Software QA FYI - SQAFYI

How To Test A Wireless Router


If you want to know how a wireless router performs, there is no better place than our Router Charts. But what if you have a router that we haven't tested or just want to run your own tests?

We have access to the powerful measurement capabilities of Ixia's IxChariot, which provides detailed views of router wired and wireless performance. But you can use simpler testing methods to provide a pretty accurate picture of your router's performance.

The most inaccurate view of router performance is obtained using Internet-based speed tests to a wireless client. While perhaps the quickest and easiest test to run, it puts two highly-variable factors into the performance equation; the speed of your Internet connection and the speed of your wireless connection.

For accurate wireless router testing, there are two important requirements:
Test on a local, non-Internet network
Test routing and wireless performance separately

You don't want to use Internet-based tests because, in most cases, the speed of your ISP connection will be much lower than what your router can actually handle. And as we have all experienced, you often don't get the maximum advertised speeds anyway.

For similar reasons, you want to test your router's routing performance (the speed at which it can move packets from LAN to WAN and WAN to LAN) using Ethernet connections only. The throughput of wireless connections varies too much for getting an accurate read on your router's performance. And again, in most cases, maximum wireless speed, even of three-stream N connections is lower than your router's wired routing performance.

Something you don't need to test is LAN-to-LAN performance. This data passes only through a router's switch chip (or switch section of a router single-chip SoC) and doesn't touch the actual routing section. Switch chips have been able to move packets among all ports at wire speed for many generations. Your speeds here are more dependent on factors in the devices/computers themselves than anything in the router. So there is no point in wasting time testing this.

Testing your router isn't that hard to do and requires only two computers and the cables to connect them to the router under test. The simplest tests don't require any purchased software. But, as you'll see, you may want to invest $30 or so in a few testing apps. You can test with MacOS or Linux machines, but I'm going to use Windows.

Routing Throughput - Setup

To test whether your router can keep up with your Internet connection, you can't use the connection itself. Instead, you need to set up a test network that is disconnected from the Internet. As the simple diagram below shows, one of the computers will be connected via Ethernet to the WAN port of the router (WAN-side computer) and the other connects to one of the LAN switched ports (LAN-side computer). You can use any port, it doesn't matter. You must use Ethernet to connect the computers; wireless won't work.

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How To Test A Wireless Router