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By: William Van Winkle
Naturally, you can’t have a top-flight, dual-band router without a corresponding client adapter. Many of the adapters built into notebooks are 2.4 GHz-only, which sort of negates so many of the possible benefits of 5.0 GHz 802.11n, especially for video streaming. To get the best 11n experience, you need both bands in action, and ideally you want the router and client brands to match in order to minimize the risk of any incompatibilities. True, if it’s actually 802.11n certified hardware, everything should be interoperable, but matching radios may still deliver better results than mismatched ones.
The WNDA3100 is Netgear’s dual-band offering for the WNDR3300, DGND3300, and WNDR3700. As you might expect, there aren’t volumes to write about a USB adapter. The little gadget looks like a thumb drive, complete with non-attached and easy-to-lose drive cap, and comes bundled with a cradle and USB cable, which I found useful for elevating the transceiver. Does this actually improve performance? I’m not sure, but I did experience a 7% boost in my confidence level about the connection.
The key feature with the WNDA3100 is something Netgear calls Push ‘N Connect. The rest of the industry calls it Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS). WPS emerged from the Wi-Fi Alliance as a way to help consumers associate 802.11 devices and implement basic security without resorting to complex on-screen configuration. Usually, it operates just like when connecting a wireless game controller on a console, such as the Xbox 360. Press the connection button on the host, then press the button on the client device, give them a couple of seconds to swap information, and ba-bam! You’re associated and communicating.
Alternative WPS methods involve using a PIN, as with Bluetooth, using a USB key to transfer association data between devices, or using near field communication by bringing the two nodes within range of each other. The Wi-Fi Alliance started certifying WPS devices back in early 2007, and today well over 200 devices are compliant.
Netgear includes its Smart Wizard to help speed along any additional configuration. You can choose from 64- or 128-bit WEP, WPA-PSK, or WPA2-PSK encryption methods to protect your wireless communications. Be aware that as of this writing, Netgear’s WNDA3100 drivers do not officially support Windows 7 or 64-bit versions of XP or Vista, and if you’re running XP you’ll need at least Service Pack 2. Netgear provides a one-year warranty for the adapter.