Not all cheap wireless routers are created equal

The NETGEAR WNDR3300 is only $20 more retail than the next model down, the WNR2000. It would seem there wouldn't be a huge difference between these two Wireless-N SOHO units, but there is.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

The NETGEARWNDR3300 is only $20 more retail than the next model down, the WNR2000. It would seem there wouldn't be a huge difference between these two Wireless-N SOHO units, but there is.

Anyone familiar with this column knows that some of my best material comes from doing tech support for my in-laws, as they are always good for a strong dose of reality whenever I get too mired into my own world of geek complacency.

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

Last week we got a call from my Mother-In-Law that their Linksys Wireless-G router had malfunctioned, and they had lost all their Internet access as a result. It was four years old, so it was not surprising to me that it was time for it to die. So being the good Son-in-Law that I am, I told them I would come and install a new one for them the next day if they went out to their local retailer and picked a new one up.

I selected the NETGEAR WNR2000, an entry-level dual-band Wireless-N router that seemed at least to me as powerful or better than the early model Linksys WRT54G that they were already using. Staples had it for $80 and my Father-In-Law was able to get the guys over at Best Buy to knock another $10 off, so it sounded like a good deal to me. I already had a lot of experience with NETGEAR's Wireless-N products, as I have a high-end business router and several Wireless-N bridges similar to the WNR2000 that I use for HD media streaming for my Roku, my Slingbox and my DirecTV DVRs for on-demand content.

So the next day, I came over, swapped the router out, created a new secure WPA2 wireless network, and added their wireless printer with Wi-Fi Protected Setup. From the upstairs office where the router was located, I did a 300MB wireless download of OpenOffice 3.0 to my father-in-law's laptop, and did a whole bunch of other internet tasks, such as making sure they could get to their email. Everything worked. We went out and got some dinner, went home, and I flew out on a one week business trip the next evening.

The following afternoon I get a call from my wife.

"Mom and dad called, the Internet isn't working"

"What do you mean the Internet isn't working?"

"Dad isn't getting any wireless reception in his office downstairs at all."

"But I tested the damn thing, it should work fine."

"Well apparently, it's not."

"Okay, but mom's laptop should still working fine, it's directly cabled to the router in the upstairs office, she's still only 3 feet away from it, correct?"

"Yeah, hers is working fine, but they called NETGEAR and they went through a whole bunch of stuff on their tech support, spent 15 hours on the phone and now the printer isn't working anymore."

"F$%K. That means they undid all the WPS stuff. Well, I'm not sure what to tell you, the dual-band Wireless-N transciever on that thing should at least be better than what they had."

I'm not going to go into detail but suffice to say my In-laws were extremely angry at me and escalated several calls to NETGEAR while I was away on my business trip. Eventually, they got it resolved -- by replacing the router with another model that cost only $20 more, the WNDR3300, which is part of NETGEAR's "RangeMAX" line.

The new router has similar advertised dual band functionality, but with one key difference -- the wireless transciever on the more expensive unit is about 3 times more powerful. The WNR2000 only had about a 40 foot range, whereas the WNDR3300 had at least a 100 foot range and could easily signal penetrate the walls between the two floors separating the two offices and the cable drop upstairs. With the cheaper WNR2000 unit, my father-in-law had no Wireless-G reception in his downstairs office whatsoever. With the slightly more expensive WNDR3300 unit, he had 3 out of 5 bars using Wireless-G.

The moral of the story? Don't cheap out on your Wireless Router.

Got any other SOHO router stories? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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