These days, running a Wi-Fi network is cheap and easy. So why is it still such a hassle to share a printer? Unless you connect it to a dedicated print server (or a router with a print server) so that it can operate independently, you have no choice but to leave your printer tethered to a PC that's always on. Enter Netgear's WGPS606 wireless print server with a four-port switch, which enables you to share up to two USB printers (and four PCs) across your existing 802.11b/g Wi-Fi network. While the device isn't intended to take the place of your existing Wi-Fi router, you could easily mistake it for one. Rather, it's a wireless print server that doubles as a four-port Ethernet switch and a Wi-Fi bridge. It's a great idea, and the WGPS606 costs less than some standalone print servers that support only one printer. However, two fairly important issues threaten to spoil the party: configuration and compatibility.
Before you even consider buying the product, make sure the WGPS606 wireless print server supports your printers. According to information on Netgear's Web site (found only in the support section, not the main product page), only about a dozen laser printers and 40 inkjets will work with it. While many popular models made the cut, many others didn't, so it's essential that you check first. We performed our tests with an Epson Stylus Photo 1280 inkjet and an HP LaserJet 1022. The latter doesn't appear on the list of compatible printers, but the nearly identical LaserJet 1012 does, so we decided to try our luck. According to Netgear's site, "Other printers may be compatible."
Configuration promised to be easy enough, thanks to the included software CD, which offers a pair of wizards: one to set up printers, the other to set up PCs for printing. Alas, we immediately encountered a host of minor obstacles, not the least of which was incomplete documentation. For starters, the primary wizard initially failed to detect the print server, suggesting that we double-check the connections and turn off any installed firewalls. After disabling Windows XP's firewall (good thing we knew how), it detected the print server immediately. Later, a screen appeared telling us to "reserve the selected IP address" in our router's settings, with no further explanation.
The process of setting up a PC to access a shared printer can be vexing as well. The WGPS606's wizard instructs you to install the printer's drivers on each computer, but that's not always possible. In the case of the LaserJet 1022, for instance, the driver needs to detect the printer before it can complete its installation. In most printer-sharing configurations, a remote computer can pull the necessary drivers from the host PC. Why not here?
Alas, it turned out to be a moot issue, at least with the HP LaserJet. The printer simply wouldn't work with the WGPS606. Thankfully, the Stylus Photo 1280 ran like a charm, though we couldn't just run the Epson software CD on each computer--again because the installer needs to detect the printer. Instead, we downloaded the driver from Epson, extracted it to a local folder, and accessed it as necessary from within the WGPS606 setup wizard.
The good news is that once your PCs and printers are configured, the WGPS606 performs splendidly. It also makes for a fine Wi-Fi range extender, and we found wireless throughput to be nearly as speedy as from our own router. The device supports both WEP and WPA-PSK encryption, and its onboard settings are easy to adjust, thanks to Netgear's simple (and familiar) browser-based interface.
Netgear supports the WGPS606 wireless print server with a one-year warranty. Toll-free, 24/7 phone support is available for the first 90 days. Premium phone support is available for an additional charge. Netgear's Web site offers e-mail support, a user forum, and a knowledge base that includes software updates, drivers, and manuals.