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Netgear WNR834B RangeMax Next Router review: Netgear WNR834B RangeMax Next Router

Editor's note: In light of the recent adoption of draft 2.0 of the 802.11n spec, we began retesting the draft 11n routers from earlier this year. Although speed improvements were not a big part of draft 2.0, we've decided to report our new numbers as they become available. Down the line, we'll be testing compatibility between vendors and publishing those findings as well. The Netgear RangeMax Next router posted the following scores in our latest tests: max throughput at 10 feet, 67.76Mbps; max throughput at 200 feet, 27.79Mbps; and max throughput in a mixed environment, 60.20Mbps.

6.3

Netgear WNR834B RangeMax Next Router

The Good

Among the Netgear WNR834B's benefits are satisfying maximum throughput, a slick design, simple setup, comprehensive documentation, and tight security capabilities.

The Bad

The Netgear WNR834B is one of the more expensive new Draft N routers around, and it takes a big speed hit in mixed-mode environments. Also, you can't adjust its antennas, since they're located inside the case.

The Bottom Line

Though its maximum throughput is solid and its speed at long range is respectable, the Netgear WNR834B's mixed-mode speed is not. Save your cash until more Draft N routers make it through CNET Labs.

The Netgear WNR834B RangeMax router sets new standards on the inside and out. The router is based on Draft N, the first official draft of the much-hyped 802.11n specification, which touts significantly faster performance, longer range, and backward compatibility with 802.11b/g. The device also breaks with the growing trend to include big, external antennas by placing all of its antennas inside the case. The $179 router turned in mixed results in CNET Labs' tests, with the WNR834B earning good maximum throughput and decent speed at long range, yet with slow performance in mixed-mode environments. These results reinforce what we and others have seen: that it's too soon to invest in 802.11n. So, sit tight before you buy a pricey Draft N router; our upcoming reviews of other new Draft N routers will reveal whether any of these alternates may be worth buying instead.

Can't wait for a next-gen router? Then you're better off with Netgear's much faster WPNT834. (Bear in mind, though, that any products that use MIMO but came before the Draft N spec are based on proprietary technology, so in order to get the most out of the Netgear RangeMax 240 router, for example, you'll need to pair it with the Netgear RangeMax 240 adapter.)

In a departure from Draft N routers such as the Linksys WRT300N, which features a particularly big external antenna between two smaller ones, the Netgear WNR834B hides all three of its antennas within its case. The company settled on this design to give the router a cleaner look and to help prevent users from breaking the antennas. True, the effect is sleek, but the design also means that you can't adjust the antennas' position for better signal strength.

Aside from the unorthodox antenna placement, the WNR834B includes the typical power port, four LAN jacks, one WAN jack, and a pinhole reset button on its back edge, with corresponding status lights for the power and LAN/WAN jacks on its front edge. A final status light indicates when the router is communicating with a wireless client. The device has built-in feet that enable you to stand it up on its short edge, but the absence of mounting brackets prevents hanging it on a wall where it may encounter fewer wireless signals from other devices.

Netgear bundles professionally presented documentation and a well-organized setup procedure with the WNR834B. The well-labeled CD instructs you to "Start here." After loading the disc into your computer's drive, you encounter a link to the electronic setup manual. From there, you have two options for installing the router: use the intuitive setup wizard, which will be a help to those who are new to networking, or configure it manually by connecting directly to the router's Web-based tool. Netgear makes the latter method simple by enabling you to type in the easier-to-remember www.routerlogin.net, though you can still use the device's IP address (192.168.1.1) should you choose. Once you're up and running, you may continue to use the Web tool to manipulate the router's state-of-the-art security settings, which include WPA2 support, a dual firewall via NAT and SPI, MAC address authentication, and a DMZ pass-through.

Based on Broadcom's Intensi-fi chipset, the WNR834B RangeMax router can theoretically achieve throughput of up to 270Mbps, according to Netgear. CNET Labs' tests told a different story, however. Though the router did a decent job in our maximum throughput test with a throughput of 72.7Mbps (just edging out the Linksys WRT300N's 71.5Mbps), it still couldn't touch the 93.8Mbps that the older Netgear WPNT834 router earned. Similarly, the WNR834B pulled an adequate score of 32Mbps in our long-range trial but was bested yet again by the Belkin Wireless Pre-N with its 36.4Mbps throughput. In our final test of mixed-mode performance, the WNR834B puttered along with one of the worst times we've seen in a while: a dismal 26.2Mbps. Overall, none of the WNR834B's scores were the lightning bolts we'd hoped to see in this Draft N router.

CNET Labs maximum throughput tests
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Note: Throughput in Mbps

CNET Labs maximum throughput tests with mixed 802.11b/g and MIMO clients
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Note: Throughput in Mbps

CNET Labs long-range tests
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Note: Throughput in Mbps measured indoors at 200 feet

The Netgear WNR834B's warranty lasts for one year, which is about average for a Wi-Fi router yet shorter than Linksys's three years and Belkin's lifetime term. Thankfully, Netgear includes toll-free, 24/7 phone support with the device. At the time of this writing, Netgear's Web support page for the WNR834B was incomplete, lacking a link to an electronic copy of the user manual. The site also offers one of our favorite Web support options: a customer forum.

The Netgear WNR834B's performance confirmed what we've seen in Labs: the Draft N products we've seen so far are not delivering on the promise of 802.11n. Our advice is to wait out your urge to get the latest networking gear and see what later iterations of the 802.11n spec have to offer.

6.3

Netgear WNR834B RangeMax Next Router

Score Breakdown

Setup 7Features 7Performance 6Support 5