Now that I've got an iPad 4 and iPhone 5 though, I'm definitely behind the times in the standards, since both of those devices support the newer 802.11N standard, and more excitingly on the less-used 5Ghz band which will mean better performance. I find signal strength issues when far away from my current router, and I finally need something heftier.
Something else cool is new routers can automatically prioritize video streaming using something called QoS, and that's what I use my router for most of the time anyway.
I'm also now running a PC and a Mac desktop at home on the same network, but haven't really solved the shared network drive situation. What I really need to do is buy a 2TB drive and connect it up to a NAS, but I don't really stream that much from a hard disk (I usually use Netflix). That said, it would be nicer to have my music accessible on both my Mac and PC, and also shared via DLNA to my TV for streaming through my entertainment system... it's a bit silly that I haven't already set that up. All these potential use cases point to the need to have a USB port shared on my router itself, and to hook up an external HD to it.
I've been reading a bunch of reviews and there are not many routers out now which support USB 3.0, which is too bad. There is a DLink one which does, but the speed rates of data transfer are not high enough to warrant buying it over the routers which only support USB 2 - in fact it's slower! So that says to me that USB 3.0 Hard Disk sharing via Router is not "ready" yet, and it's not something I should be looking for if I am buying right now.
In terms of those leading edge features though, it seems that 802.11a/c (the new post-"N" standard, 3x faster than N routers) does seem to be reasonably well supported by the new Asus RT-AC66U router. While that's definitely in the future-proofing camp, it might be reasonable to get it since (eventually) I'll have 802.11a/c devices (presumably) and will want to benefit from it. And given that I haven't replaced my current G router for the last, say 6 years, it appears I don't upgrade routers very often. So maybe it's good to future proof.
That said, there are a lot of excellent reviews of the previous model of the Asus router, the Asus RT-N66U "Dark Knight", and yes, it also has a kick-ass name. It seems a bit silly to pay only $30 less for an "N" router now and then kick myself in 3 years when I (presumably) need a/c support. And I guess $30 now vs another $150 in 3 years to buy the latest and greatest makes sense. Ok, I think I've convinced myself :) There are some great features on the Netgear R6300 as well.
Here's what's currently going through my mind that I just sent out to some friends on Facebook.
Anyone know if 802.11a/c is set to be the next "big" standard? If I'm buying right now should I get an N900 router or pay a little more for an A/C router and future-proof? By the time a/c devices are out, will there be a post-a/c standard that will more likely be the "winner" or is that THE only upcoming standard?
I, like everyone else, don't have any A/C clients yet... but I upgrade routers like once every 6 years, so maybe it's wise to just future-proof now.
My main requirements are to:
1) stream Netflix
2) share files on a network connected HD between Mac and Windows desktops
3) DLNA-stream music files from that HD to my TV entertainment center
4) not have to buy another router in 2 years from now
5) Use 5Ghz/802.11N now on my iPad 4 and iPhone 5
6) Have that shared HD be running on USB 3.0 (but that seems like not too many support this yet, still USB 2 only).
It's looking like either this Asus (http://reviews.cnet.com/
So, not sure exactly what I'm gonna get, but one of those 2 looks good, or alternatively the Asus RT-N66U (http://reviews.cnet.com/routers/asus-rt-n66u-dark/4505-3319_7-35110985.html)
[EDIT: After researching some more and thinking about this, #4 in the list above is not correct. I should probably instead be buying something that's not TOP of the line, but rather was top of the line about a year or year and a half ago. I am gonna start looking at the editor's choices for N300 routers since that's well beyond my current level of accessible bandwidth anyway - I only get 20 Mb/s from Comcast anyway!! What's the point of paying way more for bandwidth I'll never use. Rather, I'll get a router that can do a great job and will move me into 802.11N-land, as well as offering a reasonable networked HD setup. This'll be much better than what I've got now which is G, and in 3 years or whenever all my devices are 802.11a/c or whatever is the new hotness by then, I'll upgrade again at that point... buying whatever wins the top of the line for the next-gen standard now, but at that point. Needless to say I should probably be upgrading my router more often than every 6 years.]
[EDIT #2: I am seeing way too many reviews saying that the Asus needs to be power-cycled too often and that sounds like a huge pain in the butt. Also, starting to think N600 or roundabouts should be more than enough. But definitely have to get the shared Hard Drive and DLNA if I'm upgrading. Linksys E4200 or E4200 V2 are looking promising.]
[EDIT #3 and summary: I've managed to get a really good price on the newer Linksys/Cisco EA4500, just the updated version of the EA4200 v2. It's very similar, just with their new cloud-based firmware which I'm neither here nor there about. The features seem great. I got confused for a bit cause it looks like my "NAS" usb-attached drive will likely need to be formatted in NTFS, which I thought would mean I couldn't access it from my Mac Mini - but after some googling it looks like you can always access NTFS drives via samba on Mac (duh) and read/write that way. That'll be fine for my purposes of sharing music/photos between my 2 machines etc.]