Netgear’s marketing hype about its latest wireless router makes for good reading. It claims a 1000 per cent improvement in coverage and speed over 802.11g products and a total of half a million square feet of uninterrupted coverage.
As expected, MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) is the technology behind the scenes. But whereas Belkin’s Pre-N wireless router uses a triplet of external aerials Netgear has craftily hidden them inside the casing. Not only that, but there are no less than seven of them. Netgear’s ‘Smart MIMO’ feature aims to monitor for interference from the likes of walls and other obstacles and constantly modifies the aerial’s setup by choosing the best one from a selection of 100 configurations. If, for example, you move your laptop from one room to another then the router should sense the change in interference and adjust itself automatically to provide the best signal strength.
Physically, the router is a compact slab of plastic that conforms to Netgear’s common design policy. One feature that does make it stand out is the large blue dome on the top panel. This is to remind you just how many aerials Netgear has managed to fit in as it has blue LEDs on its circumference for each one and they flash to tell you which are active and which direction the signals are coming from. It seems a fun idea but when we tested in a typical home environment the lights endlessly circulated like some demented space craft and it quickly became tedious.
Four switched Fast Ethernet ports are provided for LAN connections but if you need more you can easily cascade another hub or switch from them to increase the port count. Note that you don’t get an internal ADSL modem so you’ll need to source one with an Ethernet connection. The front panel provides a simple display showing active LAN ports along with connection status and activity for WAN and wireless links.
Netgear has perfected its installation routine and it’s a simple process of connecting your PC to a LAN port, adding your DSL modem to the WAN Ethernet port and popping the supplied CD-ROM into an optical drive. The setup routine hunts down the router automatically, checks the Internet connection details and configures itself accordingly. Suffice to say, we had Internet access up and running for our BT Broadband connection within ten minutes of unpacking the box. Even better is that after first contact with the web browser interface it’ll immediately check with Netgear’s web site to see if there’s a new firmware version available.
Inevitably, the burning question is whether the WPN824 delivers on Netgear‘s claims for speed and coverage. We used a 1.6GHz Fujitsu Siemens notebook running Windows XP SP2 and fitted with Netgear’s RangeMax WPN511 wireless PC Card. With a line of sight connection of five metres the open source Iometer reported a very respectable 43.2Mb/sec over an unsecured link and moving to a secure link over WPA-PSK saw this drop to 34.4Mb/sec. These figures put Netgear’s RangeMax on a par with Belkin’s Pre-N products.