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Wireless Reviews

{mospagebreak toctitle=Introduction, Inside}
N450 Wireless Router
At a glance
ProductNETGEAR N450 Wireless Router (WNR2500)   [Website]
SummaryQualcomm Atheros based 2.4 GHz only N450 router with 10/100 Ethernet ports but no printer or storage sharing.
Pros• Front panel link speed indicator LEDs
• Hardware wireless on/off switch
• Excellent distance performance
Cons• No Gigabit ports
• Relatively poor simultaneous routing performance
• No USB file sharing

Typical Price: $90  Buy From Amazon

Introduction

Updated 11/1/13: Product now Wi-Fi Certified

We recently have been focusing our router coverage on the new crop of 802.11ac routers. If you haven't been following our coverage, the new 802.11ac standard, currently pending ratification, provides significantly improved throughput in the 5 GHz band. But the new standard doesn't officially change anything for wireless networks operating in the 2.4 GHz spectrum. Those networks still abide by the 802.11n specification.

Not everyone wants or needs dual band routers that offer simultaneous 2.4 and 5 GHz networks. Nor do they need the performance gains offered by the 802.11ac draft standard. Further,wireless clients included in mobile devices or notebooks often operate only in 2.4 GHz. And it's no secret that routers operating 2.4 GHz band provide greater coverage than those in the 5 GHz band.

What many people need is a single-band 2.4 GHz router that offers broad coverage with good performance. With a street price of about $60, NETGEAR's WNR2500 higher throughput (if you use it with N450 class devices) and extended range with all devices at an affordable price. And we found it delivers.

The image below shows the WNR2500's front panel. The LAN LEDs show solid green for a 100 Mbps connection and amber for a 10 Mbps connection. The Wi-Fi button lets your disable the wireless network without logging into the user interface. The WPS button initiates a WPS session and its corresponding LED indicates that status of the connection.

NETGEAR WNR2500 front panel callouts

NETGEAR WNR2500 front panel callouts

There's nothing too exciting about the rear panel. You'll find color coded LAN and WAN ports, three 5 dBi omnidirectional antennas and a power connector.

NETGEAR WNR2500 rear panel callouts

NETGEAR WNR2500 rear panel callouts

If you're the type who hates instruction manuals and prefers not to read the quick-start guide, you'll appreciate the label on the bottom of the router. It provides you with the router's default login URL and credentials.

NETGEAR WNR2500 bottom label

NETGEAR WNR2500 bottom label

Inside

The image below shows the top side of the circuit board with the shield removed. The right hand rectangle contains the QCA9558 dual-band, 3-stream 802.11n system-on-chip (SoC). This is the same chipset that is used in the TP-Link Archer C7, D-Link DGL-5500, and EnGenius ESR1750 routers. Also in the same rectangle you'll find the 32 MB (RAM) Windbond W9425G6JH-5.

NETGEAR WNR2500 PCB top with shield removed

NETGEAR WNR2500 PCB top with shield removed

In the left rectangle you'll see the three 2.4 GHz amplifiers (unidentified -marked 6536691E330). Adjacent to the 2.4 GHz amplifiers, note the empty space on the board - presumably for 5 GHz amplifiers for a dual band version of this product. Rounding out the major components, there's 4 MB of flash (Macronix MX25L3206) and an AR8236 5 port Fast (10/100) Ethernet switch.


Features

Like most of NETGEAR's current crop of genie based routers, the WNR2500 has the same admin GUI and feature set. Tim recently covered this in his review of the R6100 router and I explored it in depth on the WNDR3800 when NETGEAR first introduced the genie UI in late 2011.

The screenshot below shows the advanced interface on the R6100. It's virtually identical to the WNDR3800 which I'm still using as my public-facing router. Of course, features missing from the WNR2500, such as 5 GHz and ReadySHARE are excluded from the UI.

NETGEAR 6100 Advanced Home screen

NETGEAR 6100 Advanced Home screen

Routing Performance

Routing performance for the WNR2500 loaded with V1.0.0.18NA firmware and using our standard test method is summarized in the table below.

NETGEAR WNR2500 routing performance

NETGEAR WNR2500 routing performance

For a router with only 10/100 Mbps ports, you can't really expect too much in the way of routing performance. The theoretical maximum would be 100 Mbps for the unidirectional tests.

To place the results in perspective, I filtered the Router Charts to display only single band 2.4 GHz routers. If you ignore the routers with Gigabit ports, which wouldn't have the 100 Mbps cap on routing performance, the WNR2500 ranked 10th for WAN to LAN routing at 91 Mbps. The highest performing non-gigabit router was the Securifi Almond at 94 Mbps with the Draytex Vigor 2910G at the bottom of the charts with 27.5 Mbps. The LAN to WAN performance of 86 Mbps landed the WNR2500 at #14. For total simultaneous throughput, theWNR2500 ranked #28 out of 29 (all 2.4 GHz routers) with only 34 Mbps of throughput.

For the unidirectional tests the IxChariot chart below shows steady throughput with WAN-LAN (Downlink) being slightly favored. While both uplink and downlink turned in the same maximum throughput of 91.954 Mbps, you can see that there was significantly more variation in the minimum throughput. The uplink test (red line in the graph) showed almost 10 times the variance in the 95% confidence interval. Still, those down spikes were intermittent so the average uplink throughput came in at 85 Mbps.

NETGEAR WNR2500 unidirectional throughput

NETGEAR WNR2500 unidirectional throughput

The simultaneous up/downlink tests show a significant amount of variation in both the LAN to WAN as well as the LAN to WAN speeds. In this test, however, the WNR2500 favored the LAN to WAN (uplink) performance. Note that the average uplink was 20.462 Mbps with downlink averaging 13.996 Mbps.

If you look at the combined maximum throughput (91.954 Mbps) and the minimum throughput (3.5 Mbps) you can see that there's a huge variation. With some ISPs offering 50/10 Mbps down/up service, the WNR2500's poor bidirectional routing performance might limit your internet performance in heavy traffic environments.

NETGEAR WNR2500 simultaneous througput

NETGEAR WNR2500 simultaneous througputt

Wireless Performance

Although there is a Wi-Fi logo on the package, the WNR2500 is not currently Wi-Fi certified. However, NETGEAR told us the WNR2500 is currently undergoing Wi-Fi certification testing. If you want to check later to see if it has received certification, you can check here.

The WNR2500 is Wi-Fi certified. It defaulted to Auto channel mode and Auto 20/40 MHz channel width upon power-up. The router prompted for a WPS PIN, not push button when our Win 7 test client attempted connection. Entering inthe PIN yeilded a WPA2/AES connection.

The WNR2500 passed both the Fat Channel Intolerant test as well as the 40 MHz co-existence test. For the Fat Channel test, it dropped to 20 MHz bandwidth when the bit was set and went immediately back to 40 MHz bandwidth when the bit was cleared. Similarly for the 40 MHz coexistence test; it dropped to 20 MHz bandwidth when set to Chan 8 and changed immediately back to 40 MHz bandwidth when the channel was set to Auto.

NOTE: Unchecking the "Enable 20/40 MHz Coexistence" box (Advanced Wireless page) causes both Fat channel and 40 MHz coexistence tests to fail.

For throughput testing, all tests were run using our standard wireless test process and V1.0.0.18NA version firmware loaded. The router was first reset to factory defaults. The channel 6 was set and the mode was set to mixed. Our standard 8" distance was maintained between the router and test chamber antennas in all test positions.. The 0° position had the front of the router facing the chamber antennas.

Before we start, let's first explore the "3x faster than competing N450 routers" claim prominently featured on the WNR2500's marketing materials. If all N450 routers support the same 450 Mbps maximum link rate, how can one be three times faster than the others?

NETGEAR's answer once again shows the creativity of wireless marketing. NETGEAR bases its 3X claim on the fact that some N450 routers are dual-band products composed of N150 2.4 GHz and N300 5 GHz radios. The only example I could quickly find is Belkin's N450 Wireless Dual-Band N+ (F9K1105) router. But all it takes is one for the claim to be true...

The Benchmark Summary below shows the average of throughput measurements made in all test locations.

NETGEAR WNR2500 Benchmark Summary

NETGEAR WNR2500 Benchmark Summary

N450 class routers aren't new, but they aren't that common, either. If you filter the router charts for N450, you'll find that there are only three routers including the WNR2500. The other two, the TRENDnet TEW-691TR and the D-Link DIR-665 were both reviewed during the summer of 2010.

Back then, we used a different wireless testing methodology, so you can't really can't directly compare the results. Since there aren't any other N450 class routers tested with the new testing methodology, I decided to compare the WNR2500 results with the 2.4 GHz results from some of the current crop of "AC" dual band routers. Although AC router 5 GHz radios are new, most use 802.11n devices on the 2.4 GHz side.

All of the routers in the table below were tested using the same testing methodology and all of the routers support three-stream, i.e. 450 Mbps, maximum link rates in 2.4 GHz. However, since our test standard uses only 20 MHz bandwidth mode in 2.4 GHz, the results below reflect that setting.

The routers included are the three other routers mentioned in the "Inside" section above that use the QCA9958 SoC chipset as well as the top-rated AC1750 class router, the ASUS RT-AC66U, which uses Broadcom chipsets. The results are sorted by total average downlink throughput found in this chart.

Average

Average Throughput comparison - routers supporting N450 class in 2.4 GHz

As you can see, the WNR2500 is essentially tied with the TP-Link Archer C7 for second place for downlink throughput but comes in fourth for uplink throughput for the routers compared.

Throughput vs. Attenuation plots provide a better idea about how the router is going to perform throughout its entire range. Tests are run with 3 dB of attenuation added for each data point. More attenuation simulates more distance from the router. Routers performing well with higher attenuation are more likely to provide better coverage.

Since we don't have other N450 routers that were tested using the same methodology, I decided to take a slightly different approach when choosing routers for the Throughput vs. Attenuation plots. Here are my selections and why I chose them:

  • ASUS RT-AC66U - At $170, it's the #1 ranked AC1750 class router that uses the same 3X3 MIMO technology found in the WNR2500. It's also one of the best performing router that we've tested.
  • Edimax BR-6478AC - Priced at $70, the Edimax router is the #2 ranked AC1200 class router. Granted, it uses a 2X2 configuration on both bands, but it shows the kind of performance you can get in a dual-band router that only costs $10 more than the WNR2500.
  • TP-LINK Archer C7 - At $120, the Archer C7 is the #2 ranked AC1750 class router. I chose this router because it uses the same 2.4 GHz radio as the WNR2500.

For the 2.4 GHz downlink, there are a couple of surprises. First, the WNR2500 uses the same chipset as the TP-Link Archer C7 and the same 3X3 technology as both the ASUS and the TP-LINK. So you might expect that the initial low attenuation performance would be more in line with those two. Instead, at low attenuation levels, the throughput tracks fairly well with the Edimax, which uses 2X2 (N300 class) technology on the 2.4 GHz band.

2.4 GHz Downlink Throughput vs. Attenuation

2.4 GHz Downlink Throughput vs. Attenuation

The reason for the lower performance, however, seems to be the limitation of the WNR2500's 100 Mbps Ethernet. But where this chart gets more interesting is at higher levels of attenuation. Beyond 48 dB of attenuation, the WNR2500 outperforms the other three routers out to the end of the test at 63 dB of attenuation. At that level, the WNR2500 is still sustaining 23 Mbps of throughput compared to the second best performer, the ASUS, which managed only 10 Mbps.

What this means is that you'll likely get better performance at a distance with the WNR2500, and it's more likely to stay connected at greater distances than the other three.

The 2.4 GHz uplink tests tell a similar story. At low attenuation levels, the WNR2500 tracks the Edimax almost perfectly out to about 36 dB of attenuation. But notice how the WNR2500 maintains constant performance levels out to 51 dB. And beyond 48 dB of attenuation, it outperforms the other three routers finishing the test still having 39 Mbps of throughput!

2.4 GHz Uplink Throughput vs. Attenuation

2.4 GHz Uplink Throughput vs. Attenuation

As with the 2.4 GHz downlink test, the WNR2500 is constrained by its 100 Mbps Ethernet ports. At low levels of attenuation, its performance mimics a 2X2 router. But at higher levels of attenuation, the WNR2500 outperforms the other routers. This again equates to better performance at a distance and greater range.

Closing Thoughts

At a time when everyone seems focused on the latest technology delivered by the new 802.11ac routers, you might ask why NETGEAR would bring out a single-band router based on technology that's more than three years old. Well, despite what wireless marketeers would have us believe, most of us still spend only $60 - $70 for a router. And most choose simple N300 and N600 products that match the capability of the devices they need to connect to.

Since most of us also don't have N450 class clients, that part of the WNR2500 won't help improve most buyers' wireless "lifestyles". But our testing showed that NETGEAR has really delivered the goods on improved range in the WNR2500. And that is something that most every router buyer is looking for.

At around $60, the WNR2500 could be a smart buy if you can live without Gigabit Ethernet and don't need to light up the 5 GHz airwaves.

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