It was clear from CES that 2012 is going to be a year of many changes in home networking. To help you keep up with these changes, here’s our list of the Top 5 networking products currently available.
This time around, the list includes the two first 802.11ac routers on the market and three cream-of-the-crop N900 Wireless-N routers. Any of these routers is able to transform your home network into something you might not have imagined possible before, thanks to their features, speed, or the combination of both.
This list will be updated on a regular basis. This means if you don’t see your favorite router or brand on the list, don’t be discouraged, you might see it next time. This also means that the products mentioned here won’t necessarily be the top routers of 2012, which we’ll determine at the end of the year.
Without further ado, these are our current top picks for networking devices as of the beginning of July. This list is sorted by the review date, starting with the most recently reviewed.
Linksys Smart Wi-Fi Router EA4500
The Linksys EA4500 actually came out two months ago, but it wasn’t reviewed till now because the Cisco Connect Cloud firmware, which is the heart of the EA series, went live just less than a week ago. The new firmware transformed the router into an entirely new product that now can be accessed/managed remotely via the Internet, using either the Web browser or the Cisco Connect Cloud mobile apps for iOS and Android devices. The router can also support third-party mobile apps.
The release of Cisco Connect Cloud carries some controversies, however, since the new firmware was pushed out to the EA router automatically and then required existing users to register an account with Cisco to continue to manage the routers. Cisco Connect Cloud’s initial Terms of Service also implies potential privacy risks. Cisco has since changed its ToS and promised to make Cisco Connect Cloud a more clear opt-in feature. I find Cisco Connect Cloud a welcome approach since it offers users a way to be in better control of their home network (and also future home appliances) no matter where they are. For more information on Cisco Connect Cloud, read the full review here.
As a wireless router, the EA4500 also offered very good performance in my test. Read the full review of the Linksys Smart Wi-Fi Router EA4500.
The Netgear R6300 router is the second 802.11ac router I’ve seen, offering closer to what the new 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard is cracked up to be. In my testing, it proved to be the fastest Wi-Fi router by far, when coupled with another 802.11ac client. There currently aren’t that many ac clients, but the router works with all existing Wi-Fi devices on the market, offering up 450Mbps Wireless-N on each of its two frequency bands.
That said, there’s nothing wrong with getting the R6300 now, other than the fact that it’s about $20 more expensive than the top-tier Wireless-N router. The router’s two USB ports and its robust Netgear Genie firmware, however, are more than worth the extra dollars. Read the full review of the Netgear R6300 router.
D-Link DIR-857 HD Media Router 3000
The DIR-857 is the latest in D-Link’s family of media routers. This is a N900 router — one that offers the top 450Mbps Wireless-N speed on both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz frequency band, simultaneously — that offered great speeds in my testing, with the 5Ghz performance topping the charts.
The best feature of the D-Link is its HD Fuel, a customize QoS feature that automatically detects HD streaming, games, and voice content and prioritizes the Internet bandwidth of these applications. For those who stream a lot of Netflix or YouTube videos, or play online games, you don’t need to have to worry about making sure to turn off downloads or other activities in the network that would slow down your entertainment needs. The router takes care of that for you. Read the full review of the D-Link DIR-857 HD Media Router 3000.
Buffalo AirStation AC1300 / N900 Gigabit Dual Band Wireless Router WZR-D1800H
Don’t let the crazily long name distract you; the WZR-D1800H is the first 802.11ac router on the market. Similar to the Netgear R6300, it also supports Wi-Fi clients that use any previous Wi-Fi standard, be it 802.11n/g/a or /b, offering dual-band Wireless-N, with each band being able to provide up to 450Mbps of bandwidth. That said, if you don’t have any 802.11ac clients at home, which is likely the case since there was only one on the market at the time of this review, you can still enjoy its performance, just as you would with a Wireless-N router.
The best thing about the Buffalo is the price: it costs about the same as a regular high-end 802.11n router. It’s not perfect, since I found that its performance on the 2.4GHz band was subpar and the 802.11ac performance was slower than that of the Netgear R6300. But for the most part, it’s an exciting router. Read the full review of the Buffalo AirStation WZR-D1800H.
Asus RT-N66U Dark Knight Double 450Mbps N Router
The Asus RT-N66U is my favorite router. This is a great upgrade to the already excellent RT-N56U. This is the first and only N900 router from Asus that supports the 450Mbps speed on both the 2.4GHz and the 5GHz bands. The router offered top performance in my testing. Its two USB ports can be used with more than just external hard drives and printers. For example, you can connect a cellular modem to one of the USB ports and use that as a backup Internet connection in case your broadband is down.
The router boasts a very robust Web interface and comes with a large number of features. For example, it supports up to six guest networks (three on each band) and even has a built-in VPN server. For this reason, it’s an excellent choice for both home and small-office environments. Read the full review of the Asus RT-N66U.
Looking for specs and pricing? Compare these routers head-to-head.
Editors’ note: This post was originally published February 21, 2012, and was last updated on July 6, 2012, with the latest worthy devices added to the list. Other devices that have been on our list so far this year are the Verizon Jetpack 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot MiFi 4620L, the Clear Spot Voyager, the D-Link Amplifi HD Media Router 2000 DIR-827, the Cisco Linksys E4200 v2, the Belkin Advance N900 DB Wireless Dual-Band N+ Router, and the Asus RT-N56U. While no longer in the Top 5, these are still among the best in their respective categories.