Good things come in small, and well-designed, packages. The Netgear N900 Wireless Dual Band Gigabit Router WNDR4500 ($180) is easy to configure and offers a Web-based setup you can run on an iPad. This premium router also scored highest on our speed test, and still connected over the 2.4GHz band from more than 1,000 feet away. In other words, Netgear has raised the bar.
The Netgear N900 is one sleekest routers we've tested, with a black front panel and a clear back plate. The lights on the front show you how many devices are connected to the four Gigabit ports and if the router is connected to the Internet. Like the D-Link N900, there are two USB ports, one for a printer and one for external storage (hard drive or thumbdrive). Unlike other routers, which lie flat, the N900 stands vertically.
Setting up the Netgear N900 took less than two minutes. That's because, unlike competing routers, once you make the quick cable connections, the router self-configures the Internet. All you do is access any website, and the set-up program loads in the browser. Even then, there is nothing you have to configure.
If you do decide to tweak settings, you can download the Netgear Genie program, which lets you change the SSID name, set security options, view a graph showing Internet speed and a network map or adjust parental blocks. There's even a pop-up message in Windows that says you are connected.
The program goes well beyond what Cisco Connect offers, even including a traffic management tool. Simple things such as using plain language to describe features and a progress bar for reboots go a long way. Bonus: you can access the setup wizard for this router through a Web browser on an iPad without using a desktop app,
The N900's speeds were outstanding. Since it's a dual-band router, we tested both the 2.4-GHz band (best for distance) and 5-GHz band (best for speed). At 2.4 GHz, the Netgear delivered 80 Mbps from 5 feet and 70Mbps from 150 feet. In the 5-GHz band, we clocked a top speed of 164 Mbps from 5 feet, or about 4 Mbps faster than the Linksys E4200v2. The speed still stayed lightning fast at 100 Mbps from 150 feet.
Our test of a 3 GB file transfer between laptops took just 4 min, and a 2GB collection of files took 2 minutes. That's on a par with the Linksys E4200v2, which took 3 and 2 minutes, respectively, to complete those same tasks.
Remarkably, the N900 offered a wide coverage arc. We tested a Hulu video from about 1000 feet away and still maintained a good connection speed. The N900 beat the Linksys E4200v2 for range by a few feet - we had three bars of signal even at the end of a long driveway.
Quality of Service
The N900's Quality-of-Service features help make sure your video streams and Skype calls stay smooth. We watched "Modern Family" on Hulu, downloaded an iTunes movie, and copied files in the background from three different laptops without any major issues. (There was only a slight audio stuttering problem that occurred once.)
The QoS features were a bit hard to find, though. They are not shown in the Genie app, and you have to look in the advanced section for the router setup on the Web.
For security features, the N900 offers the standard WPA2 encryption and push-button security config for Windows, called WPS. Like the Linksys E4200v2, you can use guest accounts to offer Internet access (but not access to your own network) for visitors. They just type a code in the browser. Both the 2.4 and 5.0 bands are available at the same time, so users can pick which one they want.
With two USB ports, you can connect both a printer and a thumbdrive or external disk. The N900 automatically configured both a 1GB thumbdrive and a HP Photosmart D110 printer; they both popped up as available and ready to use on a laptop shortly after connecting them.
The $180 Netgear N900 Wireless Dual Band Gigabit Router WNDR4500 is our current top pick because of its easy setup, superb range and speed, dual USB ports, and lower cost than the Cisco Linksys E4200v2. Some may want to wait for the Netgear Media Storage Router WNDR4700, which will have many of the same features, plus a new slim design, a scheduled back-up system and better media server support. As it stands, though, the N900 is the king of the router hill.