Tools Of The Trade: The Netgear RangeMax router for wireless networking

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The Independent Online

With summer in the air, the idea of sitting in the garden working on a laptop is far more attractive than that of battling to work on public transport or through traffic jams.

With summer in the air, the idea of sitting in the garden working on a laptop is far more attractive than that of battling to work on public transport or through traffic jams.

Wireless networking offers the solution, and Netgear's RangeMax router promises to reach far into even the grandest of gardens. The box will plug into either an ADSL or cable modem connection, assuming they come with an ethernet link. Then, says the manufacturer, seven internal "smart" antennae beam an internet connection up to a 10 times as far as equipment using the common 802.11g standard.

The Netgear router is, of course, backwards compatible with both that standard and the lower-speed 802.11b version. The unit also comes with a slew of high-end security features.

But there are two main attributes that set the RangeMax apart from generic wireless networking kit. The first is technology, known as Smart Mimo, that allows the router to adjust to problems in its physical environment. The idea is that if someone obstructs the signal - for example by walking in front of the unit or perhaps using other electronic equipment, or moving the laptop - the RangeMax will use a different combination of antennae to find an alternative route. Netgear also claims that the technology copes better with the wireless dead spots often found in buildings.

The second attribute is greater range, for it should reach at least half as far again as a standard 802.11g router, even when used with standard wireless LAN cards. The best results, though, should be possible with Netgear's own wireless LAN adaptors.

In practice - at least without these extra adaptors - results were mixed. The RangeMax is easy to set up, as are security features that include a double firewall, the ability to restrict access to particular computers, and several methods for encrypting signals between the router and the machine. All this can be set up from a web browser, so there is really no excuse for running an insecure network.

The unit is also neat, cased in an iMac-like white box, although some people might find the constant flashing blue lights a little disconcerting. This aside, the router worked well enough in practice but did not seem to produce any significant range increase with a standard, 802.11g- equipped laptop. In fact, wireless connection software suggested the signal was weaker than from an elderly 802.11b box indoors -- though it did reach further outside.

Given that almost all laptops now come with an 802.11b and 802.11g connector built in, it is hard to see how many businesses and home users wil be able to justify paying for extra, non-standard wireless hardware. For laptop users, a PC card or USB adaptor is another expense.

Those who are more reliant on desktop PCs - which do not have wireless built in as a rule - or have trouble with connection blackspots should give the RangeMax a try. For most others, this is a well-designed and reliable router, but do not expect to see a dramatic increase in coverage without dedicated wireless cards.


Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pros: good security; extra range with special adaptors.

Cons: no appreciable improvements with a standard wireless laptop.

Price: around £80 plus VAT.