The next Wi-Fi standard, 802.11n is not officially finished, but with the arrival of Draft 2.0,, the products have improved over the Draft 1.0 products we reviewed last year (from Linksys, Netgear, Belkin, D-Link, Buffalo and - this year - Apple).
Although the performance has improved, there are still issues when working with other vendors' equipment or with 802.11b/g equipment, we found in a review which covered Draft 2.0 802.11n kit from Belkin, Cisco-Linksys and Netgear.
For each vendor, we tried connectivity between similarly branded clients and routers. Next, we checked their ability to connect to another client of the same brand on an ad hoc basis. To test the range of these products, we also took a client adapter into a far and dimly lit corner where connectivity using products based on 802.11b/g protocols is nearly impossible and tried to stream a video. Last, we tested for interoperability between 802.11n clients and an 802.11g router.
Netgear's not good with legacy
The RangeMax Next Router is a white miniskyscraper, devoid of any external antennae, that sits vertically in a cradle. The USB client device is about 40 percent larger than a credit card and white, like the router.
It took about 20 minutes to install Netgear’s Next Router using the on-screen install guide. There are only four steps involved, but Netgear is meticulous in explaining each and every part of those steps. If you get something wrong, it’s probably because you haven’t followed along closely.
Our only problem with the installation was that the Netgear equipment wanted to see an existing network/Internet connection before it started the router installation, which seemed counterintuitive for a first-time install. The installation process will not continue until you have such a connection, so just connect your computer to your modem to get around it.
Legacy (b/g) notebook clients were all over the map with the RangeMax Next Router, at times abruptly dropping the connection. Typically, they exhibited low signal strength and transfer speeds - at one point 1 Mbit/s. This was despite Netgear's software allowing a variety of adjustments for possible gear in the “neighborhood.”
Netgear clients behaved better with Netgear’s router, especially the closer they were to the device. In our poor-traffic zone, the transfer rate ranged from 81 Mbit/s to 108 Mbit/s. Our 921MB sample file flew through the air in seven minutes and three seconds. Streaming MPG files were no problem, and jumping around the video’s timeline produced no real lag. Overall, Netgear's PC Card adapter consistently provided stronger signal levels and faster noted connection speeds than its USB adapter.
Installation was more difficult than it needed to be, it had mixed results with legacy equipment, and transfer speeds weren't quite up to par with the other equipment.