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Netgear has always focused exclusively on the home and small business network market and has consistently delivered a range of keenly price products. The MP101 represents a slightly new direction for the company as this desktop box is a digital media player that will play MP3 and WMA music files over wired and wireless networks. It will also work with a range of Internet radio stations and music streaming services. You can share music files on any Windows PC using the bundled Media Server software but you can ignore Netgear’s offer of a 30-day trail of the Rhapsody music streaming service. It is included on the CD-ROM as an installable option but don’t waste your time as it won’t work. We eventually found out from Netgear that the service is not available to users in the UK and it now offers a 60-day trial to the vTuner radio streaming service instead.
In keeping with Netgear’s philosophy the MP101 comes in at an affordable price whilst its brushed steel front panel won’t look out of place on a hi-fi rack. Central to this is a brightly lit four line text display that provides information about the unit’s status, its configuration and the tracks being played. All access is via the supplied remote control handset which provides easy access to the unit’s settings and play menus. Netgear has been a bit crafty about the MP101’s wireless capabilities as it states it is 802.11b and g compliant. What it actually means is the unit only supports 802.11b and 11Mbit/sec speeds but will connect to an access point supporting simultaneous b and g operations.
Streaming performance shouldn’t be an issue over 802.11b wireless but the additional 10/100BaseTX Fast Ethernet port at the back allows it to be wired to the network. There’s not much else to see at the rear - you get a pair of audio ports for connection to your stereo and a mini-jack for plugging in headphones. However, there are no digital outputs provided.
Installation is simple enough as you just power the device on and let it search for available wireless networks. The display keeps you updated on its progress and it had no problems finding our 802.11b network fronted by a Watchguard Firebox SOHO 6 firewall. It will show all discovered networks and you use the remote control to scroll through them and select the one you want to connect to. We also tested using a Belkin Wireless Pre-N Router and found the MP101 successfully associated with this as well.
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