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Tom's Hardware's 2010 Holiday Gift Guide: Part 2, Last-Minute Luxury

Networking: Netgear Universal Wi-Fi Range Extender WN2000RPT
By Andy Patrizio

Wi-Fi has done wonders for advancing network access both in public and in our homes, but it's not infallible. Experience has taught me that with enough walls, a signal can be severely compromised, even though the access point is technically within the manufacturer's specified range.

Netgear's Universal Wi-Fi Range Extender lives up to its billing by working with all wireless b/g/n routers and gateways, not just Netgear's own products, to provide a second broadcast signal that covers areas your wireless access point can't reach. It handles 802.11b, g, and n (2.4 GHz), helping maintain performance compared to a marginal connection across the house.

Think of it as a relay station. It takes the wireless signal from a source--say, one of AT&T U-verse's 2Wire routers (which totally suck, by the way) and transmits the signal farther. So, if the weak little 2Wire router can't quite cover a room two doors down, you can place the Netgear Extender in a more open area and it'll relay the signal for you.

To keep snoopers and leechers out, the Universal Wi-Fi Range Extender works with common security standards like WPA and WPA2-PSK. This will protect the connection between the Extender and the original access point, keeping unwanted intruders off of your network. The Extender also has four 10/100 Ethernet ports, so you can attach additional devices. It would be nice to see gigabit-class connectivity on the unit, but we understand that its primary purpose isn't switching.

The Range Extender has LED signal strength status indicators, so you can move around the house, looking for the optimal position for the Extender while making sure you keep a strong connection to the source of the signal at the same time. No setup CD is needed, you just plug, tune for position, and go.