A great product does what you think it will do and then some. The Netgear WGT634U wireless media router does what you think it will do, almost. A USB port on this wireless router's back panel works with many but not all external hard drives and USB flash drives so that you can offer increased storage capacity to the computers on your network. Unfortunately, rough edges betray the Netgear WGT634U wireless media router as a first-generation product with an incomplete feature set. You'll find a more polished network storage solution in our Editors' Choice, the Buffalo LinkStation, albeit without the wireless router. If you're in the market for both a router and a network hard drive, you might find your solution in Netgear's boxed combo router and network storage port, but expect to pay a premium for its media capability. Netgear also offers the wireless router without the USB storage connection under the moniker , which you can find for around $50 or about half the price of the WGT634U wireless media router. Netgear has a reputation for making networking products that are easy to use, and the WGT634U wireless media router is no exception. The unit's well-designed LEDs on the front panel lets you monitor network traffic across its Ethernet ports. We also like the WGT634U's built-in mounting bracket on the router's base and the accompanying rubber stand that lets you position the unit vertically. The location of your wireless router is the single biggest factor in giving you optimum range from the device, so mounting and positioning options can come in handy.
The box contains everything you need to connect the router to your network, including an Ethernet cable to connect the unit to your broadband modem; a rubber stand; a resource CD bearing a thorough, well-organized 180-page product manual; and a printed installation guide.
The installation guide itself shows you how to connect to the media router's browser-based configuration tool and runs you through the basics for connecting the WGT634U to the Internet and the computers on your network. The guide also includes instructions for connecting a USB drive to the media router, as well as troubleshooting tips. Unfortunately, the installation guide lacks instructions for changing network settings on various Windows and Macintosh operating systems, which may befuddle those with little or no networking experience; however, the product manual on the accompanying CD explains the processes in detail. The feature that sets the Netgear WGT634U wireless media router apart from most other wireless routers on the market today is the USB port on the unit's rear panel. The USB 2.0 port lets you attach an external hard drive to the WGT634U, which adds storage capacity not just to a single computer but to all of the computers on your network. The media router even lets you access files on the attached storage drive via the Internet, if you know the media router's IP address and you choose to allow FTP access through the WGT634U's browser-based configuration tool. In addition to adding storage capacity, a network-attached drive can also save you from the hassle of having to boot up computers just so that you can access network files. Unfortunately, the media router doesn't support writing to NTFS volumes. You can write to FAT and FAT32 volumes, but these file formats are ill suited to manage today's large file sizes and high-capacity drives, and they lack the security features of NTFS.
Another of the Netgear WGT634U's "gotchas" is that it works neither with USB hubs nor with some external drives, such as the .
Storage aside, the Netgear WGT634U wireless media router is a fine wireless router that comes with the same easy-to-use browser-based configuration tool, solid firewall, and high-performance Atheros radio that we saw with the . Also, the WGT634U supports both WEP and WPA to securely encrypt your wireless connections, as well as URL content filtering, which gives you some control over the sites your computers can access. The WGT634U can also log the Web sites that your computers have accessed or attempted to access, allowing you to monitor the connections passing through your network. Like the WGT624, the WGT634U lacks WDS, a signal-repeating technology that can come in very handy if you need to expand the wireless coverage area in your home or building. If you need to span a large coverage area, consider a WDS-capable router, such as the . The Netgear WGT634U wireless media router sports Super G Technology (link is a PDF file), which boosts wireless connection speeds to nearly twice the tempo of standard 802.11g devices. Real-world throughput is less than half the 108Mbps that Netgear claims on the box, however, and we were disappointed to see Netgear clinging to this misleading information, especially since the performance of the product is so good. In CNET Labs tests, the WGT634U outpaced other 802.11g routers while demonstrating an impressive range in our indoor tests, as well, providing stable connections as far as 225 feet away.
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The secret to the WGT634U's fast speeds lies in its Atheros radio, which is capable of double-channel bonding. Channel bonding tricks the transmitter and the receiver into accepting two wireless channels as a single channel, but it comes at a price. The WGT634U uses a bigger swath of the spectrum for its turbo mode, which makes it more likely to interfere with other 2.4GHz devices, such as neighboring networks and cordless phones. The Netgear WGT634U wireless media router comes with a short one-year warranty and toll-free, 24/7 phone support good for the life of the product. Netgear hosts the WGT634U's reference manual on its support site, along with free firmware upgrades and a list of related FAQs. Netgear also offers a free animated networking tutorial, called Mentor, which you access through the company's technical support page. Mentor features onscreen demonstrations for changing network settings in Windows, for using Outlook on your network, and for browsing with Internet Explorer.