Easily the best router ZyXEL (pronounced Zy-cell) has ever made, the $174 X-550NH Wireless N High Gain Gigabit Router is fast, offers powerful features for business and home use, and comes with an external antenna that helps maintain a consistent signal. But ZyXEL’s best doesn’t quite measure up to the competition.
Setup and Design
At 7.5 x 5.3 x 1.3 inches, the clamshell white X-550NH is just an inch or two smaller than many 802.11n Wi-Fi routers. Unlike similar products from D-Link or Linksys, however, it has no fancy LCD display to show the connection status or USB ports for connecting a printer or an external drive. This device comes with a 6dBi external antenna kit that snaps together and connects with three cables.
Setup was a breeze: The X-550NH’s installation program had us online within five minutes. This model has four Gigabit Ethernet ports and one Gigabit WAN port, designed to support a high bandwidth connection in an office or home setting (e.g., Fiber-to-the-Home or T1). You can even schedule the router to disable ports, a handy power-saving measure, though some routers—such as the TrendNet TEW-633GR—do this automatically.
We’re not big fans of the X-550NH’s configuration page, which you access by typing in the router’s IP address. We would have preferred a less complicated, more graphical interface.
Using Ixia Chariot (http://www.ixchariot.com), which measures wireless throughput, the external antenna on the X-550NH helped maintain a rate of 100 Mbps at 5 feet—without all of the typical Wi-Fi variations of other routers. Range was less than spectacular, however, sputtering out beyond 150 feet. And, although we connected to the D-Link DIR-855 from a distant bedroom in a 4,000-square foot home, the X-550NH’s signal was nonexistent. In contrast, the Linksys WRT610N connected at four times the distance, and even had a usable throughput of 20 Mbps at 300 feet. Here're the full results of our benchmark tests.
5 feet: 100 Mbps (office)
15 feet: 70 Mbps (outside office)
50 feet: 60 Mbps (den)
100 feet: 20 Mbps (upstairs)
150 feet: None (upstairs hallway)
300 feet: None (upstairs bedroom, far corner)
Nevertheless, the X-550NH provides acceptable coverage at high speeds. It also lets you make two simultaneous VPN connections—a secure way to connect remote computers—to create a virtual network with as many as three business associates or friends.
The improved MBM v2 QoS engine allows this router to manage Web activities intelligently. For example, when we tested the Google Talk service while downloading the game Fallout 3 from a service called Steam (www.steampowered.com) on our laptop, calls were smooth and clear; the download slowed to a reasonable rate (increasing to 6 hours from 3 hours), which was what we expected.
The X-550NH also allows WPA and WPA2 encryption, WPS setup (which speeds up the router configuration in Windows when you press a button on the back of the router), and UPnP media streaming.
Overall, the $174 ZyXEL X-550NH router is fast, reliable, and has an excellent QoS engine. Compared with the Linksys WRT610N, however, the ZyXEL router costs more, has a more limited range (even with the external antenna), and lacks dual-band capability. Although this smart digital hub is well suited for business and home users, you can get more for your money elsewhere.