The pricey WNDR3700 from Netgear will not only pump out both 2.4 and 5 GHz 802.11n signals simultaneously, it offers a number of other worthwhile features as well, including guest networks, storage support, and a handy broadband traffic meter.
Netgear RangeMax Dual Band Wireless-N Gigabit Router WNDR3700
Price: $190 (MSRP)
Pros: supports simultaneous 2.4/5 GHz 802.11n networks;offers an isolatedguest network on each band; shared storage via USB port;integrated traffic meter monitors broadband consumption for entire network
Cons: USB port doesn’t support shared printer or Windows Connect Now; no secure access to remote storage; a bit priceyWhen it comes to 802.11n-compatible Wi-Fi routers, the term “dual-band” more often than not denotes a device that can produce either a 2.4 or 5 GHz wireless signal, but not both at the same time. That happens to be the case with the Netgear WNDR3300—which, until recently, was the company’s sole dual-band router model–but it’s not so with the WNDR3700 ($190), Netgear’s newest dual-band (and its top-of-the-line) offering.
The WNDR3700 joins a small group of competitors, such as the D-Link DIR-825 and Linksys WRT610N in delivering no-compromise dual-band support. The WNDR3700 will not only pump out both 2.4 and 5 GHz n signals simultaneously, it offers a number of other worthwhile features as well, including guest networks, storage support, and a handy broadband traffic meter.
The WDR3700 employs a new low-profile chassis design in glossy piano black that can be set up horizontally or vertically (via an included pedestal), and includes built-in points for wall mounting. The clean design is helped by the lack of any external antennas—the WNDR3700 uses an array of eight internal ones. On the back of the unit are the requisite four LAN and one WAN port (all Gigabit capable), a USB port for connection of a storage device and a power button that makes periodic router reboots less of a hassle.
Adjacent to the phalanx of multicolor indicator lights on the front panel is a WPS button and button that instantly shuts off Wi-Fi for both the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands. (You can turn individual networks off via the admin console.)
The WNDR3700 uses the same straightforward browser-based administration interface as previous Netgear products. It comes out of the box with both 2.4 and 5 GHz networks activated, albeit with encryption turned off for each. The router supports all important encryption methods–WPA-PSK (TKIP), WPA2-PSK (AES), and a hybrid mode of both. It also handles WPA/WPA2 Enterprise, which won’t benefit most home users, but does give small businesses or enthusiasts the option to authenticate users via a separate RADIUS server.
Within the WNDR370’s Advanced Wireless Settings you’ll find the ability to dial back the transmit power of each radio to 75%, 50%, or 25% power, which is handy in close quarters when you’d prefer to limit your network’s footprint for security reasons.
Although the WNDR3700 sports two radios, it’s capable of broadcasting four distinct simultaneous networks. On both the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands you can activate a separate wireless network for guests. This affords them an Internet connection while preventing access to your network and its resources, such as PCs, printers, etc. (You can still apply wireless encryption to the guest networks, if you so choose.)
To get a sense of the WNDR3700’s real-world performance potential, we tried taxing it by connecting lot of devices and pushing though multiple high-quality video streams. We tested using the WNDR3700’s default settings—save for WPA2 encryption turned on—which had the 2.4 GHz network set to b/g-compatible 130 Mbps mode, while the 5 GHz network was set to 300 Mbps mode. (All of the connected devices were between 30 to 50 feet from the router, with either one or two walls in between.)
On the 5 GHz network, we streamed a trio of MPEG2 HD video clips (two 720p and one 1080i), each with a bit rate of approximately 20 Mbps—to a pair of notebooks and a PlayStation 3 (PS3) game console simultaneously. (The notebooks linked to the WNDR3700 using Netgear’s WNDA111 dual-band USB adapter, while the PS3 used a WHDE111 5 GHz Wireless-to-Ethernet bridge.) All three videos played perfectly with nary a hint of hesitation or audio dropout.
Next, we connected another pair of notebooks to the 2.4 GHz side using internal 802.11n adapters. On one, we initiated a large file 10 GB transfer from a wired desktop system, while the other streamed video from a Slingbox-connected Tivo. For good measure, we fired up a Squeezebox streaming iTunes audio. In spite of all of this simultaneous activity, the WNDR3700 refused to be flummoxed. The WNDR3700 boasts a 680 MHz processor that Netgear says helps it manage two busy networks concurrently, though the admin console doesn’t provide a way to see how busy the processor is.
You can share a FAT32 or NTFS-formatted storage device on the network via the WNDR3700’s USB port, or share several if you connect a USB hub first. Connected storage is accessible via Windows SMB file sharing, FTP, and HTTP. You can enable FTP/HTTP access via the local network and the Internet separately, but the WNDR3700 doesn’t currently support the HTTPS protocol for secure remote connections. (Netgear says this will be added via a firmware update sometime in the next few months.)
The WNDR3700 doesn’t give you the level of access control you’d get from an actual NAS device; there’s no support for individual user accounts, but you can restrict read or read/write access on volumes to only the router’s admin account. You can also opt to share only specific authorized storage devices.
The WNDR3700 can act as a DLNA/UPnP server to stream media to PCs and other compatible devices. We had no trouble accessing media connected to the WNDR3700 both from Windows Media Player on a Windows 7 PC, as well as on a PlayStation 3.
Unfortunately, the WNDR3700’s USB port can’t be used for anything other than storage. That is to say, it doesn’t allow for printer sharing, nor does it support Microsoft’s Windows Connect Now (WCN) feature (which lets you offload Wi-Fi configuration data to a Flash drive for easier setup of Windows PCs).
In an age when more and more people are finding their all-you-can-eat Internet access replaced with ISP-imposed bandwidth caps and consumption-based tiered pricing, knowing how much data is passing through your broadband connection each month can be extremely important. The WNDR3700’s built-in Traffic Meter will tell you exactly that, and it’s the first router we’ve seen (other than models upgraded with open-source Tomato or DD-WRT firmware) that does.
The Traffic Meter will let you define a data consumption limit (just downloads, or up and down, since many ISPs count both) and will track your progress toward it. You can start/restart the meter on a particular day of the month to coincide with your ISP’s billing period. Exceed the limit and the WNDR3700 will flash one of its indicator lights, of if you prefer, put the kibosh on your connection to forestall any unexpected charges. (You can also find out about overages by e-mail if you configure the router to send out log reports.)
Better yet, traffic stats are saved to non-volatile internal Flash memory, so a router reboot or power failure won’t wipe the slate clean. About our only complaint about the Traffic Meter is that its reports (and your limits) are specified in MB; it would make more sense (and save users a bit of math) to use GB since that’s how ISP limits are measured.
The bottom line
The WNDR3700 is one of the more expensive consumer-focused 802.11n routers out there (the online price is around $160). But if you’re looking for a router with lots of features that can handle busy dual-band networks with aplomb—especially if your ISP has begun bit-counting–the WNDR3700 is a fine choice for your next router.