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It's a bit hard to categorize the Netgear N600 Wireless Dual Band Router WNDR3400. On one hand it has the stellar performance and features of a high-end wireless router; on the other, it doesn't support Gigabit Ethernet, a lack that is only found in budget low-end routers. At the street price of just around $80, however, this is a great deal nonetheless.
The WNDR3400 offers all-around great wireless performance on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands with excellent range, especially on the 2.4GHz band. Apart from the lack of Gigabit Ethernet, the only other complaint we have is the network storage throughput speed, which is mediocre. However, this is common among routers with the same features.
If you're looking for a well-rounded wireless router for your home and don't want to spend much, the WNDR3400 is worth every penny.
Design and setup
The N600 Wireless Dual Band Router WNDR3400 router looks much like a member of Netgear's RangeMax family of routers and access points. On top, right in the middle of the sleek black surface, it has a big, round blue button adorned with eight little LED lights that supposedly represent the directions in which the antennas are directed. Like most Netgear routers and access points, the WNDR3400 has an internal antenna design, making it more compact and tidier than routers with external antennas. This big blue button is also dubbed the Wi-Fi Protected Setup button. Press it and you will start a 2-minute window of time in which other WPS-enabled devices can enter the network.
On the back, the router has four LAN ports (for wired clients) and one WAN port (to be connected to an Internet source such as a broadband modem). These ports, unfortunately, are all regular 10/100Mbps Ethernet. Near the ports are the Wi-Fi on/off switch and a USB 2.0 port to host an external hard drive for the router's network storage feature.
On the front, the WNDR3400 has an array of LED lights that show the status of the network ports, the connection to the Internet, the USB port, and so on. The router has two detachable feet that enable it to work in the vertical position.
The router comes with a setup application called Netgear Genie that includes detailed step-by-step instructions. The instructions are so clear that we believe few would have trouble getting the router up and running. We were able to do so within 5 minutes, including the time spent getting the router out of the box. Note, however, this is an early version of Netgear Genie. During CES 2011, Netgear announced a much more advanced version of the software that can do a lot more than just help set up the device.
The WNDR3400 is the second true dual-band router we've reviewed from Netgear, following the WNDR3700. This means it's capable of simultaneously broadcasting Wireless-N signals on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies. The 2.4GHz is the popular wireless band shared with other home devices such as cordless phones and Bluetooth headsets. The 5GHz band is somewhat more exclusive and therefore should offer better throughput performance. By being dual-band, the WNDR3400 supports virtually all existing network clients.
Netgear offers another dual-band router, the WNDR3300, which can work in only one band at a time. In that sense, the WNDR3400 is a big upgrade.
Like the WNDR3700, out of the box, the WNDR3400 has two wireless networks, one for each band. You can turn these networks on or off separately by using the router's Web interface. Apart from these, the router offers the option of another two guest networks--one for each band--which can also be turned on or off separately. A guest network is useful if you want to offer free Internet access to guests while keeping them from accessing your local resources such as your printer or personal files. This is a great feature for a small cafe or restaurant.
Again, like the WNDR3700, the WNDR3400 comes with an NAS function that requires an external USB hard drive (not included) to work. We tried it with a few external hard drives and were pleased with how this feature worked, though we wished it were faster. The router supports hard drives formatted in both NTFS and FAT32 file systems. This means you can just plug in your current external hard drive with data already on it and share it with the rest of the network. The router can also power compact hard drives that are USB bus-powered. The router manages its storage via Netgear's ReadyShare feature, which is also used for the company's NAS servers. The router supports Windows' SMB protocol, which allows any computer in the network to access its storage using a network browser (such as Windows Explorer) without having any additional software installed. It also supports Macs and the shares will automatically appear in Finder.
The router's only means of restricting access to its storage is via password. For example, you can set a password for read-only access and another for read/write access to a particular folder on the external hard drive. Once set, the restriction is applied to anyone wanting to access that folder. This is a primitive but effective way to manage network storage. Most NAS servers use more advanced restriction protocols via user accounts. However, considering the fact that this is primarily a router, we were happy with this level of restriction.
The router's NAS feature can also handle other NAS functions such as FTP and HTTP. You can also set up remote connections to access the data via Internet. To do this, however, you will need to use a dynamic DNS service, such as Dyndns.org, unless your connection to the Internet has a static IP address.
The second feature that we really like about the WNDR3400 is its Traffic Meter, which allows you to control the router's bandwidth. 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 limited quota and don't want to go over. Unfortunately, the Traffic Meter doesn't offer the bandwidth control for individual computers. This means you can't use it to restrict one individual from downloading too much.
The WNDR3400 also offers the Live Parental Controls feature that was first introduced with Netgear's WNR2000 router. This feature requires a dynamic DNS account with OpenDNS, which is free. You can set up this feature by installing the Live Parental Controls setup software from the included CD and it will walk you though the short installation processes. Once the setup is done, you can access and control the router's comprehensive Web-filtering function, from anywhere in the world, by logging in to http://netgear.opendns.com.
Like most RangeMax routers, the WNDR3400 has a very intuitive and responsive Web interface, which makes managing the router a pleasant job. The router also has many other features found in most RangeMax routers, such as Content Filtering, which lets you block certain Web sites or services, port forwarding, Quality of Service, and Universal Plug and Play.
For security, the router supports all existing wireless encryption methods including WEP, WPA, and WPA2. It also comes with Wi-Fi Protected Setup features that enable you to add a new client to the network at the press of a button, instead of having to type in the encryption key manually.
The Netgear N600 Wireless Dual Band Router WNDR3400 offered very good wireless performance in our testing, although its network storage throughput speed could use some improvement. We tested the router in dual-band mode, and also tested it the way we test other NAS servers.
The router's wireless performance was one of the best we've seen in true dual-band routers. On CNET Labs' max throughput test, where the router is 15 feet from the client, the WND3400 registered 75.8Mbps on the 5GHz band and 65.4Mbps on the 2.4GHz band. It was the second fastest on the former and the fastest on the latter among all wireless routers we've reviewed. At these speeds, the router can transmit 500MB of data in about 52 seconds and 62 seconds on the 5GHz band and on 2.4GHz band, respectively.
In a range test, in which the router was placed 100 feet away from the client, it again did impressively at 59.8Mbps on the 5GHz band, topping the charts. On the 2.4GHz band, it did slightly worse at 37.1Mbps, getting third place on our charts.
In the mixed mode test, where the router was set to work with both Wireless-N and legacy Wireless-G and B clients, the score was one of the best we've seen at 59.7Mbps. We tested the mixed mode only on the 2.4GHz bands, as generally legacy clients don't use the 5GHz band.
The WNDR3400 also offers great range, up to 300 feet on the 2.4GHz band and 250 feet on the 5GHz band. Note, however, that at these distances, the wireless connections are only good for light Web surfing and not much else. It's best to use the router within 100 feet. The router also passed our 48-hour stress test, during which time it had to move a large amount of data back and forth between multiple clients. I didn't disconnect once.
NAS performance (in Mbps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
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My Book World Edition (Single Volume)
2.4GHz Wireless-N performance (in Mbps)
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5GHz Wireless-N performance (in Mbps)
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Like all routers we've seen with a built-in network storage function, the WNDR3400 didn't have very fast throughput performance for data access to the USB external hard drive connected to its USB port. We tested this via network cable and the scores were around 45.6Mbps for writing and 54.6Mbps for reading. These were about the slowest on our charts. With this kind of performance, the WNDR3400 is suited to light and basic network storage tasks, in which only one or two users can access the drive at the same time. If you want to assign the storage to multiple users and transfer a lot of data, you will need a dedicated NAS server.
Service and support
Netgear ships the N600 Wireless Dual Band Router WNDR3400 with a standard one-year warranty--standard for most routers these days. The company offers free (and toll-free) phone technical support that's available 24-7. The support pages on Netgear's site are somewhat elusive (you have to click on many layers of links to get where you want) but nonetheless offer lots of support information from troubleshooting and a knowledge base to firmware, drivers, and manual downloads.