With the explosion of handheld wireless devices in the business office and home it has become more important than ever to make sure your network has a good wireless capable router. Traffic for both data and multimedia content is ever increasing. Large data, multimedia and video files are being moved back and forth not only at home but also in the workplace. With this in mind we decided to look at Netgear's entry in the hot N900 space, the WNDR4500.
The Need for Speed
Like every other device in the computing category, once we have something we like, we want it to go faster. Whether it's our computer's processor, the refresh rate on our screen, our printers, disk drives and yes, our wireless connections, faster always seems better.
N900 routers are wireless 802.11N dual band devices designed to be capable of delivering 2 simutaneous 450Mbps streams of data, or a combined total data stream of 900Mbps. To give it a sense of perspective, that 802.11G wireless connection you used to think was so fast is probably only pumping out 54Mbps.
Put them Together and What Have You Got...???
So how do they do it? The WNDR4500 uses two radios; a 2.4ghz and a 5ghz. This is not uncommon. What is new, is that the 2.4Ghz radio (like the one in your 802.11G router), as well as the 5Ghz radio, now support the new 450Mbps standard. Combined this gives a potentially whopping 900Mbps capability. [editor's note: in 2 years we'll be laughing that we thought this was so fast!] This means you can stream HD video or complex multi-player games and still have room for a video call.
Setup for Dummies
Netgear has taken great pains to make this technology accessible to anyone who can use the bandwidth. They have included their Netgear Genie management software that comes pre-configured for out of the box use or, if you are so inclined, is simple enough to configure for anyone with a basic idea of what a router is all about. It is also available as a downloadable application so you can shepherd your network from almost anywhere.
One thing worth noting is that the router is designed to be used in a vertical position. While we find the tall thin design with its Plexiglas side appealing, there will certainly be those who might have a need to place the router horizontally or want to wall mount it and be disappointed (think shelf). This shouldn't be a decision point when considering this router. Its overall performance more than justifies accommodating its vertical position.
Features for Everybody
The WNDR4500 is chock full of features. For ease of use they have the Netgear Genie we mentioned above, a 1 button ‘Push ‘N’ Connect’ to allow instant secure WiFi connections and even an on/off button for the wireless radio function if you want to turn off WiFi but leave the router on; great for security and control. Speaking of security, the WNDR4500 also offers a complete set of parental controls as well as a separate Guest Network capability. This is indispensable for visitors in the home and office.
If you’re all about sharing, Netgear offers DLNA compatibility (Digital Living Network Alliance) as well as their own ReadySHARE utility. Many newer media presentation capable devices are DLNA compliant. These include everything from your Xbox to many cell phones. The WNDR4500 ReadySHARE allows you to attach a USB storage device or USB compatible printer to either of the two USB ports on the back of the router and make them available to your entire network. Files on the attached drive are automatically scanned for digital content that is then made available to these devices. Between these 2 protocols you will be able to connect to any drive, printer or DLNA media compatible device on your network.
The WNDR4500 performed well in all of our tests. We attached devices to all its available gigabit ports, its USB ports and both its wireless connections, separately and in combination. In all cases the results were very good or excellent. We ran videos on desktops and simultaneously on wireless devices. We also streamed wirelessly to Netgear's Neo-TV with excellent results, but more on that in an upcoming review.
To help monitor and tweak performance, Netgear provides two other features on this router that you will really appreciate. The first is a network map. This is a handy tool accessible through the network Genie that visually shows you every device attached on its network. This is helpful when you're trying to track down IP addresses and minor network problems. The second is a traffic meter. You can use this convenient feature to alert you to high demand or even set it to disconnect at preset limits if data download amounts are exceeded. This is indispensable if you are on a limited or metered plan.
One of the biggest pluses of this router's performance is its exceptional range. We don't have a football field to test in, but I'm pretty sure if we did we would have measured a good signal from one end to the other. In every test of every reasonable placement of the router we achieved more than satisfactory signal strength throughout the test area. As was stated before, accommodating its vertical positioning is well worth it for its range and performance.
While the WNDR4500 is a bit more expensive at about $180 than many of its competitors, its features and performance are more than worth it. If your need is to set up either a high-end home network to accommodate your video and game crazy family or small business office for your staff, guests and some necessary attached storage, this is the wireless router you want.