HARDWARE

Router-mania: Best Draft N Buys

The IEEE 802.11n standard hasn’t even been finalized yet, but wireless networking equipment is not only widely available but on sale or out-performing earlier models. Is it prudent to buy Draft N routers with a standard unfinished?
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The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has yet to sit down and formally ratify standard 802.11n, but that hasn’t stopped a flood of “Draft N” routers from hitting the market.

Should you wait for the IEEE to formally bless the standard before you go out and buy equipment?

Probably not. Most observers agree that the Institute’s blessing is merely a formality at this point. After all, many of the companies rolling out Draft N routers are on the IEEE.

Draft N complications

But here’s a more likely complication: You install Draft N routers, which are purported to be about six times faster than the previous “Wireless G” iteration (which maxed out at 54 Mbps under laboratory conditions) and find that they perform pretty much the same.

That’s likely because although you have Draft N routers, the equipment on your PCs is still old school. Unless you bought a PC equipped with Intel’s Centrino technology after August or so, your PCs won’t clock an uptick in speeds. “The biggest potential for disappointment is not having client hardware in sync with the router,” says Chris Silva, an analyst with Forrester Research, of Cambridge, Mass.

Indeed, when Austin Smith, the owner of Digital Son I.T. Services, an Atlanta value-added reseller (VAR), pitches Draft N upgrades to small business clients, he stresses that they are not likely to see an immediate improvement. “I basically have to sell it on the features they’ll be gaining when the standard’s completed,” he says. Though PCs are beginning to sport Draft N compatibility (and Apple’s MacBooks are already up to speed), other hardware, like digital cameras, have yet to catch up.

Backwards compatible hardware

Nevertheless, unlike previously updated equipment, most Draft N hardware is backwards-compatible, which means at least while customers are waiting for the IEEE to make its decision (likely in the third quarter of 2008), customers can still use their legacy equipment.

Proponents of Draft N say it’s worth the wait. Not only is it much faster, but the wireless coverage is noticeably better, says Ivor Diedricks, senior product manager for Linksys, of Irvine, Calif. Before Draft N, users might lose their connection if they moved their laptop over two feet or so, but “in the case of [Draft N] you don’t have dead spots.”

In the meantime, though, a Draft N upgrade is likely to be anticlimactic. That was the case with CornerStore Entertainment, a nine-person Atlanta firm that manages musical acts (including crunk artist YoungBloodZ). Jeffrey Joseph, president of CornerStore, says so far it’s hard to get excited about the upgrade: “We decided to buy the [Draft N] router thinking it would be six- to ten-times faster only to find that the devices we need aren’t available yet.”

SIDEBAR: Best Buys in Draft N Routers

If you’re interested in starting the draft N upgrade process, here are some small business-targeted routers:

• Linksys offers a full line of Draft N routers including the WRT350N, which starts at around $150.

•  D-Link also offers the DIR-655 Xtreme N Gigabit Route, which starts at $115.

• Belkin’s N1 Wireless Router starts at $99.

• Netgear’s WNR834B RangeMax Net Router starts at around $90.

Last updated: Mar 1, 2008




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