- Detachable antenna
- easy setup
- great performance.
- Firmware upgrades required
- no wireless bridging capability.
Should you suffer the slings and arrows of a bleeding-edge technology or wait for final ratification of the 802.11g standard? While you ponder this question, we suggest that you take a look at Netgear's WG602 54Mbps wireless access point. Unlike many of its competitors, Netgear tweaked and polished its firmware before it released its first 802.11g draft-compliant product. And although you can expect a firmware upgrade for the WG602 before long -- if only to keep it in line with upcoming revisions of the 802.11g draft specification and the final ratification (due this summer) -- the WG602 delivered excellent performance in our tests. Of course, the need to apply firmware upgrades to wireless-g products makes them a bit dodgy for deployments that require multiple access points, but we think that the WG602 represents a viable solution for any home, small office or hot-spot location. Its reasonable £79.99 (ex. VAT) price and great performance make it one of the best consumer-focussed access points we've tested.
Setup & ease of use
You don't need to know much about networking to set up the WG602. Just plug it into your LAN using the included Ethernet cable and insert the accompanying GearBox CD into any computer on the network. A browser window automatically launches and offers a wealth of information, including an interactive install assistant. This animated guide leads you through the setup process and even provides boxes to check as you complete each step. The GearBox CD also contains a user guide and a PC networking tutorial, as well as direct links to the access point's Web-based configuration tool and Netgear's Web site. Together, the CD and user manual make setup and configuration as foolproof as any networking product we've tested. Once you get all of the hardware and the cables connected, you can configure the access point using the easy-to-navigate Web-based configuration tool, which presents you with a split screen. On the right-hand side, you'll find a brief definition and explanation of each of the settings on every page. This unique feature sets Netgear apart from its competitors and spares you from flipping through the manual every five seconds.
Features & security
Like all access points, WG602 lacks most of the bells and whistles you'll find on today's wireless routers. That's because access points play the role of a hub and not that of a firewall or a gateway. In other words, an access point lets you add wireless connectivity to an existing wired network. Still, the WG602 offers a few interesting features. For example, it comes with a handy rubber stand for vertical placement, while two slots on the bottom let you easily mount the device on a wall or a ceiling. There's also a reset button that lets you quickly return the access point to its default settings should you forget your password. But the WG602's detachable antenna on the back panel really distinguishes it from some of its competitors. You can remove the 2dBi omni-directional antenna to expose a standard, reverse SMA connector. And although the WG602 offered excellent range in our tests with its default antenna, the external connector lets you screw on a directional antenna and extend your range into any hard-to-reach area. Like most 802.11x-based gear on the market today, the WG602 comes up a bit short on security. It offers the standard 64- and 128-bit flavours of WEP encryption, but it lacks the dynamic keying mechanism offered by Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), and the authentication capabilities of 802.1x. On the upside, Netgear says that the device will support both WPA and 802.1x with a future firmware upgrade. You can also deny or allow network access to wireless computers based on its MAC address, as well as adjust the beacon interval, the RTS threshold, the fragmentation length and the DTIM interval. Unfortunately, the WG602 lacks the bridging capabilities found on Apple’s AirPort Extreme, which let you extend a network without Ethernet wiring or connect two wireless LANs.
The WG602 beat the competition in both g-only and mixed-mode (802.11b and 802.11g) environments. At five feet, its maximum throughput clocked in at 20Mbps, a tad slower than the best 802.11a access point we've tested, but fast enough to satisfy 802.11g's promise of comparable speeds. It also makes good on another promise: range. In our tests, the WG602 delivered 12.3Mbps at 75 feet, about three times the throughput of an 802.11b device sitting right next to the access point. In mixed mode, throughput dropped down to mostly 802.11b levels, with an occasional short-lived 802.11g burst in speed. At the fringes of its range, the WG602 favoured the transmissions of our 802.11b client, running the 802.11g transmissions into the ground. Still, we achieved good range in both g-only and mixed-mode environments.
Service & support
Netgear backs the WG602 54Mbps wireless access point with a respectable three-year warranty and free phone support. The company's Web site offers the usual FAQs, firmware updates, email technical support and searchable knowledge base. Finally, the Web site also features a section called Mentor For Networking, which offers a series of educational videos to help you set up your home network and perform other tasks, such as sharing a printer.
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