I was excited to review the EnGenius ESR300H High Power 300Mbps Wireless N Router since it was the first in EnGenius' new XtraRange family, introduced during CES 2012, that promises to offer exceptionally long range. As it turned out, however, the only thing exceptional about the ESR300H was how badly it performed in my testing.
The router offered the slowest wireless data rates I've seen yet and had really terrible wireless signal stability. I also didn't find the router's range to be noticeably better than others of the same configuration. The only saving graces that the EnGenius has are the built-in support for a VPN server and the fact that it comes with a very friendly price tag of just around $45.
That said, it's very hard for me to recommend the ESR300H to anyone, except those who need a VPN server more than a reliable wireless network. If you're looking for an affordable wireless router for your home, consider the Linksys E1200 instead. Since the ESR300H appears to be the lowest tier, let's hope that others in the XtraRange family will fare better.
Setup and design
The ESR300H comes in a very compact, yet traditional design. Even with the two detachable external antennas sticking up from the back, it's still one of the smallest routers out there. The ESR300H has five Ethernet ports on its back: four LAN ports for wired clients and one WAN port for connecting to an Internet source. On the front, it has an array of tiny LEDs that show the status of the ports, the Internet connection, the Wireless-N wireless network, and the power state of the router itself.
Near the array of lights, you'll find a Wi-Fi Protected Setup button for connecting a wireless client to the network via one push. With four little rubber feet on its bottom, the router is designed to be set flat on a surface. However, it's also wall-mountable.
The ESR300H doesn't come with any setup software. The included CD contains only the manual and other materials in PDF format. Nonetheless, it's not very hard to get the router up and running. All you have to do is plug it in to a power source, connect a computer to one of its LAN ports, and connect its WAN port to an Internet source such as a cable modem, and in most cases you're done. Now, to further customize your wireless network, you just need to point a browser on a connected computer to the router's default IP address, which is 192.168.0.1. The default log-in account is "admin" for both the username and password.
The EnGenius ESR300H is a single-band router, meaning it works on only the 2.4GHz frequency, which is the most popular band for wireless devices. Generally, I prefer routers that can also work on the 5GHz band, which offers cleaner and faster wireless speeds. However, most budget routers are single-band, so this doesn't count as a terrible shortcoming.
Like all budget routers I've seen, the ESR300H comes with a built-in VPN server that enables you to configure your own VPN network supporting both L2TP and PPTP protocols. This means, when it's configured properly, remote users can dial home and get connected to the router, via the Internet, as though they were on the local network. The only other router this small that I know of that offers this feature is the Cisco RV110W, which is designed specifically for small businesses. You do need to have a good understanding of networking to set up a VPN network, however.
The ESR300H's Web interface is well-organized and responsive, providing access to the router's various features such as Parental Control, Firewall, and Quality of Service. While these are useful features, the interface's layout and wording are technical and only suitable for experienced users. The router seems to be intended for home use, but the inexperienced will have a hard time taking advantage of its advanced features.
The EnGenius ESR300H showed no genius in terms of performance. In my testing, the router scored just 22.6Mbps in close-range tests when a client was set at 15 feet away. When I increased the range to 100 feet in the long-range test, the score dropped to a dismal 5.6Mbps. For comparison, the similarly priced Linksys E1200, which was previously the slowest wireless router I had seen, registered 37.5Mbps and 6.4Mbps for the close-range and long-range tests, respectively. Other routers I've reviewed can easily double or even quadruple the EnGenius ESR300H's data speeds.
I was hoping that this XtraRange router would at least impress with its range, but there was nothing of note there, either. The router indeed offered longer range than the Linksys E1200 in my office environment, up to about 200 feet. But from about 150 feet out, it was basically impossible to do any surfing or to transfer data, making the connection virtually useless. The router should be used from within 75 feet if you want to experience a viable wireless connection. And even then, the connection wasn't always rosy.
What I found most disappointing about the EnGenius ESR300H was its signal stability. Even at close range, the router appeared to randomly disconnect from and reconnect to its wireless client. While this wouldn't be a big deal for those who just want to surf the Web or e-mail, it'd be a headache for those who need a constant and reliable connection for gaming or VoIP applications like Skype. The router miserably failed our 24-hour stress test within just 1.5 hours of testing.
Service and support
EnGenius backs the ESR300H with standard one-year warranty. At the company's Web site, you will find a dedicated page for the router where you can find support information including downloads and FAQs.
Despite the compact design, the VPN support, and even the nice low price of just $45, I recommend skipping the EnGenius ESR300H High Power 300Mbps Wireless N Router due to its mediocre performance and unstable wireless signal.