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Netgear N900 Wireless Dual Band Gigabit Router (WNDR4500)

4 stars
NETGEAR N900 WNDR4500

Netgear has been on a roll with their wireless routers of late. The N600 (WNDR3700), released a couple of years ago, was very popular for its performance and value. The N900 ups the ante with 450Mbps throughput on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands and is the fastest-rated router offered by Netgear. All that performance comes at a cost, however; the N900 sells for just under $200.

PROS

  • Excellent overall performance
  • 4-port gigabit switch
  • Reliable connections (firmware version 1.0.1.6)
  • Two USB 2.0 ports for sharing USB drives and printers
  • Easy to set up and configure

CONS

  • Average 2.4GHz performance
  • Upload speeds to USB drives could be better
  • Requires vertical placement

DESIGN & BUILD
The first thing you notice when you open the box is just how large the N900 is. It’s easily the largest wireless router I’ve ever seen. The exterior is a glossy plastic and the mount is permanently attached in the vertical position. While I currently prefer positioning my routers vertically, I’ve always liked having the option to position them horizontally. My guess is that Netgear wanted to prevent users from stacking the router and blocking the vents. Placed vertically, it’d be much harder to block airflow and overheat the router.

N900 front

The front panel is easy to see and contains the usual activity lights for each of the four LAN ports. At the top of the front panel is a WPS button and a wireless on/off button. The back panel has a WAN port and four gigabit LAN ports, to go along with the two USB 2.0 ports and a power switch (rare on a router).

N900 back

SETUP
Setting up the N900 is very easy and will take you about 10 minutes from opening the box to getting on the Internet. The SSID and password come pre-configured and is labeled on the router. After you connect the cables, you just add the SSID and password on your computer. Once a connection is established, you just launch your web browser and Netgear’s web-based user interface (Netgear Genie) automatically launches. You can elect to configure the router further, or connect straight to the Internet.

EASE OF USE
Most users will eventually, if not immediately, want to get into the router to make some changes. First and foremost, the administrator password should be changed. If you prefer hiding your network name (SSID), you’ll need to disable them on all four networks (both bands and both guest networks). MAC filtering on the Netgear N900 is called Wireless Card Access List and is much easier to manage than the other routers I’ve tried.

The router’s UI is separated into two sections––Basic and Advanced. For users who aren’t familiar with wireless routers, the Basic section handles most of router’s standard configurations and features, like basic wireless settings, Readyshare, parental controls and guest networks. The Advanced section contains admin-level type settings and more advanced customization options. When I first installed the N900, the UI was closed off in a framed box, which you had to scroll through to see more than a few lines of settings. It annoyed me considerably that it didn’t fill up the whole browser. In a subsequent firmware update, however, they got rid of the frame so you could see most of the settings in a single screen. After the firmware update, I found very little about the interface to complain about. It’s laid out well and fairly straight-forward.

Netgear genie

PERFORMANCE
The N900 is a dual band router, covering both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. While dual band routers have been around for a little while, the N900 is one of the first to support speeds of up to 450Mbps on both bands. This level of performance benefits those with home networks who stream a lot of media between devices.

To test the throughput of the N900, I used a network testing program called, iperf. I ran the iperf three consecutive times from three different locations, then averaged the results. The router was located on the floor, next to a desktop computer.

  • Location #1: Same room as router, approximately 15 feet away.
  • Location #2: One floor down from router, approximately 30 feet away (point-to-point), through two plaster walls, with appliances and other electronics.
  • Location #3: Outdoors, about 50 feet away, through a plaster wall.

The N900 performed very well in the 5GHz band in all three locations. Even in location #2, where there was a lot of potential for interference, the router performed well. Performance on the 2.4GHz band, however, was less impressive. Mind you, my location is littered with neighboring 2.4GHz wireless networks, but if you’re buying this for your home, you’re likely in the same scenario. Luckily, only a few of the devices I use actively in my home need to be on the 2.4GHz band. If you have a lot of devices that need to be on the 2.4GHz band, you’ll want to keep this in mind.

In my practical testing, I was able to stream high-quality music and HD videos on both bands from every location, without any problems. Also, not one of my devices experienced any dropped connections over the course of two or three months.

FEATURES
The N900 comes with two USB 2.0 ports, which you can use to share USB drives or printers. The printer sharing support is a nice-to-have, but most people have network-capable printers these days, so it’s probably not the N900’s biggest selling point. The sharing of USB drives, on the other hand, is a really nice feature and works well on the N900. USB performance wasn’t great, but I could still stream music and videos from it. Uploading and downloading files was easy on my Windows 7 PCs.

DLNA is also supported on the N900, which allows supported devices to access media from the storage connected to the router. I was able to stream video and music to a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 without any problems, other than the limitations of the tablet itself (codec support).

Parental controls on the N900 are done through OpenDNS. Clicking on parental controls in the UI will take you to a special Netgear OpenDNS page to download a Windows or Mac program to use in conjunction with the N900. OpenDNS is well-respected and many schools and businesses use OpenDNS. It’s not a fool-proof system by any means, but no parental control technology is.

CONCLUSION
The N900 performs very well overall and offers a few extra features that make it a compelling wireless router. It’s also very simple to set up and easy to use. My practical, real-world tests showed that the N900 can handle just about anything, even on the slower 2.4GHz band. If you’re looking for a high-performance dual band router for your home network, I recommend checking out the Netgear N900 WNDR4500.

Available from Amazon.com

* Review unit provided by Netgear