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A solid choice, but understand what you're buying
on January 26, 2012
About buying a dual-band router
Based on the reviews here, it seems that a lot of people have unrealistic expectations of what a dual band router will do for them, so I wanted to start my review by addressing the expectations you should have when you buy any dual band router. Many people seem to think that the 5GHz frequency band is inherently newer and better than the 2.4GHz band. That's simply not true as both bands have been around for a long time (802.11a ran at 5 GHz) and each has its strengths and weaknesses.
Some reviewers here have discovered one of those, noting that they didn't get as much range from the 5 GHz channels as the 2.4. That's exactly right. Higher frequencies do not travel and penetrate obstructions as well as lower ones, so we'll all get more distance from running in the 2.4 GHz band.
Another consideration is that many 802.11n devices run only on the 2.4 GHz band and won't even see a 5 GHz network. (The iPhone, for example, see only 2.4 GHz, while the iPad 2 sees both.) [Update 8/2/2013: Some commenters have noted that the iPhone 5 (released after I wrote this) does support both bands. They are, of course, correct... my iPhone 5 does see both networks.] Even if your router runs at 5 GHz, it's useless if the device you want to connect doesn't also run it. Before investing in a dual band router, it's a good idea to check out what you want to run and be sure it will work. I'd call the ubiquity of 2.4 GHz devices an advantage for that band.
Two advantages 5 GHz does have over 2.4 are that 1) it carries more data and 2) there's generally less interference at 5 GHz, so its more likely to achieve its potential to carry that extra data. There is a lot more 2.4 GHz traffic out there (cordless phones, microwaves, other wireless networks) so you can end up with slower access if these are causing interference. This is especially an issue in densely-populated areas of big cities. In contrast, the 5 GHz band is generally quite sparsely populated.
For most people, the reason to buy a dual-band router is that you want to watch HD movies or play video games wirelessly. The 5 GHz band is excellent for those data-intense applications, but your router has to be located well to give a good signal. A good setup for those people is to put your video and games on the 5 GHz channels and to run your regular Net surfing and email devices on the 2.4 GHz. Many dual band routers, like the Lynksys E2500, can run those simultaneously so that they don't interfere with each other.
Of course, you're still limited by the speed of the broadband coming into your home, but local traffic (like streaming a movie from a local server) will benefit. People who don't need to stream high bandwidth data, and who just want to check email and surf the web, will do just as well with a less expensive 2.4 GHz router (though this reconditioned price is low enough to justify the purchase even if you don't end up using both bands).
About my Purchase
I'm not usually a fan of buying refurbished products, but I had two 6-month-old Asus rt-n56u routers that both failed and I needed something to use while they were being repaired. (A month later, I'm still waiting... not happy with Asus.) Since I figured it was a temporary solution, and I didn't want to blow a lot of money on it, I picked up this refurbished E2500 and it has worked out great. It's been much more reliable than my Asus routers (even when they were working), so I'm seriously considering just ordering another one of these to put my network back together and just selling the Asus ones if they ever come back from repair. I spent nearly three times what this costs, each, for the Asus routers and what did it get me? I'm coming around to refurbished products. If they don't work when you get them, Amazon is great about returns. If they only last 6 months... well, I'd rather be out $40 for a 6-month lemon than $120, as I was with each of the others.
I did go ahead and buy another of these and it's working great. The only downside of these versus the ASUS routers is that these won't let me use the 'Internet' port on the second router to connect it to the first, so I have to use up one of my four wired device ports to make the second one into an access point. Still, the signals are strong and they've been reliable. I'm still waiting to get my ASUS routers back from their service center (terrible service), but I'm sticking with these when I do. I'll just sell the ASUS ones when they get back.