For years, I’ve been complaining about the sorry state of consumer-grade wireless equipment. It never works properly. Every product I’ve ever used – and believe me, I’ve used a lot of them – is slow, buggy, and lacking in even the most basic of features. Originally, this was to be expected. Wireless was new, it was complicated, and it was expensive. Consumers wanted it, but they didn’t want to pay hundreds for it. Shortcuts had to be made. These days, though, when wireless chipsets are practically free and we’ve had years to refine the technology, there’s really no excuse for it.
Well, enter the Netgear WNDR 3700 Wireless Router. This little beast sits very nicely between the crappy consumer-grade hardware and the ridiculously overpriced and complex enterprise-grade hardware. It’s not cheap – at $160 to $200, this is one of the priciest routers you’ll ever see in a retail store. But let’s face it: you get what you pay for. If cost is your primary concern, you might as well quit reading this now and go buy that $30 Linksys model you found on Craigslist.
So, what do you get for your money? Well, three things, really: you get features, you get performance, and you get reliability.
Reliability is a huge deal for me. You know how nice it is to work with a system that has a good, old fashioned Ethernet connection? You don’t have to worry about drop-outs, slow downs, or other grief. You just get your work done. Well, that’s what this router brings, except now you can get your work done on the couch without tripping over wires. Through all my testing, this router didn't even hiccup. It works flawlessly, ceaselessly. There's not much more to say about this, but it's a really, really big deal.
And it's fast. Very fast. This is something that's often overlooked, because most consumers don't really push much data over home networks. But when you're copying ISO images, watching movies, using VOIP, working through RDP, opening big files, and doing all the other stuff us technical people do with networks, it really starts to matter. Perhaps the best way of summing up the performance of this router is by comparing a couple of quotes from SmallNetBuilder.com. Here are some (conveniently trimmed) excerpts from their preview article:
…the claim of "350 Mbps real-world maximum wireless throughput" definitely smells like "creative" marketing to me.
…the highest speed I have measured from any wireless router is 111 Mbps…
…it's highly unlikely that you'll see anywhere near 350 Mbps of "real world" TCP/IP wireless throughput from the WNDR3700, or any dual-stream draft 11n router, for that matter.
And then, their thoughts after reviewing the unit:
…it turns out that the WNDR3700 actually manages to deliver the goods and will get NETGEAR seriously back into the N router game…
…routing speed well above what most of us can use, plenty of simultaneous sessions and steady throughput…
Yes, the WNDR3700 really can deliver 250 - 300 Mbps…
Sure, there’s a bit more to the story than that, but the point is: this router is fast. Very fast. Oh, and did I mention the gigabit Ethernet ports? And not only is this router fast, it offers very impressive range on the 2.4 GHz radio – and remains fast at long distances. In fact, this router allows me to get great performance in places where other routers wouldn’t even connect (or would constantly drop the connection).
But perhaps the most interesting difference between this router and the rest of the crowd is the long list of well-implemented features it offers. All of the basic stuff is there, of course – and well implemented. DHCP reservation, static routing, a detailed log, great status reporting, good port forwarding and triggering, support for dynamic DNS services, and all the other stuff you hope to find (but often don’t) is right where you’d expect it to be. There are a few other nice touches, as well: automatic notification of new firmware (with one click to download and install right from Netgear’s server, if you want), very customizable tools to block certain sites or protocols (always, or according to a schedule), the ability to have the routers log e-mailed to you on a regular basis (or immediate notification of blocking activity), SPI firewall, great QOS support (by MAC address, port number, or physical LAN port), and a traffic meter.
But there are a few things that really set this router apart. Each of the two radios (one for 2.4 GHz and one for 5.0 GHz) can be configured separately, and each radio also supports a separate guest SSID that allows clients access to only the Internet while (optionally) preventing access to the local network or restricting access to the current SSID. Each of these connections can be configured with different SSIDs and security settings. This means this router can actually expose up to four different SSIDs and up to three isolated networks. Wireless repeating is supported, and can again be configured independently for each radio. And, there’s a USB port on the back for rudimentary NAS support. This is a very nice way of adding storage to your network, and while it might not be powerful enough to use as a primary storage device, it’s ideal for storing movies and music. It even runs a DLNA media server.
There are a few problems: the web GUI could be better (the router only lets you connect to the administration site from one IP address at a time), the NAS performance isn’t stellar, and the 5 GHz radio’s range could be better. But I haven’t come across anything really significant.
All in all, this is one fantastic device, so whenever you can possibly justify replacing your router, I highly recommend you invest in Netgear’s new baby. Finally, we have a ‘prosumer’ grade wireless router.
Go ahead. Treat yourself. Your network deserves it.