The Netgear WNDR3800 N600 Wireless Dual-Band Gigabit Router - Premium Edition is inferior to the recently reviewed and top-notch Netgear WNDR4500 N900 only in its lack of support for the 450Mbps wireless standard and having one USB port instead of two. However, interestingly, it also offers something that the N900 doesn't: the ReadyNAS Cloud feature that enables access to data stored on a connected USB external hard drive via the Internet. Nonetheless, the two routers are very similar in terms of features and design. In terms of performance, we actually preferred the N600 since its real-world data rate on the 2.4GHz band was better than that of the N900 in our testing.
Priced at around $150, the WNDR3800 N600 router makes an excellent investment for both homes and home offices alike. For a router of similar configuration with slightly better performance and a tad fewer features, we'd also recommend the Asus RT-N56U.
Design and setup
The Netgear WNDR3800 N600 router looks like a mini version of the N900. This is not because it's a small router, but because the N900 is a very large one. Unlike the N900, the N600 has an easily detachable base, allowing the router to stay flat on a surface. It's also wall-mountable, which the N900 isn't.
On the back, the N600 has one WAN port (for connecting to an Internet source, such as a broadband modem), and four LAN ports (for wired clients). All of these ports are Gigabit Ethernet, promising a very fast wired network in case you want to have a robust home network. Also on the back, you'll find an on/off button and one USB port for USB storage devices or printers. When an external hard drive is connected to this port, apart from allowing local network users to access its data, the router is also capable of hosting a cloud storage service called ReadyShare Cloud, allowing remote users to access the data, too, via the Internet.
On the front, the router boasts an array of color-changing LEDs that reflect the status of the Internet connection, the wireless network, and the ports on the back. On top of these LEDs are a wireless on/off button and a Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) button. The former quickly turns the router's wireless network on or off, if for some reason you want to do so, and the latter quickly adds a wireless client to the router's wireless networks.
It's very easy to set up the N600 with the included Netgear Genie application, which is somewhat like the Cisco Connect software that comes with the Linksys E4200. This is a newer version of Netgear Genie than the one that accompanied the , and it offers much more detailed instructions as well as deeper access to the router's settings. The best thing about the new Genie is the fact the router's firmware is now also part of it. This means if you don't want to use the desktop software and opt for the Web interface, which can be accessed by pointing a connected computer's browser to its default IP address, 192.168.1.1, you'll be presented with similarly easy-to-use wizards and instructions. You can use either the Web interface or the desktop software to manage all the settings. The only difference between the two is that the Web interface allows you to set up two separate networks for the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, while the software only allows you to make one network for the 2.4GHz band. This means savvy users should definitely use the Web interface to get the most out of the router. Unlike the Cisco Connect software, Netgear Genie allows users to use both the desktop application and the Web interface to manage the router, without one canceling out the other.
If you don't want to bother with customizing, the N600 comes preconfigured with a network's name and its encryption key printed on a label on its side. If you're OK with these default manufacturer settings, all you have to do is plug the router into an Internet source, such as a cable modem, turn it on, and you're good to go.
As a true dual-band router, the N600 is capable of simultaneously broadcasting Wireless-N signals in both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. It supports the regular N standard, which has a cap speed of 300Mbps. Other, more expensive routers, such as the N900, can also support the new 450Mbps standard, but only clients that support the same standard can take advantage of the new higher speed. Other than two main wireless networks, the N600 can also broadcast to two more guest wireless networks, one for each band. Guest networking is an increasingly popular feature that lets you create separate wireless networks that offer access to the Internet for guests while it separates them from local resources such as files or printers.
The N600's most novel feature, even among Netgear routers, is the fact that it supports ReadyShare Cloud. To use this, you'll first need to get a free account with Netgear's ReadyShare service and use it to register the router. After that, you can, from anywhere in the world, access data stored on the connected USB external drive via a browser by going to the same link above. You'll also have the option to install Netgear's ReadyShare Cloud PC-Agent software on the remote computer, which enables VPN-like access, as though the remote computer were in the same local network as the router.
Locally, the N600 supports the SMB protocol, meaning any computer in the network can browse for shares using a network browser, such as Windows Explorer for PCs or Finder for Macs. Once plugged in, the content of the USB external hard drive will be immediately shared across the network with everybody having full access to it. You then can restrict this access to certain folders via the router's admin log-in account. This is a rather simple yet effective way to quickly share content. We tried the router's USB port with a few external hard drives and they worked well. The router can handle hard drives formatted in FAT32 or NTFS and the USB port provides enough juice to power portable bus-powered external drives.
Apart from data sharing locally and over the Internet, the router also supports streaming digital content stored on the hard drive to DNLA-compliant network media players, such as the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, or even the TiVo. This feature automatically scans the attached external hard drive for digital content and makes it available to devices within the network. Also, the router can automatically scan for new content when new files are added or repeatedly over a period of time. We tried this out, and it worked as intended.
Another cool feature of the N600 is the OpenDNS-based Parental Controls, first introduced with the WNR2000. To use this, you first need to install the Netgear Live Parental Controls software, for which the Netgear Genie application and the Web interface both provide a download link. The software guides you through a few steps of setting up a free online account with OpenDNS and setting the overall Web filter level to high, moderate, low, minimum, or none, where high means most traffic will be blocked and none means nothing will be blocked. From there, you no longer need the software. From anywhere in the world, you can now go to the Parental Controls Center site, log in with the account you just created, and further customize the Web filtering feature of the router. For parents who are on the go a lot, this is a nice feature that makes sure they have control over the Internet access of those at home.
Like the N900, the N600 comes with a traffic meter that allows you to control the router's Internet connection. For example, you can set the router to disconnect from the Internet if a certain amount of data has been downloaded (or uploaded, or both) over a certain period of time. This is useful when you have a quota and don't want to go over. Unfortunately, the traffic meter applies the bandwidth control to the whole network rather than to individual computers, which means you can't use it to restrict one individual from downloading too much.