Netgear doesn't leave much to the imagination with its product names. Take the Netgear RangeMax Dual Band Wireless-N Gigabit Router (WNDR3700): its full name lets you know exactly what you're getting. The WNDR3700 doesn't have a modem built into it, so you'll either have to use your existing modem or get a new one to attach to it.
Unlike many wireless routers on the market, the Netgear RangeMax WNDR3700 doesn't have any external antennas, so it looks clean and can't be used to poke anyone in the eye. Instead it has a series of internal antennas that can facilitate wireless networking in both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency spectrums. It has physical buttons for implementing the highest possible security setting via WPS (WiFi Protected Setup) or you can use the PIN that's printed at the bottom of the router if your devices don't have physical buttons for WPS.
On the back of the router is a 4-port Gigabit Ethernet switch, a USB port and a power button. A stand ships with the unit, so you can either place it upright or lay it flat on a desk, and the router is also wall-mountable. The front of the WNDR3700 has bright indicator lights and a reflective lip, so you can see the status lights clearly from different angles.
Netgear supplies a CD-ROM with the WNDR3700 that makes it very easy to set up the router. It goes through all the disconnections and connections that you have to make, and in which order. Once everything is connected, it verifies communications with the router and allows you to complete your Internet connection and wireless networking settings. If you already know how to set up a wireless router, then you can just log in to its Web interface. While the RangeMax WNDR3700 may look slick on the outside, its Web interface is ugly and a little too busy.
The Web interface uses the same layout as previous Netgear routers.
It's the same Web interface that Netgear has used for years, and it still relies on frames. The far right frame has definitions of the terms that are present in the middle of the screen (the part of the screen where you actually change the settings), while the far left frame contains the navigation menu. The top frame has the router's name and language setting, and it is a waste of space. If you try to access the Web interface from a netbook with a 600-line vertical resolution, you'll have to do a lot of scrolling.
We had no problems getting the WNDR3700 up and running with our iiNet connection; all we had to do was enter our login details. Because the WNDR3700 doesn't have a built-in modem, you can use either an ADSL2+ modem or a cable modem.
Wireless networking and security
The dual-band wireless functionality of the WNDR3700 is its most impressive feature. It allows you to run both 2.4GHz 802.11n and 5GHz 802.11n wireless bands simultaneously. This way, you can dedicate one network to streaming videos and online gaming while using the other network for file transfers and Internet usage. The speed and distance of the 5GHz band was much better than the 2.4GHz band, as there was less interference. File transfers from a server to a Centrino 2 notebook (with an Intel WiFi Link 5100 adapter) averaged 3.41 megabytes per second (MBps) and the network connection speed fluctuated between 39 and 65 megabits per second (Mbps).
Using the 5GHz band, the same file transfer averaged 7.09MBps. You can see that this is a vast speed improvement over the 2.4GHz band, and we recommend using 5GHz as much as possible if your adapters and devices support it. You can set up networks and use both bands simultaneously, which is what makes the WNDR3700 so great. For example, if you were to use the only the 2.4GHz band to stream movies and conduct file transfers, the video stream would stutter (as it did in our tests). You could get around this by using the 2.4GHz band just for video streaming and the 5GHz band just for file transfers. When we did this in our tests, the video playing over the 2.4GHz band didn't stutter, and the file transfer over the 5GHz band maintained its 7.09MBps transfer rate.
The 5GHz band also offers a boost in performance over longer distances. From a distance of 15m away from the router, we achieved a transfer rate of 4.46MBps using the 5GHz band and 2.86MBps using the 2.4GHz band.
You have to set up both networks with different names, and each network can have its own security level (up to WPA/WPA2, TKIP and AES) and a different password. Additionally, you can set up guest access for both types of networks — letting users access the Internet, but not the local area network.
The USB port on the WNDR3700 can be used to attach an external hard drive or a USB key. You can then access files on the drive from any computer on your network, or even from a computer on the Internet. The router gives you the IP address that you need to use in order to view the contents of the attached device over the Internet (this address will change periodically), and Internet access is not enabled by default. If you choose to enable Internet access, be sure to also enable password protection. You can't select a specific password for the attached USB device — it uses the same password as the router. For this reason, it's imperative to change the password of the router when you set it up.
One thing that was disappointing about this feature was its limited media streaming capability. There is a media server feature, but we could only use it with PCs and notebooks — our PlayStation 3 couldn't see it.
Nevertheless, the implementation of the USB storage port on the WNDR3700 is much better than we've seen from some other routers on the market, such as Belkin N+ Wireless Storage Router (F5D8235au4).
We were able to achieve good speeds when transferring files from a 16GB Toshiba USB key; over the 5GHz network, we achieved an average speed of 5.23MBps, while over the 2.4GHz network the speed averaged 3.04MBps. (These speeds were recorded on a notebook with an Intel WiFi Link 5100 wireless adapter.)
Apart from dual-band operation and the USB port, you get built-in quality of service (QoS) for prioritising Internet traffic, an SPI firewall, keyword and port filtering, and there is even a traffic meter. The traffic meter works by knowing how much quota you have, and when your reset date is. It can then warn you if you're about to go over your quota. However, there is no way to add separate peak and off-peak limits, which is a bummer for Australians since many ISPs have separate quotas. You're better off using a dedicated usage monitor for your ISP instead.
The included traffic meter is fine if you want to take a look at how much you've downloaded during a particular period, but a meter designed for your ISP should be used for greater accuracy.
We absolutely love the dual-band operation of the RangeMax WNDR3700 and it's much better than previous dual-band products we've seen from Netgear, such as the Netgear RangeMax Duo Wireless N Router (WNDR3300). It worked very well during our tests and achieved good speeds in an environment cluttered with 2.4GHz access points. It should definitely be considered if you live in a large apartment block and want more reliable and faster wireless networking performance, as long as your other devices support 5GHz operation.
Follow PC World Australia on Twitter: @PCWorldAu
Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.