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Review: Netgear WN203 Wins On Performance, Simplicity, Cost

Netgear's latest low-cost access point delivers the goods.

With technology as complex as networking, the simplest solution is often the best. That's what we found when testing the WN203 ProSafe Single-Band Wireless N access point from Netgear. About the size of a paperback, the WN203 mounts easily on a ceiling, wall or table, connects with a single Power-over-Ethernet cable and can be set up in just a few minutes through Netgear's browser-based management pages or the included setup utility.

For $99 list, this 802.11n single-band wireless access point delivered an average of about 245 MBps throughput across a variety of office-type environments and ranges. That's close to its theoretical maximum of 300 Mbps at 15 feet with clear line of sight. And while such conditions rarely exist in the real world, the WN203 is capable of delivering good throughput through walls and other physical obstructions typically found in small offices, home offices, college dorms and hotels.

The kit includes an AC adapter, two internal omnidirectional antennas, external reverse SMA connectors for adding two more antennas for extended range, a setup disk and lifetime warranty. It can broadcast multiple SSIDs, each with one of about 10 security types, including WEP, WPA and WPA2. It can even detect rogue APs. This makes it suitable for a variety of customers and usage scenarios. For example, one SSID could be secured for office staff with access to all network resources, and another with open security for visitors and guests to access only the Internet. The tab-based browser UI provides easy access for configuration changes and monitoring traffic stats.

Netgear's browser-based setup routine is as about simple as it gets. As with most Netgear APs, default IP address, user name and password are printed on the bottom to make quick work of initial setup without hunting for a manual. LEDs indicate power and self-test, plus status of LAN, link and wireless activity. Netgear's clean interface is designed for no-technical users, but its consistent UI will be familiar to anyone who's set up a Netgear AP. The WN203 can be managed remotely one at a time or controlled through SNMP v1 or v2 management tools using standard and proprietary 802.11 MIBs.

To test the device, we set it up as an access point in our lab network and mounted it on a wall just below the ceiling, similar to where it might be placed in real life. We then grabbed a laptop and connected it with no security through the WN203 to one of our lab servers. We whipped out the stopwatch and measured download times for a 1-GB file from a variety of distances and locations in and around the lab.

As expected, download times varied depending on proximity of the laptop to the AP, and the number and type of obstacles in between. The fastest time we recorded was 31 seconds, or about 264 Mbps, while we were within about 10 feet of the AP with a clear line of sight. At about 20 feet with one wall in between, the speed dropped to 33 seconds, or about 245 Mbps. At 25 feet and three walls in between, transfer time was 77 seconds and rate dropped to 106 MBps. For comparison, the download time for our test file at the WN203's theoretical maximum rate of 300 Mbps would have been 27.3 seconds.

For $99 list,the WN203 ProSafe Single-Band Wireless N access point from Netgear supports MAC address filtering, multiple SSID broadcasting for traffic segmentation and Layer 2 VLAN configurations for enhanced security and flexibility in network design. We believe it would make a solid choice for SOHO Wi-Fi deployment or as a low-cost option for quickly extending the range of existing 802.11 networks for hospitals, hotels, college campuses, conference centers and the like. The WN203 is a recommended product by the CRN Test Center.


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