Editor's note: In light of the recent adoption of draft 2.0 of the 802.11n spec, we began retesting the draft 11n routers from earlier this year. Although speed improvements were not a big part of draft 2.0, we've decided to report our new numbers as they become available. Down the line, we'll be testing compatibility between vendors and publishing those findings as well. The Netgear RangeMax Next router posted the following scores in our latest tests: max throughput at 10 feet, 67.76Mbps; max throughput at 200 feet, 27.79Mbps; and max throughput in a mixed environment, 60.20Mbps.
The Netgear WNR834B RangeMax router sets new standards on the inside and out. The router is based on Draft N, the first official draft of the much-hyped 802.11n specification, which touts significantly faster performance, longer range, and backward compatibility with 802.11b/g. The device also breaks with the growing trend to include big, external antennas by placing all of its antennas inside the case. The $179 router turned in mixed results in CNET Labs' tests, with the WNR834B earning good maximum throughput and decent speed at long range, yet with slow performance in mixed-mode environments. These results reinforce what we and others have seen: that it's too soon to invest in 802.11n. So, sit tight before you buy a pricey Draft N router; our upcoming reviews of other new Draft N routers will reveal whether any of these alternates may be worth buying instead.
Can't wait for a next-gen router? Then you're better off with Netgear's much faster WPNT834. (Bear in mind, though, that any products that use MIMO but came before the Draft N spec are based on proprietary technology, so in order to get the most out of the Netgear RangeMax 240 router, for example, you'll need to pair it with the Netgear RangeMax 240 adapter.)
In a departure from Draft N routers such as the Linksys WRT300N, which features a particularly big external antenna between two smaller ones, the Netgear WNR834B hides all three of its antennas within its case. The company settled on this design to give the router a cleaner look and to help prevent users from breaking the antennas. True, the effect is sleek, but the design also means that you can't adjust the antennas' position for better signal strength.
Aside from the unorthodox antenna placement, the WNR834B includes the typical power port, four LAN jacks, one WAN jack, and a pinhole reset button on its back edge, with corresponding status lights for the power and LAN/WAN jacks on its front edge. A final status light indicates when the router is communicating with a wireless client. The device has built-in feet that enable you to stand it up on its short edge, but the absence of mounting brackets prevents hanging it on a wall where it may encounter fewer wireless signals from other devices.
Netgear bundles professionally presented documentation and a well-organized setup procedure with the WNR834B. The well-labeled CD instructs you to "Start here." After loading the disc into your computer's drive, you encounter a link to the electronic setup manual. From there, you have two options for installing the router: use the intuitive setup wizard, which will be a help to those who are new to networking, or configure it manually by connecting directly to the router's Web-based tool. Netgear makes the latter method simple by enabling you to type in the easier-to-remember www.routerlogin.net, though you can still use the device's IP address (192.168.1.1) should you choose. Once you're up and running, you may continue to use the Web tool to manipulate the router's state-of-the-art security settings, which include WPA2 support, a dual firewall via NAT and SPI, MAC address authentication, and a DMZ pass-through.