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Draft 2.0 products are starting to flow: SMC is shipping three new 802.11n devices with Draft 2.0 support, the most recent agreed-upon set of principles on which next-generation Wi-Fi is being built The SMC Barricade N Wireless 4-port Gigabit Broadband Router is $175 (list) includes WPS and a stateful packet inspection firewall. It also supports printer sharing via a USB 2.0 port. SMB also released an access point, the EZ Connect N Draft 802.11n Wireless Access Point/Ethernet Client—naming consultant, stat!—which can be used to extend a network without needing all the routing functions, or can act as a client adapter for Ethernet-only equipment or devices with older Wi-Fi standards embedded. It’s $115. Finally, their USB 2.0 adapter ($63) brings Draft 2.0 to any Windows system with a USB port.
Apple slips in 1000 Mbps Ethernet in its Wi-Fi router: Apple quietly upgraded its Draft N-based AirPort Extreme Base Station to full gigabit Ethernet support across its three LAN and one WAN ports last week. I’ve had a chance to test the new unit, and while I can’t post results (a print magazine has dibs), let me just say that the new benchmarks are far better than the old ones.
The first release of Apple’s Draft N base station was rather marvelous for its inclusion of a USB port to share multiple printers and hard drives; the company’s decision to have both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz radios inside; and the fact that Macs had been shipping with 802.11n inside, requiring just an enabler, released with the base station, to upgrade their performance. My primary complaint, however, was the mismatch between the company’s widespread inclusion of GigE in most of its models long before the competition. With the drop in cost in GigE switches, it seemed odd for Apple to release a unit that was designed for homes and small offices that would underperform a $35 Ethernet switch.
I also suspected that the overall performance of the 802.11n draft that Apple is using was constricted due to internal Ethernet limits. In my testing for a review in Macworld, I was able to top 90 Mbps in Wi-Fi to Ethernet and Wi-Fi to Wi-Fi transfers. But Ethernet-to-Ethernet data was limited to just over 90 Mbps as well. Apple says that their new gigabit Ethernet base station is up to 50 percent faster for wireless-to-wired links, which would put it closer to 150 Mbps, a speed achieved on other GigE-based Draft N routers. My testing shows that these numbers are accurate.
When testing the base station in February, I discovered that with NAT enabled to share access from an incoming WAN link, performance was restricted to about 30 Mbps from wireles LAN to LAN and 60 Mbps from wired LAN to WAN. Apple confirmed this was a bug that was due to performance issues in their NAT stack. Apple wasn’t able to tell me if this limitation has been fixed, but in testing, I found it much improved.
(This bug emerges in only two edge cases: Where a broadband connection exceeds 30 Mbps, which is true for some fiber and cable customers; or where a corporate or office LAN isn’t supplying addresses to the computers connected via the AirPort Extreme. If NAT is turned off, the AirPort gateway has no performance limitations.)
The price for the AirPort Extreme Base Station with Draft N remains $179.
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.
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).