Review: Netgear RangeMax Dual Band Wireless-N Router WNDR3300
July 31, 2008
This affordable dual-band 802.11n router is almost the best of both worlds.
Pros: Inexpensive; supports 802.11 g and n devices on separate wireless networks; 5 GHz support minimizes interference
Cons: Doesnt support 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz n simultaneously; no Gigabit Ethernet; performance drops sharply at distance
When you find that some of your wireless devices require more bandwidth than an 802.11g-based network can provide, the first step to a remedy can be replacing your wireless router with one that supports 802.11n. This isnt the last step, however, because unless you also upgrade all of your wireless devices to support 802.11n, youll need to accommodate them by configuring your n network in compatibility mode, which will limit any performance and capacity gains.
Netgears RangeMax Dual Band Wireless-N Router WNDR3300 offers an alternative because it can run two wireless networks simultaneously. In addition to a standard 2.4 GHz 802.11g network, the WNDR3300 will also let you run an additional Wireless-N (draft standard, of course) network in the 5 GHz band. Because the latter network operates at 5 GHz, its not subject to the interference from common household devices (e.g. your microwave), and less susceptible to overlap from other 5 GHz networks nearby, since there are more channels to choose from.
The $110 WNDR3300 forgoes the vertical design used by most of Netgears latest products in favor of the companys older domed horizontal-slab style chassis (a vertical stand is included, however). The WNDR3300s four LAN ports only support 10/100 Ethernet, not the Gigabit variety thats becoming increasingly common (and is found on most of Netgears other Wireless-N routers). On the front panel, there is a familiar array of status lights, except with separate indicators for the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz wireless networks.
The WNDR3300 comes with a Windows utility that will walk you through major configuration tasks, but we fired up our WNDR3300 and proceeded directly to the browser-based setup. Our initial attempts to update the WNDR3300s firmware were met by invalid filename errors, a problem Netgear attributes to the recently-released Firefox 3 browser we were using. As a workaround, the company recommends firmware updates be performed via Internet Explorer or an earlier version of Firefox, which we were able to do successfully. (Aside from this problem, we didnt have any other issues using Firefox 3 to administer the WNDR3300.)
Out of the box, the WNDR3300 networks are configured as described above, which allows it to accept connections from pretty much any type of Wi-Fi adapter802.11g or b on the 2.4 GHz side, and 802.11a or n on the 5GHz side. That is, any adapter except for a 2.4 GHz n adapter, which happens to be the most common type of n adapter, since 5GHz support isnt required by the n standard. Therefore, in its default configuration, connecting to the WNDR3300 with an n adapter requires a dual-band device capable of both 2.4 or 5GHz operation. (We used Netgears own WNDA3100 dual-band USB-based adapter.)
To connect 2.4 GHz n adapters to the WNDR3300, you must run the router in its alternate configuration, which provides a 2.4 GHz n, network but eliminates the 5 GHz network entirely. This essentially makes the WNDR3300 act as a standard n router, which requires comingling of any older b/g devices.
In all, there are four possible wireless configurations, because in addition to the two main modes of operation outlined above, the WNDR3300 lets you run the N network using standard 20 MHz channels or double-wide 40 MHz channels. The latter option, which is the default, gives you better performance potential at the cost of fewer available non-overlapping channels.
When configured for two networks, the WNDR3300 doesnt allow each to be configured autonomously. You cant, for example, disable SSID broadcast or turn off one network or the other. Both networks must also use the same form of wireless security (WPA-PSK with TKIP encryption, WPA2-PSK with AES encryption, or a combination of the two are supported) and the same encryption passphrase. The WNDR3300s dome doubles as a WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) activation button, which lets you securely connect WPS-compatible adapters via pushbutton or PIN code. We didnt have any difficulty using either method to connect devices to the WNDR3300.
Although we didnt try this feature, the WNDR3300 includes a wireless repeater mode (firmware version 1.0.23 or later) to extend range by rebroadcasting the signal of another wireless access point.
We tested the WNDR3300s 5 GHz network performance using an HP notebook running Windows Vista Business and using the aforementioned WNDA3100 adapter installed. (We kept the WNDR3300 at its default configuration, save for enabling WPA2 security.) At relatively close rangea 20-foot distance with a wall in betweenwe got 60.9 Mbps as measured by jPerf, while moving to a distance of 50 feet with multiple walls and closed doors in between cut the performance almost in half to 35.7 Mbps. By comparison, a pair of Netgears WNHDE111 5 GHz bridges that we recently tested fared much better under the same scenario, managing 80.2 and 75.9, respectively.
The WNDR3300 supports WMM (Wi-Fi Multimedia) for prioritizing the wireless connection to favor streaming traffic over less sensitive data (for WMM-compatible clients), and it also includes configurable QoS (Quality of Service) for the upstream Internet connection so that the applications that need it most get top billing.
The WNDR3300 does necessitate some compromises, most notably in its inability to run 802.11n networks in both the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands concurrently. This wont be a big deal for some, but it can potentially limit flexibility down the road, as you wont be able to use future 2.4 GHz n devices in their native mode without losing the ability to use 5 GHz ones. Given the WNDR3300s low $110 MSRP (available for around $100 online) that might be a reasonable compromise for anyone who wants to take immediate advantage of 802.11n networking for some of their devices without having to upgrade all of them.
- For more router reviews, click here.
- For more by Joseph Moran, read "How to: Measure your Broadband Consumption," "Wi-FiPlanet Gift Guide, Class of 2008," and "Get Fast, Free Smartphone Phone Internet Access with Wi-Fi."
Joseph Moran is a regular contributor to Wi-FiPlanet.