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Six new travel routers that can deploy a secure Wi-Fi network almost anywhere

Michael Brown | May 14, 2014
If you need Internet access while you're away from your home or the office, you should carry a travel router in your bag. Free Wi-Fi hotspots are nearly always insecure, leaving your PC vulnerable to attack. Fee-based broadband services at hotels often are limited to supporting wired devices, so you won't be able to connect your smartphone or tablet. If the service is wireless, the provider will charge a fee for each device you connect to the network.

USB file-sharing port Plug a portable hard drive into the travel router's USB port, and you can share the files stored on that drive with all the computers on your network. If the router has a DLNA server, you can also stream music and video from that device to network clients. The router might be limited in the size of hard drive that it can power, however, and not every model supports drives formatted HFS+.

USB charging port Some travel routers allow you to charge mobile devices from a USB port. Bonus points if they provide a separate port for this purpose, so you don't need to interrupt file sharing.

Wi-Fi guest zone A router that supports this feature will enable you to share a broadband Internet connection with other people without granting them access to other devices on your network.

WPS support Travel routers that support Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) make it easy to connect a wireless client — there's no need to type in user IDs and passwords to gain access to the network. Bonus points for travel routers that have a physical button for this purpose — that's easier than logging into the router's user interface.

How I tested

I tested each of the six travel routers in this roundup in three different rooms inside my 2800-square-foot, single-story home. I used a late-2013 MacBook Pro with a Broadcom 802.11ac chipset. I measured TCP throughput from an iMac (acting as a server) to the MacBook Pro using the WiFiPerf utility. 

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In an interesting turn of events, Netgear's Trek PR2000 turned in the best overall performance when tested with a Mac server and client.

The Trek delivered TCP throughput of 87.7Mbps when the MacBook Pro was in the same room as the router (65 feet from the router, with several walls in between), 89.2Mbps when the client was in the kitchen (separated by 20 feet, with one insulated wall in between), and 76.3Mbps when the client was in the home office (65 feet from the router, with several walls in between). 

D-Link's DIR-510L — operating in its native 802.11ac mode — came in second place, with TCP throughput of 59.8Mbps with the MacBook Pro in the bedroom, and 48.5Mbps when it was in the kitchen. But it couldn't connect with the client at all when the client was in the home office.

Operating in 802.11n mode on the 2.4GHz band, D-Link's router delivered throughput of 42.3-, 43.1, and 29.5Mbps with the MacBook Pro in the bedroom, kitchen, and home office respectively. The D-Link also has a superior feature set: In addition to its 802.11ac compatibility, this router can run on battery power, it can operate with cellular USB modems, and it can charge other mobile devices, such as your iPhone or iPad. 

 

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