ZyXEL lures drone gamers with their queen bee of wireless networking.
Why does every piece of new technology these days need to look angry? The ZyXEL Armor Z2 is a classic example of this trend. My first impression was that it resembled the head of a decidedly irked bee. I’ve seen worse, but the textured black plastic with gold highlights seems a throwback to the JPS Lotus F1 cars of the late 1970s.
Getting past those style choices, this is a high-specification cable router built to support AC2600 bandwidth allocation through four antennas and a Wave 2 MU-MIMO implementation on 4×4 streams.
For those not technically minded, the Armor Z2 can isolate multiple users to deliver more bandwidth to each for maximum performance. That makes testing this type of router really challenging, because the total performance package is only revealed when you have multiple clients demanding data streams simultaneously from the router.
The total bandwidth is divided between 2.4GHz and 5GHZ, with 800Mbps theoretically possible from the former and 1733MBps from the latter.
In delivering this ability, ZyXEL put a meaty 1,7GHz dual-core processor inside, along with 512MB of RAM and, curiously, 4GB of eMMC flash.
According to the documentation, the built-in flash storage is for StreamBoost, usage monitor, DLNA database and future applications. However, with 4GB to play with, there are lots of interesting possibilities for enhancing this router through software development.
The usage monitor that’s included shows off well what can be done. It made the monitoring of all wireless and wired connections very easy, and I could rapidly determine where the bottlenecks existed in any test.
The firmware was clearly bent towards a home user that would like the hardware up and running with the minimum of fuss. That was a feature I liked, because finding and changing things on the Armor Z2 is quick and easy, even for the relative wireless novice.
Along with the typical NAT, DNS, dynamic DNS functionality, there’s also the ability to configure the Z2 as an access point rather than a cable router and then use the WAN port as a fifth LAN port alongside the other four.
It offers an excellent platform, and it’s easily deployable
What it doesn’t have is any inherent VPN support, making it less attractive for business users.
Placed for easy access on the right side are two USB ports, one each of USB 3.0 and 2.0, and the firmware includes DLNA USB sharing for those wanting to easily distribute files over a wireless network or LAN. Performance on the USB 3.0 port was generally good, but I did notice that the implementation couldn’t understand exFAT-formatted drives. It works fine with FAT32 and NTFS, so hopefully that omission will be addressed in the future.
What doesn’t need any tweaking is wireless performance, which was great across the board. Ranged 2.4GHz is often a weakness, but not here, and the strength of the 5GHz channels was also impressive.
To really stretch this router, you need multiple users either downloading large files over wireless or watching streamed 4K video, and even then it doesn’t choke easily.
However, there is a fine irony here in that ZyXEL makes much of the gaming potential of wireless networking, ignoring entirely that most hardened gamers would rather glue their mouse in place than use it.
However good it is, wireless networking can never actually compete with Ethernet for latency, QoS or predictability. Having good 802.11ac wireless networking is useful, but the real strengths of the ZyXEL Armor Z2 are that it offers an excellent platform, and it’s easily deployable if you don’t wish to use it as the router directly connecting the broadband.
Even with wi-fi this good, the RRP is on the high side. However, I’m sure you’ll be able to find it cheaper online within a relatively short time.
mm Mark Pickavance
An odd appearance doesn’t overshadow many strong features
An odd appearance doesn't overshadow many strong features