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Tested: 6 new travel routers that can deploy a secure Wi-Fi network almost anywhere

Michael Brown | May 6, 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 with Apple's HFS+ file system.

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 an AVADirect laptop with an onboard Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 Wi-Fi adapter. I plugged in an Asus USB-AC56 802.11ac Wi-Fi USB adapter to test the only travel router in the roundup that supports the 802.11ac standard: D-Link's DIR-510L.

I measured TCP throughput from a desktop server to the client using JPERF. Since several of the travel routers don't support both hardwired WAN and LAN connections, I installed an Asus PCE-AC66 802.11ac adapter in the server.

Our top recommendations 

D-Link's DIR-510L delivered the best overall performance in our benchmarks, thanks in large measure to its support of the new IEEE 802.11ac standard. This router can also run on battery power, and it can charge other mobile devices, such as your smartphone or tablet. 

Netgear's Trek PR2000 is our next favorite. While it's limited to operating as an 802.11n router on the 2.4GHz frequency band, it delivered outstanding range and proved to be faster at file transfers than D-Link's model.

 

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