Netgear delivers a high-end router that gets close to networking nirvana.
There aren’t too many homes or small offices that don’t already have a router running their network. So the question is, what does a router need to deliver to compel you to upgrade to a newer model? We’d suggest that 802.11n and Gigabit Ethernet are two criteria worth considering. Netgear’s WNR3500 delivers on both those scores, but we’ll need to dig a little deeper than the specs sheet to see if this router has what it takes.
To start with, Netgear has moved away from the short, flat form factor of most routers, with the WNR3500 standing upright. We can see this being a great feature, as its smaller footprint means it can be placed on a shelf. The front face has the usual indicators for network activity in each of the four Gigabit Ethernet ports and WAN port, as well as a button for using WPS for secure wireless setup.
Installation was reasonably straightforward, with the configuration utility being fully browser-based. The setup tool is run from a CD. We were a little surprised that the router’s default IP address and login details aren’t on any of the printed material. We’d expect expert users to dive straight into the router’s configuration options, but you’l need to either guess the default address or run through the setup utility.
The Netgear SmartWizard was easy to use, but we were annoyed to find that it wouldn’t run unless the router was already connected to the Internet. Given that we had no way of knowing whether the router was adequately secured before going through the configuration routine, we found this a little surprising. Once we gave the WNR3500 an Internet connection, it started by checking the Netgear website for the latest router firmware. We can see why Netgear has gone down this road, but we did feel a little uneasy in connecting a router that was an unknown quantity with regards to security to the Internet.
With all that done, the SmartWizard guided us through setting up wireless security. Instructions are provided in easy language, with technical jargon, where used, well explained. Once we were through the SmartWizard, we had an Internet connection that could be used both wirelessly and with cable.
Wireless performance was excellent. We’re always skeptical of what the packaging claims, but the WNR3500 uses the term “RangeMax” for good reason. We connected a Toshiba Portege R500 to the WNR3500 over Wi-Fi and managed to maintain a wireless connection for over 30m, with the Windows Vista signal strength only dropping to fair when we put a solid brick wall between the computer and the router.
We also connected a pair of computers, the Portege R500 and an Apple MacBook Pro over Gigabit cable connections, with large files in excess of 350MB moving between computers in just a few seconds.
So, what’s missing? While the WNR3500 ticks most of the boxes for a high-end router with Gigabit, 802.11n, QoS and Dynamic DNS, there are no USB ports for easily sharing printers or hard disks. Also, there’s really not a lot of documentation in the box. For a novice user, that’s quite poor. While the online and PDF documentation on the CD are quite good, we’d expect at least a brief guide with the router’s default IP and login details supplied.
Ultimately, the decision on what router to buy comes down to a balance of features. The Netgear RangeMax Wireless-N Gigabit Router ticks most of the boxes for high-end home or small office router.