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Get your game on: Two ways to speed up your wireless network

By Bill O'Brien
April 7, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Using a dual-band router

The only flaw with the using two adapters to augment your network is that you're still running the same wireless network -- at the same speed (120Mbit/sec. under 802.11n). Likewise, you're still crowded into the relatively tiny confines of the 2.4-GHz band. The only thing that's changed is the pathway between the two gaming adapters. It gets a little more complex if you want to change the basic infrastructure of your network to a dual-band system. For that, you start with a dual-band router.

I tried out Linksys Dual-Band Wireless-N Gigabit Router (model WRT600N; about $250), which eliminates the need for one gaming adapter while making your entire network dual-band capable.

On the other side of the connection, I used Linksys' Dual-Band Wireless-N Gaming Adapter (model WGA600N; about $100) as the bridge to the router.

Linksys Dual-Band Wireless-N Gigabit Router
Setting up the WRT600N dual-band router is no different from installing any router. Linksys' Easylink Advisor software is a nice source of information about the network setup but doesn't offer much info if you want to make any changes to it -- which is pretty much par for the course for software wizards. If you have any tinkering to do, just read the manual to find out how to access the router directly. As with the Netgear devices, I had to turn everything off (including my cable modem), connect the WRT600N and then power things up one at a time.

When I was done, I had replaced my old router with dual-band, n-like goodness (remember, 802.11n won't be ratified until sometime in 2009). The existing portion of my network functioned as it had with the old router, but now I had a 5-GHz band available.

The Linksys router includes a USB port, giving you the option of using the router for network-attached storage -- although you will need to read the manual to get it to work. Physically attaching the drive is just the beginning. After that, you'll need to create a shared portion of it (or all of it) and then map it to your local computer(s). (Netgear, incidentally, has a similar router -- the RangeMax Dual Band Wireless-N Router (WNDR3300; $100-$120) -- except it lacks the ability to have a hard drive attached.)

Once you've taken care of the dual-band router setup, it's time to install the gaming adapter. The process is nearly identical to that of installing the Netgear adapter, down to Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) buttons that automatically coordinate the exchange of information the router and gaming adapter need to communicate with each other.

In theory, the WGA600N should connect out of the box automatically once you apply power, no matter what it's connected to -- gaming console, media extender or PC. Unfortunately, when I tried that method, it didn't work. Instead, I had to connect the adapter to a PC, from where I manually entered the router's security passphrase, and let things proceed from there -- which they did successfully.

If you have to take this manual approach, you can unplug the gaming adapter from the PC after that connection has been made and attach it to your gaming console or media extender if that's what you're going to do.

Once the connection was made, I moved the WGA600N adapter downstairs to my media PC. My media server upstairs was already attached to the WRT600N router.

Watching video downstairs by accessing the video files upstairs was smooth as silk. No hiccups or stutters, and jumping ahead in a video was instantaneous -- a big improvement over a single-band 2.4-GHz router.

Conclusions

Both Netgear and Linksys will get you where want to go. The basic solution of using two or more gaming adapters, as I did with the Netgear equipment, leaves your current network configuration at status quo and only upgrades its specific path to your network. Adding a dual-band router, such as the one I tried from Linksys, gives you the opportunity to upgrade your entire network.

The difference between the two is further reflected in the relative pricing of each modification: Two gaming adapters will cost you about $200, while a single gaming adapter and a dual-band router will run you about $350.

Given the choice, and a few extra dollars, I'd choose the latter. As long as you're going to upgrade your wireless network's performance, you might as well do it in such as way that all your devices will benefit. If you're really stretched for cash, but still want to add a dual-band router, you might want to consider using Netgear's less-expensive RangeMax router ($100-$120), which lacks the Linksys router's network-attached hard drive option.

Can We All Just Get Along?

While I still had the Linksys router/adapter hooked up, I re-installed one of the Netgear adapters as an AP on the new router and took the other all the way downstairs to the basement in an attempt to assist a struggling 2.4-GHz 802.11n wireless USB adapter.

The results amazed both the entertainment junkie and the geek sides of me. On the one hand, it brought video (not to mention file sharing) to the dark and dank recesses of my house. On the other, everything worked together. And aside from some password settings at the router end, all I had to do to make everything work together was reboot equipment and press a few WPS buttons. You just can't beat functionality and simplicity; I'm now in the market for a few dual-band USB network adapters.

In all respects, it's the best example of interoperability among supposed 802.11n equipment I've seen in last two years. And that's a compliment to both Linksys and Netgear.

Read more about Networking in Computerworld's Networking Topic Center.



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