Netgear's WNDR4500 N900 Wireless Dual Band Gigabit Router is the successor to the Netgear WNDR4000 N750 router that we reviewed a while ago. The new router is superior thanks to its dual support for the new 450Mbps standard on both the 2.4GHz and the 5GHz bands, as opposed to only on the 5GHz band in the case of its predecessor. And Netgear has upgraded its Netgear Genie software to encompass both the desktop software and the router's Web interface, making the router easy to manage for home users, yet at the same time robust and comprehensive for advanced users.
In terms of performance, the WNDR4500, though selectively faster, is very similar to the WNDR4000, with excellent range and throughput speeds on the 5GHz band. Its 2.4GHz band, however, could use some improvement in data rates. The router's built-in support for network storage via its two USB ports didn't provide fast enough bandwidth to be considered as a viable NAS solution. To make up for this, the router's wireless signals are very stable and it also offers lots of features, including robust parental controls, a detailed Network Map, an Internet bandwidth meter, and IPv6.
Priced at around $180, the WNDR4500 makes a very good investment for a high-end home network, especially one with mostly 5GHz wireless clients. Those who just want dual 450Mbps support and don't care for USB ports and other features should also check out the much more affordable Trendnet TEW-692GR.
Design and setup
The Netgear WNDR4500 N900 router looks very much like recent Netgear routers such as the WNDR4000, with one big exception: it's about 20 percent larger. The router is designed to work in the vertical position and its base is not detachable, meaning you won't be able put it flat on a surface or wall-mount it.
Similar to the WNDR4000, on the back the N900 has one WAN port (to connect to an Internet source, such as a broadband modem) and four LAN ports (for wired clients). All of these ports are Gigabit Ethernet, promising a very fast wired connection. Also on the back, you'll find an on/off button and two USB ports that can be used to host USB storage devices or printers. While these ports are colored blue, suggesting that they are USB 3.0, unfortunately, they only support the USB 2.0 standard.
On the front, the router boasts an array of color-changing LED lights that reflect the status of the Internet connection, the wireless network, and of the ports on the back. On top of these LEDs are a wireless on/off button and a Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) button. The former turns the router's wireless network on and off, and the latter is for quickly adding a wireless client to its wireless networks.
It's very easy to set up the router with the included Netgear Genie application, which behaves somewhat like the Cisco Connect software that comes with the Linksys E4200. This is a newer version of Netgear Genie than the one that accompanied the WNDR400, and it offers much more detailed instructions as well as deeper access to the router's settings. The best thing about the new Genie is the fact that the router's firmware is now also part of it. This means if you don't want to use the desktop software and opt for the Web interface--which can be accessed by pointing a connected computer's browser to its default IP address, 192.168.1.1--you'll be presented with similarly easy-to-use wizards and instructions. You can use either the Web interface or the desktop software to manage all the router's settings. The only difference between the two is that the Web interface allows you to set up two separate networks for the two 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands; the desktop software only allows you to make one network for the 2.4GHz band. Savvy users should definitely use the Web interface to get the most out of the router. Unlike Cisco Connect, Genie allows users to use both the desktop application and the Web interface to manage the router.
If you don't want to bother with customizing, the N900 comes preconfigured with a network name and its encryption key printed on a label. If you're OK with these default manufacturer settings, all you have to do is plug the router into an Internet source, turn it on, and you're good to go.
The WNDR4500 is the first dual 450Mbps router from Netgear that offers the 450Mbps ceiling wireless speed on both the 5GHz and the 2.4GHz bands. This is the new three-stream standard (aka 3x3) that's getting more popular in high-end wireless routers. Note that you need wireless clients that support the same standard to take advantage of the new speed, but the router works with any existing clients on the market.
The N900 is capable of simultaneously broadcasting Wireless-N signals in both the 2.4GHz and the 5GHz bands. It's also able to broadcast two more guest wireless networks, one for each band. Guest networking is an increasingly popular feature that enables you to create separate wireless networks that offer guests access to the Internet, while separating them from local resources such as files or printers. Users also have options to isolate the two main networks, making connected clients unable to see one another.
The router has a Parental Controls feature, which was first introduced with the WNR2000. To use this, you first need to install the Netgear Live Parental Controls software; the download link is provided via the Netgear Genie application or the Web interface. The software guides you through a few steps of setting up a free online account with OpenDNS and choosing between five overall Web-filtering levels: high, moderate, low, minimum, and none, where high means most traffic will be blocked, and none means nothing will be blocked. From there, you no longer need the software. From anywhere in the world, you can go to the Parental Controls Center site, log in with the account you just created, and further customize the Web-filtering features of the router. This is a nice feature for parents who are on the go, because it helps them make sure they have control over the Internet access of anyone at home.
The second big feature of the N900 is its two USB ports that can be used to host external hard drives and printers. We tried these ports with a few external hard drives and they work well. The router can handle hard drives formatted in FAT32 or NTFS, and its USB ports provide enough juice to power portable bus-powered external drives. Once a drive is plugged in, its contents will be immediately shared across the network, with everybody having full access to it. The router supports the SMB protocol, meaning any computer in the network can browse for the shares using a network browser such as Windows Explorer or Finder. Share folders can also be turned into an FTP site for those who want to access them over the Internet. Via the Web interface, you then can restrict this access to certain folders via the router's admin log-in account. This is a rather simple yet effective way to quickly share content.
The router also allows users to stream digital content stored on the hard drive to DNLA-compliant network media players, such as the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. This feature automatically scans the attached external hard drive for digital content, making it available to devices within the network. The router can also automatically scan for new content when new files are added or repeatedly over a period time. We tried this out and it worked as intended.