The Problem with Consumer Grade Routers
The problem with consumer-grade routers like Linksys, D-Link, Netgear, Belkin, and the likes is that they company specs the product and then farms the manufacturing out to multiple overseas companies. The result is one model number with multiple hardware revision numbers because each manufacturer can used totally different components in the device. This means completely different firmware trees as well since the firmware is tied to the components.
For example, I have a nice little D-Link DI-524 wireless G router that kicks ass with my computer. Why? It's a hardware rev C which happens to be Atheros based and I use an Atheros NIC. It's perfect. However, my brother-in-law has a D-Link DI-525 rev A that uses some other chipset which has several problems including some really bad firmware bugs. To the average consumer, the units look exactly the same, including having the same model number. In all, there are around 5 or 6 hardware revs for this router, and which one you get can make a big difference for you.
Ever wonder why these companies get such a bad rap for tech support when it comes to troubleshooting advanced problems? They have no control over the hardware and firmware. They do NOT code the firmware in-house. It's all done by the individual overseas companies and the parent company is at their mercy for updates and information. So you end up with a tech support agent who may really know his/her stuff, but is dependent on some foreign company to supply them with information and fixes.
It is very important to keep this in mind when recommending or asking for recommendations on routers. Always include the hardware and firmware revision numbers in your recommendations. Sometimes you can just look at a sticker on the bottom of the unit (D-Link for instance), sometimes you have to go online and find out what hardware rev you have based on the serial number (Linksys).
If you want to avoid this, you have to drop some serious money on a brand like Sonicwall where all their product development, firmware, etc, is done in house and is aimed at much higher levels of security and reliability than the less expensive brands.
Don't Get What You Don't Need
The speed rating of a router is the speed between your wireless computer and the router. (The speed will actually be a little slower due to the overhead of wireless, but there's nothing to be done about that.)
Here are some scenarios to consider:
1. You have one computer at home and you want to have wireless access to your broadband Internet connection.
At 54 megabit, any wireless G router will be much faster than your Internet connection, therefore, speed enhancements that allow you to connect at 108 megabit or faster will have absolutely no effect on your connection, and any extra money you spend on getting these enhancements will be wasted.
2. You have two or more computers in your home and you want 1 or more of them to have wireless access to your broadband Internet connection via a LAN.
In this case the speed of your connection CAN make a difference, but only if you are planning on transferring large amounts of data between a wireless computer and any other computer on the LAN. For gaming, 54 megabit is still much faster than what's needed. Depending on your needs, you may benefit from the faster connection speeds offered by enhanced speed routers.
Lots of people don't need anything faster than 54 megabit, but they don't realize it and they waste money buying the faster routers.
Tomorrow I'm setting up a wireless LAN at the home of a federal judge here in Brazil. He and his wife each have a laptop, and all they use them for is office-type work, email, and Internet access. The Internet connection is 4 megabit. They have absolutely no need for speeds beyond 54 megabit.
However, they need good security and reliable hardware since a week after I set this up, I'm leaving the country. I can't leave them with a new, shiny, unproven router that may still have some high maintenance growing pains ahead of it.
I am installing two Linksys WRT54GL routers with the optional Linksys high-gain antennas. One as a wireless router in the 3rd floor office, and one as a wireless access point in the 1st floor office. This will give them solid, house-wide wireless coverage with better router security due to the third party firmware I will be installing. (more on that later) The end result is an inexpensive, reliable, above-average home wireless installation without having to drop big money on Sonicwall or the likes.
How I Chose
I just spent 3 days and 30 phone calls researching the latest consumer-level wireless router offerings. I spent tons of time on broadbandreports.com.
One of the most proven and flexible G routers is the Linksys WRT54G. The advantages of this router are the fact that it's been around for a long time and has good, stable firmware. The current version of this router is hardware revision 5. However, the most popular version of this router is hardware rev 4 because the firmware is Linux-based and there are multiple third party firmware version for it that enable it to do some extremely advanced, professional-level routing tasks. It can essentially be turned into a little Linux computer that does advanced routing.
There was so much demand for this router after the V5 came out that Linksys actually added the V4 to the product line with it's own individual model number, the WRT54GL. The L version IS a WRT54G version 4. This is considered the Holy Grail of wireless G consumer level routers because it can easily transcend it's consumer level market in regards to functionality and security. This is hands down the most popular consumer level router with advanced users.
The Linksys SRX400 products that are just coming out are very good on paper, but they are brand new and will no doubt suffer some growing pains in the firmware department. The WRT54GX4 uses MIMO (Multiple In, Multiple Out) technology that allows signals to be bounced all over the place in order to make the connection. Range is incredible, and speed is enhanced as well.
From what I've read, it's the best implementation of MIMO in the consumer level market so far. Again, 1st gen revs can always suffer some major growing pains, so take that into account if you want the latest and greatest of anything when it comes to wireless routers.