Best wireless router

router system hub imageCredit: Rob Schultz
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A good wireless router is an essential element of tech life, whether you’re building out a smart home or you just want the best experience streaming music and video at home. Even those of us fortunate enough to have ethernet drops in every room have devices—smartphones and tablets, for instance—that depend on Wi-Fi to connect to the home network if not the internet.

Twin and sometimes conflicting demands for high performance and ease of use are powering a thriving and rapidly evolving market. Innovation is one of the biggest upsides of this dynamic, and confusion its biggest downside. Today’s hero could be tomorrow’s has-been, as established brands like Linksys and Netgear try to one-up each other while simultaneously fending off new challengers such as Eero and Luma. But it’s those challengers who have innovated the most, starting with Eero, the first manufacturer to bring mesh networking to the consumer router market.

The home Wi-Fi router market can be divided into two broad categories: traditional routers designed to cover an entire home, sometimes with the aid of wired access points or wireless range extenders, and whole-home Wi-Fi systems that consist of a base station with one or more satellite nodes. Our most recent router coverage has focused on the latter, so our initial picks will be in that category. We’ll circle back later and make recommendations for traditional routers as well. Scroll down a bit and we’ll discuss the features you should look for in a wireless router and explanations of some of the jargon you’ll encounter when you shop for one.

Best Wi-Fi system: Netgear Orbi RBK50

The secret to the Orbi RBK50’s success is Netgear’s dedicated 4×4, 1,733Mbps radio used for data backhaul between the router and its satellites (the RBK50 comes with one satellite, which Netgear says is sufficient to blanket 5,000 square feet). We also like the fact that the Orbi router has a built-in three-port ethernet switch (the satellite has a four-port switch), because those ports provide so much flexibility in terms of connecting other devices to your network, be it a NAS box for media streaming and data backup, a network printer that doesn’t support Wi-Fi, or an older ethernet-only A/V receiver in your entertainment center.

The Orbi RBK50 is not the least-expensive solution at $400, though, and it’s overkill for smaller spaces. We’ll have reviews of the scaled-down Orbi RBK40 and RBK30 soon.

Runner-up Wi-Fi system: Linksys Velop

Like Netgear’s Orbi RBK50, the Linksys Velop is a tri-band router that dedicates one Wi-Fi channel to data backhaul, selecting the least-congested channel on the fly. Unlike the Orbi, however, the Velop’s maximum per-channel bandwidth is 867Mbps (the Orbi uses a fixed channel for backhaul with 1,733Mbps of bandwidth). Two Velop nodes proved to be the sweet spot in blanketing our 2,800-square-foot test home with Wi-Fi, which would save us $50 over the cost of an Orbi RBK50.

Best budget Wi-Fi system: TP-Link Deco M5

TP-Link’s Deco M5 is a mesh Wi-Fi system, which makes it distinctly different from Netgear’s hub-and-spoke topology (scroll down for deeper explanations of those terms). All Deco M5 units are identical, but one gets configured as a router and the others as mesh nodes. If your client is close to the router, it will communicate with it directly. If the client is closer to a node, it will communicate with that and the data packets it sends and receives will hop from one node to the next until they reach the router. Since the same channel is used for data backhaul, a dual-band mesh network generally delivers less bandwidth than a hub-and-spoke system or a tri-band mesh router that has a dedicated backhaul channel.

Best Wi-Fi router for smart home enthusiasts

Securifi’s Almond 3 isn’t the fastest Wi-Fi router we’ve encountered, but it is one of the smartest. In addition to handling all of your web-browsing, media-serving, and other home-networking needs, the Almond 3 includes a ZigBee-based smart home hub that can control your home’s thermostat, lighting controls, smart door entry locks, and much more.

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AMD’s RX 480 graphics card can be turbocharged to RX 580 levels

Want to juice up your Radeon RX 480 graphics card so it’s as powerful as one of AMD’s new RX 580 offerings? Some enterprising folks have apparently achieved this ‘free upgrade’ feat already by flashing the older card with the freshly released firmware from an RX 580 – but be warned, this is certainly not an undertaking for the fainthearted.

The process was performed by a denizen of the TechPowerUp forums known as TonybonJoby (let’s call him Tony for short), who employed the ATIFlash utility to use the BIOS from a Sapphire RX 580 in his XFX RX 480 graphics card.

Once flashed with the new firmware, the RX 480 ran fine at the (much faster) stock clock speed of the RX 580 (1411MHz), seeming to be ‘completely stable’ according to Tony, with no evidence of crashing or glitches (he mentions testing the flashed card with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, incidentally).

So why wouldn’t you want to do this? For starters, flashing a graphics card like this is a relatively tricky process that shouldn’t be attempted by those who aren’t tech-savvy and fully confident in what they’re doing. Making a mistake could easily brick your graphics card, rendering it a useless lump. 

Longer game

Results will also vary depending on the exact card and firmware used, so there’s no guarantee this will work. And even if it does, apparent short-term stability is one thing, but you may run into problems in the longer run.

This is because the RX 480 is being pushed considerably beyond its clock limits, which were imposed by AMD for a good reason. So, while you’re getting faster performance, the graphics card will also be getting hotter than it should – which could be a definite issue longer-term.

Tony mentions his RX 480’s temperatures getting into the 80s once it had been flashed, and that’s a little too warm for comfort, particularly if it’s going to be running that way for any sort of prolonged period.

And for all these reasons, we’d recommend you steer clear, but if you do want to give this a go, proceed with a great deal of caution, and it’s worth reading Tony’s own warnings right here. It’s also worth noting that he had dual BIOS settings in the XFX card used, meaning he had a fall-back option if something went wrong, and could theoretically recover.

Neowin, which spotted the development, also linked to a story about an RX 470 being flashed to an RX 570 – but that article has since been taken down. Again, this points to the potential dangers that lie in the minefield-littered realm of messing with the BIOS.

The safest way to get an RX 580 is, of course, to simply buy one. And if you’re mulling that prospect, check out our AMD RX 580 review in which we evaluate how this fresh AMD offering compares to Nvidia’s rival GTX 1060.

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Credit card with a fingerprint sensor revealed by Mastercard

A payment card featuring a fingerprint sensor has been unveiled by credit card provider Mastercard.

The rollout follows two successful trials in South Africa.

The technology works in the same way as it does with mobile phone payments: users must have their finger over the sensor when making a purchase.

Security experts have said that while using fingerprints is not foolproof, it is a “sensible” use of biometric technology.

‘Nine changes’

Mastercard’s chief of safety and security, Ajay Bhalla, said that the fingerprint technology would help “to deliver additional convenience and security. It is not something that can be taken or replicated.”

However, fingerprint sensors can be compromised.

Karsten Nohl, chief scientist at Berlin’s Security Research Labs, told the BBC: “All I need is a glass or something you have touched in the past.”

He adds that if that information is stolen, “you only have nine fingerprint changes before you run out of options”.

But Mr Nohl is cautiously optimistic about the technology, saying it is “better than what we have at the moment”.

“With the combination of chip and PIN, the PIN is the weaker element. Using a fingerprint gets rid of that.”

“Fingerprints have helped us avoid using terrible passwords, and even the most gullible person is not going to cut off their finger if [a criminal] asks nicely.”

No scanner needed

The cards are thought to be the first to include both the digital template of the user’s fingerprint and the sensor required to read their fingerprints at the point of sale.

Previous biometric payment cards only worked when used in conjunction with a separate fingerprint scanner.

That limited their usefulness, as only stores with the correct equipment could accept them.

Having both the data and the scanner on the same card means that they should be accepted everywhere a normal chip and PIN payment card can be used.

But the biometric verification can only be used for in-store purchases: online and other so-called “card not present” transactions will still require further security measures.

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Celebrities warned over Instagram ads

Celebrities and “influencers” in the US have been warned to clearly identify when they are promoting products on Instagram in return for payment.

The consumer regulator sent letters to more than 90 individuals and marketing firms, though it has not revealed who was put on notice.

It is the first time the regulator has intervened on the issue.

An advocacy group which petitioned for the move said Instagram had become “a Wild West of disguised advertising”.

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‘Deceiving consumers’

The Federal Trade Commission targeted a sample of posts that either referenced a brand or directly endorsed products.

Its rules say that anyone endorsing a brand must “clearly and conspicuously” declare connections to it, for example if products have been given free, if a payment has been made for the endorsement or if there is a business or family relationship.

The rules apply to marketing agencies involved in such deals as well as the endorsers themselves.

The intervention was part-prompted by the advocacy group, Public Citizen, which carried out its own investigation last year naming celebrities including Rihanna and Kim Kardashian among 113 influencers who it said endorsed a product without disclosure.

“Instagram has become a Wild West of disguised advertising, targeting young people and especially young women,” the group said.

“We live in an era where celebrities and average citizens are sharing every detail of their lives on social media, from what they ate for breakfast to selfies featuring their ‘favourite’ products.

“It is often unclear whether an Instagram user is paid to post a product endorsement or if they genuinely use it. That’s exactly why brands are using influencer marketing as a primary way to reach young consumers. But without clear disclosure, brands are deceiving consumers and reaping the monetary benefits.”

Growing trend

Points made by the regulator in the letters include:

  • Some disclosures which had been made were not clear enough. It said that “#sp,” (an abbreviation for sponsored), “Thanks [Brand],” or “#partner” in an Instagram post did not make it obvious to many people that a post was paid for.
  • Instagram users on smartphones typically see just the first three lines of text on a post, unless they expand it. Therefore disclosures should be made high up in the post.
  • When multiple tags, hashtags, or links are used, readers may just skip over them – meaning a disclosure may not be conspicuous.

Social media has become an increasingly important part of marketing campaigns for many brands around the world, especially those aimed at younger consumers.

Celebrities and others who have garnered huge followings on Instagram and other services are often part of advertising campaigns.

The FTC has previously taken action when its rules have been violated. Last year it reached a settlement with Warner Bros over claims the firm had not disclosed it had paid high profile YouTubers to give one of its video games positive reviews.

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Review: Review: DreamVision 32-inch Curved All-in-One VR PC X32

Once upon a time, an all-in-one PC meant weak specs with a high price. They were more like a piece of furniture than a computer. These days, with much more energy efficient CPUs and GPUs around, all-in-one computers don’t necessarily equate to something simply to look nice in your living room – they’re useful too. 

Pioneer Computers (no, not the Pioneer you’re thinking of, a different Pioneer) new DreamVision 32-inch Curved All-in-One VR PC X32 aims to be a gaming powerhouse without the big bulky tower clogging up your home’s Feng Shui.

The model tested contains a B150 chipset motherboard, Intel i5-6500 CPU, Nvidia GTX1050 Ti GPU, 16GB of DDR4 RAM and a 240GB SATA SSD. The LCD is a 1080p 32-inch curved panel. All fairly stock standard stuff. There’s loads of configuration options on the Pioneer Computers website, including a variety of CPUs, upgrades to RAM and range of additional hard drive options to suit your needs.

It’s not surprising there’s so many configuration options, as unlike most all-in-one computers, the guts are not some unique motherboard or parts designed to keep the size down. It’s literally an ITX motherboard screwed in behind an LCD. The GPU isn’t even internally connected to the LCD – a short DVI cable runs out from the monitor’s enclosure, into the GPU’s external monitor socket. There’s a regular SFX power supply and a full size PCIe GPU too. 

There’s nothing particularly wrong with this setup, but it is a bit tacky and ergonomically, accessing the ports is a massive pain, as everything faces down towards your desk. At least there’s two USB ports on the side of the display. There’s also no VESA mount options for anyone who would like to hook this up to a monitor arm or mount it on a wall with a bracket. 

The upside of this approach however, is that replacement parts should be a piece of cake to find, as there’s nothing proprietary. You can go to your local PC store and pick up bits to replace or upgrade it.

An unusual surprise with the DreamVision is a little lever that can be pulled out of the side of the case, which one could assume is an antenna for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, but no, it’s simply a place to rest your headphones. Rather oddly, there’s no built-in Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

The LCD’s quality is nothing to write home about. It looks fine, but it’s a rather low resolution 1080p. Good for TV and games, but not so much for day to day web browsing and productivity. Curved screens are primarily a gimmick at this size, so besides looking cool there’s no real benefit here. 

Performance wise, there’s also nothing particularly special. In the PCMark 8 Home Conventional 3.0 benchmark, the DreamVision scores a respectable 3975 and in 3DMark Cloud Gate benchmark, it performs on par with other GTX1050 Ti machines, achieving a score of 17542.

Pioneer’s support options are worth a mention too. The standard 1 year return to base warranty is typical of the industry, but for $49 extra, you can add on-site pickup, so you don’t have to pack this big boy up and worry about it in the back of some courier’s van. 
There aren’t that many big screen all-in-one PCs on the market. There’s plenty of 24-inch and 27-inch units, but when it comes to displays over 30 inches, the Pioneer DreamVision’s only competition is the very impressive HP Envy 34-A001A, which retails for $3,999 – much more than the Pioneer’s $2,826 for an X32 configured like the HP.

Despite the initial cheap feeling of the DreamVision 32-inch Curved All-in-One VR PC X32, it is great value for money if you’re after a big screen all-in-one computer. The 32-inch display makes it perfect to use with a USB TV tuner to sit in a bedroom and be a television, as well as a competent games machine. 

Pioneer also sell a non-curved 32-inch LCD all-in-one computer, the DreamVision 32-inch All-in-One Gaming PC 6X, that is a few hundred dollars cheaper, making it a much better buy than this machine. Curved displays just aren’t that amazing to justify the extra cost. But if you actually want an all-in-one computer with a curved LCD it’s going to be hard to find one any cheaper than the DreamVision 32-inch Curved All-in-One VR PC X32.

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TalkTalk and BT rated worst for broadband in Which? survey

TalkTalk and BT have received the worst customer satisfaction scores in a survey of 12 broadband providers.

They scored 38% and 45% respectively with their customers, while Sky (48%) and EE (49%) came close behind them in the Which? survey of 1,800 people.

Frequent price rises, connections that drop, unreliable speeds and “woeful” customer service all contributed to the scores, the consumer group said.

The four account for almost three-quarters of the UK broadband market.

BT alone accounts for almost a third of the country’s broadband connections.

Five stars?

Zen Internet had the highest customer rating at 86% in the survey, followed by Utility Warehouse (81%), John Lewis Broadband (68%), SSE (66%) and Plusnet (65%)

Virgin Media (52%), Vodafone (50%) and the Post Office (48%) were also included.

Which? surveyed people about their broadband in November and December. The customer score is based on satisfaction levels with their provider and whether they would recommend it to others.

Those surveyed were also asked to evaluate aspects of the service, with five stars being the highest rating in seven categories, including speed, reliability and customer service.

BT scored just two stars in all seven categories, while TalkTalk also scored two stars in each except value for money, for which it got three stars.

Just four of the 12 providers scored more than three stars for speed: Zen Internet, Utility Warehouse, Virgin Media and Vodafone.

‘Long way to go’

Alex Neill, Which? managing director of home services, said: “The big players still have a long way to go to satisfy their customers, so if you’re unhappy with your broadband, complain and look to switch if your service doesn’t improve.”

A BT spokesperson said it was disappointed with the survey result and apologised to any customers who had been let down.

“Generally, our broadband performs extremely well for customers and offers very reliable speeds at peak times, according to the latest Ofcom broadband speeds report.”

A TalkTalk spokesperson said: “Our extensive improvement programme has already led to fewer faults, faster average speeds, shorter times to resolve issues and customers reporting higher satisfaction levels.”

Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, said last month that broadband customers who suffered poor service may get automatic refunds under new plans.

Its own survey suggested that 51% of broadband customers were “very satisfied” with their provider, with 36% fairly satisfied.

That meant a “significant” minority – 13% – experienced poor service, mostly due to slow speeds or loss of service, it said.

BT had the lowest score for “very satisfied” of the four providers in the Ofcom survey at 45%, followed by TalkTalk on 49%, Sky on 52% and Virgin Media on 55%.

Last month BT agreed to Ofcom demands to legally separate Openreach, which runs the UK’s broadband network, in a bid to give better service to both consumers and broadband providers.

Digital minister Matt Hancock said: “Too many people are suffering from poor customer service when things go wrong with their broadband.

“Getting a better deal for consumers is at the heart of our Digital Economy Bill, which strengthens Ofcom’s power to make sure providers pay automatic compensation when service falls short.”

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NZXT Showcases Beauty And the S340 Elite Hyper Beast

Based on the S340 Elite mid-tower chassis, NZXT has teamed up once again with graphic artist Brock Hofer to bring you the S340 Elite Hyper Beast. This is a one-time production of 1,337 units (Get it? It’s leetspeak for elite!), and each comes with a numbered, limited-edition metal badge. A company representative told us the fancy artwork on the front and side of this limited edition chassis is not a wrap or sticker. In fact, the artwork is actually printed onto the case using a method similar to silk screening. 

Review: NZXT S340 Elite

Johnny Hou, NZXT’s founder and CEO said:

We love CS:GO and share the same passion that the community has when it comes to showcasing their prized possessions with the coolest artwork. The S340 Elite Hyper Beast is an extension of this and truly allows the dedicated CS:GO fan to turn one of the game’s most popular weapons skins into a one-of-a-kind build.

The open-interior design features seven expansion slots, which is ideal for enthusiasts and gamers with multi-GPU set-ups. The case supports mini-ITX, MicroATX, and ATX motherboards. The enclosed PSU area and cable management bar not only improve airflow, they help hide components and wires to give your system an extremely clean look with minimal effort. There is also a new clamping system behind the motherboard tray for easy cable management. This of course is important considering this chassis has a full cover, 4mm thick tempered glass side panel.

The chassis features support for a wide range of water cooling options as well as CPU heatsinks up to 161mm. The S340 Elite Hyper Beast can accommodate graphics cards as long as 364mm, and power supplies up to 275mm. The case sports mounting locations for up to four fans in total: Two 120 / 140mm fans can be mounted in the front of the chassis, one 120 / 140mm fan in the top, and a single 120mm fan in the rear. Only the latter two fans are included from the factory. The intake fan mounting locations in the front of the chassis are covered by a large washable magnetic filter. The S340 Elite Hyper Beast has mounting locations for up to four 2.5″ hard drives and three 3.5″ spinning disks. Those of you still using optical drives are out of luck.  

If you have a VR headset, you’ll like the fact that this chassis was designed with VR in mind. There is an HDMI port on the top of the case and a magnetic cable management puck that allows users to store VR cables, or split the puck apart for longer cable coverage. The other I/O ports on the front of the case include two USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, and headphone and microphone jacks.

The NZXT S340 Elite Hyper Beast has a suggested MSRP of $199.99 and will be available in late May.

NZXT S340 Elite Hyper Beast
Dimensions 203 x 474 x 432mm (WxDxH)
Material(s) Tempered glass, Steel, ABS plastic
Weight 8.1kg
Motherboard Support mini-ITX, mATX, ATX
I/O Ports 1x Audio/Mic, 2x USB 3.0, 2x USB 2.0, HDMI with VR Support
Expansion Slots 7
Drive Bays Internal 3.5″: 2+1 /  2.5″: 3+1
Radiator Support Front 2 x 140 or 2 x 120mm Rear 1 x 120mm
Fan Support Front: 2x 140 / 120mm  Top: 1x 140 / 120mm (1 x 120mm FN V2 Fan Included)  Rear: 1x 120mm (1 x 120mm FN V2 Fan Included)
Clearance GPU Clearance With Radiator: 334mm GPU Clearance Without Radiator: 364mm CPU Cooler: 161mm  PSU: 275mm
Cable Management Lowest Point – 17mm; Highest Point 168mm
Warranty 2 years
Price $200
Availability Late May 2017

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