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When designing the WPNT511, Netgear clearly focused on the card's insides. Its outer shell consists of little more than a metal PCMCIA card capped off by a plain black-plastic end piece that contains the wireless antenna and two green, dewdrop-sized status lights. Once you've inserted the metal portion of the card into your laptop's PC Card slot, the black piece remains visible, allowing you to see the status lights blink in different patterns to indicate when the card is searching for and has connected to an available Wi-Fi network.
The Netgear WPNT511 RangeMax 240's setup process is smooth, thanks to its instructive installation guide (which comes both in a hard copy and on CD) and setup wizard. The wizard walks you through installing the adapter's drivers and configuration utility as well as establishing your first connection to a wireless network. With these tasks complete, you can continue to rely on the comprehensive utility to view vital stats on other available networks, including channel, signal strength, and MAC address. You can also use it to create and save profiles for the networks you access most often, storing those networks' WEP or WPA security keys. It can monitor the card's own transmission and reception performance as well.
Netgear's claim that the WPNT511 delivers speeds "as fast as wired Ethernet" isn't far off the mark. (The 240 designation in the adapter's name refers to its purported maximum transfer speed, 240Mbps. In reality, wireless products never sustain such fast throughput.) In CNET Labs' maximum and mixed-mode throughput tests, both of which are conducted at a 10-foot range, the card's Airgo Networks Gen 3 MIMO chip helped it earn much faster scores than those of any other wireless adapter we've tested to date. The WPNT511 clocked 93.8Mbps in our maximum throughput trial, transferring data nearly twice as fast as previous performance champs such as the D-Link DWL-G650M (51.5Mbps) and the Belkin Pre-N card (45.7Mbps). The same held true in our mixed-mode benchmark, with the WPNT511 achieving a terrific 83.3Mbps compared to the Belkin's 42.1Mbps and the D-Link's 17Mbps. Unfortunately, the WPNT511 lost serious momentum in our long-range tests, performed at 200 feet. The device earned a paltry time of 24.2Mbps, whereas both the Belkin and the D-Link steamed ahead with their respective 36.4Mbps and 33.3Mbps times.
Though not as good as the lifetime warranty that Belkin bundles with its wireless PC cards, the one-year warranty that ships with the WPNT511 is the current standard among Wi-Fi adapters. You can call the company's 24/7, toll-free tech-support line for free help within the warranty period, and you can always surf for assistance on the Netgear support Web site, which offers a page of how-tos, troubleshooting tips, and additional product information.