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Top 5 wireless routers of 2011 that ain't so last year

CNET editor Dong Ngo picks his top five wireless routers for 2011 that are still relevant for 2012.

Cisco Connect Express app offers a hint of what's to come in 2012: The ability to manage your network from a mobile device.
Cisco Connect Express app offers a hint of what's to come in 2012: The ability to manage your network from a mobile device.
Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

The wireless router is arguably the most important piece of computer equipment in your house, since it connects the rest of your gadgets to one another and the Internet.

Now that we're well into the new year, let's look back at the top five routers of 2011. These routers will stay relevant this year and maybe even beyond. They are a handful from among the many I reviewed last year that represent what consumers will find on the market.

The year 2011 was when true dual-band and the new 3-by-3, 450Mbps ceiling speed became popular. The 450Mbps standard is practically the fastest that the existing 802.11n specification has to offer. All of the routers on this list are true dual-band and some of them also support the 3-by-3 standard. You'll also find among them hints of features that are predicted to become popular in 2012.

Dong Ngo/CNET

Cisco Linksys E4200 v2
This is the latest wireless router from Cisco's E-Series and it may be the best router on the market, all things considered. Though it looks exactly the same as the previous version, the E4200 v2 is a completely different beast on the inside.

The router supports true dual-band with the 450Mbps speed available on both bands. It also comes with a much faster processor running at 1.2GHz, which offers excellent performance, especially for the built-in network storage feature. For the first time a router, when coupled with an external hard drive, is capable of offering storage throughput comparable to that of some dedicated NAS servers. The Linksys E4200 v2's storage performance is about three or four times that of other routers with the same features.

On top of that, together with the E4200 v2, Cisco also released the first version of its Cisco Connect Express app for managing the home network from a mobile device, such as an iPhone or iPad. Read the full review of the Cisco Linksys E4200 v2.

Josh Miller/CNET

The original Cisco Linksys E4200
Despite the release of the second version, the original Linksys E4200 still makes a formidable router. It's inferior to its successor only because it supports the 450Mbps speed only on the 5GHz band, and it has a slower processor. Nonetheless, it offers great performance as a router. It's also significantly more affordable.

It's worth noting that Cisco did very well this year with the new and refreshed E-Series, which also comprises the E3200, E2500, E1500, and the E1200. The fact that the networking company has two devices on this top-five list means it must be doing something right. Read the full review of the Cisco Linksys E4200.

Josh Miller/CNET

Netgear WNDR3800 (N600)
This is an accidentally top-notch router from Netgear. It's supposed to be the third-tier model after the WNDR4500 N900 and the WNDR4000 N750, but it turned out to be the best router that Netgear had to offer this year. It provides great performance, true dual-band wireless, and Gigabit Ethernet. The router also has built-in support for a network storage feature via its USB port, which also offers personal cloud capability. Read the full review of the Netgear WNDR3800 (N600).

Note that the WNDR4500 and WNDR4000 also make great routers for those who care about the new 450Mbps speed and don't mind the bulky size.

Josh Miller/CNET

Asus RT-N56U
This is another true dual-band router that offers the traditional 300Mbps speed on both bands. This sleek and supercompact router actually offers very fast real-world throughput speeds, even faster than some routers that support the 450Mbps standard, in my testing. On top of that, it's a fun router to use if you like tweaking. The router offers built-in support for network storage when coupled with an external hard drive. Read the full review of the Asus RT-N56U.

Josh Miller/CNET

Trendnet TEW-692GR
The TEW-692GR is the first router on the market to offer true dual-band with both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, and is able to handle the new and higher 450Mbps wireless speed. The router offers very good performance and is simple to use. It's a pure wireless router since it doesn't have a USB port for storage or print serving. When first released, the router had a very high price tag, which is now significantly lower, making the router a great buy. Read the full review of the Trendnet TEW-692GR.

Looking for specs and pricing? Compare these routers head-to-head.