Buying and setting up your first wireless router can be confusing, and experts say basic wireless networking units are a minefield. Yet novices can rest assured that the Cisco Valet (*Est. $45) will allow them to establish a basic wireless network with minimal effort and knowledge. Its simple setup and ease of use get raves from both expert reviewers and owners; TopTenReviews.com chooses the Valet as its silver medal winner in its 2013 review of wireless routers, just behind the Cisco Linksys E1200 (*Est. $65). The unit is designed for novice users, and everything about the Valet -- including its marketing as a wireless hotspot -- is designed to be nonthreatening.
This basic single-band wireless router has none of the bells and whistles of more expensive and more complex routers. Its speed isn't up to that of other units, either, although Tim Higgins of SmallNetBuilder.com says it's fast enough for the average home use of web browsing and emailing. The Valet has 4 Ethernet LAN ports -- not GbE ports -- but no USB ports, so you can't, for example, connect an external hard drive or printer via USB.
Where the Valet excels is in its ease of use for those setting up their first home wireless network. Taking a cue from its subsidiary, Pure Digital -- maker of the discontinued yet foolproof one-button Flip pocket camcorders -- Cisco's wireless router is "Flip easy," says David Pogue at The New York Times. Craig Ellison of SmallNetBuilder.com says it has "the smoothest and simplest setup" of any router he has tested: Just plug its Easy Setup Key, a 1 GB USB stick, into your computer and three mouse clicks later, you're connected to the Valet.
For those who want to upgrade or have a more powerful network, the Cisco Valet Plus (*Est. $40) continues the philosophy of "a router that anyone can set up." It also comes with the Easy Setup Key and has a similar sleek appearance, but testers at Laptop Magazine had problems trying to replace an existing modem rather than setting up a network from scratch. The Valet Plus has 4 GbE ports and an extra antenna for better wireless coverage but still lacks a USB port, so you can't hook up a printer or external hard drive to share on your network. While Dong Ngo of CNET says the throughput of the Valet Plus is faster than most other single-band routers he tested, Dana Wollman of Laptop Magazine finds its range lacking.
Another strong contender in the budget category, the Cisco Linksys E1200 (*Est. $65) is a single-band unit that is featured in several top 10 wireless router lists. It takes the No. 1 spot in TopTenReviews.com's 2013 review of the best routers, and it is a top contender at PCMag.com. In direct competition with the Valet as a starter unit, the E1200 also doesn't have any GbE ports or a USB port. In tests at SmallNetBuilder.com, it came in with a slightly slower throughput speed than the Valet, and Ngo of CNET calls it "underpowered but super-easy to use."
The Linksys E1200 comes with several features: Cisco Connect software makes installation relatively easy; parental controls include blocking access to the Internet at specific times; and the guest networking is password-protected, prohibiting guests from using any printer attached to the router and from accessing the host's data and information. Several hundred users at Amazon.com and Newegg.com give the Linksys E1200 an overall rating of about 4 stars out of 5.
At the top end of our budget scale is the Securifi Almond (*Est. $80) wireless router. At its core, this is another single band wireless router, but its claim to fame is that it is the world's first touch-screen wireless router -- and the touch screen is full-color. The touch screen interface has large tiles for each function, and you don't need to be hooked up to a computer to easily get this router up and running. This router is suitable for those who have light Internet needs and like stylish gadgets -- the Almond looks like a digital alarm clock.