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Product-wise, this was by far the most difficult decision to make. The market is filled with all sorts of wireless alternatives in all price bands, from antique 802.11b to N150 to dual-band, and Netgear has models in all of them. A lot of users don’t stop to question what kind of wireless implementation makes the most sense in their environment.
Soon, we’ll have a full-on roundup of 802.11n gear arriving on Tom’s Hardware, and we’ll see exactly which implementations perform best in different scenarios. For now, though, we made a few assumptions.
First, we decided that most users were going to be working in a home of 1,500 square feet or less, which means that most rooms would be within a 50-foot radius of the router/access point. Second, we assumed that most users wanting high-speed home networking today would do so at least in part to have a richer entertainment experience. Video is often a key component of today’s digital entertainment, and video often utilizes User Datagram Protocol (UDP), as opposed to the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) generally used with network traffic. As we showed in our earlier article on beamforming, UDP tends to be considerably faster than TCP, and 5 GHz will yield better performance in real-world, congested environments than 2.4 GHz. It follows, then, that if someone wants the best possible wireless performance for entertainment and video, a 5 GHz solution using UDP (when possible) is the way to go.
With that all said, we figured, OK, lots of people have 2.4 GHz wireless already. A lot fewer are 5 GHz-ready. Instead of suggesting that people replace their current investment, we opted to simply add to it with Netgear’s Wireless HD/Gaming Kit, currently available for over $100 online. The HD/Gaming kit includes two 5 GHz WNHDE111 devices. These are identical, but one acts as an access point and the other as a bridge. Netgear trumpets that going with 5 GHz gives you a range of 23 free channels versus only three with 2.4 GHz, and there are far fewer common, interfering devices occupying the former band than the latter. So while the company smartly makes no specific bandwidth claims, even though the kit uses the 802.11n spec in the 5 GHz band, users should enjoy “lag-free gaming and jitter-free HD streaming.”
The kit is targeted specifically at gaming consoles and other entertainment devices, such as a TiVo or Slingbox. In order to deliver on its quality of service promises, Netgear utilizes an array of six smart antennas in each device harnessed with adaptive, software-based beamforming. The WNHDEB111 comes pre-configured from Netgear so there’s no setup needed. Each box can detect if it’s connected to a switch or client device and will self-configure as an access point or bridge as needed. If you add subsequent adapters, there’s a manual switch for setting in AP or bridge mode. The only thing to remember is that you must configure the AP with a wired Ethernet connection first. Once this is done, associating the pair is a snap.