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How we test: wireless routers

CNET Australia's methodology for testing wireless routers.

In an increasing age of connectivity, it could be argued that the humble wireless router is more the centre of the home than the TV is.

The user experience

We cover both the hardware and the UI of the router. What features does it have that are above the norm? Does it support everything that it needs to at its price point? Are there any glaring bugs? How is the stability? Does the interface make it easy for newbies, without sacrificing usability?

Performance testing

Being the temperamental things they are, we like to push wireless routers as hard as we can.

To test the wireless capability of a router, it is placed at the top of a three-storey building, with cement walls and floors. The two floors below are connected via a square stairwell.

The wireless router is connected by gigabit Ethernet cable to a server, which runs a listening instance of iperf.

Testing is performed in three different zones: on the same floor as the router, three metres away; one floor under the router with cement obstructions; and two floors under the router with further obstructions.

The testing zones for wireless routers. (Credit: Craig Simms/CBS Interactive)

For 2.4GHz testing, if possible we set the bandwidth to 20MHz and select a clear channel after analysing the space with InSSIDer. Whether 2.4GHz or 5GHz, the router is told to accept N connections only, and a WPA2 password is set.

Across the three different test zones, we run iperf on a laptop for three minutes, using the command:

iperf -c [host IP] -w 1M -i 1 -P 8 -t 300

The result is recorded in each zone, using three different wireless adapters: an Intel Ultimate-N 6300, an Atheros AR5008X and an RALink RT2870. The results are then averaged across all adapters.

For ADSL 2+ modem/routers, we connect the unit to the St Leonards exchange using an Agile DSLAM, nominally capable of 22Mbps downstream, and 1.3Mbps up. Due to variances in infrastructure and weather affecting results, as well as most speeds falling within a usual margin of error, we only note unusual differences in performance.

Editors' Choice Award

The CNET Australia Editors' Choice Award is a hallmark of exceptional product performance, design, quality and value signifying that a product is considered best of breed in its category. The CNET Australia Editors' Choice Award is the stamp of approval that people look for and can trust when shopping for gadgets and consumer electronics.