NetGear WPN824 Review

NetGear WPN824

“The Netgear RangeMax Wireless Router is the next logical step in the high quality offerings from Netgear.”
  • Many security options; excellent range; high throughput; attractive design
  • Limited monitoring options

For most casual and demanding users, the Netgear RangeMax Wireless Router is an all-around excellent option.  The adaptive internal antennas that compensate for interference provide great connectivity with excellent range.  The security options are first rate, with dual firewalls, content blocking, and scheduled blocking.  The box itself is refreshingly unique, and features a central porthole surrounded by blue LEDs that illuminate as the antennas adjust.  This results in a constantly glistening tech gem that will mesmerize your friends for hours.

Features and Design

With all the hype over pre-N hardware getting yanked from shelves, the current top-of-the-line routers offer MIMO (multiple-input, multiple-output) technology.  Two major competing implementations have been devised, both of which basically will not be noticeable unless you’re running off a T3.  The general idea is to use multiple antennas to create multiple connections to your computer, and to alter which antennas are connected based on each signal’s strength.  In the MIMO arena, there are two players:  Atheros and Video54.  The WPN824 uses the Video54 technology, with the main advantage being more antennas; those antennas mounted internally.

The overall appearance is a refreshing departure from the old blue box design.  The sleek white finish and stealth activity lights are tasteful, but the best part is what we have dubbed “The Orb.”  The Orb is a blue-tinted plastic circle with LED lights mounted around the edges.  Each light is attached to some form of router activity (we assume one LED is attached per antenna and indicates activity).  As that antenna is accessed, the LED flickers.  The result is a mesmerizing, ever-changing, random dance of blue light that will steal more productivity than any screensaver in recent memory.  If you sleep in the same room as the router, you may want to cover the light at night, as it is pretty bright.

One design problem we had with this cool little display of form following function is the size of the router as a whole.  It is easily the largest piece of networking equipment that most home users will have (larger than most cable modems, switches, access points, and VOIP adapters).  While the WPN824 comes with feet to mount it sideways, it is naturally a “bottom of the stack” component, which means you’ll be piling other boxes on top of the precious blue Orb.  Perhaps a revamp of the design in a later model will move the LEDs to the outer edge, where we can get the same aesthetics in a more efficient design.

On the technical front, the WPN824 has nearly every feature a pro-sumer could want.  It builds on the Netgear web-based interface that led the charge in router browser interfaces.  The setup is straightforward and will automatically detect your connection type.  We’ve heard some complaints from people on other forums about problems with the setup.  We’ve tested two different units on four different computers and had absolutely no problems whatsoever.  It supports PPPoE logins, static IPs, manual DNS settings, MAC address selection, and MTU adjustments.  Setup must occur over a wired connection for security reasons.  Various status options are available, including a display of all connected devices and the ability to allow only trusted devices.  Unlike past Netgear devices, the selection of trusted devices is simplified by providing a list of attached devices and the ability to directly add them to the trusted list with a few clicks.  Previous versions required manually entering the MAC addresses, which was unnecessarily annoying.

The router can check the Netgear website for firmware updates, download them, and install them, all on its own.  This is another feature that has crept its way into recent Netgear products, and makes upgrading the firmware much easier for regular consumers.  Also available is the ability to back up the router setting to your PC, as well as logging with an option to email those logs to you on a schedule.  The router settings can be remotely managed, which can be useful if you want to lock down your home network but occasionally access files.  For security, you can limit the remote management to a specific IP address or range of IP addresses.

The wireless options include the usual SSID broadcast name and channel selection.  Password protection comes in the form of either WEP or WPA-PSK.  You can choose to disable the SSID broadcast and enable/disable 108Mbps, Adaptive Radio, and eXtended Range.  If you choose in the basic wireless setting to keep the router in 108Mbps-only mode, the Adaptive Radio and eXtended Range options are not available.  As mentioned above, the router can be set to only allow predetermined devices identified by the MAC address to connect.  One of the options we really liked was the option to daily disable connections for a scheduled amount of time.  Since broadband connections are always on, it’s nice to know our home networks can be automatically isolated during the day while at work, without worry of intrusion.

Setup and Testing

Our tests were relatively subjective.  We used the wireless Intel 802.11g 54mbps connection built into a new Sony Vaio laptop and traveled the halls in a high-rise apartment.  We were able to maintain a rating of good or better anywhere on our floor, regardless of obstacles, even with all range extension options turned off.  This was not the case for our previous 54Mbps Linksys router.  The hall was approximately 50 feet long, and punctuated by metal beams, elevators and other units.  We were unable to get a good signal on surrounding floors, most likely because of two feet of cement between each floor.  This wasn’t a surprise.  What was a surprise was that we were able to get any signal in those locations.

We also tested the WPN824 with a compatible WPN311 MIMO Netgear PCI card at a different location.  The wireless monitor options showed low transmission rates at only twenty feet away, maxing out at 54Mbps.  However, we locked the router and card into 108Mbps-only mode and had some connectivity issues while running VNC.  Switching back to the Auto 108Mbps alleviated those problems.

We plan to test the WPN824 with MIMO-enabled PC cards in the near future.  What we can say is that the range is excellent, even without the advanced features enabled.  We saw very low packet loss, and download speeds maxed out the 54 Mbps easily.

We also have heard complaints about the warranty and support.  Netgear offers the shortest warranty of the big three players (Linksys and Belkin being the other two).  You get a one year warranty and 90 days of phone support, with the idea that the only time you really need the phone support will most likely be when you set it up, the first time you use it.  We strongly urge Netgear to move in line with their competitors, or face consumer discontent (read: lower sales because of fewer repeat buyers).  This having been said, we have had issues with past Netgear routers (two different FM114Ps), and contacted customer support by phone.  We never registered the products, so they had no idea when they were bought.  On both occasions, replacement parts were sent out overnight and all our issues were resolved to our satisfaction.  Also, our time of hold was acceptable.

Below are some screenshot of the WPN824 setup menu options (the conclusion is below these images):


Wireless Settings Menu

 

Blocked Sites
Blocked Sites Menu

 

Remote Management Menu
Remote Management Menu

Conclusion

The Netgear RangeMax Wireless Router is the next logical step in the high quality offerings from Netgear.  The setup is quick and simple and the router is designed with security and filtering options in mind.  Performance was first tier in our subjective tests, and the range was nothing short of amazing for a consumer device.  The appearance is stylish and features a mesmerizing blue orb of wireless voodoo magic that will amaze cats and brainwash friends.

Pros: 

  • Many security options;
  • Excellent range
  • High throughput
  • Attractive design

Cons: 

  • Limited monitoring options
  • Really meant only for consumer use
  • Very limited and poor technical support

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