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Wireless Reviews

N900 Video and Gaming Adapter
At a glance
ProductNETGEAR N900 Video and Gaming Adapter (WNCE4004)   [Website]
SummaryN900 class bridge with built-in four-port 10/100 switch
Pros• Easy setup
• Relatively inexpensive
Cons• 10/100 vs. Gigabit switch
• Poor 5 GHz performance

Typical Price: $390  Buy From Amazon

Introduction

With the lull in new routers while the stuff announced earlier this month at CES is finished up, I've switched the testbed over to testing wireless adapters and bridges. Today, I'm looking at a relatively new entry, NETGEAR's WNCE4004. Since it's always nice to have something to compare to, I also retested ASUS' EA-N66, which was reviewed back in August 2012 using our old process.

Why should you care about N900 bridges? Well, just remember that the 2.4 GHz side of AC routers still is an 802.11n radio. And if you have an AC1300 or AC1750 router, that radio is N450 class, just like you'll find in an "N900" bridge. If you're looking to bridge in the 2.4 GHz band, using an "N900" bridge vs. an AC bridge or router can save you a lot of money.

In their never-ending quest to put bigger numbers on product packaging, wireless manufacturer marketeers decided to use the same class designation for adapters and bridges used in "equivalent" routers. So an N900 bridge really has a maximum link rate of 450 Mbps in either band. Adapters and bridges never operate simultaneously in both bands.

The WNCE4004 is a simple device in that it functions only as a bridge, while the ASUS EA-N66 can also function as an access point and a non-WDS repeater. Where the NETGEAR has a mixed advantage over the ASUS is in its embedded four-port switch. I say mixed because the switch is 10/100 vs. the single Gigabit Ethernet port on the ASUS.

NETGEAR WNCE4004 callouts

NETGEAR WNCE4004 callouts

The NETGEAR's controls are simple as shown in the callout diagram above. Its approximately 4" x 5" footprint doesn't take up much space and it conveniently has mounting slots on its bottom panel.

Internal Details

The FCC ID photos clearly show the Atheros AR9580 3x3 dual-band 802.11abgn radio. But they are not clear enough to clearly make out the main SoC. So I had to open it up and peel off the thermal pad coupling it to its RF cover to identify the 400 MHz Atheros AR7241 Network Processor that is the 4004's heart.

WUMC710 inside

WUMC710 inside

The table below compares the key components of the WNCE4004 and ASUS EA-N66. Both make do with dual-band radio SoCs. But since NETGEAR opted to include a four-port switch, they ended up with two SoC's vs. the ASUS' one.

  NETGEAR WNCE4004 ASUS EA-N66
CPU Atheros AR7241 Network Processor @ 400 MHz Ralink RT3883F 802.11n 2.4/5GHz 3T3R 450/450Mbps Single Chip AP/Router SoC
Switch / Ethernet In CPU Realtek RTL8211CL Integrated 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet Transceiver
RAM 32 MB 128 MB
Flash 8 MB 8 MB
Radio - Atheros AR9580
- SiGe 2593A20 Dual Band 802.11n Wireless LAN Front End (x2)
- In RT3883F
- Outboard 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz amplifiers (3 per band)
WNCE4004 component summary and comparison

If you look carefully at the table and the board photo, you'll see only two SiGE front end modules, but three antennas. This would seem to indicate a 2x3 (two transmit, three receive) design, which would be capable of only a 300 Mbps maximum link rate. But I confirmed that the bridge did connect at 450 Mbps on both bands when connected to an appropriately configured ASUS RT-AC66U.

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