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It probably says something that the WNDR4500 is significantly bigger than Netgear's other routers, and still splits its power supply into a brick form that's bigger than some laptop power supplies.
This is the router that ticks every one of Netgear's marketing boxes — but will it hold up to the hype?
|Highest wireless security||WPA2|
|Ethernet ports||4x gigabit, 1x gigabit WAN|
|USB print sharing/storage||Storage, printer|
|Accessories||Ethernet cable, installation CD|
The WNDR4500 is one from the growing field of routers that has gigabit WAN, meaning that should the National Broadband Network (NBN) come to your town, you'll be well positioned to take advantage of it. Four gigabit Ethernet ports are also available, as are a pair of USB ports, which, despite being blue, only support USB 2.0.
These USB ports allow storage and printers to be shared wirelessly, although there's no support for 3G modems or USB pass through. Just like the WNDR3700, Netgear can make the storage available over SMB, HTTP and FTP, or it can be made available through a DLNA server.
Power switch, power jack, gigabit WAN port, 4x gigabit Ethernet ports, 2x USB 2.0 ports.
Netgear's UI has been completely remade, in part to mimic its "Genie" software that it supplies for the desktop. Effort has gone into making things easier to read, in order to provide "at a glance" information, although graphics have been severely over-optimised and dithered over.
Netgear now places its help in a bar along the bottom — click it and it pops up, overlaying the settings screen. While the help is related contextually to the current screen, there are huge amounts of information here with only a tiny viewing box, resulting in a massive scroll bar.
The separation into "Basic" and "Advanced" settings is expected; however, Netgear hasn't really thought things through, providing an "Advanced Setup" section within the advanced tab. We can only assume that it's for advanced-advanced users. Similarly, we're at a lost as to why "Setup Wizard" is in the advanced section, or why you have to bounce between two different sections to access all of the wireless settings.
In a disturbing trend for Netgear, changing any settings requires a 20-second wait, as the entire router is rebooted. This is utterly mindless — if you change a wireless setting, all of your wired users get booted as a result. Whether it's a chipset or a UI issue, this is unacceptable.
Netgear's new UI is okay, but badly organised. The 20-second wait to apply settings is also incredibly frustrating, and is even longer on lower-powered devices.
(Screenshot by CBS Interactive)
Being a top-of-the-line router, features are reasonable. From right within the interface, you can set the MAC address, for instance. Address reservation is in here, and, interestingly, you can control your upstream bandwidth — although not on a per-user level.
Guest networks can be set up on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies, and if you really want to enforce internet times on your kids, then wireless availability can be scheduled.
Parental controls include keyword, URL and port blocking, and you can set these restrictions on a scheduled basis.
You can also record the amount of internet traffic through the router, if you wish, allowing you to disconnect the internet or make one of the lights on the router flash orange once the limit (MBs or hours) has been reached. Those on TB plans will be out of luck here; the limit only supports six digits, locking you to a maximum of 999,999MB. We'd love to see Netgear go one step further, and throttle connections based on a MAC address, or refuse internet access to certain MACs should they exceed a preset, per-MAC limit.
Genie, the Windows- or Mac-bound application to make setting up your network easier, is actually decent, and covers a good portion of configuration options. The network map in particular helps you see what's connected, and can assist in diagnosing issues. When you're not using it, Genie becomes a system-tray app, ready to help when you need it.
After analysing the spectrum with InSSIDer, an empty channel of either 1, 6 or 11 is chosen for 2.4GHz wireless testing. Usually, the router is restricted to the 20MHz band if the option is available.
We use iperf to determine throughput, running eight streams with a TCP window size of 1MB and an interval of one second. The test is run for five minutes in three different locations on two separate occasions. The locations are in the same room as the router: one floor down around spiral stairs and with concrete walls and floors, and two floors down under the same conditions.
The wireless throughput is tested using three chipsets (the Atheros AR5008X, Ralink RT2870 and Intel Ultimate-N 6300), and then all results are averaged.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
The WNDR4500 mostly tops the 2.4GHz charts, only giving way to its sibling DGND3700 at the second measuring point.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
5GHz is impressive on the WNDR4500, with the Intel adapter really kicking up the scores. It's at the point where we may have to retire the older wireless adapters we test with in order to give fairer results to the new breed of fast, wireless routers.
Of note, the router managed to connect at 5GHz in the third location for two out of the three wireless adapters — a new best for the 5GHz range.
Netgear covers the WNDR4500 with a two-year warranty; equal with Billion, and a decent period for such a product.
While Netgear makes frustrating choices with set-up, and imposes ridiculous restarts when you apply settings, the sheer wireless performance of the WNDR4500 cannot be denied.