Netgear Gigabit Router with RangeMax Wireless N

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Product(s): RangeMax Next Wireless-N Gigabit Router WNR854T and RangeMax Next Wireless-N USB 2.0 Adapter WN121T
Provided By: Netgear
Price: ~$130USD and ~$100USD Respectively

 

Introduction: 

Netgear is a company that needs very little introduction.  They've been in the networking business since 1996 and have made a name for themselves in terms of quality, performance and price.  Today we are taking a look at some of their Draft-N products - namely their WNR854T RangeMax Wireless-N Router that also features four wired gigabit connections.  On the receiving end of the wireless network, we are looking at the WN121T RangeMax Wireless-N USB 2.0 Adapter.  Netgear claims up to 15x the performance and 10x the coverage of standard 802.11g.  We will be running these products through some speed and range tests to see if they live up to the claims of Netgear.  Read on as this review covers some of the latest in wireless technology commercially available.  We will see if it's worth spending you money on.

 

About Netgear:

NETGEAR, Inc. (Nasdaq: NTGR) designs, develops and markets technologically advanced, branded networking products that address the specific needs of small and medium businesses and home users. The Company supplies networking products that meet the ease-of-use, quality, reliability, performance and affordability requirements of these users. NETGEAR's suite of approximately 100 products enables users to share Internet access, peripherals, files, digital multimedia content and applications among multiple personal computers and other Internet-enabled devices. These products are grouped into three major segments: Ethernet Networking, Broadband, and Wireless Networking, which include switches, adapters, and secure wired and wireless routers and gateways.

NETGEAR is focused solely on the networking needs of small and medium-sized business and home markets, and it has shipped over 17 million units. As a result of NETGEAR's brand name, the execution of its operating strategy and the growth in demand for networking products within small and medium businesses and homes, the Company has achieved net revenue growth each year since its inception in 1996.

NETGEAR's diverse global sales channel includes thousands of value added resellers (VARs), direct market resellers (DMRs) such as CDW, traditional retailers with over 3,900 retail locations in North America, including Best Buy, CompUSA, Office Depot and Staples, and over 2,500 international retail locations such as PC World in the United Kingdom and MediaMarkt in Germany, as well as online retailers such as Amazon.com and Buy.com. In addition, the Company sells its products through broadband service providers such as Time-Warner Cable and Comcast.

NETGEAR was incorporated in Delaware on January 8, 1996 as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Bay Networks, Inc. to focus exclusively on providing networking solutions for small businesses and homes. In August 1998, Nortel Networks NA Inc. purchased Bay Networks, and the NETGEAR remained a wholly-owned subsidiary of Nortel Networks until March 2000, when it sold a portion of its capital stock to a third party. In September 2000, Nortel Networks sold a portion of its ownership interest in NETGEAR to third parties. In February 2002, Nortel Networks sold all of its remaining ownership interest to NETGEAR in exchange for cash, non-cash consideration and a $20.0 million promissory note.

 

WNR854T Router - Box & Bundle:

Without further procrastination, let's jump right in with a look at the router.  Like many Netgear products, the WNR854T ships in a very standard Netgear branded box.  The box has a very white "mac"'ish look to it, other than the bright orange tag on across the bottom that tells you what is in the box and what it can do.

 WNR854T Box
WNR854T Box

This packaging is really quite plain and doesn't jump out at you - but it's what's inside that counts right?  Speaking of what's inside, let's take a look at the bundle that ships with this Gigabit / Wireless-N router.

WNR854T Bundle
WNR854T Bundle

 

On the next page we'll take a look at the router and see what makes it tick in terms of software and setup.


Up Close:

The Netgear WNR854T Router has a very clean look due to it's lack of external antennas.  I've always assumed that external antennas provide better signal strength, but with the WNR854T claiming up to 10x more coverage than standard Wireless G, we'll have to put this theory to the test and see if the internal antenna has what it takes to reach the back 40.

 WNR854T Back Profile
WNR854T Back Profile
 WNR854T Front Profile
WNR854TFront Profile

Netgear uses a blue LED for the wireless Network status, a green LED for the power indicator and an amber LED for internet connection status.  Along the front you see numbers 1 through 4.  These indicate which of the 10/100/1000 base ports are being used.  An amber LED indicates the port at 100Mbit and the green LED indicates the port is operating at full 1000Mbit.

 

Web Control Interface - First Impressions:

Before we actually look at the software settings, I need to point out a few things about the configuration aspect of this router.  First of all, the web browser based configuration uses frames...several of them in fact which make for some weird issues when setting up at different screen resolutions.  Second, every time you change a setting on a page, it must be applied and the router restarted.  This process normally takes between 30 seconds to 1 minute.  After using a router like the D-Link DGL-4300, this constant rebooting is a pain.

 

Lots of Frames
Lots of Frames

 

Although I've stated that there are three separate frames that each requires scrolling, there is another frame at the top of the page that remains static.  That's four frames on a web-page.  Maybe it's just me, but I believe there is a better way to do things.

All of these frames require individual scrolling if you want to read the information in each frame.  Some of these frames are also very long.  Below I've included a screenshot of the menu frame, as well as a super-long screenshot of the Help and Documentation area.  You may be surprised to know that the Help & Documentation frame is over 1900 pixels long at the initial screen.  That's a long frame and a lot of information.

 Netgear Router Menu Choices
Netgear Router -Menu Choices
 Netgear Router Help Window
Netgear Router Help Window

 

We'll cover the Router Setup and Settings on the next page.


Basic Router Settings:

In this next section, we'll let the pictures speak for themselves.  The setup interface is easy to understand and should be very self-explanatory.  Keep in mind that all the screenshots below of taken from a single frame in the web interface control page.


 Basic Settings
Basic Settings
 Wireless Settings
Wireless Settings

 

Advanced Settings - Security: 

This next area covers security aspects such as site and keyword blocking, service blocking, blocking schedules and email settings for sending logs to a remote address.


 Just Kidding - We love them!
Blocked Sites
 Block Services
Blocked Services
   
 Block Schedule
Block Schedule
 Email Logs
Email Logs

 

Router Status & Advanced Settings: 

As we carry on through the Router settings we have a look at the Router Status as well as some advanced settings.

  Router Status

As you may have noticed above, the router is not connected to the internet.  For this screenshot, I was using it as an extra access point on my network.

 

 Advanced Wireless
Advanced Wireless
 Port Forwarding / Triggering
Port Forwarding / Triggering
 LAN IP Settings
LAN IP Settings

 

Next, we'll take a look at the WN121T USB 2.0 Wireless-N Network adapter before we test the performance of this router.


First Look:

The WN121T comes in a box that looks very similar to the WNR854T Wireless Router.  The WN121T box is smaller, but at a distance you'd be hard pressed to tell which was which.  Although this is a signature of Netgear, it could be a little livelier to attract gamers and enthusiasts.  The router and USB 2.0 adapter have enthusiast oriented features, but they are packaged to appeal to the professional.


 WN121T Box
WN121T Box
 WN121T Bundle
WN121T Bundle

 

The WN121T comes with everything you need to get started.  They included some installation information for Windows XP users and some drivers that appear to be out of date.  When you install the WN121T, you have the choice to search Netgear for more recent drivers.  We ran the search and came up with some newer drivers.

The WN121T is a very compact device that houses the wireless chip and somewhat directional antenna.  We spent a bit of time aiming this unit across our yard so that our neighbor who lives about 150m away can use our network . . . but I'm getting ahead of myself. 

 WN121T Profile
WN121T Profile
 WN121T Bottom
WN121T Bottom

 

After we installed the software, we plugged in the WN121T and went through the rest of the installation process as prompted by Windows.  Once we got all the software and drivers up and running, we ran the Netgear Smart Wizard to connect to a wireless network.

Smart Wizard

The Smart Wizard quickly found all of our wireless access points and sorted them in order of strength.  The Netgear WNR854T is the LANtabulous network and both BCCHardware networks are DGL-4300 Routers.  The first network is located in the same room as the USB 2.0 Wireless Adapter - as is the Netgear WNR854T.

 

Quick & Easy Setup: 

Anyone who has set up a wireless network knows that it is relatively painless, and the software the Netgear provides makes it even easier.  We were connected and up and running is less than 30 seconds of running the software. 

 Smart Settings
Smart Settings
 Network List
Network List

 

On the last page we'll cover both wired and wireless performance of this router and draw some conclusions.


Testing:

We have been using this combination for a few weeks under many different situations.  This combo actually made it to LANtabulous and we used it for some of our gaming sessions.  Most of it's use has been out on the farm and we are using it across our yard to reach the neighbor and share our network with them.  The router is in our house, above our TV and the USB 2.0 adapter is in our neighbor's basement.  All-in-all the signal has to travel through two 6" thick walls and a concrete basement.  Neither the router nor the wireless adapter are near any windows, so this is a pretty amazing feat.

Every now and then the WN121T can see my D-Link DGL-4300 router, but it cannot connect to it so the Netgear WNR854T does indeed have greater coverage.  Although coverage is nice, it's not the only thing that makes a wireless network handy.  Network throughput is also very important.  We ran tests using iPerf and actual data transfers in order to see if the Wireless-N products have what it takes to boot our good old 802.11g D-Link Router.

Please keep in mind that the speed tests were not done across the yard, but actually performed in our shop.  Both D-Link and Netgear routers were 15' away from the wireless clients.

Test Setup Quick Breakdown:

  • 1000Mbit tests were between an AM2 4200+ X2 machine using the onboard network on a K9N Platinum motherboard and a Core 2 Duo E6600 machine with the 975X Platinum motherboard.
  • 802.11g - 802.11g tests were done between a wired client and an Acer Travelmate laptop through the D-Link DGL-4300 Router.
  • 802.11n - 802.11g tests were done between a wired client and an Acer Travelmate Laptop through the Netgear WNR854T Router.
  • 802.11n - 802.11n tests were done between a wired client and the WN121T through the Netgear WNR854T Router.

Click for larger image
Click for larger image 

 

In real-world situations, the 802.11n doesn't improve performance a whole bunch.  We see sustained data transfers of 47.6Mbit / second, but nowhere near 15x faster than our 802.11g hardware.  It's interesting that the Netgear router shows poorer performance than the D-Link when connected through our integrated wireless on our laptop.  Although we don't have a chart showing CPU usage, the USB 2.0 WN121T required 38% of our Pentium 745 processor, while the integrated wireless used only 18%.  The performance is marginally better, but not enough to warrant an extra 20% CPU load.

 

Conclusion:

We were very interested to take a look at some draft-N wireless networking hardware and Netgear was kind enough to oblige.  Although the performance of these two products is somewhat disappointing, the added range of the RangeMax products is very nice.  I've tried connecting a wireless network between the two houses before, but have been unsuccessful due to the distance and extreme circumstances (walls, hedge, trees and concrete basement).  The Netgear WNR854T and WN121T made this link possible.

The range is great but the two things that cased strikes against the Netgear wireless products are the performance, and the constant rebooting of the Router required during setup.  It took almost 20 minutes to get all of the ports forwarded, set up some blocked lists, set up the wireless network and more.  Most of this time was spent waiting on the router to reboot.   Although wireless performance was less than expected and certainly less than advertised, wired performance of the Gigabit switch was very good.  This router is a good choice for a Gigabit router solution that offers better-than-wireless g range.

Pros:

  • Excellent wireless range.
  • Very good wired network performance.
  • Robust security features and scheduling.
  • Easy to use software for the WN121T.
  • Did I say excellent wireless range?

Cons:

  • Mediocre wireless performance (throughput).
  • Poorly designed web interface.
  • Must apply and reboot router between changes.
 

 

BCCHardware.com Rating
Quality:
9/10
Performance:
7/10
Software Interface:
4/10
Stability:
9/10
Features:
9/10
Value:
7/10
Total Score 7.5

 

Although the router and wireless card have excellent range, it just doesn't live up to the 802.11n wireless hype of lightning fast transfers.  We tested both with QoS enable and with QoS disabled.  Also the WN121T requires high CPU resources and just doesn't perform like it should.  For the money, you're likely better off to stick with a good 802.11g setup.  As the "N" standard matures, I'm sure that it will replace "G", but until then, things still look pretty good for the "G" camp.  Unless you need extended wireless coverage that you can't get with your current setup, I'd wait a little longer before I dropped $230 on a new router and wireless card.

I'd like to thank Netgear for sending these products our way for a review.  If you have any questions, comments or other feedback, please feel free to post them in the forum at the "Comments" link below.