by Cable Guy
06/25/2012 | 07:23 AM
As opposed to the previous generation of wireless equipment, the support of 802.11n per se doesn’t mean much anymore. Today’s wireless product can work in one frequency band (2.4 GHz) or both at once (2.4 and 5 GHz). Its peak bandwidth can be 150 or 300 or 450 Mbps. While the slowest variant with 2.4 GHz support is reserved for entry-level products, a modern top-end router has to work in both frequency bands and to have as many as three antennas for 3T3R mode. That’s what the latest 802.11n solution from Netgear is like. In our earlier review of the company’s WNDR3800 we talked about significant changes in its integrated software, and the new WNDR4500 has something interesting to offer in this respect, too.
The manufacturer has tried to introduce some color coding into its product nomenclature. Red was the color of the WNDR3800 while the WNDR4500 makes use of deep blue because it is positioned as an Ultimate Performance rather than just High Performance product. Considering that products with the next-generation wireless standard 802.11ac have already been announced, we just wonder what words will be found to describe their positioning.
The box is designed just like any other, with photos of the device, key product features and specifications on its sides. We don’t find any extra accessories inside (although a compact wireless adapter would come in handy). Besides the router, the box contains a power adapter with cord, a Gigabit Ethernet cable, an installation guide, a printed GNU license, and some promo materials.
The power adapter is huge. Its output power is as high as 60 watts, comparable to notebook power adapters. It’s hard to imagine what a router might need so much power for. There’s no CD with software inside the box but indeed it’s easier to download the latest versions of software and documentation right from the internet. You even have to do that with the WNDR4500 if you need some of the ReadySHARE features.
If you take a look at product photos available on the Web, the router won’t seem much different from its predecessors. Indeed, the WNDR4500 has retained all the key features of the 3000 series but has become larger. With the integrated stand for upright positioning, its dimensions are 8.1 x 17.3 x 26 centimeters. Without the stand, the case is about 3.5 centimeters thick. Like earlier routers from Netgear, this one has built-in antennas and looks quite well despite its large size. It’s rather odd that the stand cannot be detached to install the router horizontally on a desk or wall-mount it. The only reason we can think of is that the manufacturer wants to ensure proper ventilation. There are vent grids in the top and bottom panels of the case for that.
The case is made of dark and glossy plastic. There is an additional translucent plate on the bottom that transforms into the stand. The back panel is the single matte surface here.
Here are the indicators and buttons available on the front panel (from top to bottom): WPS button and indicator, Wi-Fi On/Off switch, indicators of status, internet connection, Wi-Fi, wired ports and two USB ports. Interestingly, the indicators are multicolored and highlight the logotypes on the translucent part of the stand. They do not blink much in consistency with the restrained style of the device in general. On the back panel we can see two USB 2.0 ports with provocatively blue-colored connectors, four Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports, a Gigabit Ethernet WAN port, a reset button, a power connector and a power switch.
Like its predecessors, the WNDR4500 has individual factory settings for the default names and passwords of its wireless networks to prevent inexperienced users from deploying an insecure WLAN. You can read this information on the stickers around the router’s case. If you lose the stickers, you can just reset the router to its factory defaults and run the integrated initial setup wizard.
So, the only problem about the exterior design of the WNDR4500 is that you may find it difficult to keep its glossy surfaces clean. Besides, it can only be installed upright, which may be inconvenient for some users.
It was easy to open the case but hard to check out the hardware configuration visually because almost all of the chips are covered with aluminum heatsinks which are soldered to the PCB. So, we had to resort to software-based methods of identification. There’s a console among the unlabeled connectors on the PCB but it’s easier to access the router via the well-known telnetenable utility which works on the WNDR4500 as well.
So, the router is based on a Broadcom chipset. The main processor BCM4706 has a clock rate of 600 MHz. It is accompanied with 128 megabytes of both system and flash memory. A USB controller is integrated into the processor, providing two USB ports. The Gigabit Ethernet switch is Broadcom’s BCM53115. The router doesn’t support Jumbo Frames but, hopefully, this deficiency will be corrected with firmware updates. The wireless interfaces are implemented by means of two BCM4331 chips, one for each frequency band. Each chip supports the fastest operating mode possible – 3T3R (450 Mbps).
Although the WNDR4500 is larger than its predecessors, the compact antennas are detachable. There are three antennas for each frequency band. The 5GHz ones are at the top of the case and the 2.4GHz antennas are placed apart from each other.
Like its predecessor, the WNDR4500 comes with Netgear Genie firmware. The interface is available in two versions: Basic and Advanced. The router’s extra features can be accessed in the latter mode, but the Basic one is quite sufficient for setting up an internet connection and deploying a wireless network. Localized into over 20 languages, the interface offers an integrated help system with search feature and provides links to the WNDR4500-related pages of the manufacturer’s website. The interface is password-protected but the router can be managed via the internet (you can choose the port to use and limit the range of permitted IP addresses).
The home page of the Basic version of the interface shows you the current status of the device: internet and Wi-Fi connection status, connected peripherals, status of features like parental control, ReadySHARE and guest wireless network. Each of the six items links to the related setup page.
The first page of the Advanced mode offers you more information about the router such as its firmware version, MAC and IP addresses of its network interfaces, and Wi-Fi status. There is a button to reboot the device remotely and detailed network statistics. Quick router setup and WPS setup wizards are available.
The WNDR4500 can connect to the internet using a static or dynamic IP address or any of the three popular technologies: PPPoE, PPTP and L2TP. When setting up your internet connection, you specify a lot of options including the MAC address of the router’s WAN port and choose a connection mode (always on, by demand or manual). If you’ve selected the manual mode, you have to enter the router’s setup interface and press an appropriate button any time you want to enable your internet connection. The router doesn’t disconnect from the ISP’s LAN after connecting to the internet. The additional options include an integrated DyncDNS client, RIP support, user-defined routes, IGMP Proxy, and MTU size. Multiple IPv6 connection methods are supported as well. They may come in handy in the near future.
The WNDR4500 can keep track of your web traffic over the last 2 days, week, month or over the previous month. That’s not a very necessary feature in our time of flat-rate tariffs, but if you’ve got a charge tariff, you can make the router warn you with an indicator about your nearing the limit on your free monthly traffic.
The wireless modules work independently and concurrently in both frequency bands, so you can deploy two networks and assign client devices to a specific frequency band. For example, you can set the 2.4GHz module up for your smartphones and notebooks and leave the 5GHz band for your media player. While setting up a wireless network, you can specify its name, channel number (if Auto, the router tries to select the most efficient channel), maximum speed (this setting selects g/n or a/n standards and also enables dual-band mode), and security options. Your wireless network can be open or secured with WEP or WPA/WPA2-PSK. WEP is only available for 802.11a and g. Additionally, you can hide the network name, enable isolation of wireless clients (so that they could not communicate with each other), define a schedule for the Wi-Fi network to work by, impose MAC filters for client devices, set up the WPS feature or disable the radio modules altogether. The router can be used on WDS networks but its low security level and significant performance hit make it less appropriate for them. When used as a wireless access point, many of the router’s features become unavailable.
Besides the two main networks, you can deploy two guest ones (one in each frequency band) which differ in names and security settings. By default, guest network users can only access the internet, but you can allow them to access other guests and your local network if necessary.
An integrated DHCP server is responsible for setting up local clients automatically. You can choose a range of IP addresses and specify fixed MAC-IP pairs for it. This information is entered manually. The list of connected devices can be viewed on a separate interface page, and it shows all systems, not only those that have been assigned IP addresses by the router.
Port translation provides access to services on client devices. Each rule contains an internal client address, a range of internal and external ports, and protocol. DMZ and UPnP can also be used. You can view the connected UPnP devices for diagnostic purposes.
Like its predecessor, the WNDR4500 offers traffic management technologies: WMM for the wireless and QoS for the wired connection. One of four priority levels can be selected for each traffic type which is defined by application (port number), LAN port or MAC address. In this implementation, the traffic management feature is hardly practical, especially on a high-speed internet channel.
The router’s security features include a keyword filter for URLs (one local IP can be excluded from this filtering) and the restriction of access to certain services (by specifying a protocol, a range of ports of the remote system, and an address or a range of local addresses). Both lists can be enabled by a schedule in which you specify days of the week and a single time interval. The router’s clock is set up automatically by syncing with the internet. You only have to correctly choose the time zone.
The latest models of Netgear routers feature integrated OpenDNS support to implement parental control. It is a rather easy-to-configure but efficient means of blocking unwanted content on all client devices connected to the local network. It doesn’t require client software and will work even on smartphones and tablet PCs. You need to create a free account on a special website to define extra settings for this service (security level, schedule, authorization for specific clients using a client utility).
The WNDR4500 keeps a log file in text format and you can choose what types of events should be logged such as DHCP, Wi-Fi connection, UPnP, port translation, filtering and blocking reports. The log can be sent via email by a schedule or when filled up. There is only one recipient address. You can specify a login and password for the SMTP server.
All standard housekeeping features are present as well: admin password, configuration management, firmware updates. You can update the firmware via the internet without downloading it to a local PC. There’s an interesting method of restoring the admin password: using questions and answers. Considering that most users do not pay much attention to setting their router up, this can be helpful for forgetful people.
USB is a sign of a top-end router. The WNDR4500 has two USB 2.0 ports and supports USB hubs. The router’s high-wattage power supply ensures better compatibility with external hard disk drives. Several disk and printer usage scenarios are available via the ReadySHARE service.
External hard disk drives may have one or several partitions. The router supports the following file systems, both for reading and writing: FAT32, NTFS, EXT2, EXT3 and HFS+.
An external disk can be safely disconnected via the router’s web-interface. Files stored on it can be accessed via the Windows network environment or FTP. You can also download files via HTTP using your web-browser. Access from the internet can be allowed for FTP and HTTP for easy sharing of files with other users. The settings include device’s network name, workgroup name, and ports for external access. There are few access control settings. You can choose the following for each folder: read & write for all; read for all / write for the admin; read & write for the admin only. The following diagram shows the data-transfer speed when accessing a USB disk connected to the router via network.
You can achieve a speed of 10-12 MB/s in a Windows network environment. With FTP, the speed is higher at 13 MB/s for reading and 18 MB/s for writing. EXT2 and EXT3 are the most efficient file systems, which can be expected with network equipment of this type. Overall, the data-transfer speed isn’t very high, making this feature less convenient for moving large amounts of data.
Oddly enough, this top-end router doesn’t support Mac OS and its backup utility Time Machine, although the more affordable models offer such support. The ReadySHARE Cloud service is only available on the WNDR3800, too. When it comes to multimedia, the WNDR4500 can work as a DLNA server and broadcast multimedia files over network. It supports files in jpg, mp3, aac, wma, flac, wav, avi, mp4, mkv, wmv, m2ts and some other formats. The DLNA server works for all connected disks. You can’t make it work with particular partitions only.
A USB printer connected to the router can be accessed via the USB Control Center tool which is available in versions for Windows and Mac OS. It allows using not just printers but also all-in-ones, monitor the level of ink and use the scanning feature. Printing from mobile devices is supported via the Netgear Genie utility which will be described in the next section.
The new firmware can work with an external setup and monitoring tool called Netgear Genie which is available for Windows and Mac OS as well as for mobile gadgets with Android and iOS. Netgear Genie can help you change some router settings and identify peripherals connected to it. This utility is undoubtedly easier to use than the web interface.
However, its current version lacks in functionality as it doesn’t allow to manage the 5GHz Wi-Fi band. On the other hand, it can establish an AirPrint-compatible printer out of the ones connected to your PC, so you can print from iOS devices. Unfortunately, this cannot be done on the router only.
Netgear Genie is handier when it comes to mobile gadgets because working with the router’s web-interface on a smartphone isn’t easy. It can help you quickly enable a guest Wi-Fi network and set up parental control. The utility also offers server, player and DLNA controller functionality, so you can view files from an external disk connected to the router on your mobile device and enable some other scenarios. For example, you can use your smartphone to control the playback of files on a compatible player on the network. In some ways, Netgear Genie implements the same features as Apple’s AirPlay. It can work in heterogeneous environments with mobile devices that run different operating systems.
We measured the speed of routing using the iperf utility. The client machines were running Windows 7 64-bit. The router’s firmware was version 184.108.40.206. The data-transfer speed was measured on a client machine connected to the router’s LAN.
The speed of the direct connection is as high as 600 Mbps, which is higher compared to the previous router from Netgear. Of course, you can only enjoy this speed on a Gigabit internet connection. The PPPoE connection can be as fast as 500 Mbps, which is an excellent result, too. PPTP is somewhat slower while L2TP is much slower, especially when receiving data. This must be some firmware error because the WNDR3800 used to deliver over 100 MB/s in this test. Overall, the WNDR4500 is a high-performance router and calls for a high-speed internet channel to show its best. If connected to a 100 Mbps channel, the router’s resources can be allotted to the USB disk related applications, though.
The WNDR4500 features the fastest Wi-Fi 802.11n controllers available at the moment (at least among what’s actually available on the market), but 802.11ac is already coming up.
So, the WNDR4500 can offer two access points, one in each frequency band, in 3T3R mode at the maximum speed of 450 Mbps. We tested the router at its maximum settings: 450 Mbps, WPA2-PSK, short preamble. The router being able to use two frequency channels in the 2.4GHz band, we can expect it to deliver high performance. The 5GHz band is used less, so it can be reserved for bandwidth-sensitive applications such as HD video streaming. We used USB-adapters ASUS USB-N13 (Ralink, 2T2R, 300 Mbps), Netgear WNA3100 (Broadcom, 2T2R, 300 Mbps), dual-band D-Link DWA-160 (revision A2, Atheros, 2T2R, 300 Mbps), and a dual-band bridge Trendnet TEW-680MB (Ralink, 3T3R, 450 Mbps). The tested devices were placed at a distance of 5 meters from each other. The router was positioned upright on its stand.
The numbers suggest that the WNDR4500 doesn't like the ASUS adapter, showing a low speed with it. But the rest of the devices live up to our expectations. The 300 Mbps devices can offer a data-transfer rate of 70-110 Mbps while the 450Mbps one can give you 130-180 Mbps. The 5GHz band proves to be somewhat faster, obviously due to the lack of interference from other wireless networks. The numbers are indicative of the benefits of 3T3R mode in wireless routers and adapters. It’s a shame that Wi-Fi adapters in notebooks are but seldom equipped with three antennas.
The Netgear WNDR4500 is the company’s top-of-the-line router (unless we count in the recently announced equipment with 802.11ac support). It looks good with its large and pretty case with in-built antennas, handy indication system, two USB ports, dedicated Wi-Fi On/Off and WPS buttons. Unfortunately, there is no flexibility in positioning this router.
The hardware platform is advanced, delivering high performance in routing tests. The wireless modules are up to the mark, too. There are not so many routers with two 450 Mbps frequency bands available on the market, usually just a single model in each maker’s product range. Of course, they can only show their best with appropriate client adapters, but the speed is high even with 300Mbps clients.
The new revision of the Netgear Genie firmware has become easier to use and more modern, but we don’t understand why it lacks some features that used to be available in the previous version.
As for the USB interface, the WNDR4500 supports all-in-ones and scanning. The data-transfer speed is rather low with external disks while the access control system is too limited.
Thus, the Netgear WNDR4500 is going to be interesting for people who need high routing speed and maximum 802.11n performance.