So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
TP-Link TD-W8980 N600 modem-router
This dual-band ADSL2+ modem-router is reliable and inexpensive
- Reliable overall performance
- External antennas can be cumbersome
- Media streaming didn't work off attached hard drive
There's not much to dislike about the TP-Link TD-W8980 modem-router. It wasn't the fastest performer in our tests, but was dependable. The only feature we didn't have much luck with was the built-in media server for the USB drive. Apart from that, this inexpensive piece of kit barely gave us any grief at all.
Price$ 129.00 (AUD)
TP-Link's TD-W8980 N600 is an ADSL2+ modem-router that's fit to the run the Internet distribution needs of a fairly typical home network. It supports 300 megabits per second (Mbps) 802.11n wireless connections, and its Ethernet ports are of the Gigabit variety. We found it to be a reliable performer during our extended test period, and it was also very easy to set-up and use. Not bad traits at all for a model that's also inexpensive.
• Need an 802.11ac router instead? We've also reviewed the TP-Link Archer D7 wireless ADSL2+ modem router.
Physically, the TP-Link has a piano black finish that looks sleek and modern thanks to some slight curves. There are three antennas at the rear, and this is the only part of the router that's a little old-fashioned. We're used to seeing more routers with internal antennas these days; the external ones are a little cumbersome to manage, but they do the job. We had no problems streaming video across a 10m area from the router to our smart TV. The router distributed the videos on our server PC without any fuss whatsoever.
It's a dual-band router, too, which means you can separate traffic in order to keep things running optimally. You could use the 2.4GHz network to distribute videos to your TV, and then use the 5GHz network for your laptops and computers in order to facilitate faster file transfers without impacting the streaming performance to the TV. Now we should mention that the wireless performance we saw from this router wasn't blazing fast by any means, but it was still quick, and very reliable. We didn't experience any slow-downs or drop-outs at all while streaming video or conducting wireless file transfers.
We tested its wireless performance with our usual Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6300- based notebook, transferring files to it from a wired (Gigabit Ethernet) PC over short distance (2m) and a mid-range distance (10m). When using the 2.4GHz network, the short-range test averaged a speed of 9.79 megabytes per second (MBps), while the mid-range test lost a little speed across the extra distance and averaged 8.19MBps. This is actually very good 2.4GHz performance that's faster than a couple of other wireless routers that we've seen in recent times, such as iiNet's Budii and the ASUS DSL-N55U, even Belkin's AC1200 wasn't as fast. More high-end modem-routers such as WD's My Net Central N900 and D-Link's DSL-2890AL managed to transfer a few more megabytes per second in the same 2.4GHz test.
In the 5GHz Wi-Fi test, the TP-Link N600 improved only slightly on its 2.4GHz showing. It recorded 11.69MBps in the short-range transfer and 9.41MBps in the mid-range test. High-end routers like the previously-mentioned WD and D-Link averaged in the early 20's and high teens in these short- and mid-range transfers, respectively. The ASUS also got faster results from both distances at 5GHz, and the iiNet Budii was faster in the mid-range test.
Basically, the TP-Link N600 isn't the fastest performer when it comes to dual-band networking, but we can vouch for it being a consistent performer, and we found it suitable for a typical home environment in which there are a couple of wireless computers, a couple more mobile devices and a smart TV. Furthermore, the ADSL2+ performance was as fast as we expected out of our iiNet connection (it reached 16.5 megabits per second), and we only had to restart the unit once during our evaluation period — there was a day when we noticed unusually slow download rates. Apart from that one little blemish, we didn't ever have to think about our connection.
There is a USB port on the rear of the N600 that can be used to share a printer or to distribute the contents of a mobile or desktop USB drive, but the media serving capability for it didn’t work during our tests. We couldn't see this drive when attempting to access it from our smart TV. The drive can be accessed from a computer by typing the router's address into the Windows Run command, and you can create shortcuts to the folders on the drive that you want to regularly access. File transfer performance when copying files off the drive to a wireless laptop was in the vicinity of 5Mbps.
The router has an FTP function and also support for dynamic DNS (dyndns and no-ip). So while it might not have the cloud features of some other routers on the market, such as the ASUS router, for example, you can access local files remotely if you know how to set it all up. Other features include QoS, parental features (time-based usage and URL filtering), port-forwarding facilities and UPnP.
The TP-Link N600 (TD-W8980) has a recommended retail price of $129, but it can be found for around $110 from many online stores (before delivery charges are factored in). We think it's a good model to consider if you're on a budget and want modem and router capabilities from the same piece of kit. We found it to be a reliable performer and, while it wasn't blazingly fast, it still managed to run our home network smoothly.
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