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Quick 'N' Easy Routers

Zero to Hero in 5 Minutes

It’s hard to believe, but the technology that we now call WiFi will celebrate its 20th birthday next year. From the start, WiFi was all about moving data through thin air, but the first few generations of gear were tough to install due to cryptic configurations and hard to follow directions.

The latest iteration of WiFi--802.11n—has been tested in the marketplace for the last year, and is now ready for the tech novice to install at home. The 802.11n standard not only increases how much data can be moved over WiFi and features the best security standard to date, but is by far the easiest to install.  Forget about spending an afternoon plugging in cables, fiddling with IP addresses and perhaps even calling the tech support hotline—all just so you can get online from the couch in your living room.

 Technophobes of the world, unite. The latest WiFi hardware will likely take you  only a few minutes to set up and you won’t need a degree in electrical engineering to get it working to your liking.

But just because you can upgrade to N, should you? A lot of us have elderly 802.11g or antediluvian 802.11b hardware. Research firm Parks & Associates estimates that by the end of this year, 30 percent of American homes will have a WiFi network, up from 26 percent last year. That’s a lot of routers, many of which use slower and less secure technology.

Current 802.11n equipment promises to raise a home or small office’s network’s throughput to as much as 300 megabits per second (Mbps) by using several data channels. Most 802.11g routers, however, transmit data over a single channel and are limited to about 150Mbps. By comparison, 802.11b peaks at 11Mbps.

If you’ve decided to upgrade, you’ve probably realized that there are a lot of 802.11n routers to choose from. I’m going to look at three of the newest devices: the Linksys Valet, Belkin PlayMax and the Trendnet TEW 651BR. All can boost network speed but don’t require you to pull out your hair before they begin to work. All three are new models.

In fact, after setting up dozens of routers of the years, I’m convinced that these are the easiest and quickest to set-up routers I’ve ever worked with. To see just how quick and easy, I timed how long it took each gone to go from sealed box to a WiFi-connected computer. I used a brand new Toshiba Satellite L505 notebook.

, which has an internal RealTek RTL8191SE WiFi radio. Because these routers operate in the real world, I measured the range of each as well as how much data each could deliver to the notebook 15-feet away from the router using the Networking portion of Passmark’s Performance 7.0 benchmark software.

Because these devices run night and day at home or at the office, I’ve measured how much electricity they each use and estimated how much they will cost to operate over a year. It adds up to anywhere between two and six dollars a year.

While there are set-up quirks, and some of the equipment is surprisingly expensive, these new generation routers are for those of us who don’t want to fuss with things. After all, when it comes to the online world, we expect everything to be easy.