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Netgear N600 300 Mbps 4-Port Gigabit Wireless N Router (WNDR3700) Reviews

Netgear N600 300 Mbps 4-Port Gigabit Wireless N Router (WNDR3700)

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Finally, a full-featured router that's reliable and has fairly usable web access control

Oct 16, 2010 (Updated Oct 23, 2010)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

  • Ease of Installation:
  • Ease of Use:

Pros:Reliable, dual band, good range, running cool, easy setup, best web access control,

Cons:The web access control still not perfect.

The Bottom Line: Although not perfect, this is the best router for a family.


I have gone through an embarrassing number of routers in the last 10 years, possibly averaging one every year. The last few routers, a D-Link DIR-655 and a SMC WGBR14-N, all proved to be quite good, but the D-Link did not last very long (the thing run untouchablly hot when it was on, so it probably got fried with no surprise), and the SMC, although very reliable, had completely useless web access control. The D-Link was slightly better but also very bad in this aspect.

I hesitated quite a bit to buy yet another router, but the need of customizable Web access control finally won the argument so I got the Netgear. And I am fairly satisfied.

Overall:

Even without considering the much-better-than-others web access control, which I will discuss in detail below, this router easily ranks among the best. Many strong points altogether make it a top choice.

- Dual band operation (simultaneously) at 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. This gives you better compatibility, and in the 5 GHz mode, does offer the benefit of less interferences in the radio background, although at a cost of a significantly shorter range.

- Very reliable and stable connections. And fast. I don't know why some uses are not satisfied with the speed. This actually approaches 300Mbps speed at close range. Even the laptop used at downstairs can achieve well over 100Mbps. It is important that you not use WEP security mode. Like most other wireless-n devices, this router is not compatible with the old WEP security and would default to 54M maximum speed.


- The ability to set up a separate guest account with a different SSID with a different password. If you do have guests who need Wi-Fi, this is a very nice feature because, first, you can have a very easy to remember password for the guest account, and second, you don't need to be concerned that anyone might get onto your network. In reality, the first benefit is more practical. On a number of occasions when I was at other people's places, a much-needed guest access to Wi-Fi couldn't be easily had because the host couldn't remember the password. The family computers were set up a long time ago, so it is quite common that the password is either forgotten, or not known by everyone in the house. 

- Easy setup and reliable access to control. This is one of the routers that you can reliably access by directly connecting a computer to the router using an Ethernet cable without having to manually set an IP address of the computer in the TCP settings of the network connections. This is so important for straightforward router setting up and management. You just plug in the cable, open a browser and enter the right IP address or URL of the router (preferably bookmarked on your browser), and you are in control of the router. You don't need to run any CDs or software. You can access the router anytime without any assistance. So simple and predictable. Strangely enough, most routers do not have this seemingly simple ability (Note: I'm talking about accessing non-configured router to configure it here. Once the router is configured, of course, you should be able to access its control through any computer connected to it. That is a given on all routers today.)  The other routers would require you to manually set the IP address of the computer to be in the same IP address range (subnet) in order to access the router before the router is configured, unless you take the trouble of running a proprietary setup software, which of course you usually don't have with you unless it is the first time you have opened the box to install it. And even if you somehow manage to find the CD, running the software implies a complicated process in which many things can go wrong, and that's one of the reasons why people complain about routers so much in general.

- The radio range is comparable to the SMC, which is very good. It covers a two-story home with signal strength over 50% every corner.

- Unlike the D-Link, the Netgear runs very cool.

- The black box is also the best looking router I've seen. Also, I appreciate the fact that it doesn't have antennas sticking out.

- And lastly, the Live Parental Control offered by Netgear with OpenDNS. The Netgear router's own built-in net access control has nothing worth mentioning, completely unusable like you would find in most other routers.  The Live Parental Control has quite a lot to like and is the first ever Web access control that I feel is usable. It is still far from being perfect by any standard, but this is many times better than the best built-in access control in any router I've ever seen, and the only one that is actually usable in my opinion.

This is the reason why I abandoned the extremely reliable SMC and bought the Netgear.  But I'm only partially satisfied. I don't regret buying it, as it really achieved some of the goals I had. But there is a lot of room for improvement. I will discuss this major feature separately below.

Live Parental Control:

When it comes to web access control, it is not in a "anything-is-better-than-nothing" category. If it is not good enough, you just don't want to use it, because you would mess up you and your family's Internet life. My experience with the previous routers was unbelievably frustrating, not because the setting up was difficult (it was), but because the overall design was terribly bad and essentially incompetent without exception.

There are three different types of approaches to web access control. The first is local computer-based using software installed on the local computer; the second is router-based using router programming to allow centralized control over all computers in the same LAN; and the third is server-based service (typically for subscriptions) to allow easy remote access. Netgear uses an interest blend of all these three approaches, and based on my experience I think they are onto something. If implemented well, they would be able to offer the best in the world.

Live Parental Control is easily the best I have seen so far that is offered free along with a router. I have not used the subscription-based solutions offered by other companies because I believe fundamentally the right way to do this is at the router level.
To use Live Parental Control, you create a user account at opendns.com. The account is associated with your router. A management utility needs to be installed on a computer for basic management, but for full control of the account, you need to log on to the web-based account. Each account is given a main account with customizable filtration levels. This is the default filtration on any computer that is connected to the router. The filtration levels are based on selection of more than 50 categories. I found the filtration to be very effective. In addition, the blacklist and whitelist of websites maybe created.

What really makes Live Parental Control unique is its use of bypass user accounts which function as modifiers on top of the default filtration. You may create a bypass user account for each individual. The filtration of the individual account is customizable just like the main account. You install a user utility program on a computer, and if the user logs onto the bypass account, the filtration settings of the bypass account overwrites that of the default main account. This is a great design that allows a great deal of flexibility.

The "bypass account" feature is easy to set up for each individual user (family members) to have customized web access with multiple and flexible time schedules. Yes, not only does each user have his own schedule, but also each user may have multiple time slots scheduled for customizable filtration settings. This is far better than the scheduling capability of access controls built in the routers.
Note that the management utility program needs to be installed on only one computer that is used for management of the network, but the user utility program needs to be installed on every computer in order for the bypass account to work on each computer.

However, as it stands now, Live Parental Control is still far from being perfect. It still has some basic problems with the design concept, and I don't know what all these product architects and programmers are thinking.

In the following, I'll identify several major problems, which can all be solved quite easily once they recognize the problems.

(1) Still has sadly inflexible time schedules. On the first blush, the thing seemingly allows a great deal of customization in time schedules, both in the default account and individual user accounts. But a slightly deeper look shows that all time schedules without exception are recurring daily schedules. There is no provision of a weekly schedule for different weekdays and weekend, and there is also no provision of a single time (nonrecurring) schedule. Why? Is it so difficult to realize people's lives don't run according to a fixed mechanical clock every day? Certainly I don't think it is difficult to program it once they realize the need for such flexibility (or reality, I would say). I must say that I'm disappointed, although this is overall far better than the previous ones I used because at least it allows easy setup for individual users.

(2) The "bypass account" feature works only on computers, not on other devices such as game consoles. You can't install a bypass account on a game counsel such as Wii, or an Internet TV box. So these devices will always be operating according to whatever you set up in the default account. Then again, this is only an imperfection of a fairly usable solution. Other guys don't even have a meaningful solution on this yet.

(3) The bypass account feature does not work with a wireless bridge in combination with the router. I tried Live Parental Control on a Netgear Rangemax WNDR3700 Router in combination with a NETGEAR Access Point/Bridge WNHDE111. To my disappointment, although the bypass user accounts would work well on computers that directly connect to the router, but don't work on computers that connect through the bridge to the router. The default settings work through the entire network. But the bypass accounts simply don't have any effect on computers that are connected to the bridge. Yes, I was certain that the user utility software was properly installed and the user account was logged on. In fact, I did some test by connecting the same computer directly to the router and found that the bypass account would immediately start to work. But once the direct connecting is cut and the computer is put back to connect through the bridge, the bypass account would immediately stop working. This is rather disappointing. I eventually had to take the computers off the bridge and used wireless adapters on each computer to do the work. The bridge ended up connecting to print servers only, greatly limiting its potential use.

Overall, this is good progress, but still has much to be desired. I think the market desperately needs a web access control system that meets the needs of today's families. So far, I haven't seen one. Netgear's Live Parental Control come pretty close, and I think if they would only read my review, they would realize that it doesn't take that much for them to improve this vastly, because fundamentally they are on the right platform.


Recommend this product? Yes


Amount Paid (US$): 150
Driver Availability: Don''t Know


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