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Some things are inevitable, including the evolution of Wi-Fi technology. We're a far cry from the 802.11b days, when installation was a nightmare and you were lucky to get decent coverage past your office door. There's still plenty of room for improvements in range and ease of use, but some of the latest innovations in Wi-Fi are bringing some worthwhile features to the technology. These aren't earth-shattering upgrades, but it sweetens the deal if you're out shopping for a router or need to replace your old 802.11b or 802.11g system.
All the wireless routers in our chart use the latest draft-n technology, which offers range and speed advantages over the previous 802.11g offerings. The 802.11n standard isn't officially ratified yet, but draft-n adopters have little to worry about. Products that are tagged with Draft 2.0 certification should be interoperable and backward-compatible with 802.11b and 802.11g devices. Still, you're less likely to encounter technical setup headaches if you stick with a single manufacturer when outfitting your office.
The sleekly designed Belkin N1 Vision takes several steps in the right direction toward user-friendliness. Priced at $180, it features a large, interactive display that clues you in to your network speed, bandwidth usage and device status. The Linksys WRT310N also sports a clean, attractive design. Internal antennas, four Gigabit Ethernet ports and a video-guided installation process are all handy features. The $130 WRT310N router is certified for the Wi-Fi Protected Setup program. This feature takes a lot of the hassle out of setup by enabling security on compatible devices just by pushing a couple of buttons.
Dual-band 802.11n routers are a smart choice for any entrepreneur with bandwidth-intensive applications like streaming video or VoIP. The $300 D-Link DIR-855 Xtreme N Duo Media Router uses both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands simultaneously. For example, less demanding applications like web browsers can use the 2.4GHz band, while streaming video can occupy the 5GHz band. Prioritization technology helps keep bandwidth-hogging applications running smoothly over the wireless network. Compare that with the Netgear RangeMax Dual Band Wireless-N Router WNDR3300. It comes stocked with eight internal antennas, Wi-Fi Protected Setup support and a four-port Ethernet switch. The $130 price point makes dual band affordable, but you won't get Gigabit. Linksys also offers a dual-band draft-n router: the $250 WRT600N.
On the budget end of the scale is SMC Networks' $59.99 Barricade N SMCWBR14S-N2. This no-frills, four-port router is an affordable option for a small office or a home office. Mac devotees can check out the $97.99 NewerTech MAXPower 802.11n/g/b Wireless Router. It's not fancy, but it offers full support of Mac OS X and Windows systems.
You'll reap the most performance benefits from pairing an 802.11n router with 802.11n adapters. You may need to invest in new adapters for your business computers, so budget accordingly. These can run from $50 to $100 per adapter. The standard bearer for Wi-Fi will be 802.11n for a while--until the next evolution comes along.
Interactive network display, four Gigabit Ethernet ports, CD-less installation
DIR-855 Xtreme N Duo Media Router
Dual-band 2.4GHz and 5GHz, four Gigabit Ethernet ports, intelligent traffic prioritization
Internal antennas, four Gigabit Ethernet
ports, Wi-Fi Protected Setup
Wireless-N Router WNDR3300
Dual-band 2.4GHz and 5GHz, RangeMax Dual Band four Ethernet ports, Wi-Fi Protected Setup
Wireless Router MAXPower 802.11n/g/b
Full Mac OS X support, four Ethernet ports, Wi-Fi Protected Setup
Four Ethernet ports, Wi-Fi Protected Setup
Windows Connect Now USB port