Netgear's N600 Wireless Dual Band Gigabit Premium Edition (WNDR3800) wireless router has a comprehensive feature-set and good ease of use. It's a dual-band router that can reach wireless speeds up to 300Mbps, and it offers a long wireless range and good reliability. You also get useful built-in NAS and "cloud" functionality so that you can more easily share and access your data.
Physical features and basic setup
Physically, the N600 has a typical, flat design with bright LEDs that reflect off a front lip. The LEDs are strong and can be distracting, and there is no way to turn them off or lower their intensity. Wall mounting is possible, there is also a stand, and there is a power switch on the back. One USB port is present on the rear, which can be used to share a storage device or a printer. There are four Gigabit Ethernet ports and a WAN port, so that you can plug in your own modem, and the router supports IPv6.
Setting up the router proved to be a pain-free experience for us for the most part. When we started the configuration, the router changed its local IP from 192.168.1.1 to 10.0.0.1 and changed the address in the URL bar to routerlogin.com. It was a little confusing at first, but the premise behind this is that you don't have to remember an IP to log in to the router, just that URL. It's a URL that will only work on your local network for your router; it won't work over the Internet. If you want to access your router remotely, you'll still need to know your IP address and have remote access enabled in the router's configuration.
The first thing we noticed after logging in to the router is that after all these years the Netgear web interface has finally undergone some changes. When we logged in to the router (using 10.0.0.1), we were greeted by the Netgear Genie interface, which has two tabs: Basic and Advanced. The Basic tab is laid out with large buttons for the wireless settings page, the Internet configuration page, the parental controls page, the attached devices page, the ReadySHARE page and the guest network page.
The Netgear Genie interface has big buttons for its main functions, making it more user-friendly than the Netgear interface of the past.
It's an interface that's been spruced up to look a little more modern, with a different colour scheme and bigger and rounder buttons to click on, but the underlying layout of most pages is the same as it is in older Netgear routers. Getting to those pages is what has changed, and we like the changes. Unless you're an enthusiast, you'll probably never need to click on the Advanced tab because all of the main configuration options are available in Basic mode. Help is still present within the interface and there is now a search bar that allows you to scour the Netgear Knowledge Base directly (it'll open a new browser window to do this).
The router automatically and correctly detected our Internet settings (PPPoE) and this took a couple of minutes. All we had to do was enter our ISP login details. The password is not hashed when entered here, but the password is hashed in the Internet settings page itself. As the N600 doesn't have its own modem built in to it, we used the Billion BiPAC 5200S RD ADSL2+ modem for our tests. It produced expected results using the PC World Broadband Speed Test: 16 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloads, and 0.87Mbps for uploads on our iiNet ADSL2+ connection. We found the router's performance to be reliable throughout our lengthy test period — we didn't experienced any unexplained drop-outs or restarts and the speed was never sluggish.
The router supports simultaneous dual-band, 300Mbps wireless networking and you can conveniently set up both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks, as well as encryption, from the same page. Our only quibble is that the "Apply" and "Cancel" buttons are at the top of the page, which is disorienting. It takes about 30 seconds before the network changes are applied. The Netgear comes with predefined wireless network security by default, so even if you forget to set up the wireless network after you're up and running on the Internet, you will still have an encrypted wireless network (the default password on our router was "fancyonion317").
In terms of wireless performance, the WNDR3800 produced noticeable improvements over the WNDR3700 that we reviewed last July (although the WNDR3700 is not strictly a router but a modem-router). Both its 2.4GHz and 5GHz performance results showed speed gains over that product and it offered a slightly better usable wireless range. We were able to use the router for basic web browsing from a range of around 40m away (for the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands); this range will depend on your own environment and weather you have thick walls, a lot of glass, and large electrical appliances as obstacles, as well as other wireless routers in the vicinity. But compared to other routers we have tested in the same environment, the WNDR3800's range rates as excellent.
Using the 2.4GHz network to transfer files from our files server to our Intel-based dual-band laptop, we achieved speeds of 10.47 megabytes per second (MBps) from 2m away and 9.53MBps from 10m away. Using 5GHz, the same file transfers averaged 12.2MBps from 2m away and 9.41MBps from 10m away.
You can see that at the longer distance the 5GHz network didn't offer an advantage, but these are very good speeds nonetheless. They allow for high definition videos to be streamed smoothly, even while others on your network are browsing the Internet or downloading files on other wireless devices. Of course, the benefit of running the 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks simultaneously is that you can separate that traffic to ensure that there is enough bandwidth and minimal interference for your multimedia traffic and regular wireless traffic.
Parental controls and USB storage
Along with great wireless networking performance and a Gigabit Ethernet switch for fast wired transfers, the N600 has a couple of other features up its sleeve: parental controls (Live Parental Controls) and ReadySHARE network attached storage. It's these features that aim to make it a complete, all-round product for a family.
The parental controls take you to an Internet site when you click on this option in the router's settings. It's a free service from OpenDNS that can provide security from identity theft and questionable web content. It requires installation of the Live Parental Controls management utility, which is available for PC and Mac computers, and to use it you will have to create an OpenDNS account.
Live Parental Controls gives you protection from many nasty sites.
You can enable minimal, low, moderate, high or custom levels of filtering and you can also set filtering for certain times of the day. You can add exceptions for devices on your network or use the whitelist to allow sites that you don't want to be blocked. If you want to use keyword filtering, you can do this through the router itself. Overall, it's a filtering system that works very well.
The filter can be customised and also set to work at a certain time of the day.
The ReadySHARE function of this router allows you to share a USB drive locally and across the Internet (via the ReadySHARE Cloud feature) or you can use it to share a printer. There is only one USB port and it's located at the back of the router with the Ethernet ports. When you plug in a USB drive, it will show up as another location on your network, making it easy to retrieve and add files. You can create folders on attached drives and also control which users can access them.
The Cloud feature requires you to create an account at readyshare.netgear.com, and then you need to enter your login details in the router's configuration page. You can then access the contents of your USB drive remotely when you log in to the Netgear ReadySHARE site.
If you want to add contents to the USB drive remotely, then you will have to download and install the ReadySHARE Cloud software on the remote computer you are using. Windows might warn you that it's not verified software, though. It takes a minute to install, but once it's complete you can then access your remote drive as if it were a folder on your local network and drag and drop files to it.
There is plenty to like about the Netgear N600, and in addition to all the features mentioned above, it also hosts standard router features such as a firewall, port forwarding, QoS and DLNA. It also includes a traffic meter that you can set up to either disconnect the Internet connection when you reach your data limits, or to warn you by changing the behaviour of the Internet status LED on the front panel. We like this router a lot and think it's a good choice for the home, or even for a small office environment.