PROS / Dual band Wi-Fi n connectivity offers greater range and speed with less interference.
CONS / The RangeMax doesn’t support Mac or Windows 7 operating systems.
VERDICT / Offers secure, high-speed wireless connectivity for users of PCs with Vista or XP.
The Netgear RangeMax WNDA 3100 wireless n USB adapter offers wireless connectivity at speeds that near those of a wired network but without the hassle of an Ethernet connection. The incorporated Wi-Fi n standard offers speeds that are far greater than previous wireless products and greatly reduces dead spots in the home or office. Advanced security features make the network easy for legitimate users to access, while effectively denying access to outsiders. To see side-by-side comparisons and objective reviews of other top rated products in this category, take a look at our wireless adapters review site. The fast Wi-Fi n speed is why this is our Bronze Award winner.
Data Transfer Performance
No one doubts the convenience of wireless networks but previous versions of Wi-Fi have often found users frustrated at relatively slow speeds and unreliable, spotty connectivity. The wireless n standard used with the RangeMax WNDA 3100 resolves those shortfalls well and makes wireless networking far more attractive to most consumers.
Wi-Fi’s n standard makes two frequency bands available - 2.4GHz and 5GHz. This device can be set to operate using either band to achieve the best results for a given circumstance. The 2.4GHz range makes the adapter backward compatible for use with devices that use the Wi-Fi g or b standards. It’s great for surfing the web, checking email and other network uses that don’t require tremendous amounts of data transfer. This frequency band, however, is rather crowded with other products including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless devices, remote controlled toys and even microwave ovens.
Opting for the 5GHz band allows for optimum performance when connecting to routers that comply with the Wi-Fi n standard in the higher band. There are two distinct advantages. First, there are very few products that operate in this extremely high frequency range, so interference is far less common. Second, much greater bandwidth is available, making it a better option for applications that require loads of data throughput like streaming HD video content, playing graphics-intensive games or placing internet phone calls (VoIP).
The range covered by n standard Wi-Fi connections is much greater than before owing to technology called MIMO, or Multiple-Input/Multiple Output. It’s the same attribute that reduces dead spots that were common previously. Finally, network traffic can be prioritized by the user with WMM, Wi-Fi Multimedia. It is a critical feature in allowing the streaming of high definition audio/content without interruption from competing applications.
Any network has some risk of attack by hackers who seek to compromise sensitive information or exploit the network internet connection for their own use. The WNDA 3100 employs several layers of encryption that greatly reduce the threat. The least effective but still important level is called WEP, for Wired Equivalent Privacy. It’s first generation wireless protection and shouldn’t be used by itself to safeguard critical data. The second generation WPA, Wireless Protected Access, is much more effective at protecting data and network access. State-of-the-art WPA2 is also used. It features Advanced Encryption Standard or AES, a technology that governments and industry use to guard against unauthorized access to sensitive information.
Making a secure connection is simplified using the Wi-Fi Protected Setup feature, WPS, that Netgear has renamed Push ‘N Connect. Hooking up is merely a matter of pushing the Push ‘N Connect button on the adapter then pushing the corresponding button on a WPS compliant router.
Ease of Use
The Netgear RangeMax comes with an installation CD that includes the Easy Smart Wizard for setting up the device. Connecting with compatible routers can also be achieved using the Push ‘N Connect feature which allows for nearly instantaneous connectivity. See the security section, above, for additional information.
The device is compatible only with PCs running Windows XP or Windows Vista, 32- or 64-bit versions.
Help & Support
Netgear’s website provides a helpful FAQ section and extensive, searchable knowledge base that will answer most questions that are likely to come up. Downloads of newest software versions can also be accessed here. Technical and sales questions can be asked by email. Free support via a toll-free phone is available 24/7 but is limited to basic installation, support for defects while under warranty and advising and directing customers to additional resources. The product is covered by a 1-year warranty.
The Netgear RangeMax WNDA 3100 dual band wireless n USB adapter is a good choice for anyone who needs high speed wireless connectivity for a desktop or laptop PC as long as it’s running Windows XP or Vista. Speed, range and security are equivalent to other Wi-Fi n standard products. The dual band connectivity gives great options to reduce interference and to take advantage of greatly enhanced bandwidth than with prior generation wireless devices.