Netgear WNDR3700 RangeMax Dual Band Wireless-N Gigabit Router (Premium Edition) review: Netgear WNDR3700 RangeMax Dual Band Wireless-N Gigabit Router (Premium Edition)
The new Netgear WNDR3700 RangeMax is a great upgrade from the Netgear WNDR3300. It now supports true dual bands, offering simultaneous Wireless-N performance in both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands. The router also offers a decent network storage feature when coupled with a USB external hard drive. It includes a traffic meter feature, which is the first to be seen in wireless routers that we've reviewed. Like other high-end wireless routers, the WNDR3700 supports Gigabit Ethernet and guest networking, which means that you can create separate wireless networks for security purposes.
On the downside, its network storage performance is slow compared with other routers with the same feature, such as the Linksys WRT610N, or the Apple Time Capsule. Its 5Ghz band's range is shorter than what we expected.
Nonetheless, at around $160, the WNDR3700 is a good choice considering everything that it has to offer. If you just want a simple Wireless-N network and don't care much about dual bands or network storage, we'd recommend the D-link DIR 165 or the Netgear WNR2000; each is available for less than $100.
Design and setup
The Netgear WNDR3700 RangeMax router is one of the sleekest routers in Netgear's RangeMax family, with a shiny black chassis, which also happens to be a fingerprint magnet. The router is designed to work in both horizontal and vertical positions. For the latter, it comes with a detachable base. It's also wall-mountable.
The router boasts an array of color-changing LED lights on its front that reflect the status of the Internet connection, the wireless network, and of the ports on the back. There are four LAN ports and one WAN port, and all are Gigabit. There's also a USB port on the back that can be used with an external hard drive to turn the router into a network-attached storage (NAS) device.
Like all RangeMax routers, the WNDR3700 has an internal antenna design, making it more compact and tidy than routers with external antennas; however, this is one of the largest RangeMax routers, about double the size of the WNR2000.
The router comes with a setup application that includes detailed step-by-step instructions. The instructions are so clear, in fact, that we think few would have a problem getting the router up and running. We were able to do so within 5 minutes, including the time getting the router out of the box.
The WNDR3700 is Netgear's first true dual-band router we've reviewed. It's capable of simultaneously broadcasting Wireless-N signals in 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 performance. By being a dual-band router, the WNDR3700 supports virtually all existing network clients.
Out of the box, the WNDR3700 has two wireless networks, one for each band. You can turn these networks on or off separately. Also, the router offers the option of another two guest networks--one for each band--which can also be turned on or off separately. Guest networks are useful if you want to offer free Internet access to guests while keeping them from accessing your local resourses, such as your printer or personal files; this is perfect for a cafe or restaurant. Some other high-end routers that also offer guest networking we've reviewed are the D-Link DIR 855, the D-Link DIR-825, the Linksys WRT610N, or the Apple Airport Extreme.
Also, like the WRT610N and the Airport Extreme, the WNDR3700 comes with a 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 the results.
The router supports hard drives formatted in both NTFS and FAT32 file systems. This means you can just plug 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.
Regarding file sharing, the WNDR3700 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. 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 that this is primarily a router, we were happy with this level of restriction.
The WNDR3700's network storage also offers media streaming to DLNA-enabled devices, such as the Xbox 360 or the PlayStation 3. This feature automatically scans the attached external hard drive for digital content, making 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 time. We tried this out and it worked as intended.
The router's NAS feature can also handle other NAS functions such as an FTP and an HTTP server. You can also set up remote connections to access the 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.
We really liked the WNDR3700'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 the bandwidth control down to each computer, so you can't use it to restrict one individual from downloading too much.
Like most RangeMax routers, the WNDR3700 also has a very intuitive and responsive Web interface, which makes managing the router pretty easy to do. The router also has many other features found in most RangeMax routers, such as content filtering (this 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 allow 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 WNDR3700 RangeMax Dual Band Wireless-N Gigabit Router offered mixed performance in our testing. 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 generally good, though we wished its 5Ghz performance was better, especially the range, which was about 250 feet. The router's 2.4Ghz band's range, however, was very good in our tests. We were able to hold a stable connection in this band from up to 300 feet away. It's important to note that our test environment is a typical office building and is not necessarily optimized for wireless range.
On CNET Labs' max throughput test, where the router is 15 feet from the client, the WND3700's 5Ghz performance was slightly disappointing. It was the slowest of the 5Ghz routers we tested with a score of 60Mbps, compared with the 64.8Mbps score that the Linksys WRT610N achieved, and the 66.48Mbps score from the Apple Airport Extreme. Note that this is the real-world sustained throughput. At this speed the WNDR3700 could finish transmitting 500MB of data in about 66 seconds. In our range test, where we set the router 100 feet away from the client, in 5Ghz, the router moved up on the charts, scoring 40Mbps. This was faster than the 36.48Mbps achieved by the D-Link DIR 825.
In 2.4Ghz frequency tests, the WNDR3700 did much better. It scored 54.8Mbps in max throughput and 38.6Mbps in range. In our mixed-mode test, where the router was configured to work with both Wireless-N and legacy Wireless-G and Wireless-B clients, the WNDR3700 registered 41.8Mbps. All of its 2.4Ghz numbers are within the top three of the fastest Wireless routers.
Overall we wish the WNDR3700's 5Ghz performance was better; however, even at its current performance level, it's still one of the fastest routers on the market.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
It's a completely different story when it comes to the WNDR3700's network storage performance. We tested the router the way we test NAS servers, and its scores were slow, even compared with those of routers with similar features. The WNDR3700 scored 17.8Mbps in our write test and 40.9Mbps in our read test. The D-Link DIR-685, our previous slowest NAS router, was faster at 46.6Mbps and 76.5Mbps for the write and read test, respectively.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
The NAS function of the router was tested using its wired Gigabit connection to make sure it was not the wireless connection that was the bottleneck of the throughput. With this kind of performance, the WNDR3700 is suited for light and basic network storage tasks, where only one or two users access the drive at the same time. If you want to use the storage for more concurrent users and transfer a lot of data, you will need a dedicated NAS server.
Service and support
Netgear ships the Netgear WNDR3700 RangeMax Dual Band Wireless-N Gigabit Router with a one-year warranty; this is standard for routers these days. The support pages on Netgear's site are somewhat elusive (you have to click on many layers of links to get to where you want) but nonetheless offers lots of support information, including troubleshooting, a knowledge base, firmware, drivers, and manual downloads.