It's easy to become jaded when you review as much cutting-edge hardware as we do. We try not to be curmudgeons, but we do get grumpy when next-gen hardware fails to make a leap in performance — or worse, when it falls behind the gear it's intended to supplant.
So we're happy to report that benchmarking Netgear's new WNDR4500 left us grinning from ear-to-ear. This is the fastest router we've ever tested and it's packed with new features.
Netgear continues to brand its wireless routers with two different model numbers. The WNDR4500, for example, is also marketed as the N900, presumably because this is a dual-band model that's capable of supporting three 150Mb/s spatial streams on both its 2.4 and 5GHz radios: Three times 150 equals 450, and 450 times two equal 900. That's nonsense, of course, because the two radios can't be bonded to serve a single client. It's also unfortunate, because this router is so fabulous it doesn't need to be hyped.
The WNDR4500 is dramatically faster than the older WNDR3700, which supports only two spatial streams on each of its frequency bands. At close range, the WNDR4500 achieved TCP throughput of 151Mb/s on its 2.4GHz radio, and a staggering 251Mb/s on its 5GHz radio. Compare that to the WNDR3700's 84.3Mb/s and 175Mb/s performance, respectively. The new router beat the old by a wide margin at every test location with the notable exception of our media room, where the WNDR3700's 5GHz radio beat the WNDR4500's by 27 per cent. Interestingly enough, the WNDR3700's hardwired switch also proved to be slightly faster than the one on the WNDR4500, with the old router outperforming the new by 11Mb/s (887Mb/s versus 876Mb/s).
The WNDR4500 is the first router we've seen to boast USB 3.0 ports (two, to support both a storage device and a multifunction printer). This is a long overdue development, but we encountered a curious anomaly when we performed our NAS benchmark test, using a 500GB Western Digital My Passport USB 3.0 drive: The WNDR4500 was more than twice as fast as the WNDR3700 when writing files to the portable drive, but the WNDR3700 was significantly faster when reading files from it.
Netgear has completely revamped the router's browser-based user interface, although you won't need to access it right away: The default SSID for the 2.4GHz radio and a unique, but easy-to-remember password for both radios (ours was "magicalfire673") are printed right on the side of the device. Simply add "-5G" to access the 5GHz network. You're free to change any of the SSIDs or passwords, of course. You can also operate password-optional guest networks on both radios, with the ability to restrict guests to Internet access only, access to the Internet and other clients on the same SSID, or access to your entire network.
Netgear has come up with a free newbie-friendly client app called Netgear Genie that's very similar in functionality to Cisco's Network Magic. You can control most aspects of the router's settings with this tool, display network maps, establish parental controls (administered via OpenDNS), monitor your bandwidth consumption, and more.
Aside from the oddly slow USB read performance — and the absurd "900" branding — we can't find a single flaw in the WNDR4500. If you have the budget, this is the router to buy, once it's available here.
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