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Linksys and NetGear expand their 802.11n line-up: Linksys has added two inexpensive 802.11n home routers for 2.4 GHz connections. The WRT160N at $100 has 10/100 Mbps Ethernet and no external antennas in a new form factor; the $130 WRT310N upgrades to gigabit Ethernet. They also introduced inexpensive dual-band add-on adapters: the WEC600N ($80) for ExpressCard slots, the WUSB600N ($80) for USB, and the WGA600N ($90), an adapter for gaming systems like the Xbox. This is a very nice price drop to add both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz 802.11n to older computers.
NetGear, meanwhile, has expanded its line to include the WNDR3300, a $130 dual-band, 8-antenna router with a 4-port 10/100 Mbps Ethernet switch, and the WNDR3500 ($160), which is 5 GHz only and has a 5-port gigabit Ethernet switch. A $230 kit comprises two 5 GHz 802.11n access point/bridges (WNHDE111, $130 by itself) as a paired set for gaming, streaming video in HD, or other bridging purposes. NetGear also offers up a dual-band USB adapter (WNDA3100, $100). PC Magazine noted there was no ExpressCard or PC Card adapter mentioned at the show.
SMC Networks introduces 2.4 GHz Certified Draft N router, USB 2.0 adapter: The $60 router includes gigabit Ethernet and Wi-Fi Protected Setup support. The $40 USB adapter looks nicely compact, too. Prices have now dropped to what 802.11g hit in about 2005.
InformationWeek reviews six Draft N routers: Performance is mixed, and only a few standouts, notably the Buffalo Wireless-N Nfiniti (WZRS2-G300N). The reviewer’s methodology is only sketchily disclosed. His review of the AirPort Extreme with 802.11n from Apple doesn’t conform with my testing, but it’s hard to tell what, precisely, he tested in terms of which adapters, which bands, and so forth; he lists distance and speeds. I also suspect he may have hit the LAN-to-WAN speed limitations which affects throughput in NAT-enabled mode. I was able to get 140 Mbps from Draft N to wired LAN on an AirPort Extreme; he didn’t see that speed at all. He also doesn’t mention whether wide (40 MHz) or regular (20 MHz) channels were enabled in 2.4 GHz. Apple restricts its router to 20 MHz only; other manufacturers offer more choice.
Linksys is trying to drop the bottom out of the 802.11n market with its new RangePlus products: The WRT100 router and WPC100 PC Card will hit $99 on the street. The router isn’t formally being called 802.11n, nor do they initially have Draft N certification for it, because it’s only got 100 Mbps Ethernet out the back. They’re positioning this as an inexpensive route to upgrade an 802.11g network on 2.4 GHz to 802.11n. The router and PC Card are shipping now; a PCI and USB adapter are to come later in the year.
The router includes Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS), an exciting move for those of us who want people to be able to enable security with the least fuss. WPS is an extended set of simple ways to secure a network that build on previous efforts in the industry that were company or chip vendor specific. The RangePlus router also comes with Linksys Easy Link Advisor, which I had a demo of recently, and was favorably impressed. The LELA avoids jargon, and tries to help a user make all the right choices in securing their router’s administration, naming their network, and setting security options. Troubleshooting tools graphically show where there’s a bad link in the router to Internet chain; icons on the router itself echo those.
Apple has released firmware for its AirPort Extreme with N base stations that bring it to certified Draft 2.0: A few days ago, I noticed that Apple’s N base station was listed as being a Wi-Fi Draft N certified product. Apple has now released the firmware that brought them that certification. The 7.2.1 release can be downloaded through the company’s AirPort Utility, which provides automatic updates to their firmware.
Most Wi-Fi routers look roughly the same as all others: There’s some different plastic molding, an occasional set of panel icons or LCD micro-displays with information, some styling. Belkin has introduced some different, and for a purpose: The N1 Vision. A router stands up with antennas popping out the top, and it has a large LCD display with information that you’d otherwise have to connect to the router to retrieve—if the router offered that information at all. The display has a four-direction toggle switch and an OK button to page through information that includes downstream and upstream data rates, connected users, and the date and time. At $200, it’s an expensive 2.4 GHz Draft N router, except that it includes a four-port gigabit Ethernet switch. It’s due out later this month.
Very positive review of the revised Draft N flagship from Linksys: The 350N is a single-band, 2.4 GHz, Draft N router with gigabit Ethernet and a USB jack for shared network storage. It runs just above $150.
D-Link updates its Draft N product line to Draft 2.0 of the specification: This is the first announced firmware release of many expected for the existing draft 802.11n or Draft N product lines from companies like Apple, Buffalo, Linksys, and many others. Draft 2.0 is currently being used as the basis of an interim certification for 802.11n by the Wi-Fi Alliance that should see certified products by June.
The $99 WZR2-G300N replaces the previous model: It’s a Draft N router with a four-port 10/100 Mbps Ethernet switch. Buffalo says the unit supports HD video streaming, but doesn’t mention precisely how it supports it—which equipment is needed from them or others. The router ships in May.
David Pogue reviews four 802.11n routers, and finds only Apple’s meets most of the promise, Belkin second: Pogue was unable to achieve the highest speeds promised by these routers, except with the Apple AirPort Extreme. That may be because all these early routers are single band (2.4 GHz) except Apple’s. They may also all be much more susceptible to interface or back-off from adjacent networks, although Pogue isolated a lot of variables. As other reviewers have found, range is much better than bandwidth, but Pogue wasn’t able to get more than 49 Mbps from any device but Apple’s. I have only thoroughly tested Apple’s router, and achieved 70 to 80 Mbps in unoccupied 2.4 GHz channels.
Pogue had kind words for Belkin’s Draft N gateway, due to its superb installation instructions and labeling and its clear troubleshooting icons that are built into the front of the gateway. If there’s a problem, an icon representing the part of the network that’s faulty flashes an amber outline; network components that are okay are outlined in blue.
His conclusion? “If you’re in the market for new wireless gear and can’t wait a few more months for the “n” committee to finish the spec, buy the polished, upgradeable gear from Apple or Belkin.” I’m not waiting for the spec to be finished, but rather anticipating a wave of firmware upgrades that should improve performance in the 2.4 GHz band based on the latest draft from the 802.11n committee. (Pogue says that Linksys didn’t promise to him that the device he tested can be upgraded; the other three manufacturers did.)
While the draft was approved in March, it may be weeks yet before firmware appears for shipping devices that accounts for changes, especially in how 802.11n and previous 802.11 specs work together on the same network and in adjacent networks. The Wi-Fi Alliance will also announced certified devices sometime this quarter for Draft N, which would mean new firmware as a result of “plugfests” and other lab testing to achieve that seal of interoperability.
Read my coverage of the new Apple AirPort Extreme at TidBITS: I wrote a longish, technical piece at TidBITS, a weekly Macintosh journal at which I am a contributing editor. The AirPort Extreme’s 2007 edition is priced slightly higher than competing 802.11n gateways, but it includes network-attached storage via USB and multiple printer sharing via USB, features found only on certain devices. It’s worth a look for Apple and non-Apple Wi-Fi users alike.
Selling an 802.11n router without gigabit Ethernet is like delivering a five-inch pizza in a 20-inch box: Most early Draft N equipment uses 10/100 Mbps Ethernet, which can deliver something like 80 Mbps of net throughput over its 100 Mbps flavor. 802.11n will easily peak over 100 Mbps in its cheapest, default mode—although it may run much slower on average based on other networks operating in the vicinity. The most expensive 802.11n devices may deliver well over 300 Mbps of throughput in peak mode, and possibly as high as 450 Mbps if all the stars are aligned.
That’s why it’s great to see companies finally shipping Draft N gear with GigE built in. Most desktop computers beyond the very basic consumer models have gigabit networking, and all professional laptops do, too. Switches cost a few dollars a port for consumer and SOHO models.
Now I’m opposed to current Draft 1.0-based devices because manufacturers are not guaranteeing a no-cost hardware upgrade if their gear can’t be upgraded. However, it’s still a good trend to see the GigE coming out.
NetGear had the first gigabit Ethernet Draft N device out in April, which listed for about $250, but now runs for $140 at Amazon.com. Broadcom announced today they’ve added GigE to their Intensi-fi Draft N platform. Buffalo and Linksys are using the technology: Buffalo in its upcoming WZR-G300N; Linksys in its Wireless-N Gigabit Router ($180 from Amazon, but not yet released).
Belkin conservatively won’t ship gear until June 15: I say, bravo! They’re waiting until the IEEE 802.11n standard has gelled to a state they are comfortable giving to consumers. Since their competitors shipping gear already won’t commit to a full hardware replacement for full final 802.11n compatibility, Belkin has the moral high ground. They’re offering a router ($150), PCI card ($120), and PC Card ($100).
Added to the flurry of N-like news, Buffalo is shipping its fastest gateways: Buffalo’s gear uses 3rd-generation Airgo chips which are ostensibly not directly upgradable to 802.11n compatibility, although they may offer some interoperability that will boost them above 802.11g speeds when used with 802.11n gear. Airgo plans a 4th generation chipset for 802.11n compliance.
The gateway has an estimated street price of $150 and the notebook adapter, $100. The gateway uses a 10/100 Mbps switch, which will underperform the 100 Mbps-plus throughput that Airgo’s chips have been shown to be capable of on the wireless side.
NetGear announced this morning it has product moving to retail channels with draft 802.11n chips: The NetGear RangeMax Next product line is shipping to retailers, and available soon. NetGear gets bragging rights (as Belkin did with Pre-N) for the first products to market with draft 802.11n built in. The draft standard (see previous item) may require firmware changes or more drastic changes depending on whom you ask.
NetGear claims up to 300 Mbps performance with their line of products, which should mean 150 Mbps to 200 Mpbs of actual throughput. They’ll offer both gigabit switched and 10/100 Mbps switched gateways and CardBus cards. They also have an DSL modem, PCI Card, and plain access point. These products use chipsets from Marvell.
The gigabit kit (card and gateway) lists for $349, staggering, but the only option for that kind of wireless performance; the gateway and CardBus adapter are $249 and $129 separately. The 10/100 Mbps switched gateway lists for $179, the DSL device is $249, the regular CardBus adapter is $129 (oddly priced identically with the gigabit card), the PCI Card is $129, and the access point $249.
Tim Higgins posted a long review of NetGear’s RangeMax 240 which uses Airgo’s 3rd generation MIMO chips: He found that despite the promise by Airgo for this chipset to back off from using the equivalent of two Wi-Fi channels (40 MHz) when it detected other Wi-Fi networks on active channels nearby, current firmware fails at this task. He has the charts and graphs to show it. He also notes that Airgo and NetGear are aware of this problem.
He did find that the devices can deliver over 100 Mbps of real throughput, which is a first for any Wi-Fi-like device, and more significant still in a consumer-level product. (The NetGear has just 10/100 Ethernet switching, so it can’t deliver more than about 94 Mbps in Tim’s testing to a single port.)
If there are any other 802.11b/g networks in the vicinity, it makes no sense to install this generation of Airgo-based equipment until firmware problems are resolved. eWeek reached the same conclusion (less exhaustively but just as completely) two weeks ago.
Even when they are resolved, the Adaptive Channel Expansion (ACE) algorithm is somewhat different than what I heard from Airgo in Sept. 2005. Tim writes, “I should also note that Airgo told me that when it is working, it will take 5 to 10 minutes (!) to tune away from a neighboring WLAN that is detected after the RM240 completes its initial power-up sequence—if the RM240 sees “lots of continuous traffic” in the neighbor.”
In Sept., Airgo’s director of product marketing, Dave Borison, said that ACE didn’t create negative effects on neighborhing channels, and that it performs a frame-by-frame check on adjacent channels—but apparently, this just applies to b/g clients on the Airgo-based device’s network. Clearly, the current firmware in Tim Higgins testing doesn’t live up to that promise yet for adjacent networks.
SMC is using Ralink’s chipsets for its new MIMO gear: The set of equipment includes a gateway, a PC Card, and a PCI Card for $140, $60, and $60, respectively. More devices in the line are due next year. The technology isn’t described in depth in this press release, but it appears to be promising better range and throughput but not increased throughput.
NetGear may have announced MIMO devices based on Airgo’s latest chip, but Linksys is shipping: Linksys brings its SRX400 gateway and PC Card to the market today through its online store; retailers will see products shortly. The devices are based on Airgo’s third-generation chipset, which offers raw speeds of up to 240 Mbps among devices using that silicon by dynamically using expanding to use 40 MHz or the equivalent of two channels on a packet-by-packet basis that avoids stepping on other transmissions in the same area. With 40 MHz and two spatially multiplexed channels, they can quadruple raw 802.11g speeds without losing compatibility.
The gateway’s retail price is $150; the PC Card, $100.
NetGear is the first to announce shipping dates for routers, cards based on Airgo’s 240 Mbps third-generation MIMO chips: The NetGear product line, called RangeMax 240, will start shipping “this holiday season” with the router and PC Card for retail prices of $199 and $129. The USB 2.0 adapter will ship next year for a price not mentioned.
The third-generation Airgo chips avoid colliding with other Wi-Fi networks by examining radio frequency usage dynamically. They can use multiple data streams as the frequency space is available rather than just dropping to a lower speed for a few minutes and testing whether the coast is clear. This improves overall throughput even in Wi-Fi-filled environments.
The net throughput should exceed 100 Mbps Ethernet speeds when all RangeMax 240 gear is used. The devices are backwards compatible with previous generation Airgo chips and with 802.11b and 802.11g devices.
Mobile Pipeline loves Belkin’s G+MIMO gear: The newer, cheaper MIMO hardware from Belkin—based on Airgo’s second-generation MIMO chips—scores high in the analysis of this reviewer. Belkin downplayed this device in comparison with its so-called Pre-N (first-generation Airgo-based) equipment, but the reviewer finds that it performs as well or better. He recommends buying the $100 router but holding off on the PC Card to get enough of an advantage.
Linksys announced today it was shipping its version of this router, the WRT54GX2, with a street price of about $100.
Belkin’s second-generation MIMO product gets rave for price, performance from PC World: The new Belkin Wireless G Plus (no longer Pre-N, thank you very much) gateway and PC Card perform nearly as well as the previous devices with a lower price tag: $100 versus $150 for the gateway; $80 versus $100 for the PC Card.
PC World applied its usual extensive testing to six consumer MIMO routers (True, beamforming, and multi-antenna varieties): They put Linksys’s WRT54GX at the top of the list despite its higher price than other multiple-antenna gateways due to its steady short and long range performance and ease of setup. Belkin’s early entry in the market was noted as a best buy, but PC World noted its short-range performance is undistinguished.
NetGear’s RangeMax had the best short-range performance, with PC World measuring 31 Mbps, but thought its long-distance speeds mediocre. They also found that they couldn’t disable channel bonding when nearby networks were operating, but NetGear says they’ve fixed this problem. (Side note: I found that RangeMax topped out at about 30 Mbps in my testing, too, for a Mobile Pipeline article. NetGear says they can reach 40 Mbps of real throughput, so I’m happy to see PC World confirm my experience.)