Netgear, www.netgear.com.au /ultimatewifi
Dual bands delivering high speeds; Gigabit Ethernet; improved wireless range; easy setup
Netgear is spruiking this Wi-Fi router in a big way, using terms such as “The world’s most advanced wireless home router” and “Experience the ultimate home network”.
These are big calls, based on the N900′s support for 450Mbps wireless speeds in both its 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands simultaneously. This gives a combined speed of 900Mbps – hence the router’s name – but this is a bit misleading as a Wi-Fi device can only use one band at a time, so 450Mbps is the best you’ll get. On the wired side, it boasts Gigabit Ethernet (1000Mbps). Great specs, but not unheard of in other routers.
Other major features are improved wireless range, based on the N900′s use of six internal antennas and radio amplifiers, and guest network access, which allows visitors to go online but stops them accessing anything else on the network.
The router has two USB ports with printer sharing and DLNA media-server capability, one WAN and four LAN Ethernet ports.
While many other routers we’ve used pretty much leave you to your own devices to set them up, assuming a certain level of knowledge and competence on the part of the user, the N900 has a very simple, six-step setup routine. Helping even further are colour- and shape-co-ordinated ports and cables.
Once it’s all hooked up, a Netgear Genie automatically connects to the internet and presents you with a list of network names (one for the 2.4GHz network, and one for the 5GHz one) and passwords.
Further setup and tweaking is done – as it usually is with non-Apple routers – via a browser-based interface. Again, this interface is very user-friendly, putting status reports and actions in plain English, helped by understandable icons.
Things get a bit more complicated when you go into the advanced settings to things such as adding a wireless repeating station. While this is simple when using Apple gear with AirPort Utility, when using the Netgear Genie you need to have an understanding of things such as IP and MAC addresses – or hit Google.
If you’d rather access the router through an app interface, you can download the Netgear Genie. This lets you do many things, including internet diagnostics, network mapping and wireless connection management – but features such as wireless settings, guest access and traffic metering don’t yet work through this application.
We tested the Netgear router using the very handy, and free, NetSpot network-mapping software (www. netspotapp.com). This showed that the signal level through the house was far better than our 802.11n Apple Time Capsule (1st generation) network – virtually eliminating the need for the AirPort Express we use as a network extender.
The numbers we got at the worst dead zones of the house – through multiple walls in opposite directions– were -73dBm and -75.67dBm, as opposed to -78dBm and -84dBm from the Apple router. It might not seem like much, but made the difference between usable and unusable network connections.
With an iMac hard-wired into an Optus cable modem, we used Speedtest.net to measure our internet download and upload speeds as 18Mbps and 0.48Mbps respectively. The results from the Netgear Wi-Fi network averaged about 18.96Mbps and 0.52Mbps, showing that it’s very capable of replacing a wired network.
Macworld Australia’s buying advice.
The physically large Netgear N900 is a very capable router that took our 802.11n home network to a higher level in a number of ways. At $369, however, it is about $100 more expensive than you’d expect to pay for a high-end Wi-Fi router. For example, the Belkin N750 DB, which we reviewed in our January 2012 Group Test, gives very similar specs for a price of $250.