Linksys WRT300N router
At long last, news of the first products based on Draft N of the not-yet-approved 802.11n specification are starting to trickle out. Despite numerous announcements, actual hardware has been scarce; first to the party is Linksys's WRT300N, a Wi-Fi router based on the first official iteration of the spec. Linksys claims that the MIMO-based router is capable of up to 12 times the speed and 4 times the range of older 802.11g routers. Unfortunately, those claims didn't hold water in testing: while the device managed decent maximum throughput and mixed-mode speed, it gave a dismally poor performance at long range. In terms of the rest of the current field, the WRT300N fared pretty well, but nowhere near our expectations for Draft N networking equipment.
We will soon be testing a slew of new Draft N routers that we hope will demonstrate more of the spec's promise; though the $149 WRT300N is a tad less expensive than some of its Draft N competitors, we recommend waiting to see if the other devices deliver better performance. In the meantime, those who absolutely must have a new router now should check out the , which offers blazing maximum and mixed-mode throughput.
The Linksys WRT300N router takes the idea of multiple antennas to a new level. In addition to its two standard, pen-shape antennas, the device offers a unique third antenna that's shaped like a big paddle. All three antennas are located on the router's right edge, where they bend and rotate in multiple directions, letting you adjust them to maximize your signal. The back edge includes the usual suspects: one WAN and four LAN jacks, plus a pinhole reset button. The front edge features well-labeled status lights that correspond to the jacks on the back, as well as two more lights that indicate when the router is experiencing wireless activity and that its security settings are active. A button emblazoned with a lock icon, which the user guide claims is "reserved for a future function," sits on top of the WRT300N. You can snap the handy stand onto the router's left edge should you want to set it upright, but because the device lacks wall-mounting brackets underneath, you can't hang it up and out of the way of competing wireless signals.
Linksys does a nice job with the WRT300N's documentation and setup. The clear, comprehensive user guide and installation wizard come on a CD that's neatly packaged inside of a large envelope. Flip up the envelope's flap, and you're immediately faced with instructions to insert the CD as the first step in the setup process. The disc prompts you to start the wizard, which guides you through connecting the device to your modem and computer, then configuring settings via the Web-based configuration tool. Advanced users can skip the wizard and get directly to the tool by typing the router's default IP address (192.168.1.1) into their browsers. The tool provides access to the WRT300N's thorough features list, which includes a four-port 10/100 Ethernet switch; an SPI firewall; a DHCP server; DMZ and VPN pass-throughs; and, of course, WPA2 security.
While no wireless device ever achieves its theoretical maximum speed in the real world, the WRT300N's scores weren't even in the ballpark and fell short of our expectations of Draft N gear. In CNET Labs' maximum throughput trial, the device beat the times of most of the pre-N routers we've reviewed, such as the (which was among the first generation of MIMO routers), but it was still considerably slower than the very fast . In our mixed-mode test, the Linksys barely squeaked past the Belkin and again fell far behind the Netgear, though to be fair, it did best the rest of the competition. Worse, the WRT300N's long-range throughput was slower than nearly all of the pre-N routers we've tested, save Linksys's own . (We should note that for all MIMO-based routers and adapters released prior to this round of Draft N-based equipment, you must use routers with their adapter counterparts in order to achieve maximum speed. Draft N of the 802.11n spec mandates that products be fully interoperable, meaning that you should see optimized speeds using any combination of Draft N equipment from various vendors. So theoretically, you should be able to use this Linksys router with a Draft N adapter from any vendor and see similar performance.)