NetGear HE102 802.11a Wireless Access Point review: NetGear HE102 802.11a Wireless Access Point

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MSRP: $427.00
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4 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Top speed; easy setup; excellent warranty.

The Bad Status screen doesn't show Turbo mode.

The Bottom Line The HE102 802.11a wireless access point combines outstanding performance with easy setup for small offices looking to make the plunge into wireless.

8.0 Overall
CNET Editors' Choice Mar '02

Some companies have a knack for creating products that are as stylish as they are useful. But when it comes to networking, style takes a back seat to performance--and for good reason. Take, for example, the NetGear HE102 802.11a wireless access point: Blue and blocky, this metal access point lacks the flash and style shown by Apple, Intel, and Proxim devices we've reviewed. Also, the recessed holes on the bottom may make it hard to mount on a wall. But the NetGear's small and thin design, easy setup, and pair of adjustable antennas make it a good fit for small-office users wanting to extend their corporate LAN. The NetGear also offers the fastest way to get data from here to there, short of running Ethernet cables between computers, which can be both messy and expensive. Some companies have a knack for creating products that are as stylish as they are useful. But when it comes to networking, style takes a back seat to performance--and for good reason. Take, for example, the NetGear HE102 802.11a wireless access point: Blue and blocky, this metal access point lacks the flash and style shown by Apple, Intel, and Proxim devices we've reviewed. Also, the recessed holes on the bottom may make it hard to mount on a wall. But the NetGear's small and thin design, easy setup, and pair of adjustable antennas make it a good fit for small-office users wanting to extend their corporate LAN. The NetGear also offers the fastest way to get data from here to there, short of running Ethernet cables between computers, which can be both messy and expensive.

Worth the investment
At $389, the NetGear is competitively priced when compared to access points from Intel and Proxim, which range from $350 to $400. Of course, these prices don't include the cost of wireless adapters, which you'll need to purchase for each computer you want to network. For example, NetGear's HA501 802.11a Cardbus adapter for laptops will cost you an additional $169 each. In return for your investment, though, you get blazing speeds of up to 54Mbps (72Mbps in Turbo mode), making it possible to share high-quality audio and video wirelessly. Plus, because it operates in the unlicensed 5GHz band, the NetGear is free from interference from other devices, such as cordless phones and microwave ovens.

Always in control
The HE102 wireless access point is extremely easy to set up. It's about the size of a paperback novel and has two antennas that stick up in the back on either side. It comes with an informative installation booklet, a registration card, and a resource CD bearing an online manual and software. Connecting the access point, which involved plugging it in and running a simple Web-based interface, took about 10 minutes. All the key parameters are contained in the access point's Web-based configuration routine, which takes a few minutes to run. You can change basic settings, such as SSID, channel, frequency, data-rate and transmission power, and WEP security.

It took us only a few more minutes to load the drivers and the utility for NetGear's HA501 802.11a Cardbus adapter on a client notebook. Once set up, the Cardbus Adapter Configuration utility takes over. The adapter's Status screen shows general information, including connection condition, signal strength, and the access point's MAC address. The Status screen also keeps you apprised of the adapter's network mode, encryption level, frequency channel, and current send and receive rate; the only thing it doesn't do--although it should--is tell you whether Turbo mode is enabled. A colorful and visually intuitive signal-strength gauge rounds out the data. Click the Configuration tab, and you can update the SSID; power-conservation mode; and the WEP security level, which includes 64-, 128- and 152-bit protocols. The Statistics screen shows network activity in a horizontal bar-graph format on a black background; the numerical transmit data is noted at the top in packets per second.

Plenty of bandwidth
In CNET Labs' tests, the access point was given a full workout using NetIQ's Chariot benchmark. It set the pace with a strong throughput score of 23.2Mbps, which is 5 percent faster than that of the Intel Pro/Wireless 5000 LAN access point. The NetGear really shined in Turbo mode, with a throughput speed of 32.1Mbps, or about 30 percent faster than the next-best device. Like other 802.11a systems, the NetGear's throughput slows quickly when walls intervene, gradually dropping off from a peak of 54Mbps to 48Mbps, 36Mbps, 24Mbps, 18Mbps, 12Mbps, 9Mbps, and eventually 6Mbps, depending on distance. In hands-on testing, the NetGear's data flow slowed to a trickle at 75 feet and was limited to 97 feet--a little short of its peers' general range but still acceptable. Overall, the device reliably distributed audio, video, and a broadband Internet connection in a 5,000-square-foot area with several walls; beyond that, extra access points were needed.

The NetGear access point also comes with good security. Out of the box, both the access point and the cards came with WEP security disabled and the SSID set to Wireless. This is a step forward in terms of security from vendors that leave the SSID set to accept any client, but we strongly suggest you immediately change the network and encryption parameters.

In it for the long haul
NetGear's support policies will appeal to small businesses with little or no IT staff. The company backs its access point with an impressive five-year warranty (two years for the power supply)--among the best in the industry. It also provides free phone support 24/7 via a toll-free number. In addition, NetGear's Web site offers downloads, FAQs, e-mail support, and contact information.

With its HE102 802.11a wireless access point, NetGear offers an affordable solution for small businesses looking to make the dive into wireless networking. Its easy setup, blistering speed, and five-year warranty will make the thought of implementing a wireless network a lot less frightening.

Editor's note: This page has changed from our original version. Please see the corrections page.

Throughput tests
Measured in Mbps (longer bars indicate better performance)
NetGear HE102 802.11a wireless access point (Turbo mode)
32.1 
NetGear HE102 802.11a wireless access point
23.2 
Proxim Skyline 802.11a access point (2x mode)
23.2 
Intel Pro/Wireless 5000 LAN access point
22.1 
Proxim Skyline 802.11a access point (1x mode)
19.8 
 
Response time
Measured in milliseconds (shorter bars indicate better performance)
NetGear HE102 802.11a wireless access point
1.0 
Proxim Skyline 802.11a wireless access point
1.0 
Intel Pro/Wireless 5000 LAN access point
2.5 
 
How we tested
For practical throughput tests, CNET Labs uses NetIQ's Chariot software as its benchmark. For wireless testing, the clients and routers are set up to transmit at short ranges and at maximum signal strength. CNET Labs' response-time tests are also run with Chariot software using the TCP protocol. Response time measures how long it takes to send a request and receive a response over a network connection. Throughput and response time are probably the two most important indicators of user experience over a network.

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