First announced at CES 2011, the N750 Wireless Dual Band Gigabit Router (WNDR4000) is a major upgrade to the Netgear WNDR3700 RangeMax, as it supports a speed of 450Mbps (as opposed to 300Mbps) on the 5GHz band. This makes it the direct competitor of the recently reviewed Cisco Linksys E4200, and it's a decent contender, all things considered. Unfortunately, except for the close-range throughput on the 2.4GHz band and the more comprehensive guest networking feature, the WNDR4000 trails behind the E42000 in terms of performance, features, and ease of use.
With that said, the Netgear WNDR4000 is still a very good router. At a street price of around $150, about $20 cheaper than the Linksys E4200, it makes a worthwhile investment for both home and small office environments, especially ones with Wi-Fi clients supporting the 5GHz band. Other, similar options are the Cisco Linksys E3200 and the Asus RT-N56U.
Design and setup
The Netgear WNDR4000 router comes in a squared-off shape with a sleek casing that attracts fingerprints. The router can work in a horizontal or vertical position (when coupled with an included detachable stand) and is wall-mountable.
On the back the router has one WAN port (to connect to an Internet source, such as a broadband modem) and four LAN ports (for wired clients). All of these ports are Gigabit Ethernet, offering a top speed of 1,000Mbps. Also on the back you'll find an on/off button and a USB port to host an external hard drive for the router's network storage feature.
On the front, the router boasts an array of color-changing LED lights indicating the status of the Internet connection, the wireless network, and the ports on the back. Near these LEDs is the Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) button that helps quickly hook Wi-Fi clients into the wireless network.
It's very easy to set up the router with the included Netgear Genie software application, which is somewhat like Cisco Connect on the Linksys E4200. While Netgear Genie isn't as easy to use as Cisco Connect, as the setup process takes longer and involves more steps, we don't think anybody would have trouble getting the WNDR4000 up and running. We were able to do that within about 10 minutes, including the time needed to take the router out of the package.
The WNDR4000 is the first true dual-band router from Netgear that offers the higher 450Mbps speed that's available only in the 5GHz band. This is the new three-stream standard (also known as 3x3) that's getting more and more popular for high-end wireless routers. As a true dual-band router, the WNDR4000 is capable of simultaneously broadcasting Wireless-N signals in both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. On top of that, the router is also able to broadcast two more guest wireless networks, one for each band. Guest networking, another increasingly popular feature, creates separate wireless networks that enable guests to access the Internet without having access to local resources such as files or printers.
We liked the WNDR4000's guest networking feature as it supports two additional networks and an unlimited number of connected clients. The Linksys E4200 provides guest networking only in the 2.4GHz band, and supports a maximum of 10 concurrent clients.
The Netgear Genie setup software takes you through the process of creating the two main wireless networks. In order to set up the guest networks, you'll need to log in to the router's Web interface by pointing a connected computer's browser to the router's default IP of 192.168.1.1. Here you'll have access to the router's other advanced features.
One of these features is support for a USB external hard drive so the router can host networked storage, similar to a NAS server. The WNDR4000 has some basic features found in Netgear's dedicated NAS servers such as the ReadyNAS Ultra4. We tried the network storage option with a few external hard drives and were pleased with how it was designed.
First off, 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 also can interface with compact hard drives that are USB bus-powered.
Regarding file sharing, the WNDR4000 supports the 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. Mac computers will automatically detect the network storage share and display that in the Finder. By default, all folders of the connected external hard drive are accessible by everybody. The only way to restrict access to the storage using the router is via the password for the default admin account. For example, you can set it up so that the password is required to gain the read-only or full 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 WNDR4000's network storage also offers media streaming to DLNA-enabled devices, such as the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. This feature automatically scans the attached external hard drive for digital contents, making them 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.
The router's NAS feature can also handle other NAS functions such as FTP and HTTP server. You can also set up remote connections to access data remotely via the 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 advanced feature that we really like is the WNDR4000's 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 bandwidth control for individual computers, so you can't use it to restrict one individual in a network from downloading too much.
Like the WNR2000, the WNDR4000 comes with a handy feature called Live Parental Controls. To use this, you first need to install the Netgear Live Parent Control software (which is on the included CD). This guides you through the steps of setting up a free online account with OpenDNS and setting the overall Web filter level to your choice of high, moderate, low, minimum, or none. After that, 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 router's Web filtering feature. For parents who are on the go a lot, this is a nice way to have some control over the Internet access of those at home.
As with most routers from Netgear, the WNDR4000's Web interface is generally well-organized and responsive, making managing the router an easy job. The router also has many other features found in most wireless routers such as Content Filtering, which lets you block certain Web sites and 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. As mentioned above, it also comes with Wi-Fi Protected Setup so you can add a new client to the network by pressing a button, instead of having to type in the encryption key.
Much as we liked the way the WNDR4000's network storage feature is designed, we typically aren't impressed by the performance of this feature in wireless routers with built-in network storage support. In our testing via Gigabit Ethernet, the router offered a write speed of 51.8Mbps and a read speed of just 57.6Mbps. At these speeds, the router can only power light file sharing with the connected external hard drive. For more serious network storage needs, we'd recommend a dedicated NAS server.
In its primary function as a wireless router, the WNDR4000 did much better in our testing.
In the 5GHz band, the router scored 89Mbps for close range and 63.9Mbps for long range, putting it in fourth and third place respectively among the true dual-band routers we've reviewed. Unfortunately, compared with the Linksys E4200, which scored 100.48Mbps for close range and 79.1 for long range, the WNDR4000 was still quite noticeably behind. Still, at these speeds, the Netgear can finish transmitting 500MB of data in just 45 seconds, a short time compared with most other wireless routers.
In the 2.4GHz band, the router's performance was much less consistent. It impressively topped our chart in the close-range test with 67.8Mbps. However, when we increased the range to 100 feet, the router's performance reduced to just 23.9Mbps, the biggest degradation we've seen. This means those who rely most on the 2.4GHz band for their wireless networking will be disappointed and probably experience an unstable connection as they move away from the router. In the mixed-mode test, in which the router was set to work with both Wireless-N and legacy clients at close range, it scored a decent 57.9Mbps.
The WNDR4000 offered very long range in our trials, up to 290 feet for the 5GHz band and 310 feet for the 2.4GHz band. Note however, at maximum range the throughput is very slow and is only good for very light Internet surfing. We found that the router was best used within 100 feet on the 5GHz band and about 70 feet on the 2.4GHz band.
The router passed our 48-hour stress test, during which it didn't disconnect once. Note however that the stress test was conducted within a range of just around 15 feet. Increasing the range could reduce the stability of the signal.
Service and support
Netgear backs the N750 Wireless Dual Band Gigabit Router with a standard one-year warranty. The support pages on Netgear's site are somewhat elusive (you have to click through many layers of links to find what you want) but offer lots of support information, such as troubleshooting, a knowledge base, firmware, drivers, and manual downloads.
We liked the Netgear N750 Wireless Dual Band Gigabit Router (WNDR4000) for its ease of use and good performance on the 5GHz band, but were let down by its range performance on the 2.4GHz band. Nonetheless, it would make a very good router for homes and small offices, especially those with wireless clients that support the 5GHz band.