Saturday, October 21, 2017
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Hardware Reviews

Netgear WNDR4500

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 WNDR4500Netgear'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.

WNDR4500-back-panel-diagramIf 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.

Performance

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 NetworkMapthis 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.

Conclusions

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.

The Wi-Ex zBoost

The good folks at Wi-Ex have been asking us to review their zBoost devices for a while now. We kept declining because we felt we couldn't do it justice in a metropolitan environment. Like many cities, cell towers in the Philly area are quite plentiful. It's sort of like Johnny Towerseed spent time here. Fortuitously, we were contacted by a friend in the Tucson, Az. area who was suffering from 'cellus signalus diminimus', commonly known as poor signal strength. It seemed like a perfect fit. We welcome Terry Van Wie as a guest contributor with his review of the zBoost from Wi-Ex. Terry is the ideal tester for this product, for as you will see in the images below, he lives well outside the beaten path in a place where cell towers are as rare as waterfalls. - The Editor

Desert, Mountains & zBoost...A love story

By Terry VanWie

 

Life with a cell phone in the boondocks is an interesting endeavour. You're talking to your wife on the phone and the conversation is mostly "what did you say?", and "Huh?". This does not promote good communication, which we all know is a key to a good marriage. When you do get good reception, it usually entails holding an arm over your head and a leg pointing due south, after which...you don't move.  Hopefully you complete the conversation before the wind shifts.

When we heard about a device that zBoostpackage2would boost cell reception without a lot of hassle, it sounded too good to be true.  Upon receiving the Wi-Ex zBoost YX545 SOHO and opening the box, my first thoughts were, nothing this small and simple could possibly work.

The installation instructions were clear & easy to follow. outdoorantennainst1Placing the external antenna had several simple options. They did say the antenna could be set next to a window indoors, but I chose the edge of the roof to have the clearest view of the mountains where the nearest cell tower is located (about 15 miles as the buzzard flies).

zboostcontents1After reading the instructions it seemed the hardest part would be setting up the ladder to get to the roof. The unit comes with 50 feet of coax so there was plenty of cable.

Setting the unit up is as simple as:

  • mounting the external antenna
  • running the coax cable
  • picking a location for the base unit
  • plugging in the coax and power supply to the base unit

After that....you are ready to go.  installedinside1The zBoost started working immediately.  The strength bars jumped up.  Yes, the reception was fantastic, immensely improved clarity and no more holding an arm over your head to talk.

As far as the technical aspects, there's only 3 things you need to know. The zBoost YX545 SOHO:

  • Increases indoor signal coverage-up to 3000 sq ft
  • Supports multiple users simultaneously
  • Compatible with all U.S. carriers and mobile devices using 800 & 1900 MHz (except Nextel/iDEN or 4G, 2100MHz phones)  

I have had the unit up and running for 2 to 3 weeks now and it is working great.  It has not only improved the reception in the house but also in the back yard, where we spend a lot of time. There is no maintenance or upkeep on the unit, it sits in the corner and does its thing. An interesting side effect is that my wife and I don't seem to spend as much time yelling.

These images tell the whole story!

Simply put, the zBoost from Wi-Ex does exactly what it claims to do. What more could you ask?

The Wi-Ex zBoost YX545 SOHO retails for $399 and can be found online for under $250.

 

 

Bleeding Green

Kill A Watt™ EZ from P3 International


We all talk about energy efficiency, the high cost of fuel and electricity, inflation, recession, rising costs, stagnant incomes, the environment, along with an endless list of other related issues. The question is how many of us really do something about it? What can we do to actually save some money and energy? electrical plugs1.jpg Sure we can make an effort to turn lights out after we leave the room or shut down the PC when not in use (or at least turn off the monitor). The big ones are easy to spot and easy to correct. No one has to explain that the new refrigerator is going to be more energy efficient than the 20 year old one it replaces. But what about the little stuff?

Read more: Bleeding Green

Three Fine Mice and a Dongle

Sometimes the tech we look at for both desktop and portable applications is absolutely cutting edge technology. Other times it's a new take on an existing product class or an incremental increase in capability that puts a sharper edge on the tech warriors' Swiss Army knife. In this issue we're going to look at two such sharper edge tools; travel size wireless mice from HP, and the Clear™ USB WiMAX adapter.

Anyone who has a mobile component to their workday has experienced two things while working with their laptop. First is a desire to have something a little more convenient to use than the touchpad, and second, the ability to take a fast Internet connection with them wherever they go.

 

Road Mice

Hewlett-Packard has a great line of accessories that are often overlooked. This is probably due to their prominence in printers and computers. However, along with the big tools that we use everyday they also make a great line of little ones. One such product line is their wireless portable mice. We took three of them for a spin.

First up was the baby of the group, the WE789AA Wireless Optical Mobile Mouse (a mouthfull), or as we refer to it in a more accurate technical parlance,  'the little blue one'.  It's a compact but very comfortable 3 button optical mouse that operates on the 27 MHz frequency.we789aa_27mhz.png  It's by far the simplest out of the box solution  you can get.  It is literally plug and play. No fuss, no extra drivers, no re-boots. Just plug in the USB receiver, press the mating button and go. The receiver is a very thin, about the thickness of a quarter. It slides into a 'dock slot' on the underside of the mouse for storage and travel. It's small but comfortable in your hand, has rubberized sides for grip and control, a scroll wheel and dual sensitivity settings (1250 cpi & 1750 cpi) for the optical sensor. It works perfectly on all surfaces we tried. Power is supplied by 1 AA battery, included!

This little guy is a real bargain on line at Amazon for about 20 bucks!

The middle child, the WE791AA, is also a wireless optical mouse,  however this model we791aa_openback_receiver_dock1.pngoperates on the 2.4 GHz frequency. The purpose here is to operate on frequency with less interference and greater range. This model sports the same optical sensor capabilities, including dual sensitivity settings, on a 4 button platform. It also incorporates the illuminated scroll wheel and operated flawlessly in all our testing. Power again is supplied by one AA battery, also included!

We found this mouse on Amazon.com for under $30.


The big brother of the group is the VK482AA 2.4 GHz wireless laser mobile mouse . This is a five button device, also symmetrical in design with rubberized sides. This makes it easy to handle for both right and left-handed users. It also sports the illuminated scroll wheel with four-way tilt and click. The laser sensor is as accurate as any of the larger desktop models we have used. The feel and heft of this model is a bit more substantial probably due to the fact that this mouse requires two AA batteries,
vk482aa_with_receiver.pngalso included! In any case it acquitted itself as well as any desktop model during our tests. We found this one at Amazon.com for under $45.

Both 2.4 GHz models use a micro receiver that is small enough to be left in a laptop's USB port without real fear of damage or loss. They also store very nicely under the removable top cover of the mouse which we are told comes in a number of colors and styles.


Super Dongle

We've all seen those annoying map commercials from Verizon and AT&T touting their 3G coverage of the country. These ads are focused primarily on 3G bandwidth available for smart phones and similar devices. The folks at Clear ™ were kind enough to send us out one of their USB WiMAX adapters to test. It is a combination 3G and 4G capable USB dongle for your computer.clear_dualmode.png

Simplicity and Speed

Every once in a while a manufacturer gets it right... that thing we call the OOBE, or 'out of the box experience'. It is almost as important to the end-user as the product's actual  performance. It's the technological equivalent of a first impression. It very often sets the tone for our acceptance and comfort level with new technology. Clear™ went the extra yard to make this experience as simple and efficient as possible.

The WiMAX adapter came packaged in a small logo emblazened white box with everything you needed to get started. Included was a WiMAX adapter, a velour carry case to protect it, a USB thumb drive, a USB splitter cable and a handy clip/base to allow you to position the adapter  conveniently when attached to the cable. Along with these items are packaged a few fold over "get started guides" with simple to follow directions.


The Install

Installation was simplicity itself. With your laptop or net book powered on, you insert the supplied thumb drive into an available USB port and let it do its thing. It automatically installs all necessary softwareinstall_usb_drive.png and with a click of the mouse you're in 4G land. To complete the process you follow the directions to set up your account for the 3G access and you now have Internet access and surprising speed just about everywhere.

Lightning in a Dongle

The speed is what surprised us the most. When we ran speed tests on our 4G connection we were getting download speeds that were about a third as fast as our cable broadband.  Honestly, I didn't expect anything better than dial-up speeds. I was pleasantly surprised.

Operating in the 4G world is just about as good as your average WiFi connection. We found that in day-to-day computer tasks such as Web searches or browsing, e-mail and text or audio chats , bandwidth was more than adequate. We also tried making  video phone calls on Skype. We expected the audio to work without a problem and it did. What was even more impressive was that the video worked as well. It wasn't moving a full 30 frames per second mind you, but 12 to 15 FPS was not out of the question. When I informed the colleague on the other end of the video call that I was on a Clear 4G connection he questioned my veracity. I thought it was pretty cool too.

According to the folks at Clear and Sprint (they both use Clear's 4G network), 4G service offers download speeds between 3 – 6 Mbps with bursts of up to 10 Mbps. That falls in line with the results we mentioned above. 

The separate 3G service offered by Sprint offers average download speeds of 600 Kbps – 1.4 Mbps. Our tests verified that with download speeds of 1.2 Mbps.

4G networks are just rolling out. Clear and Sprint, as mentioned, share the same network, so anyone in either of these providers markets will get the benefits of 4G as it develops. All in all, I would strongly recommend this is as another asset for the road warrior's toolbelt.

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