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This is a slightly strange review – I’m reviewing an N-band router without actually owning (that I’m aware of) any equipment that receives N-band. However, what I want to know is whether (and the theory goes that it should) it will still improve signal strength.

The Zyxel comes in relatively modest packaging which, to be honest, is refreshing – a recycled box inside a thin exterior box and a few bags to hold individual pieces of equipment. Inside, there’s the router itself, two screw-on antenna (always good to see, so they can be replaced with more powerful versions, if you wish), a power supply, ethernet cable, ADSL cable, some brief instructions and a CD containing a router setup program and a more detailed manual.

The router itself is a smallish white unit with lights along the front of the top. This includes a handy wi-fi switch for quickly turning wireless off and on. Along the back is the usual 4 ethernet ports, ADSL port, power socket and, again handily, a power button.

As with most routers, set-up and administration is performed via a webpage (or via the supplied software) that you access via a supplied IP address, username and password (make sure you change the default password, though!). For initial ISP configuration, a “Wizard” will automatically configure this for you (although it can be performed manually, if you wish).

The administration menu was familiar to me, as it’s design is the same as the one on my ZyXEL NSA210 NAS drive.

The range of features available are quite considerable and suggests this is a router more for small businesses rather than your average consumer, especially considering the security features on offer. However, if like me, you like the “power options” then this will provide you with everything you might need – WMM, keyword-based website blocking, DDNS, a command-line Telnet interface, a packet-filtering firewall, management via SNMP and support for static routing and VLANs.

A firmware update is available, so I’d recommend upgrading that as soon as you can.

Testing

I set the ZyXEL up next to my current router, a Netgear DG834Gv4, and only had one powered on at a time. In all cases, encryption was turned on, but only WEP.

Signal tests were then performed one storey up and the other side of the house – in this case, my bedroom!

Running an Android wi-fi analyser I could see a definite 5-10db signal improvement from the ZyXEL, compared to the Netgear. Running Network Stumbler on my Netbook, I observed similar improvements (see graphs). For the layman, this is an extra bar on the wi-fi signal meter.

For file performance tests, I transferred 407MB of data (consisting of 118 files and 15 folders) between my Acer Netbook and my daughter’s aged IBM Thinkpad, both running Windows XP SP3. My Netbook was downstairs in the living room, whilst my daughter’s laptop was in her room – opposite ends and storeys of the house, ensuring they were a good distance apart. The router was situated downstairs, about half way between the two machines.

The Netgear performed the transfer in 5 minutes 40 seconds, equating to 1.2 MB/s. The ZyXEL performed the transfer in 5 minutes, 19 seconds, equating to 1.3 MB/s.

So, a definite improvement in signal strength, but little in the way of performance. As N to G band shouldn’t improve the speed itself, this is the result I expected.

[review]An excellent router at a good price. Packed full of features, it may be overkill (and a little confusing) for the average consumer, but for a small business or “tech head” such as me it’s ideal.

Even if you haven’t yet upgraded your laptop to N-band, this will still provide a stronger signal strength.

At the time of the review, the best price I found was a little over £64 at eBuyer.[/review]

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