Shunning the 'make it big, make it bold' ethos of rivals Belkin and D-Link, the seemingly rather unremarkable black box of the Sitecom Wireless 300N XR hides a fairly impressive secret.
It's a router designed entirely with gaming in mind.
Now, normally we're not massive fans of such vaguely spurious tech. However, it managed a fairly generous 22 per cent, mostly for being a £200 net card that offered as much of an improvement to your gaming as you'd get from gaffer-taping a cheetah to it; ie none.
Sitecom's attempt on the gaming-orientated networking market is different. It's half the price, and its main claim is to make wireless gaming a more realistic option compared to the accepted standard of wired connections.
On top of all the usual gigabit Ethernet and wireless N reﬁnements are two features which place it a cut above the rest for gamers. The ﬁrst is the 'Stream Engine' technology – essentially an improved form of Quality of Service which comes as standard with 802.11n prioritising time-sensitive data packets for gaming and the like, reducing lag in games. The second is that the built in ﬁrewall will automatically open ports as required by games it recognises.
To be fair to other routers, it's hard to say how effective the ﬁrewall part really is: after all, we can't remember the last time we had to manually alter DMZs and port forwarding on a router, so generally you won't notice this being significantly better.
The StreamEngine part, though, is fantastic. Wireless N has advanced the cause of gaming over the air to the point that games that are tolerant of intermittent pings – like, for example, WoW – are ﬁne. First-person shooters, on the other hand, are generally still impossible.
We topped the table a couple of times in Counter-Strike: Source using Wi-Fi on the 300N XR. It's not quite as good as a cabled connection for lag or signal quality, but there's barely a tenth of the choke and no packet loss compared to ethernet over powerline or rival routers.
We're a little disappointed not to see more sophisticated features like dual-band or multi-antenna tech built in, but to be honest, this router easily holds its own and more against those that do.
It is, however, expensive for a router without a built-in modem, and that's a problem. Most of us are on ADSL, and few of us have an Ethernet modem. It's still better advice to go for an all-in-one modem router and keep it near enough to your gaming PC to wire it in.
While we salute the technology in Sitecom's 300N XR, from a practical standpoint, you'd need to think very carefully before investing this amount of money in it.