Editors' note: Netgear has released a firmware update that adds support for WPA-PSK. You can download the update from the Netgear support site. (5/3/04)
With the WGR614 router, Netgear applies its sexy industrial design and consumer-friendly approach to the brave new world of 802.11g. The WGR614 is basically an 802.11g version of Netgear's MR814, perhaps the best 802.11b router ever made. In most respects, the WGR614 lives up to this legacy, delivering not only effortless setup but also the fastest performance and longest operating range of any 802.11g router we've tested. Only two sticking points keep the WGR614 from earning a CNET Editors' Choice: its laggard performance in our mixed-mode test (when both 802.11g and 802.11b devices are running) and Netgear's new policy of forcing users to register in order to activate their warranty. Nonetheless, thanks to its stunning looks, ease of use, and low average selling price of just more than $100, the WGR614 is a great 802.11g buy for home users. It's great to see a product such as the Netgear WGR614 router that's clearly carefully designed for a good consumer experience. The latest Netgear setup software is a simple, browser-based wizard, called the Install Assistant, that forces you to check off steps as you go, from connecting cables to rebooting your system. At each point, a tasteful bit of animation makes your job crystal clear. The wizard even provides a little movie (specific to your Windows or Mac OS version) that shows where to click so that your computer can obtain an IP address from the network automatically. And, yes, an Ethernet cable is provided.
When it's time to connect to your ISP, you switch to the browser-based Settings interface. Here, another wizard pops up to automatically grab your ISP's DNS settings, determine if you have a fixed or dynamic IP, and see whether PPPoE is in use--removing some common stumbling blocks for newbies. A test feature provides confirmation that you're ready to roll and shunts you to Netgear's support-and-registration Web page. After you've completed the router setup, the browser-based configuration utility appears on your screen. The utility is typical in most respects, except that it provides useful explanations that stay onscreen as you click through the well-organized options.
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|The install assistant keeps things basic.|
Unfortunately, we did notice a couple of design blunders. The MAC address cloning setting is hidden; curiously, you can access it only by telling the wizard that your ISP does not require a login and password. (If your ISP blocks any device that has a MAC address different than that of the computer you first signed on with, you need MAC address cloning or your router can't log in.) The other oversight, and it's a bad one, is that the whole setup procedure tells you nothing at all about wireless security other than admonishing you to create a unique SSID.
Fortunately, Netgear's HTML Resource Manual is quite complete and includes plenty of its own advice about security. It also does a much better job than most manuals do at pointing to specific features offered by the router's configuration software, with plenty of screenshots to remove all doubt. A wireless primer in an appendix and a separate manual explaining PC networking round out this very complete package.
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|Resource Manual explains the router's full potential.|
Behind all that prettiness, there are plenty of powerful, home-oriented features, including extensive content filtering. The router can log all Web sites visited, block specific URLs (or sites containing certain keywords), and even send e-mail if someone tries to visit a blocked site. You can also block specific computers on the network during a specified time period on selected weekdays. You even get a built-in, stateful packet-inspection firewall to avert hacker attacks over the Internet. Other advanced features include port forwarding (oriented toward multiplayer gaming) and remote router management.
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|The WGR614 can block access to specific sites.|
The WGR614's wireless security features, on the other hand, are plain vanilla. You can set up MAC address filtering so that only computers with the right 64-bit or 128-bit WEP encryption key can connect, but there is no mention of support for emerging security standards such as 802.1x authentication or Wi-Fi Protected Access, and you can't tell the router not to broadcast your SSID, as is possible with the Linksys WRT54G.
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|The WGR614's no-frills wireless-configuration options may disappoint some.|
The fly in the ointment is the WGR614's 802.11g performance in our mixed-mode test, which measures the router's throughput when an 802.11b device is also connected. Here, the total, or aggregate, throughput slipped to 7Mbps--not the worst we've seen but still slightly below average. Keep this so-so mixed-mode performance in mind if you're likely to have a mix of 802.11b and 802.11g devices hanging around.
CNET Labs' maximum throughput tests (Throughput in Mbps)
CNET Labs' mixed-mode throughput tests (Throughput in Mbps)
As its benchmark, CNET Labs uses NetIQ's Chariot 4.3 software on a console system with clients running NetIQ 4.4 Performance End Points. Our results reflect the payload throughput of a network device transmitting at varying distances and at its dynamically chosen fall-back rate. This allows you to see both the maximum throughput of a device as well as the decreased throughput that you are likely to see with increased range. Throughput can vary widely from the speeds that vendors typically advertise. Our tests give you a real-world gauge of what you are likely to experience on your own network. For more details on how we test networking devices, see the CNET Labs site. The only flaw with Netgear's service and support for the WGR614 is the stipulation that you must register to get it. Once you you've divulged your personal information through Netgear's online registration form, you get a three-year limited warranty that includes 24/7, toll-free phone support, which is pretty standard for most routers. Netgear also offers plenty of Web resources, including a searchable knowledge base, e-mail support, and the usual catalog of downloadable drivers, firmware, and manuals. SOHO users can opt for premium support through a partnership with Decision One, a fee-based service that provides application-level troubleshooting along with security and network hand-holding by phone. The cost is $28.95 per incident or $1.99 per minute.