It seems there is never a good time to buy a new piece of technology, but never has this been truer than with routers in mid-May 2012. For those not in the know late May will see the launch of a new wireless standard, 802.11ac, capable of speeds surpassing a gigabit so anything launching with humdrum 802.11n needs to be exceptional. Netgear thinks it has one such product.
With the long winded 'WNDR4500 N900 Dual Band Ethernet router' Netgear is throwing the kitchen sink at your home network. As the name suggests, the highlight is the N900's dual 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands each of which is capable of theoretical speeds up to 450Mbit and can run simultaneously (hence the '900' reference). To achieve this Netgear has fitted the N900 with two radios and boasts improved range thanks to no less than six antennas.
On top of this Netgear has unusually equipped the N900 with two USB ports: one for a printer, the other for networking storage from a memory key or external hard drive. There are also four Gigabit Ethernet ports, push button WPS Wi-Fi security and individual power and Wi-Fi off power buttons (the latter to cater for the wired-only crowd. What is missing is DSL as the N900 is a cable only and connects to a dedicated modem.
Ultimately however this is feature heavy and it is reflected in the N900's size. To put it bluntly, the router is huge. At 258 x 172.5 x 81 mm it has a footprint as large as an 11in laptop and at 680g it is as heavy as an iPad. This isn't the last of it either since the N900 takes a trip down memory lane requiring a hefty external power brick (though having the power supply mid-cable rather than on the plug does have its advantages). Despite all this the N900 is a good looking router with an admittedly fingerprint catching piano black finish and a clear stand which gives the impression it is hovering in the air. Surprisingly, given this bulk, the stand is fixed so the N900 sits upright only – arguably not the wisest choice.
Routers aren’t usually so eventful in appearance, but thankfully the N900 is far less polarising when it comes to getting up and running. Netgear deserves a great deal of credit for its 'genie' setup software, which has dropped the usual text heavy screens and endless menus of most router software in favour of an icon driven user interface and smart connection wizard which hand holds you through the simple process of plugging in cables and getting your devices online. This includes the ability to set Parental Controls to restrict content to specific network devices and 'Guest Network', which can assign temporary internet access.
Those who like to tinker more deeply will also find DLNA compatibility, QoS settings, dynamic DNS support and more. One curiosity is Netgear's decision to restrict the N900's 2.4GHz band to 217MBit by default rather than 450Mbit. This is deemed friendlier to neighbouring signals, but it means you'll need to make an adjustment if the N900 is to live up to its name. Happily, Genie makes this a breeze.