The new ZyXEL NBG-415N router looks very similar to the 802.11g P-336M, however this Draft-N router sports three antennae, which gives the clue about some major changes under the bonnet.
ZyXEL has taken its time about getting on the 802.11n bandwagon. Unlike many manufacturers it ignored the idea of Pre-N wireless hardware and has waited until the draft specification is on the verge of ratification.
Although 802.11n isn’t yet a done deal, most wireless manufacturers seem confident that that they’ll be able to offer firmware and driver upgrades to make their latest products fully compliant with the final version of the standard. This means that the time is ripe for ZyXEL to roll with its own Draft-N hardware and it’s chosen the path of least resistance by selecting some very popular components.
The wireless chip is an Atheros AR5416 that we’ve previously seen in routers from D-Link and SMC, which is a good thing as it raises the chances of compatibility between your laptop and router if everyone is using the same silicon. The Realtek LAN chip offers four 10/100Mbps wired ports, which is adequate, however we’d have liked to see Gigabit Ethernet to avoid the possibility of the wireless network being slowed down by the wired part of the system.
The ‘problem’ with 802.11n is that it speeds up your network to such an extent that it is likely to show that your Internet connection is the weakest link in the chain, especially if it is 2Mbps or slower. ZyXEL has included another piece of hardware in the shape of the Ubicom StreamEngine which is used to prioritise traffic across the network so you can ensure, for instance, that VoIP and online gaming take priority over streaming video from YouTube.
This is a useful feature but it’s common to a number of other routers including, yes, some from D-Link and SMC. So once again ZyXEL is playing catch-up.
Configuring the NBG415N is quick and easy and if you’re enabling wireless security you have the choice of 64-bit/128-bit WEP, WPA and WPA2 as well as an SPI Firewall and MAC address filtering.
Those are quite common options, however ZyXEL makes life easy for you, providing your laptop runs on Windows XP SP2 or Vista, as it provides a USB port for Windows Connect Now. Simply plug a memory key into the router and then plug it into the laptop and the encryption key is set with no need for typing in a lengthy alphanumeric piece of gobbledegook.
The problem is that ZyXEL is charging a steep price both for this DSL router and also for the matching PC Card adapter, yet it doesn’t provide a compelling reason why you should choose the ZyXEL over the many competing brands of Pre-N hardware on the market.
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