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Editor's note: Although our First Look video states that the WRT610N costs only $149, the street price may prove higher.
The Linksys WRT610N Simultaneous Dual-N Band Wireless Router is the first true dual-band wireless router we've reviewed, and one of only a few on the market. In our tests, it easily handled 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz wireless clients simultaneously. Its 5Ghz throughput speed, though not the best we've seen, was also impressive-- though we wish its range and 2.4Ghz speed fared better. The router, when coupled with an external hard drive via its USB port, also serves as a network-attached storage (NAS) device--a great feature. If you must connect to both Draft N 2.0 worlds, then by all means, consider this router. But, if you can live with just a 2.4Ghz frequency, you will get a much better deal with the Linksys WRT310N .
Design and ease of use
Like Linksys' recent routers, such as the Linksys WRT110 or the Linksys WRT310N, the Linksys WRT610N features a practical and attractive internal antenna within a flat, UFO-shaped case. The WRT610N has a slightly bigger footprint than the previous models, however, this is presumably to create more empty space inside the casing to provide better ventilation for the dual wireless access points. (We found that the similarly designed WRT310N runs very hot during operation, but the WRT610N remains relatively cool.)
The WRT610N also supports gigabit networking via all of its ports (four LAN and one WAN). The front of the router displays an array of LED lights that show the status of the ports, the wireless network, the Internet connection, and the Storage Links feature. Storage Links allows the router to work as a network-attached storage when you hook an external hard drive to its USB port. In the middle of the LEDs, you will find the Wi-Fi-Protected Setup (WPS) button, which initiates the window of time when you can hook other WPS-compliant wireless clients to the network, without having to enter an encryption key.
The Linksys WRT610N comes with Linksys' EasyLink Advisor (LELA) software for both PC and Mac, making it one of the first--if not the first--non-Apple routers offering a desktop-setup application for Mac users. The software is well-designed and thought-out, and walks you step-by-step through the setup process. Savvy users might still skip it in favor of the Web interface, which is also intuitive and is more comprehensive than the desktop software. We had absolutely no problem and were able to get the router up and running for testing within a few minutes.
The WRT610N's Dual-N Band designation--its ability to offer Draft N 2.0 signal simultaneously in both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz frequencies--is significant because the still-new 5Ghz frequency promises better wireless signal strength, range, and stability. But because most of you still have plenty of 2.4Ghz wireless adapters and clients, you won't want to shut them out of your network completely. The WRT610N allow devices working in either of these frequencies to co-exist in your network.
The Linksys WRT610N reuses nearly the same Web interface and networking features as the WRT310N, and most other Linksys routers. However, the WRT610N's interface includes a Storage tab, where you can customize the router's NAS functions. The WRT610N works with any USB-based storage device, including thumb drives and external hard drives, such as the OWC Mercury.
Once plugged in, the WRT610N uses that external hard drive as a normal file server that supports Windows server message block (so that you can just browse the hard drive with Windows Explorer), or an UPnP media server, or an FTP server, or all three at once. We tried all of these functions with the OWC Mercury and they worked very well. The media server even automatically scans particular folders, or the whole NAS device, for newly added multimedia files to add to the shared list, so that these files can be picked up by other media players in the network, such as a Sony PlayStation 3 or iTunes software. The router's USB port is also able to power all bus-powered USB external hard drives--at least all those we tried. During the tests, we also found out that the WRT610N actually works very well with the Drobo external hard drive, and costs about as much as the DroboShare drive, which makes the Drobo network-capable.
The Linksys WRT610N has an elaborate content-filtering system, called Access Restrictions, which allows for the restricting or filtering of Internet access on particular networked computers. This is helpful if you want to block, say, Johnny's computer from certain Web sites. The Applications & Gaming feature lets you set up port forwarding and triggering, so that you can set specific ports for specific applications, such as games, remote desktop, or FTP and HTTP servers. You can also assign static IP addresses to certain computers in the network, making the port-forwarding much more relevant and easier. If you want to create a virtual private connection (VPN), FTP access, or a remote desktop connection to a certain computer in the network, you will find the above handy and convenient.
As with most recent routers, the WRT610N supports all available wireless-encryption standards, including WEP, WPA-personal, and WPA-Enterprise. The router allows for VPN Passthrough for all existing VPN protocols, including IPsec/ L2TP and PPTP, meaning that if you have the router at your home, you can use a VPN client to access your office via a VPN connection.
Unfortunately, WRT610N doesn't serve printers, which is disappointing. Considering its compact design, however, it has a lot more to offer than most routers.
We tested the Linksys WRT610N Simultaneous Dual-N Band Wireless Router on both 5Ghz and 2.4Ghz frequencies and found mixed results.
In the 5Ghz frequency tests, the router registered 101Mpbs on a close-range throughput test, which is a tad slower than the Apple Time Capsule 1TB (103.1Mbps) or the D-Link DGL-4500 (116Mbps). However, we tested both the Time Capsule and the DGL-4500 on 5Ghz only, but the WRT610N performed while running both 5Ghz and 2.4ghz frequencies at once. On our long-range test, the WRT610N, still offering signal in two frequencies, topped the 5Ghz router chart at an impressive 64.6Mbps.
Our 2.4Ghz-frequency tests told a different tale. The WRT610N registered only 53.3Mbps in close-range tests--nearly the lowest score among Draft N 2.0 routers. However, the WRT610N's signal doesn't wane over range, reaching 47.7Mbps on the long-range test, which is by far the best among 2.4Ghz routers. In a mixed-mode test where we set the router to work with both Draft N 2.0 and Wireless-G clients, the WRT610N scored about average among the routers we've reviewed, at 44.4Mbps.
The WRT610N's range varies depending on the frequency at which you use it: the router ranged about 250 feet in our 5Ghz test, which was far but not as far as its 2.4Ghz frequency range, which reached up to 270 feet. Both of these ranges are admirable, although not the longest we've seen.
Overall, we are happy with the Linksys WR610N's performance, but there's plenty of room for improvement.
Service and support
Linksys backs the WRT610N Simultaneous Dual-N Band Wireless Router with a one-year, limited warranty, which is short, although the same as offered for previous models such as the WRT310N and the WRT110. Linksys' toll-free phone support is available 24-7, as is online chat with a support representative. Linksys' Web site includes software, drivers, and firmware downloads, as well as a FAQ section.