The slow development of cost-effective medical microdevices with strong analytical performance characteristics is due to a lack of selective and efficient analyte capture and signaling. The recently developed programmable nano-bio-chip (PNBC) is a flexible detection device with analytical behavior rivaling established macroscopic methods. The PNBC system employs ≈300 μm-diameter bead sensors composed of agarose “nanonets” that populate a microelectromechanical support structure with integrated microfluidic elements. The beads are an efficient and selective protein-capture medium suitable for the analysis of complex fluid samples. Microscopy and computational studies probe the 3D interior of the beads. The relative contributions that the capture and detection of moieties, analyte size, and bead porosity make to signal distribution and intensity are reported. Agarose pore sizes ranging from 45 to 620 nm are examined and those near 140 nm provide optimal transport characteristics for rapid (<15 min) tests. The system exhibits efficient (99.5%) detection of bead-bound analyte along with low (≈2%) nonspecific immobilization of the detection probe for carcinoembryonic antigen assay. Furthermore, the role analyte dimensions play in signal distribution is explored, and enhanced methods for assay building that consider the unique features of biomarker size are offered.