Netgear RangeMax NEXT wireless-N WN111 USB adapter

With the credit crunch tightening purse strings nationwide, the prospect of shelling out hundreds of pounds for a new PC or laptop might not appeal to that many right now. It may be the case that many of you out there will try and hang on to older PC equipment rather then reaching for the credit card and hitting the online shops.

One major reason for upgrading an old PC or laptop is an older computer's lack of Wi-Fi connectivity, especially considering that surfing and emailing are the two main home computing activities. So how can you easily upgrade your old PC to get it onto your home network? With a Wi-Fi adapter – a dongle type device that offers networking functionality for your PC or laptop.

Faced with exactly that - not wanting to shell out for a new PC, but wanting to get a second PC - an old Dell dinosaur - online, we opted to try out Netgear's latest and greatest Wi-Fi adapter – the Netgear RangeMax NEXT wireless N WN111 USB 2.0 adapter. Costing from around £45, depending where you shop, the WN111 ain't cheap, but it is cheaper than a new PC. So, what do you get for your money?

In the box is the actual adapter, which looks like a chunky white flash drive, the installation CD and a USB cable. The computer we wanted to get online was a Dell Pentium 4 running Windows XP.

Netgear says the WN111 will work with any desktop or notebook PC with Pentium 300MHz-compatible processor or higher that has an available USB 1.1 or USB 2.0 slot running Windows Vista, XP or 2000 SP4.

Set-up was super-simple – it really could not have been easier. Literally stick the installation CD into the drive and follow the set-up wizard's easy on-screen instructions that even tell you at what point to plug the adapter into the USB port.

When up and running – which took less than 10 minutes - the WN111 is completely unobtrusive – apart from the fact that it takes up one of your USB ports. The PC we used the WN111 on is upstairs in a Victorian house, around 8 metres from the downstairs Wi-Fi router – a BT Home Hub 2.0 – and performance was decent for webmail and surfing.

Speeds are fine, coverage is solid and all-in-all we didn't notice the difference from any other connected, or Wi-Fi-enabled PCs or laptops in the house (a MacBook, a ThinkPad, a Dell Dimension PC and an Asus Eee).

Netgear promises speeds of up to 300Mbps, when all conditions are perfect. In real life, at peak time, on a piddling BT 1.5MB broadband connection, the (admittedly aging) computer took on average around 10 seconds to load up Pocket-lint's homepage and around one minute eight seconds to download a 4MB music file – so considering the conditions, decent speeds.

Netgear obviously recommends that the adapter will work best (in their words, for "maximum performance") with one of its own "RangeMax" wireless-N routers, but it's backwards-compatible so should be fine with wireless-G routers, as well as other brand N, and draft-N devices, although more info is available on compatibility on Netgear's site before you splash the cash.

When hitting those "maximum performance" peaks, Netgear claims the WN111 will cover you for multiplayer gaming, simultaneous downloads, streaming HD video and large file sharing. Security-wise, the WN111 supports WEP, WPA-PSK, or WPA2-PSK wireless encryption standards, with the set-up wizard asking you for your current network's pass key during the process.

Verdict

Although we can't verify Netgear's claims that this easily supports such heavy internet use as is claimed, to get an older PC or laptop really easily and simply connected to a home Wi-Fi network – as long as your router is wireless-G, draft-N or N - we have no problem in recommending the WN111 as one to go for.