Netgear announced and released the new WNDR4500 N900 Dual Band router today. This coming on the heels of shipping the previously announced WNDR3800 router early this month of September. What I hope to do in this thread is help explain the differences between these two high end routers and where they best fit from an application standpoint.
I have already written a review of the 3800 and would suggest folks who are new to this thread read that review for more indepth information about that router. The link to my 3800 review is http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=1353236
. Readers may also wish to check out the thread comparing the 3800 to the Netgear WNDR4000 N750 router here http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=1323800
So let me start with the newest of the pack the WNDR4500.N900
The WNDR4500 is the next iteration of the WNDR4000 utilizing the latest in 3 radio technology. What I mean by 3 radio technology is this. The 802.11 N standard and technology allows a maximum bandwidth of up to 150mbs per radio. When you add 2 radios you get 300mbs and when you add 3 you get 450mbs. When you add dual bands 2.4ghz and 5ghz with multiple radios you get the combination of the 2.
In the WNDR4000 router the 2.4ghz band had 3 radios for 450mbs max plus the 5ghz band had 2 radios for an additional 300mbs for a maximum bandwidth of 750mbs or called N750.
The 4500 expands on the 4000 by adding a third radio to the 5ghz band giving the 4500 a maximum bandwidth of 900mbs or called N900.
This new 3 radio technology is the latest in pushing the wireless boundaries of bandwidth. Wireless still does not come close to wired connections but these technologies are beginning to approach performance one would expect from a wire.
But to take advantage of this new technology one must have a compatible 3 radio client on a laptop or other wireless device. To date there is nothing that is mainstream in the marketplace that has this as of yet. But we can all assume that if you are planning on buying a new laptop in the months and certainly years ahead it will likely have this capability.
Netgear has done somethings very different with the 4500 though and I want to point this out. Recognizing that there are very few 3 radio devices in the world today Netgear decided to very cleverly build in added capability to the 4500. This new capability allows the 4500 to use it's 6 radios independently to allow greater total throughput for multiple clients. What I mean is this. Even though your laptop may have a single band 2 radios N300 client and you have 2 other similar laptops operating in your house simultaneously the 4500 has smarts built into it to allocate the 3 radios independently among the various clients. What this means in my example is that each laptop would use it's own radio within the 4500 providing the maximum bandwidth that particular radio can provide based on range, interference etc.
This approach that Netgear has taken for the 4500 makes the most of this multi radio technology. Allowing older wireless clients to take advantage of the added throughput of multiple radios. And just to be clear with this. You dont get faster speeds by device. You get great data bandwidth as a total if you have multiple devices operating simultaneously.
Additionally the 4500 has higher power amplifiers then the 3800 has. This will add to improved range for any device that connects to it. So this is particularly important for those with larger homes or looking for outdoor as well as indoor coverage. Per the specs the amplifiers are 24 dbm on wndr3800 vs. 29 dbm on wndr4500. That 5dbm difference is significant. Also the receive amplifiers on the 4500 are lower noise then there are on the 3800 so clients that have weaker wifi signals will still be heard by the 4500 where they might not be by a 3800.
Other aspects of the 4500 that are new are it has 2 usb ports . While one could add a usb hub to the 3800 as an example this is much cleaner. But functionally it is the same. The second new aspect of the 4500 is it has slightly faster usb performance. It is faster in the 10-15% range according to the Netgear Product Manager
Similar to the 3800 the 4500 does support printer sharing. It also supports the new Genie Dashboard and UI as found in the 3800.
Now compared to the 3800 what doesnt the 4500 have. It does not support ReadyShare Cloud. Today only the 3800 supports this. Will Netgear add this to the 4500 in the future you are probably thinking? I dont know. MY guess is probably but since RaeadyShare Cloud is so new they will want to make sure they work all the kinks out before adding it to other products.
The 4500 does not support Clear Channel. Clear Channel is an enterprise technology that helps unclog congested 2.4ghz wifi band. This is very import in crowded areas like apartments and urban areas where you are surrounded by many wifi signals. You might think well doesn't the 3 radio aspect of the 4500 help in that too> I suspect it would but it would be a different way to solve the problem. I have not had discussions with Netgear on this but will plan to do so and report back.
The 4500 also does not support Apple Time Machine and Tivo support as well as not including the dedicated Video Mode on the 5ghz band that the 3700 and the 3800 both have.
So now is the ultimate question. Which one of these routers should I buy? And why wouldn't Netgear make one product that has it all!
Let me start with the question of which you should buy if you need a router today. It depends on your application and need.
The 4500 is best if your primary application is data. Laptops running web browsers, email, web content, copying and sharing files, etc. Traditional PC centric application. The 3 radio technology will allow you to get more through the wireless net the way Netgear designed this product.
Also because of the improved amplifiers in the 4500 the range you may need is a huge decision factor. If you need a devices with the best range then the choice is simply the 4500.
If range is not paramount and the feature set of the 3800 is important with ReadyShare Cloud, Video Mode on the 5ghz band along with Time Machine and/or Tivo support the choice becomes obvious. You need the 3800. The 3800 also maximizes the current technology with Clear Channel. While I cant definitively say which is a better choice Clear Channel or the 3 radio approach of the 4500 I can say that Clear Channel is a proven approach used by enterprise brought to the masses by Netgear's WNDR3800.
For me I am sticking with the 3800. I really like the feature set the 3800 offers and the way it operates. It has also been performing quite well in my home. I also usually don't have more then 2 pc's using wireless for file copy at any one time so the 4500 benefit wouldn't help me. And I do a lot of video over wireless and have set up a dedicated video network for this purpose with the video mode of the 3800. This is something I do not want to give up.
So my simple choice summary is this. If web, mail, pc data is your primary application on a wifi net then the 4500 is the best choice. If you do a combination of video, media and data and live in an urban area and the added range the 4500 would provide is not needed then the 3800 would be best for you.
And let me answer why Netgear didnt just build one product with it all? Different technologies. The 3800 and 4500 are completely different beasts. Blending everything into one product would have dramatically drawn out the development cycle. Over time I am sure we will see a product that blends the features of the 3800 with the technology of the 4500 but it wasnt happening today. So we have both. Either way you really cant go wrong.
I look forward to your comments, questions and feedback. Netgear Product Managers watch these threads regularly so your voices are heard.
Netgear AV Consultant