- Good performer
- Sleek design;
- Internal antennae
- 802.11n compatibility with Broadcom and Atheros-based products
- Variable 802.11g performance
- No internal ADSL modem option
Netgear's approach to high-speed wireless can be a little confusing, as its RangeMax Next products are available based on both the Broadcom Intensi-fi and Marvell Top Dog chipsets. We tested the Top Dog-based WNR854T router, further identified as the Gigabit Edition, together with the WN511T PC Card that uses the same Marvell silicon.
A clear winner when it comes to design, the RangeMax Next router is housed in a shiny iPod-white plastic case with no visible antennae to spoil its good looks. Instead, the three MIMO aerials are tucked away inside together with a 4-port Gigabit Ethernet switch for wired connectivity. A separate Ethernet port is provided for broadband connectivity -- there's no combined modem/router model available, so you'll need a separate ADSL or cable modem.
The same web-based interface that's used to configure and manage other Netgear products is employed on the RangeMax Next. This features a wizard to guide you through the basic steps required to both connect the router to the Internet and get the wireless functionality working.
Support for WPA and WPA-2 security comes as standard, along with both 64-bit and 128- bit WEP encryption for backwards compatibility. You can also opt to switch off the support for 802.11n nodes and only use the router to handle 802.11b/g clients. An SPI firewall is another standard option, along with Network Address Translation and content blocking by URL and keyword.
The router we tested had the latest firmware (1.3.04) loaded, which is important as it adds 802.11n interoperability with Broadcom and Atheros-based products. That enabled us to connect to the RangeMax Next router using cards from all the other Draft-N vendors. Throughput, however, was a lot lower when using these compared to the matching RangeMax Next adapter. Likewise, we got a wide variation in throughput when connecting to the router with other 802.11g adapters, with rates falling to 802.11b levels in some cases.
Maximum bandwidth is a claimed 300Mbps when communicating with other Top Dog clients, but -- as ever with wireless throughput claims -- you’ll never get anything like that in practice. Still, we managed close to 100Mbps when transferring large files, putting the RangeMax Next top of the heap in terms of performance as well as beauty. It also performed well in our range tests and, despite being clearly skewed towards home users, is a good choice for small companies prepared to take a gamble on Draft-N equipment.