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Wireless Reviews

Routing Performance

Routing performance for the 4500 using our standard test method is summarized in Table 2. Figure 6 shows the composite IxChariot plot for the three routing speed tests.

Test Description Throughput - (Mbps)
WAN - LAN 768
LAN - WAN 832
Total Simultaneous 837
Maximum Simultaneous Connections 4096
Firmware Version V1.0.0.58_1.0.13
Table 2: Routing throughput

Fans of speedy routers will be happy to see that the 4500 ranks third in downlink throughput and second in uplink behind the ASUS RT-N56U "Black Diamond" that continues to be the most popular router among SmallNetBuilder readers. But NETGEAR must think that 4,096 simultaneous sessions is enough, because that's all the 4500 supports.

NETGEAR WNDR4500 routing throughput
Figure 5: NETGEAR WNDR4500 routing throughput

Storage Performance

NETGEAR's 4500 briefing material boasts of its "ultimate" USB storage performance. The material quotes 11.4 MB/s "read-write FAT32" and 8.1 MB/s "read-write NTFS", which it claims is about 3 and 1.5 times faster than an unspecified "750 Mbps Competitive Router".

I ran quick Windows filecopy tests using the standard NAS testbed to the WNDR4500 with my standard Iomega UltraMax Pro drive configured in RAID 0 and formatted in FAT32 and NTFS. I pulled results from NETGEAR's other routers into Table 3.

  WNDR4500 WNDR3800 WNDR3700v2 WNDR4000
FAT32 Write (MBytes/s) 9.2 12.5 9.9 6.1
FAT32 Read (MBytes/s) 11.6 13.3 14.2 6.9
NTFS Write (MBytes/s) 6.7 4.3 3.0 4.6
NTFS Read (MBytes/s) 6.5 12.0 12.1 4.3
Table 3: NETGEAR router filecpy performance comparison

I got close enough to NETGEAR's claimed 11.4 MB/s on the FAT32 read test to confirm the claim. But my results didn't confirm NETGEAR's for NTFS. The chart also shows that the 4500's storage throughput isn't really far-and-away better than other NETGEAR routers'.

Wireless Performance - Overview

With simultaneous dual-band routers that support three stream N, I make a total of eight test runs. That's a lot of data to get lost in and I sometimes do. So I'm trying something new in this review by providing a summary of wireless performance first. Then if you want to dive into the details, you can hit the relevant sections.

The WNDR4500 is Wi-Fi Certified and properly defaulted to 20 MHz bandwidth mode ("Up to 217 Mbps" in NETGEAR-speak) on the 2.4 GHz radio on power-up. The 5 GHz band came up in 40 MHz mode or "Up to 450 Mbps" in NETGEAR lingo.

I was able to run a Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) pushbutton session with a Win 7 client that resulted in a WPA2/AES secured connection to each radio. All tests were run with this secured connection using the four-location wireless test process.

First look at the Benchmark Summary in Figure 6. As we've seen with other three-stream router tests, the overall average difference between two and three stream operation isn't that striking. That's because three-stream N can only provide significantly higher throughput under very strong signal conditions (same room or next-room).

NETGEAR WNDR4500  benchmark summary
Figure 6: NETGEAR WNDR4500 benchmark summary

Diving a bit deeper, Table 4 brings together the highest wireless throughput measured out of all locations in the 20 MHz mode test runs. I'm not calling out the test locations where each best throughput was found. But most times it was in Location A, with an occasional Location C.

Note that the Dn/Up result is the test where I run simultaneous up and downlink tests in Location A. This is a good check to see if additional bandwidth is available via additional connections.

Test Group Max Dn (Mbps) Max Up (Mbps) Dn/Up (Mbps)
2.4 GHz, 2 stream, 20 MHz 32 46 35
2.4 GHz, 3 stream, 20 MHz 80 63 99
5 GHz, 2 stream, 20 MHz 35 44 45
5 GHz, 3 stream, 20 MHz 66 67 86
Table 4: Highest Throughput, 20 MHz mode

The results here are not knock-your-socks-off good. On the contrary, the two stream 2.4 GHz downlink results are downright awful, putting the 4500 at the bottom of the Average 2.4 GHz Downlink chart when filtered to show only dual-band routers and fourth from the bottom when all tested routers are included.

You'll see the reason for this if you look at the IxChariot plots for these tests, which show extremely high throughput variation that has a periodic oscillation. This problem seems to be limited to two-stream 2.4 GHz downlink performance in both 20 MHz and 40 MHz modes. Upstream and both directions in three-stream seem ok.

Test Group Max Dn (Mbps) Max Up (Mbps) Dn/Up (Mbps)
2.4 GHz, 2 stream, 40 MHz 48 64 53
2.4 GHz, 3 stream, 40 MHz 90 82 122
5 GHz, 2 stream, 40 MHz 40 71 56
5 GHz, 3 stream, 40 MHz 86 85 129
Table 5: Highest Throughput, 40 MHz mode

Because they were so odd, I shared these results with NETGEAR before posting this review. After some quick overnight tests on their end, which included duplicating my two-stream test platform (an Acer Aspire 1810T with Intel 5300 card substituted for the factory Intel 5100), NETGEAR was able to confirm the problem and identify its source.

The problem is due to my use of the three stream Intel 5300 wireless module with only two antennas connected. When the router and client connect, they exchange information on the link rates each support. Since the 5300 is a three stream client, that's what it reports and the router sets itself to a three stream link rate.

But when the router starts transmitting, the client can't actually support three-stream link rates because it doesn't have a third antenna connected. This results in low throughput. When the WNDR4500 sees the low throughput, it falls back to a two-stream rate and throughput then improves. The problem is that the router then switches back to a three-stream rate and the cycle starts again. NETGEAR has also checked with Intel, which also confirms this behavior.

NETGEAR is checking to see what the installed base of three stream N clients with only two antennas connected is. They believe it is low since Intel had the 5100 client as an alternative, which has only two antenna connections and supports only two-stream N. In fact, my Acer 1810T came with an Intel 5100 installed. Based on what they find, NETGEAR may change the WNDR4500's firmware to fix the problem, or I may change my client and rerun the two-stream tests. Or maybe both. Stay tuned.

When operating with a fully-capable three-stream client the 4500 has better luck, with its best performance in the 5 GHz band running in 40 MHz mode. Although it's a smaller competitive field, the 4500's throughput in this area ranks it near the top of the half-dozen competitors. Still, if you're expecting 100+ Mbps of throughput from paying the big bucks for this router, you'll get it only in the aggregate when supporting multiple simultaneous clients.

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