You might need to check the price on the EnGenius XtraRange ESR600H router a few times. This device has dual-band (2.4GHz and 5.0GHz) wireless support, a small footprint, excellent throughput and a handy USB port for your external hard disk. Better yet, it costs just $129, significantly less than competing routers with the same features. Is this router the bargain that it seems?
The all-black design of the ESR600H looks a little like the Linksys routers from a few years ago. It's understated, with a slight curve from front to back and a wide ridge around the outer edge. Extra-large antennas protrude off the back of the unit, and there's a large on-off switch on the back. Like the Linksys E4200v2, the ESR600H can only lay flat and not vertically.
Getting the ESR600H up and running took only about 5 minutes, but that's partly because this model is actually somewhat slim on extra features. For example, there are no mobile apps you can use for configuring the router. And, you can't have guest accounts for visitors to connect only to the Internet and not your network.
Also, the setup might be confusing initially to some users: there is no CD included, so to configure the router, you first connect the Ethernet cables and then go to the IP address for the router, which is listed in the manual. This may sound picky, but some of the instructions in the manual and online help use poor grammar, making them harder to understand.
In order to use the ESR600H's USB port with a thumbdrive and make it available on the network, we had to install a setup program first, something we didn't have to do with any other router. The EnGenius ESR600H also lacks the error-correcting features of the Belkin N900.
One unique feature of the ESR600H is that you can adjust the power level, so if you live in an apartment or have a small office, you can decrease the wireless coverage area. The enGenius was the only router that did not support the new IPv6 standard, but will in a future firmware upgrade.
The EnGenius ESR600H falls flat compared to more expensive routers in terms of speed and coverage. Using IXChariot, the device clocked 64 Mbps from 5 feet and 42 Mbps from 150 feet in the 2.4-GHz band. In both cases, that's 20 Mbps less than the next-slowest router, the Belkin N900, which averaged 84 Mbps and 68 Mbps from those respective ranges. The Linksys E4200v2 averaged 90 and 88 Mbps from those distances.
In the 5-GHz band, the ESR600H averaged 140 Mbps from 5 feet and 64Mbps from 150 feet. That's decent, but the Netgear N900 averaged 164 Mbps and 100 Mbps from those ranges.
In a second speed test, a 3GB file took 5 minutes to transfer form one laptop to another. Oddly, a 2GB collection of about 400 media files (videos, photos and audio) took 12 minutes to transfer. That's 10 minutes longer than the Linksys and Netgear devices.
Unfortunately, the ESR600H could not connect beyond 600 feet in either of the wireless bands. Both the Linksys and the Netgear routers were able to connect at more than 1,000 feet.
While the 500-MHz processor in the ESR600H is a bit slow for handling complex HD video streams, we didn't encounter any problems. For quality of service, an important feature that manages the bandwidth for multiple connections, we found the ESR600H to work remarkably well. We watched "Modern Family" on Hulu, downloaded a file with iTunes and transferred a 3GB file all at the same time. The Hulu movie never stuttered. There are even some techie options such as setting a specific IP (say, your laptop) to use all the bandwidth.
Another case of you-get-what-you-pay for, the $130 EnGenius XtraRange ESR600H costs $50 less than our favorite router, the Netgear N900, but offers slower throughput, shorter range and a trickier setup process. Still, for those who are looking for a dual-band router, and don't need to connect over long distances, the ESR600H is worth a look.