The scoop: WiFi Range Extender (model EX6100), by NETGEAR, about $90
What is it? This tiny device plugs into an electrical wall outlet in your home to provide extended Wi-Fi signal range for your existing home network. The dual-band device (it works over 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies) supports 802.11ac as well as 802.11b/g/n clients and routers. The unit can operate in two modes - you can extend the range of an existing Wi-Fi network, or you can create your own Wi-Fi network in access point mode (by connecting the device via an Ethernet cable to your router). The Ethernet port can also be used to give wireless network access to network-enabled client devices that don't have built-in wireless - for example, older consumer electronics clients, game consoles or TVs/Blu-ray players. Two external antennae on the device also let you adjust the direction of the wireless signals for receiving and sending.
Why it's cool: In addition to providing the latest Wi-Fi network support (802.11ac), the EX6100 includes handy icons that tell you whether the unit is too close or too far away from the home wireless router. Sometimes when using an extender, it's tough to tell whether the location you're placing the unit will truly extend it to reach the area where you're having wireless coverage issues. When setting up the EX6100, a red light will tell you if you need to move the unit, and then an arrow points to either the router or the client to give you a sense of where you need to relocate the device.
+ ALSO ON NETWORK WORLD 2 tools that can kill dead spots +
Setting up the EX6100 was also a lot easier than with some other extenders I've tried - all I needed to do was plug in the unit and then use a browser on my computer to start using the admin area and setup tools. The setup provided simple step-by-step directions for naming the extended part of the network, adding network passwords for each of the networks and finalizing the configuration. Once the device was ready to go, the browser-based admin software lets you do things like check the status of the extended network or firmware upgrades.
An advanced option I found interesting was the choice of using NETGEAR's "FastLane Technology", which utilizes the dual bands to provide a performance boost for clients using the extender. In the default "Internet Surfing" mode, the extender can connect clients via both 2.4GHz and 5.GHz modes, and then transmit the connection to the router over those same frequencies. Switching to FastLane mode lets you choose one frequency for the extender, and then the unit uses the other frequency to connect to the router.
In this mode, I set up the extender to be a 2.4GHz network only for the clients, but then from the extender to the router it traveled over 5GHz. In my limited setup it was hard to tell whether this really does give a performance boost for video/gaming streaming (since most streaming is limited to your Internet broadband connection anyway), but users with lots of competing devices (or LAN-based streaming issues) might get a kick out of trying this mode.
Some caveats: I ran into some glitches trying to download the NETGEAR Genie software for my Mac (it kept saying the install file was damaged); updating the firmware on the unit required that we set up the extended networks over again (slightly annoying).
Grade: 4.5 stars (out of five).
The scoop: Das Keyboard 4 Professional mechanical keyboard, by Metadot, about $170.
What is it? The latest mechanical keyboard from Das Keyboard continues to add to its very serious profile with improvements geared to computer users who do lots of typing. The new version includes a solid, anodized aluminum top panel, gold-plated mechanical switches (for the clickety-clackety sound and tactile feedback, and a new over-sized volume knob that lets you quickly adjust the volume if something you're listening too comes in too soft (or, more likely, too loud). The full-sized keyboard includes a number pad, arrow keys and an instant sleep button, which puts a connected computer into sleep mode. An extra-long, 6.6-foot USB cable provides more flexibility when placing the keyboard away from the computer. A USB 3.0 hub gives an additional two ports for USB peripherals, and instead of flip-out feet on the bottom that raise the angle of the keyboard, the Das Keyboard 4 provides a magnetic "foot bar" that can detach from the keyboard and double as a ruler.
Why it's cool: I've always been a big fan of the Das Keyboard since it came out in 2005, and its latest version certainly doesn't disappoint. If you're a touch-typist, you'll type a lot faster with the tactile feedback from the mechanical keys (at least, I do). When you're in a good mode of writing a story or coding, the noise you create with the keyboard will impress those around you (unless you are in a cube where people don't enjoy the noise of working), especially if you get into a good rhythm. The volume knob was a nice touch - I always have a hard time figuring out where on the keyboard the volume up/down buttons are located. Like previous models, the new keyboard comes with the option of having letter keys labeled, or for the ultimate in showing off, the "Ultimate" keyboard has black, non-labeled keys. For gamers, the system includes "N-key rollover over USB", which the company says eliminates the need for a PS2 adapter.
Some caveats: The foot bar is a nice-to-have option, but the raised keyboard angle seemed a bit odd, compared with the older flip-out feet style. I'm not really sure why people would need a ruler or straight edge when using a keyboard. The price is aimed at the heavy-duty typists on your staff - users who don't type as much probably wouldn't appreciate these professional features, and you could give them a less-expensive model if they really needed the external keyboard. Gamers might gravitate towards more-specific gaming keyboards than this provides, but if those gamers also do a lot of typing/writing/programming, this certainly could be used instead of a gaming keyboard.
Grade: 4.5 stars
Shaw can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @shawkeith
Read more about anti-malware in Network World's Anti-malware section.