Everything isn't perfect yet, but manufacturers are steadily improving

With computer makers like Dell and network peripheral manufacturers like D-Link and Netgear releasing products based on the 802.11n draft standard, interest is starting to build for 100Mbps+ wireless network speeds. Back in April of this year, eWeek brought Linksys' WRT300N Wireless-N Broadband router and Netgear's RangeMax 240 (WPNT834) routers to its labs to see how things were panning out in 802.11n land. The initial performance results were promising with both routers seeing 100Mbps+ speeds in full-duplex traffic. The downside was the compatibility with 802.11g networks was rather poor (backwards compatibility is a must given the proliferation of low-cost 802.11g gear).

eWeek has taken another stab at 802.11n testing this week with fresh networking gear from Belkin, Buffalo and Netgear. This time around, even more impressive speeds were achieved. Netgear's WNR854T + WN511T pairing saw over 130Mbps of real-world throughput. But for all the speed offered by these new 802.11n products, compatibility between chipsets is rather poor at this stage in development. From eWeek:

Connecting the Atheros-based Belkin adapter to either of the Broadcom-based routers we tested produced solid results -- in the 70M- to 90M-bps range... Using the Broadcom-based client adapters with the Belkin router was another story, unfortunately. We saw poor performance -- less than 20M bps at short distances -- despite the fact that the connection's link rate hovered at about 300M bps. The Marvell-based products did not interoperate at high speeds with any other products in our tests. The link rate topped out at the 802.11g-maximum 54M bps, which produced the expected 802.11g performance (in the neighborhood of 20M to 22M bps).

Compatibility with 802.11g networks is steadily improving. When connecting to 802.11g access points, 802.11n client adapters were able to achieve speeds three to five times that of legacy 802.11g client adapters. There have, however, been compatibility issues seen when pairing an Intel-based wireless client adapter with 802.11n routers -- D-Link also noted these issues and is working on a fix.

Things are getting better in the 802.11n world. Performance is increasing across the board, backwards compatibility is improving and wireless security is bulking up to protect the large amounts of data that can now be transmitted wirelessly. There will be a bevy of firmware updates from all manufacturers in the next few months as they strive to resolve performance and compatibility issues between chipsets. In the mean time, users should be advised to just wait it out until the final 802.11n spec is ratified.

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