How CNET tests networking devices
By: Dong Ngo
In the networking device category, CNET conducts performance tests only on Wi-Fi routers and power-line adapters. Simply put, these are the two types of devices for which it is easy to measure data rates in repeatable and meaningful ways. For more information on other aspects of home networking devices, check out this series on their basics.
A router is the central gateway of a home network. Not only does it connect all devices together via network cables or Wi-Fi signals to form a network, but also it connects to the Internet via its WAN port, and it shares that connection with other devices. Power-line adapters, on the other hand, extend the local network even farther by turning a home's electrical wiring into network cables.
Testing these devices means measuring the data speeds that they deliver among connected clients. For routers, we test only the speed of the Wi-Fi signals, while for power-line adapters, we test the data signal transferred through electrical wiring. For more on our testing process, the full details are described below.
Currently, CNET reviews only home Wi-Fi routers that support Wireless-N (802.11n) or 5G Wi-Fi (802.11.ac) standards. Routers with older standards, such as the 8021.11g, are becoming obsolete.
There are two main speed tests for Wi-Fi routers, the data throughput test and the stress test.
Data throughput test
This test determines the actual real-world data rate of the router's Wi-Fi signal. The computer that hosts the test data, which is a 1.24GB file, is connected to the router via a network cable. Depending on the router, this connection is either Gigabit (1,000Mbps) or traditional Ethernet (100Mbps). After that, a single Wi-Fi client is connected to the router via its Wi-Fi network. If the router is a dual-band router, the Wi-Fi client is connected to each of its bands separately.
The test is performed under two setup scenarios. The first is the close-range test, where the client is just 15 feet away from the router. To begin, we copy the test file from the host computer to the Wi-Fi client and determine the speed by dividing the test file's size (in MB) by the number of seconds required for the job to complete. For consistency, we perform multiple tests.
The second is the long-range test, where we use the same procedure while putting the client 100 feet away from the router. For 802.11ac routers, we run these tests separately with a 802.11ac client and a 802.11n client.
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