Netgear has announced a lineup of broadband routers and adapters designed primarily to facilitate high-def multimedia streaming and the ever-problematic issue of setup for nontechnical customers. Drawing on the latest Wi-Fi and HomePlug AV powerline technologies, these products exemplify the home networking industry's efforts to woo home users rather than their tradition business clientele.
For example, the Netgear N750 Wireless Dual Band Gigabit Router (WNDR4000) -- the company's new top-of-the-line Wi-Fi offering -- promises theoretical throughput of 450 megabits per second, the highest yet for a Wi-Fi router (although other firms are also announcing 450 mbps routers). The N750 surpasses the also-announced N600 Wireless Dual Band Gigabit Router Premium Edition (WNDR3800), which tops out at a theoretical maximum of 300 mbps.
But the WNDR3800 is itself a refresh of the company's previous dual-band champ, the WNDR3700. The difference? The WNDR3800 boasts a few new consumer-focused features such as technology for streaming media remotely from an attached USB drive, all-in one printer support, and a new "Genie" interface intended to help nontechnical users (all available in the WNDR4000 as well). These dual-band routers all support simultaneous 2.4ghz and 5ghz 802.11n networks: The former will work with legacy 802.11b/g/n devices -- in other words, most notebooks older than a year or two as well as most Wi-Fi enabled handhelds.
The 5ghz network, however, can be highly useful in crowded environments since it has more non-overlapping channels and therefore is less subject to interference from neighboring networks. However it can only work with Wi-Fi adapters that also support 5ghz operations (namely, any 802.11a adapter or other 802.11n/5ghz gear). Rounding out Netgear's N600 line is a similar router with a built-in ADSL modem, the DGND3700.
If your Wi-Fi router isn't providing the coverage you need, you can beef it up with the Netgear Universal Wi-Fi Range Extender (WN3000RP). Range extenders aren't new, but Netgear's is at least small and compact. You plug it into an electrical outlet that's within your router's range of coverage (but probably toward the outer edge of it), and it boosts the signal. The WN3000RP also has an Ethernet port that allows it to function as a bridge for connecting network devices that don't support Wi-Fi: Simply plug an Ethernet cable into the WN3000RP at one end, and the device's Ethernet port at the other; then plug the WN3000RP into an outlet.
But an even better remedy might involve a mix of network technologies. To this end, Netgear is also introducing a sort of hybrid Wi-Fi/powerline router, the N300 Wireless Router + Powerline AV (WNXR2000). While this router only supports 2.4ghz 802.11n Wi-Fi (and not 5ghz), it comes with a powerline network adapter based on the latest version of the HomePlug AV standard, supporting theoretical speeds of 500mbps (several other vendors are also introducing fast HomePlug AV products).
The adapter plugs into a wall outlet and has two cables: one that connects to one of the router's four 10/100 Ethernet ports and another that provides power to the router. While this is basically the same way you set up a powerline network with a separately purchased adapter, Netgear's product frees up an electrical outlet because the router and the adapter both draw power from the same outlet.
Powerline networks use existing electrical wiring to let you connect any device with an Ethernet port to your network without having to install new wires. With this router, you can add a network device by purchasing a HomePlug AV adapter, plugging it into any free wall outlet, and connecting its cable to the Ethernet port. The beauty of having a router with both powerline and Wi-Fi support is that you can use Wi-Fi where it makes sense--say, with a notebook that you want to move around--and powerline for devices that can use its superior reliability for streaming media.
In fact, Netgear is also introducing a powerline kit for people who already have a Wi-Fi router but want to hook up several home entertainment components using powerline technology. The XAVB5004 consists of a single HomePlug AV adapter (XAV5001) that you connect to your router as described above, and a HomePlug AV switch (XAV5004) with 4 gigabit Ethernet ports for your network-ready TV, Blu-ray player, game console, media streamer -- you name it. Netgear says the technology can power a network capable of covering a 5,000-square-foot home.
You can, of course, add additional devices by buying more homeplug adapters or switches. And if you don't need top speed, you can opt for Netgear adapters that support the original HomePlug AV standard, with speeds of up to 200 mbps. The new Netgear Powerline AV 200 Nano kit (XAVB2101) consists of two Powerline AV 200 Nano adapters (XAV2101) that are more petite than their predecessors.