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Wireless Reviews

Closing Thoughts

Sharp-eyed readers might notice that I changed the key in the Summary table from "Excellent" in the Linksys SRX review to "Good" in this one. And that sort of sums up my general impression of NETGEAR's RangeMax. When I look back over all my data and reflect on my testing of the WPN825 and WPN511, what I think is missing is the "wow" that I feel when testing a product that I know is going to shake things up.

I felt that "wow" when I first put Super-G + XR through its paces. Up until then, all the 11g products I tested would drop throughput significantly in my tougher indoor test locations and not go much farther than 10 feet or so beyond my front door. Super-G+XR was the first technology that evened out indoor performance and could provide a usable wireless connection for hundreds of feet beyond my home's walls.

I was wowed again when I tested Airgo's True MIMO, since it not only maintained higher throughput for longer distances than Super-G+XR, but did it without Super-G's controversial channel-bonding, or need to experiment with multiple optional modes.

NOTE! In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that I was contracted by Airgo Networks last year to perform a private evaluation of engineering samples of pre-release products. However, all testing and data related to True MIMO-based products presented in my published reviews has been performed on released products, with no compensation from or consultation with Airgo.

But the funny thing about "wow"s is that they reset expectations and make it tougher to be impressed the next time. And that's where RangeMax comes in. When you separate out the marketing hype, RangeMax is Super-G+XR+AR with some pretty nifty antenna technology added to improve signal gain. The good news is that Video54's BeamFlex technology does help raise and flatten Super-Gs throughput vs. range curve. But the bad news is that the improvement is mostly for downlink (AP to client), with less clear performance advantages for indoor uplink use.

Fortunately, these problems are probably largely software-based, which means that NETGEAR may get them straightened out with upgraded firmware. But since two different companies (Atheros and Video54) provide the core technologies for RangeMax, fear of losing trade secrets to each other could keep RangeMax from being all that it could be.

The bigger disadvantage for RangeMax vs. True MIMO, however, is that it relies on three Atheros technologies - Super-G, XR and AR - each of which can be enabled and disabled independently. This might not be so bad if NETGEAR provided clear descriptions of what each of these features really do, and guidance to RangeMax purchasers on how to use them to achieve the desired performance. But even if they did, RangeMax is up against a technology that doesn't require tweaking or shutting off communication with standard 11b and 11g products to achieve its highest throughput.

The main competition that products based on True MIMO have faced is much cheaper non-MIMO 11g products. NETGEAR knows this and so is pricing RangeMax gear lower than True MIMO products in hopes of enticing more folks to spend the extra bucks for the "Up to 1000% more coverage and speed" hyped on the front of RangeMax product boxes (and asterisked on the rear by "Actual results may vary depending upon operating environment" - have these companies no shame?). But even at lowest online prices (April 2005) of $118 for the WPN824 and $73 for the WPN511, we're still talking a 2X the cost of a NETGEAR WGR614 11g router ($49) and 3X a WG511 Cardbus card ($23).

I always like to see competition, because dominant players in any business eventually get lazy and tend to mistreat the very customers who helped get them to the top of the heap. But at least at this point, RangeMax has aways to go before it can seriously challenge Airgo's True MIMO for best-of-breed enhanced 802.11g throughput and range technology.

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