Guide to Mac-friendly wireless routers

Guide to Mac-friendly wireless routers

Yesterday we posted a piece entitled "Inexplicably Mac-unfriendly product packaging" that noted some manufacturers' seemingly deliberate exclusion of Mac support and documentation from otherwise Mac-compatible products. The article focused on a particular product -- a LinkSys wireless router -- leading into a discussion of wireless routers that do offer decent or excellent support and documentation for Mac user. Wireless routers are a good fit for the general theme of savvy with regard to Macs, since most can be properly configured and used with Macs, but don't always reflect this fact in their documentation. [for the purposes of this piece, wireless router refers to a device that wirelessly distributes network traffic delivered through Ethernet or another wireless connection -- generally not devices that also act as cable or DSL adapters]

In fact, virtually all wireless routers are technically Mac-compatible since they are usually configured through a browser. For most, setup is a simple two-part process:

  1. Using a Mac configured with an AirPort card, select the router from the AirPort menubar item or within Internet Connect (located in /Applications). The router is usually named after the manufacturer, e.g. "Belkin," "Linksys," or something like "Untitled."
  2. Open a browser and enter the address 192.168.1.1. If one browser doesn't work, try another. Some routers, for instance, cannot be properly configured through Safari, but can through Firefox. You'll be able to establish security settings and more.

What follows is a listing of wireless router manufacturers/models with which our readers have found poor, fair or good with regard to ease-of-configuration and performance when used with Macs. Of course, this list excludes Apple's own generally well-functioning and extremely easy-to-configure AirPort line of wireless routers (AirPort Extreme, Express).

Belkin [Good]

  • Software-based Mac configuration tool
  • Instruction manual includes Mac-specific directions
  • Reader comment: "Belkin has a wizard on the packaged CD that runs on Mac OSX. Of course, it's not really necessary since the user guide has all the information you need to connect to the router's web page and do your own configuration."

Hawking Technology [Good]

  • Explicitly advertised Mac support
  • Software-based Mac configuration tool
  • Instruction manual for Hi-Gain Wireless-108G MIMO (Price Range: $98.01 - $149.99) includes Mac-specific directions/screenshots
  • Toll-free tech support

Buffalo Technology [Good]

  • Many user testimonials of excellent Mac phone/e-mail technical support
  • Most routers seem to work well with Apple Talk devices and not exhibit some iChat problems when connected to AirPort cards present with some non-Apple routers

US Robotics [Good]

  • Instruction manual for model USR5461 [~$70] includes Mac-specific directions
  • Online documentation is platform-agnostic
  • Firmware updates to resolve Mac-specific issues
  • Reader comment: "I have been using a US Robotics wireless router. It is lovely to set up and comes complete with clear instructions on how to set up from a Mac computer. It works reliably, and has been very easy to set up."

NetComm [Good]

  • Explicitly advertised Mac support
  • Prominent "Mac users" link on home page
  • Mac-specific "QuickStart" guides and video tutorials

NetGear [Good]

  • Mac OS X listed in "System requirements" for most routers
  • Accompanying media (CD) for some routers includes both Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X installation routines
  • Minimal documentation available for networking between Macs and PCs using Netgear routers
  • Firmware updates for some routers are Windows-only
  • AirPort Extreme cards not compatible with some routers
  • Reader comment "My Netgear router was very easy to set up manually with an excellent user interface. It has the expected in-built browser and everything is laid out chronologically and very clearly."

MacSense [Fair]

  • Expressed support for Macs
  • Somewhat confusing process for installing firmware updates under Mac OS X
  • Manuals still show only Mac OS 9 screenshots/instruction

D-Link [Fair]

  • Mac-specific section on Web site with ostensibly compatible routers
  • Lack of Mac technical support
  • Firmware updates appear to apply specifically to Windows-related issues
  • Mac-specific "Quick Install" guides missing for most wireless router models -- even those listed in the Mac section
  • Some routers must be configured only with Firefox or an alternative browser -- Safari will not work
  • Reader comment: "I recently exchanged email with their tech support and was specifically informed that D-Link does not support Macs for any of their products and specifically does not recommend their use on Macs. Although many D-Link products will work on a Mac, as a user you are on your own.  D-Link will not provide any direct or indirect support according to their tech support."

Linksys [Poor]

  • Technically Mac-compatible but lacking in Mac-specific documentation or setup software
  • No Mac technical support

Resources
  • Extreme
  • Express
  • Belkin
  • Hawking Technology
  • Hi-Gain Wireless-108G MIMO
  • Buffalo Technology
  • US Robotics
  • USR5461
  • NetComm
  • "Mac users"
  • NetGear
  • documentation
  • not compatible
  • MacSense
  • confusing process
  • D-Link
  • section
  • Linksys
  • More from Late-Breakers
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