In school, during my apprenticeship, we learned network related topics by using Cisco gear. I liked their stuff and wanted to get some for myself. Of course one could find old stuff on ebay for some bucks, but honestly, I don't want to spend money on old DSL routers (ATM/10M ethernet) which I cannot use for anything nowadays.
At that time, a colleague of mine started to use MikroTik devices to get his job done. I did some research myself and ended up buying a RB750GL (~60 EUR). MikroTik is a Latvian company which provides hard- and software for Internet connectivity. The hardware plattform called RouterBoard is powered by RouterOS, a Linux based operating system. RouterOS includes features like DNS, DHCP, PPP and PPPoE but also more advanced features like dynamic routing (RIP, OSPF, BGP), MPLS/VPLS and VPN (IPSec, PPtP, SSTP, L2TP, OpenVPN). MikroTik started its business with WiFi products, so it is not unusual they developed their own proprietary WiFi protocols (nv2 and nstreme) which in certain situations perform much better than plain 802.11.
The configuration can be done via web interface, CLI (console cable on some devices or SSH) and WinBox which is my personal favorit.
The CLI will look familiar when you ever configured a Cisco device.
Coming back to the initial motivation, finding a less expensive router with a Cisco comparable feature set, I need to tell, that the MikroTik devices deliver good performance for little money. The RB750GL for example will be able to route more than 400MBit/s with 25 firewall rules (Source: own tests and http://routerboard.com/RB750GL). Again, the RB750GL only costs about 60 EUR.
If the information I provided was helpful to you, I would really appreciate if you have a look on my Amazon wishlist.
I'm not begging for anything and I will continue to share my knowledge but of course I would be really happy to see some packages arriving ;-)