So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Netgear N900 (WNDR4500) wireless router
Netgear's N900 offers wireless networking speeds up to 450Mbps, as well as Gigabit Ethernet
- Excellent close range speed
- Good long range performance
- Reliable throughout our test period
- No ReadyShare Cloud feature
- Data transfer from USB a little slow
Netgear's N900 is a fast unit when it comes to wireless networking, and is a decent solution for those of you who can't wait until 802.11ac routers. Both its short and long range results were impressive in our tests. You pay quite a price for that speed though.
Price$ 349.00 (AUD)
Netgear's N900 Dual Band Gigabit Router, otherwise known as the WNDR4500, is an "ultimate performance" product designed for those of you who want faster wireless networking. It has a dual-band wireless access point that can work in the 2.4GHz and 5GHz spectrums and it can reach speeds of 450Mbps in either of them. More than a fast wireless router though, the N900 is a reliable overall networking solution that also offers IPv6 support, Gigabit Ethernet, parental filters and built-in network attached storage features in the form of ReadyShare.
Design and features
The N900 isn't a typical wireless router; an acrylic base with a protruding trim around the unit makes this router look a little better than it should, and it could appear rather stylish if positioned in a living area next to a TV, for example. It has bright LEDs that can be a little annoying in the dark, but they won't pose much of a problem unless you position the unit in your bedroom.
It has a 4-port Gigabit Ethernet switch built in to it and it has a WAN port that can accept an input from an ADSL2+ or cable modem. You'll have to supply your own modem before you can get on the Internet. Little touches about this router that we like include the physical power button on the back, and the wireless toggle on the front, so that can easily disable and enable the Wi-Fi (should you ever want to do so) without venturing into the router's configuration pages.
Speaking of which, the configuration Web page of the N900 is based on the new Netgear Genie interface. It's a bit of a departure from the Netgear interface of old, but it still has things like the built-in help files and the frames design. Importantly, it's a router that you can set up without actually connecting a cable between it and your computer. It comes with a pre-defined SSID and password, the details of which are printed on the sticker on the side of the unit — the password for ours was 'dailyspider528', which we found a little creepy. This means you can connect to the router from a laptop, a tablet or a phone to then log in to its configuration page to enter your own settings.
Once you connect to the router, the Genie will attempt to auto-detect your Internet connection, which means all you'll have to do to get online is enter your ISP username and password details. It takes a few minutes for the router to be completely set up, and you will be presented with a rundown of your settings once it's done — it'll tell you that you are connected to the Internet via an ego-boosting congratulations page. Furthermore, it will display the credentials for the 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless networks. You'll want to customise these so that you can remember them a little easier — unless you're happy having something like 'NETGEAR1' for your network name and 'dailyspider528' for your password.
With the ability to simultaneously run 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless frequencies, the WNDR4500 allows a mixture of devices to co-exist on the same network, and yet perform optimally. But the biggest selling point is the router's connection speed of 450Mbps, which is 150Mbps faster than a traditional 802.11n Wi-Fi router. To use this speed though, you'll need to operate devices that can also run at 450Mbps. For our tests, we used a Dell Latitude E6320 laptop configured with an Intel Ultimate-N 6300 AGN wireless adapter. This allowed us to connect to the Netgear router at full speed and attain optimal performance results.
To test the speed of the router's Wi-Fi, we attached a notebook with a 7200rpm hard drive to the router via Gigabit Ethernet and transferred files from it to the Dell laptop over the wireless network. From a close distance (2m away), we observed an average speed of 10.02 megabytes per second (MBps) when using the 2.4GHz frequency and a whopping 27MBps when using the 5GHz frequency (the highest burst speed we noticed was 35MBps). It was a noticeable difference that came in handy when tyring to copy big files over the network, in particular.
From 10m away, the 2.4GHz network fell to 5.85MBps, while the 5GHz network only reached 14.32MBps. In a testing environment littered with other 2.4GHz access points, the longer distance made the signal suffer noticeably, but the 5GHz network was still able to get well above the double digit mark. It shows the worth of having the ability to switch to a 5GHz network, even over longer distances, but especially over short distances.
By comparison, the other 450Mbps router that we've seen, Buffalo's WZR-HP-G450H (which is only a 2.4GHz router), recorded only 6.85MBps from 2m away and 5.8MBps from 10m away in the same tests. You can see that from close range the Netgear performed much better, but both routers recorded basically the same rate from the 10m mark.
We were able to replicate the speeds multiple times, so the N900 is definitely a reliable unit and we had no problems with it at all when using it extensively for everyday networking activities. We ran a WD TV Live media streamer off it, as well as NAS devices, multiple laptops and phones, and we didn't have to restart it once. We also ran a USB hard drive off the router and made use of its built-in ReadyShare NAS functionality. Drives that we plugged in to the back of the router showed up without any fuss on our network and file transfers off USB drives averaged around 3.3MBps. For advanced users, the router supports dynamic DNS (via DynDNS.org) and port forwarding so that it can be set up for remote access.
Other nifty features include a traffic meter that can be set up to provide warnings when your data quota is a little too close for comfort; the USB ports support printer sharing; there are parental filters that work with OpenDNS, just like the ones in the Netgear N600 that we reviewed at the start of the year, as well as keyword and domain name blocking, which brings up a nice, big warning any time someone tries to access content that's been flagged.
The Netgear N900 is definitely a good router to go for if you're ultimate need is fast wireless speed. Short of an 802.11ac router, it's the next best option and it will provide reliable speeds that are faster than the norm from close range and from long distance. Importantly, it's also not very difficult to set up and its interface is intuitive.
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