For AU$349 it's a fair bit of cash to outlay for wireless access points in this day and age, so Netgear's rather impossibly named WNHDEB111 (we dare you to try to remember that correctly five minutes after reading this review) Wireless-N Networking Kit has to work particularly hard to justify that kind of asking price. And clearly, the boffins at Netgear have come up with a couple of ideas to try to get you to forget how much money is missing from your wallet, in terms of delivering big.
The first way the WNHDEB111 delivers big is by offering not one, but two access points within the kit. They're functionally identical, but because the kit can work in either access point or bridge modes — via a simple physical switch on the rear of each unit — you can use the pair in concert to extend your wireless-N network range. Those of an economical bent could also buy one kit and split it with a friend.
The second "big" thing about the WNHDEB111 access points is that they're physically quite huge. They're designed to stand up vertically, which does reduce their overall footprint quite markedly, but still, at 225.5x172x39mm each, you could fit many smaller units — like Linksys' newer sleek WRT310N units — inside each WNHDEB111.
Given the all-black on-black with black trim of the WNHDEB111 units, we're torn as to whether Netgear's designers have been listening to too much Disaster Area, or if they've just watched too much 2001. The rear of each WNHDEB111 unit is functional and plain, with a simple on/off switch, two Ethernet ports (sadly 10/100 rather than Gigabit) and the switch to pick between operational modes.
The WNHDEB111 kit's claim to fame is 802.11n compatibility. We've commented on the poor performance of 802.11n — relative to the inflated claims that far too many vendors give it — plenty of times before, but at least in the promises sense, the WNHDEB111 has the potential to deliver. Firstly, by offering two access points in the box, they can offer much better range coverage than a single point could theoretically deliver. Secondly, the WNHDEB111 points only work on the 5GHz band, which pretty much knocks out interference from every other Wi-Fi device, cordless phone and microwave oven you might have. At a technical level, 802.11a devices could still interfere (and the WNHDEB111 is 802.11a compatible, for what that's worth) — but when was the last time you saw an 802.11a network?
The other implication in utilising 5GHz exclusively is that, while you'll need to invest in 5GHz-capable network cards for anything you do want to connect to wirelessly (or use one of the two ports on the bridged unit), once you do that, you can append it to an existing 802.11g network with a minimum of fuss. Not all 802.11n equipment is 5GHz compatible, as we discovered trying to append an Eee PC 901 to the WNHDEB111's network — it simply couldn't see the network at all!
The WNHDEB111 supports WPA set-up, and Netgear's claim is that you should be able to set it up and connect everything simply. If the WNHDEB111 can perform as advertised, it could also be a replacement for technologies such as Homeplug, used in products such asor .
If you're not fussed about things like SSIDs, and you've already got an existing router set-up, the WNHDEB111 is almost stupidly easy to install. You can quite literally just plug it into an existing router socket and you're away — and WPA2 security is even activated by default. We hit a minor snag in setting up the WNHDEB111, although it's one you shouldn't as long as you're careful. Rather than opt for a standard password, Netgear has put its security hat on, and the default password for the system is written on the set-up CD. It's just that, as ours was a review sample, the CD was missing, and with it, setting up the WNHDEB111 became that bit trickier. Not our fault, mind you, but something that's worth keeping in mind if you do buy one. Don't lose the WNHDEB111 CD, ever, or be prepared to fiddle around with cabled connections ferreting out the passphrase.
Adding the additional point is likewise a simple procedure, no more complicated than switching it to bridge mode and hitting the WPS button on both units. Netgear advises that this may take a couple of minutes to finalise, but in our testing we were up and running in a matter of seconds, every time.
We've had to modify our testing procedure for the WNHDEB111 slightly, due to the inclusion of two Access points. Where we'd normally be testing a single access point across a variety of areas, the WNHDEB111 has more flexibility than that, not to mention the bridging capability that enables you to wire clients directly, with Wi-Fi in the middle. As such, we've performed our normal test, but three times — once in a standard, single-point configuration (where it stacks up against other, similarly tested 802.11n equipment), then again with dual-point set-up, and then finally with dual-point set-up and a notebook wired into each bridging point. It is worth noting that this approach (as long as you can live with a notebook or other system near your router) does allow you to connect non-N devices into your N mesh and enjoy N-capable speeds.