Netgear’s WNR854T was faster than any other router in this roundup in our close-range tests, lost the least amount of potency while running WEP security, and came in second in our 40-foot test, bested by D-Link’s DIR-655. But Netgear’s entry was several times slower than D-Link’s in our 150-foot test. (See page 70 for benchmark details.)
The WNR854T also lacks the DIR-655’s ample provisions for manually tweaking quality-of-service settings. We also found it to be inflexible when it came to configuring its other wireless settings. Where D-Link lets you choose between running in 802.11b-, g-, or n-only modes; mixed 802.11b and -g modes; or mixed 802.11g and n modes, Netgear limits your choices to three speed ranges: “up to 54Mb/s,” “up to 145Mb/s,” and “up to 300Mb/s.” The router doesn’t explicitly state which 802.11 mode the router will actually be running in.
It won’t matter much to anyone with experience putting together a network—or to novices with typical DSL or cable-modem service, for that matter—but Netgear’s installation wizard was the only one of the five we reviewed that failed to successfully install the device. The wizard detected that we’d plugged the router into an upstream Gigabit switch and flat-out refused to proceed, forcing us to configure the router manually.
Netgear hides the router’s three dipole antennas inside its enclosure, which should make the box more appealing to fashionistas who don’t care for geek chic. We thought that these fixed antennas might explain the router’s relatively poor long-distance performance, but the Belkin N1 and Buffalo WZR2-G300N routers both have adjustable antennas, and they totally failed to communicate with our notebook PC at 150 feet.
If you have a large home or there are a lot of walls between your router and your target devices, you’ll need to augment your network with one or more wireless access points to cover your entire house. Unlike several of the other routers reviewed here, you can’t configure the WNR854T to act only as a wireless access point, and the street price for Netgear’s WN802T 802.11n dedicated wireless access point—which doesn’t have an integrated router—is $40 to $50 higher than that of the WNR854T.
Unlike Belkin, Netgear built a four-port Gigabit Ethernet switch into its draft N router—as we said before, you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of fast wired connections. If you connect a media server to an 802.11n router with only a Fast Ethernet connection, the hard-wired connection has the potential to run slower than the wireless connection. If you don’t value the greater speed, Netgear’s WNR834B is basically the same router, but with a 10/100Mb/s Ethernet switch. Its $115 street price is about $25 cheaper than that of the WNR854T.
We dig the WNR854T for its good looks, its Gigabit switch, and its screamin’ speed at close range. But if you need coverage over a wide area, D-Link’s DIR-655 is the better choice.
Super-speedy at close range. Gigabit switch. Shiny.
Speed drops at distance; unclear mode options. Less range than others.