netgear router that you've linked to and am in a similar situation. Our house has 2 Desktop PCs, 2 Laptop PCs, 2 Apple Laptops, 1 Mac Desktop, 1 Server 2003, 2 iPhones, 2 iPads, a PS3, 2 Xbox 360s, a Airport Express, and a Boxee Box all connecting to it and we haven't had any dropout issues on the default firmware or DD-WRT after we installed that.

The default firmware is actually pretty decent, however we need the bandwidth tracking software and it seemed to just stop tracking every once in a while which didn't work for us, so we upgraded to DD-WRT. We've had it for 4 months so far and it's been exactly what we want it to be, out of the way. We don't need to touch it and we're able to use all the downstream Comcast gives us even with all the devices connected at the same time.
posted by joshhepworth at 12:27 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Probably not going to be able to stream HD at all over wifi, sorry. A recent question had some good comments about wifi streaming HD and attenant needs.
posted by rhizome at 12:28 PM on December 16, 2010

If you absolutely can't run a wire, current powerline networking can usually handle HD, depending on the quality of your electrical system.

Or MoCA over your coaxial cables. We use this between our "main" FiOS router and a secondary that we picked up cheap from ebay that talks to the PS3. In our house it's easily fast enough for 1080p x264 streams.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:52 PM on December 16, 2010

Probably not going to be able to stream HD at all over wifi, sorry. A recent question had some good comments about wifi streaming HD and attenant needs.

It seems that user was limited to a 802.11g connection; these routers have 802.11n at 5GHz and 2.4GHz which has plenty of bandwidth to stream the usual MKV files for 720p and 1080p. I have the Netgear router asked about and the Boxee box in that question, and have had no issues streaming HD over wifi.
posted by joshhepworth at 1:46 PM on December 16, 2010

I'm using a D-Link DIR-825 rev B2, which has dual radio - so 5Ghz and 2.4Ghz 802.11n simultaneously, with independent SSID/security config. (You can also do a guest SSID, with net but no LAN access). I'm also using the 6to4 IPV6 support for IPv6 addresses for the clients.

The stock firmware is very nice and reliable so far (I'm on 2.0.2 EU) with oodles of setup options for port forwarding, upnp streaming optimization, QoS etc. You can also put DD-WRT on it if you choose, though I'm happy with stock. The USB port does work when I tested it, but it's not in regular use.

We easily stream 720p mkvs over 2.4Ghz within the house, using n-only radio. 2.4Ghz single channel N is capable of 150Mb/s (though 60-70 is more likely!). You need around 20Mb/s peak transfer rate for stutter free 720p.

I do have a DD-WRT WZR-HP-G300NH also, though I'm using it purely as an additional 2.4Ghz WAP for extra coverage at the moment - the dlink gets decent range for an 802.11n device, the G300NH is something else - that thing easily goes an extra 20-30M. Nice router, but it doesn't feel hugely stable when setting configs. Twice now I've had to factory reset it and restart from scratch with it.

I did try out an airport extreme last year. Lack of dual radio (i.e. only 5Ghz OR 2.4Ghz) and inability to use an existing DHCP server on the LAN when routing put me right off, though they may have fixed that by now.

(I have my own internal DNS for reliable name resolution of shared hosts and a proper DHCP server to hand out that domain name, plus pxe boot support for fixing stuff, running of a scratch built server that's also my NAS) - about 7 computers/laptops, plus ps3, 360, wii etc etc.
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:39 AM on December 17, 2010

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