With its great range, fast throughput, VPN support, Gigabit Ethernet, and $100 price tag, the Zyxel X-550N wireless router seems like a good deal for most situations. Unfortunately, the device's mediocre wireless signal stability makes it hard for us to recommend it without some reservations, especially for those who play online games. The router's bulky package and lack of support for dual band, guest networking, and USB devices doesn't help.
That said, if you are looking for a fast router with VPN support to create a network of mostly wired connections and you use wireless networking only casually, the Zyxel X-550N makes a good investment. For environments where wireless signal stability is important, we'd recommend the high-end Netgear WNDR3700 or the similarly priced Linksys WRT320N.
Design and ease of use
The Zyxel X-550N Wireless Router's design is that of a typical wireless router with three antennas on the back, together with the network ports, and an array of LED indicator lights on the front. It's about 15 percent larger than most routers, such as the Trendnet TEW-639GR or the D-Link DIR-655. The larger size suggests that the router works best when put on a surface but it's also wall-mountable.
The ports on this router are Gigabit, meaning they can handle speeds up to 1,000Mbps, a bonus if you want to do a lot of wired networking. The three antennas are detachable, which comes in handy if you want to pack the router up. In daily usage, however, they are in the way when you want to work with the ports. We would prefer if they were on the side of the router, away from the ports. Also on the back, you'll find the Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) button, which initiates a short window of time when WPS-enabled clients can enter the network. Again, we'd prefer this button to be in a more accessible location.
The router comes with a setup application that includes detailed instructions; even those who aren't computer savvy shouldn't have a problem setting everything up. We were able to do so within 5 minutes, which included the time spent getting the device out of the box.
Other than the application, which is Flash-based and doesn't require any installation, you can access and set up the router via its Web interface. To do this you just need to connect the router to a computer using a network cable, turn it on, and then, from the computer, point a Web browser to the router's default IP address, which is printed on its bottom.
Other than the Gigabit Ethernet, the Zyxel X-550N doesn't offer any other additional features found in high-end routers. There's no support for guest networking, which allows you to make another separate wireless network for guests. The router doesn't have support for the 5Ghz frequency, nor can it work as a print or network storage server, as it has no USB port.
Zyxel X-550N offers a few useful networking features that can be managed via the Web interface. The interface itself is organized into four categories: Network, Security, Management, and Maintenance. Each category contains items that lead directly to certain features or functions of the router. For example, in the Network category, you can change the settings of the wireless network, the Internet connection, the local network, and so on. We really liked the fact that the router shows the list of clients currently connected to it; next to each of them there's a "reserve" check box. When this box is checked, the current IP address will be used only for that particular client. This is a great feature when you want to set up special services, such as FTP server or remote desktop, to a computer in the network. Other routers, such as the Apple Airport Base Station , require many steps to get this done.
Other features of the router, including firewall, content filter, and VPN, are also easily accessible. The X-550N has built-in IPSec VPN with two IPSec VPN tunnels for secure data transfer between remote sites and the central sever. The content filter feature is rather simple. You can restrict Web features such as ActiveX, Java, cookies, and Web proxies, and you can block access to the Internet via URL keywords. For example, if you block the keyword "CN," then you won't be able to access sites with this keyword in their domain names, such as cnet.com or cnn.com.
For security, the router supports all existing wireless-encryption methods including WEP, WPA, and WPA2. As mentioned earlier, it also comes with Wi-Fi Protected Setup features that allows you to add a new client to the network at the press of a button, instead of having to type in the encryption key manually.