Netgear Universal Dual-Band WiFi Range Extender
DLNA; extends two networks
More expensive; music won’t stay in sync with Airport Expresses
An alternative to Apple’s Airport Express, Netgear’s WN3500RP lets you stream music around your home and extend your Wi-Fi network.
This Netgear Wi-Fi extender hangs from a pocket socket like a 1st-gen Airport Express, or you can connect the supplied power cable and place it away from the power socket like a 2nd-gen Airport Express.
You can’t plug the Netgear into your broadband modem/router via Ethernet to create or extend a Wi-Fi network. You can only connect wirelessly to your modem/router and extend its Wi-Fi network. Like an Airport Express, you can use its Ethernet port to connect Ethernet-only gear – such as an internet-enabled TV – to your home network. You can also hook up a USB printer.
The Netgear extends your 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks simultaneously, even if the networks use different names – for example ‘TwoGig’ running at 2.4GHz and ‘FiveGig’ at 5GHz. The first-generation Airport Express can’t do this – it only extends one network, either ‘TwoGig’ at 2.4GHz or ‘FiveGig’ at 5GHz. A second-generation Airport Express can extend both networks at their own frequencies, but only if you configure it using Airport Utility version 6. If you’re using a pre-Lion Mac running Airport Utility version 5 then you can only set the second-generation Airport Express to extend one network, although it extends it across both 2.4GHz and 5GHz.
By default the Netgear extender generates two new networks with amended names, so you’ll see ‘TwoGig_2GEXT’ at 2.4GHz and ‘FiveGig_5GEXT’ at 5GHz alongside your existing networks. Netgear recommends using amended names and only connecting to the extended networks when you can’t get adequate coverage from your primary networks. This is a major pain compared to the Airport Express, which retains the primary network name so you don’t need to manually switch between primary and extended networks.
Once on your home network, the Netgear appears as an AirPlay speaker in iTunes on your computers and iGadgets. It features a 3.5mm analogue audio jack for connecting powered speakers (although the Airport Express’ jack also supports optical digital).
AirPlay’s strength is that it can stream the same song to different rooms. Our music stayed in sync when streaming to two Netgear extenders or two Airport Expresses, but the music fell out of sync when we used a combination of Apple and Netgear extenders.
So why spend the extra $30 on the Netgear extender? Its special trick is that it’s also DLNA-compatible, letting you stream music from Android and Windows Phone gadgets, along with desktop software like Windows Media Player.
Another advantage of Netgear’s Wi-Fi extender is that, unlike an Airport Express, it will extend non-Apple Wi-Fi networks. For example an Airport Express will join but not extend our Fritz!Box 7390′s Wi-Fi network, whereas the Netgear can either join or extend the network (using amended network names).
If your home only contains Apple gadgets and networking gear then stick with Airport Expresses, especially if you need to extend your Wi-Fi network. Netgear’s WN3500RP becomes more attractive if you’re a blended household looking for AirPlay and DLNA audio streaming, although it might be easier to simply find Android and Windows apps which can tap into AirPlay – like AirFoil, iMediaShare and PlayTo.