Netgear RangeMax NEXT (WNR854T)

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Pros

  • Stylish design (no external antennas)
  • Excellent performance
  • Secure
  • 5-port Gigabit Switch

Cons

  • Doesn’t match Draft-N speed claims
  • Not 802.11n draft 2.0 Certified
  • Not wall mountable

Wi-Fi Certified 802.11n draft 2.0 products are currently being testing by the Wi-Fi Alliance for interoperability across vendors, adherence to WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access) security protocols, and backward compatibility with more than 3500 Wi-Fi Certified 802.11a/b/g products. Netgear’s RangeMax NEXT (WNR854T) isn’t a Wi-Fi Certified 802.11n draft 2.0 product (these will be available later in the year), but it’s one of best performing 802.11n routers currently on the market if you must have the latest wireless networking technology today.

Netgear’s ‘next generation’ wireless standard utilises MIMO (Multi-In, Multi-Out) technology. A RangeMax Next wireless network creates and maintains stable connections and enough bandwidth to browse the Internet, download MP3s, make Internet phone calls, share files, play network games, and stream high-definition videos, simultaneously at any distance or location in the home or small office. And because RangeMax Next is compatible with all legacy 802.11b and 802.11g wireless products, interoperability isn’t an issue. To get the best out of the router though, you’ll need Gigabit Ethernet cards in your wired devices and draft-N adapters in your wireless gadgets.

Netgear’s WNR854T is attractive, with a lush glossy-white finish. It's also a reliable product for extending the possibilities of your wireless network. Having said that, the claimed wireless speed of 300Mbps refers to the underlying "symbol rate" not throughput and, even then, is very much a best-case figure. Realistically, you should expect around 150Mbps in the same room, dropping to around 35Mbps at the farthest points of your multi-room office or home. While these speeds aren’t anywhere near the rate on the box, they’re still a whole lot better than 802.11g’s typical real-world speeds of around 35Mbps. The range of Draft-N is also much better - those who work in the garden will definitely benefit. And if you feel like switching to a wired connection, the WNR854T sports a 5-port Ultra Fast Gigabit Switch (a Gigabit connection to the WAN, plus four Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports).

Security isn’t an issue. A robust set of features include NAT and SPI firewalls, Touchless Wi-Fi Security, 64- and 128-bit WEP encryption, Wi-Fi Protected Access Pre-Shared Key (WPA-PSK and WPA2-PSK), Denial of Service (DoS) attack protection, Intrusion Detection and Prevention (IDS), and Exposed Host (DMZ) for secure gaming. Unfortunately it lacks configuration for QoS, has support for only one DDNS provider, and port forward/port triggering options are sparsely populated. It also lacks effective parental controls, but you can manually enter Web sites or services that you want to block and set the times and days of the week when you want the blocking to be active. There’s no wall-mount option (which is where you’ll get best reception) and the upright case with internal antenna can make positioning difficult. The cords also tug at the very light case, which can prove annoying when the router is positioned at the edge of table or on a shelf.

But Netgear makes up for these shortcomings with an excellent hand-holding setup wizard and a nice array of easy-to-read indicator lights. Connecting your cables is also made simple thanks to the colour-coded ports on the back - orange for the LAN and yellow for the WAN (Internet). The company also makes light work of firmware upgrades. You can check for updates upon logon to the router, and you can easily enable this option by selecting the ‘Check for New Version Upon Log-in’ checkbox in the ‘Router Upgrade’ screen. If selected, you’re reminded at every logon to check if there is a firmware upgrade available.

The WNR854T consistently produces the highest throughput speeds and longest ranges of all the Draft-N routers we’ve tested, and the benefit of a Gigabit switch is a real boon for heavy networking. It doesn’t come with a lifetime warranty - this is the preserve of the company’s ProSafe line - but Draft-N is currently only supplied in the company’s consumer range. If you are thinking of upgrading to draft-802.11n, Netgear’s WNR854T is an excellent place to start.

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