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Linksys E3000 wireless-N router review
- streaming video and audio files

Streaming video and audio files

In terms of this website, we come to the most important aspect of the router. Can we use this router to successfully stream high quality video and audio files over our home network?

Well, with a four port gigabit switch built-in we will certainly have no concerns with any devices we want to connect with a cable. The gigabit connection provides excellent data transfer rates and is more than enough for streaming media files - and is also great for transferring large amounts of data around our network (for data backup for example).

However, we also need to know if the wireless-N connection is up to the job. With wireless-G we would struggle to successfully stream anything more than a few audio files and low-resolution video. The promise of wireless-N is that we will be able to send 1080p high-definition video around our wireless network with wild abandon.

However, before we proceed, if you are under the impression that we should be able to send data across wireless-N at 300 Mbps (as suggested by most promotional material accompanying these devices), then you should first go and read the article, why is my wireless-N connection so slow? Once you understand this, then the results here may not seem so disappointing! :-)

Media file bit rates

Firstly, what speeds do we actually need to get to?

Well, here is a handy little table giving approximate bit rates of various types of data files:

Media Bit Rate Table

Depending on the actual content of each file type, and how much compression is added, the actual bit rate for each type may vary slightly from these figures. However, they give a good ballpark figure of the actual bit rates we need to achieve across our wireless connection to stream each type of media.

So how does the Linksys E3000 perform?

Testing, testing

I tested the throughput achieved across a wireless connection using various connection scenarios - both wireless-G and wireless-N - in order to give a good comparison as to the performance of the E3000.

I tried connecting using the internal Realtek wireless-G card on my laptop - as well as using the Linksys WUSB600N dual-band wireless-N USB adapter to see the difference it made to the performance.

I used jperf to measure the throughput I managed to achieve over each connection type, and attempted to play back video from BBC iPlayer and a 1080p mkv video file stored on my network.

This isn't meant to be a perfect scientific experiment, however the results should be a useful guide to anybody wishing to stream audio and video files across their home network.

The full tables of results are on the next page, but the results were encouraging.

With my old wireless-G router connected to the Realtek wireless-G card on my laptop, I was limited to 15.8 Mbps. This was still enough to play low quality video from BBC iplayer, but not sufficient for streaming a 1080p mkv file without some serious buffering.

When I switched to the Linksys E3000 wireless-N router, and replaced the internal card on the laptop with the Linksys USB adapter, the data rate increased to 25.3 Mbps at the 2.4 GHz band. This allowed the online stream to play successfully and, more importantly, the 1080p mkv file to play smoothly too.

Experimenting with the channel increased the throughput to an impressive 38.8 Mbps, which shows you should always try different channels for your wireless connections.

Better still, when I then changed to the 5 GHz band (and a 40 MHz channel width), the data rate increased again to 46.9 Mbps. This is roughly three times the speed of my old wireless-G connection. Needless to say I could play all the media files with no problems.

However, as expected, as the strength of the signal went down by moving the laptop to different rooms, the throughput decreased. Therefore, you should consider the strength of signal you will achieve around your home to assess how viable a wireless network is going to be.

You should bear in mind the data rate will vary depending on a number of factors - including the strength of the wireless signal, local interference and changes to the settings of the connection. For example, the bandwidth can be changed from 20 MHz to 40 MHz for the 5 Ghz band and this may allow a better performance - however with a weaker signal this may actually cause the data rate to go down.

Linksys E3000 Wireless-N Router Front

It is also worth changing the channel for each band as you may find one in your area with less interference. In my experiments, the channel used made a big difference at 2.4 GHz, but very little at 5 GHz.

If you need to get the best possible transfer speed, then you should do some experiments and find out what works best in your environment. That is always going to be the downside of using a wireless connection, the speeds will vary according to where you are using it, and it is something where the good old cable still has an advantage.

One of the most interesting results for me, was that using the Realtek wireless-G card on channel 9 I achieved a reported 22.2 Mbps throughput, but was unable to stream the 1080p mkv file. Compare this to a slower 20.5 Mbps using the wireless-N USB adaptor in the next room, but I was able to stream the HD file.

A gold star for wireless-N I guess!

I suppose this suggests that there is slightly more involved in streaming media files than throughput alone, and that wireless-N is better-designed for the task.

Another interesting point was at the furthest distance I was unable to connect at all with the 5 GHz band. In this room I have always struggled to get a good wireless signal at 2.4 GHz, but at 5 GHz it disappears completely. Therefore, if you have parts of your home where the wireless reception is currently not great, the 5 GHz band may not reach at all as it appears to have less reach than at 2.4 GHz.

Next: Test Results




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