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Zyxel Armor Z2 review: Easy-to-use router excels on 2.4GHz, falls short on 5GHz

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The Z2 has lots of helpful analytics about traffic on your network, including real-time bandwidth usage.

Screenshot by Dan Dziedzic/CNET

The menu definitely ranks high in my list of easy-to-use router menus. The terminology is clear and most people will find exactly what they want quickly. The only complaint is that if you change a setting and forget to hit apply, the software doesn't warn you that your changes won't be saved. I've run into this issue with numerous other routers, so it's hardly unique to the Armor Z2. Other than that, Zyxel clearly put a lot of thought into the user experience.

You get your money's worth in features

The Z2 has lots of features to keep your Wi-Fi running smoothly. Its AC2600 rating means 800 megabits per second (Mbps) on 2.4GHz and 1,733Mbps on 5GHz. It has the newest features for an 802.11ac router, like MU-MIMO, beamforming and four spatial streams on both networks. You can set up IPv6, a firewall, up to six guest Wi-Fi networks, airtime fairness (to keep older devices from slowing down your network) and remote management.

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The Z2 is an AC2600 router with great performance on 2.4GHz.

Chris Monroe/CNET

The Z2 also offers the aforementioned StreamBoost, which has been around for a few years and is also used by manufacturers such as D-Link and Netgear. StreamBoost is a kind of smart network prioritization. It manages your traffic, but also reserves bandwidth for each application based on information stored in the cloud. So, if an application like Netflix changes its bandwidth requirement, the Z2 will have that information available when deciding how much bandwidth Netflix can use. This will come in handy when you're streaming video content, to limit buffering, and when you're gaming, to help reduce latency and stabilize your ping.

You can enable or disable StreamBoost and separately enable or disable automatic updates for it. When updates are enabled you will have to agree to Qualcomm Atheros anonymously collecting data from you. If you value your privacy, you can manually check for updates instead. The disclaimer details what types of information it collects, so make sure to read through it (it's only two paragraphs) before deciding what you want to do.

Zyxel also has some additional app-related bonuses. The One Connect app makes it easy to add new networking devices, like Wi-Fi and powerline extenders. It provides an easy way to copy your Wi-Fi network settings to these additional devices. Then there's the Zyxel Photo app, which lets you back up photos from your mobile device to USB storage connected to the Z2.

The Z2 does lack a few features. It doesn't have a built-in VPN client or server functionality, but it does support passthrough VPN. It also lacks band steering to automatically connect your devices to the strongest network. You'll have to manually choose either the 2.4GHz or 5GHz band when new devices join.

Disappointing speed and coverage on 5GHz

It would be nice if every router had superfast speeds on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, but that wasn't the case for the Z2. It did impress me for both speed and consistency on 2.4GHz, which means you should have good coverage throughout your home.

2.4GHz Wi-Fi performance

Legend:

7 feet
25 feet
50 feet

Note:

All speeds in megabits per second (Mbps)

On 5GHz is where I was hoping for more from an AC2600 router. Its top speed of 703Mbps was well below the similarly priced D-Link DIR-882. At 50 feet away, the Z2 was under 100Mbps, which falls well below the average of routers I've tested.

5GHz Wi-Fi performance

Asus RT-AC86U AC2900
938
567
293
Linksys WRT32X AC3200
770
370
116
D-Link DIR-882 AC2600
927
568
283
TP-Link Archer C3150 AC3150
897
529
274
Netgear XR500 AC2600
772
530
224
Phicomm K3 AC3150
847
417
139

Legend:

7 feet
25 feet
50 feet

Note:

All speeds in megabits per second (Mbps)

Our network storage tests were surprising in that the router performed well on 5GHz and below average on 2.4GHz. We used an ADATA SD700 256GB external solid state drive connected to the router's USB 3.0 port. Here's how it compares to other similar routers.

Network storage performance

TP-Link Archer C3150 AC3150
9.73
11.10
17.57
15.28
Netgear XR500 AC2600
14.66
18.96
49.34
30.80
Phicomm K3 AC3150
10.09
17.82
10.75
15.17
Zyxel Armor Z2 AC2600
11.74
9.31
18.38
12.53

Legend:

2.4GHz Download
2.4GHz Upload
5GHz Download
5GHz Upload

Note:

All speeds in megabytes per second (MBps)

Should you buy one?

Zyxel designed the Armor Z2 to keep your streaming devices and gaming running smoothly. Its performance on 5GHz was underwhelming, but its 2.4GHz will give you good coverage throughout your home. The user experience will make you happy with your purchase, especially for only $170. The Z2 should keep your medium-sized home covered in Wi-Fi and anyone familiar with routers will be happy with the customization options and analytics.

Zyxel Armor Z2 specs

Brand Zyxel Model Armor Z2
IEEE 802.11 Standard a/b/g/n/ac Class AC2600
Speed (Mbps) 2,533 (800+1,733) CPU Processor Dual-core 1.7GHz
Frequency Dual band (2.4GHz+5GHz) RAM Memory 512MB
Ethernet Ports 1x Gigabit WAN; 4x Gigabit LAN Flash Memory 4GB
USB Ports 1x USB 3.0; 1x USB 2.0 Guest Wi-Fi Yes
Antennas 4x External (not detachable) Parental Controls Yes
Spatial Streams 4x 2.4GHz; 4x 5GHz MU-MIMO Yes
Modulation 256-QAM 5/6 Beamforming Yes
Security WPS, WPA-PSK, WPA-Enterprise, WPA2-PSK, WPA2-Enterprise, Firewall Setup App or browser
Size (in) 9.8 x 6.6 x 2 Weight (lbs) 1.3

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