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Netgear WNDR3800 Premium Edition review: Netgear WNDR3800 Premium Edition

The WNDR3800 was a little fickle with our test chipsets, affecting our wireless performance results. Still, for the price range it's a decent router, and it should fulfil most needs.

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Craig Simms
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Craig Simms

Special to CNET News

Craig was sucked into the endless vortex of tech at an early age, only to be spat back out babbling things like "phase-locked-loop crystal oscillators!". Mostly this receives a pat on the head from the listener, followed closely by a question about what laptop they should buy.

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The WNDR3800 is a performance router, one that positions itself performance-wise under the WNDR4000 and the physically bigger WNDR4500.

netgear-wndr3800_1.jpg
8.0

Netgear WNDR3800 Premium Edition

The Good

Gigabit Ethernet and WAN. IPv6 support. Good parental filtering tools. A good range of features.

The Bad

5GHz performance could be better. Some Intel 6300N compatibility issues. Long waits between settings changes.

The Bottom Line

The WNDR3800 was a little fickle with our test chipsets, affecting our wireless performance results. Still, for the price range it's a decent router, and it should fulfil most needs.

It does pack some unique features, though, amongst the Netgear stable.

The first is ReadyShare Cloud, which allows you to access files on a hard drive that's hooked up to the router via the internet, using the web, iOS or Android devices.

It also supports Time Machine backups, and has a dedicated video mode for the 5GHz network, which uses a different algorithm in order to reduce jitter and packet loss. If you solely intend to use 5GHz for video, then this could help.

While it will automatically select wireless channels for you, like the WNDR4500, here you can set the sensitivity in switching to clear channels between low, middle and high.

Specs at a glance

Firmware tested 1.0.0.32
ADSL2+ modem No
Annex M N/A
3G modem No
IPv6 Yes
Wireless protocols 802.11b/g/n
Dual band Simultaneous
Highest wireless security WPA2
WDS Yes
Ethernet ports 4x gigabit, 1x gigabit WAN
USB print sharing/storage Storage, printer
Accessories Ethernet cable, installation CD

Connections

Gigabit WAN ensures that this router should stay future-proofed for a little while to come, along with four gigabit Ethernet ports. A single USB 2.0 port supports storage and printer access. The WNDR3800 can share attached storage via SMB, HTTP and FTP, and is made visible to DLNA-compatible clients. It can also use Netgear's ReadyShare Cloud, making files available across the net via Netgear's own dynamic DNS service.

Netgear WNDR3800 rear

Power switch, power jack, 4x gigabit Ethernet ports, gigabit WAN, USB 2.0 port.
(Credit: Netgear)

UI and features

Netgear's UI has been completely remade, in part to mimic its "Genie" software that it supplies for the desktop. Effort has gone into making things easier to read, in order to provide "at a glance" information, although graphics have been severely over-optimised and dithered over.

Netgear now places its help in a bar along the bottom — click and it pops up, overlaying the settings screen. While the help is related contextually to the current screen, there are huge amounts of information here, with only a tiny viewing box, resulting in a massive scroll bar.

The separation into "Basic" and "Advanced" settings is expected; however, Netgear hasn't really thought things through, providing an "Advanced Setup" section within the advanced tab. We can only assume that it's for advanced-advanced users. Similarly, we're at a lost as to why "Setup Wizard" is in the advanced section, or why you have to bounce between two different sections to access all of the wireless settings.

In a disturbing trend for Netgear, changing settings can involve anything up to a 45-second wait, as the entire router is rebooted. This is utterly mindless; if you change a wireless setting, all of your wired users get booted as a result. Whether it's a chipset or a UI issue, this is unacceptable.

Netgear WNDR3800 UI

Netgear's new UI is OK, but badly organised. The 45-second wait to apply settings is also incredibly frustrating, and is even longer on lower-powered devices.
(Screenshot by CBS Interactive)

Being a top-level router, features are reasonable. From right within the interface, you can set the MAC address, for instance. Address reservation is in here, and, interestingly, you can control your upstream bandwidth — although not on a per-user level.

Guest networks can be set up on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies, and if you really want to enforce internet times on your kids, then wireless availability can be scheduled.

Parental controls include keyword, URL and port blocking, and you can set these restrictions on a scheduled basis.

You can also record the amount of internet traffic through the router, if you wish, allowing you to disconnect the internet or make one of the lights on the router flash orange once the limit (MBs or hours) has been reached. Those on TB plans will be out of luck here; the limit only supports six digits, locking you to a maximum of 999,999MB. We'd love to see Netgear go one step farther, and throttle connections based on a MAC address, or refuse internet access to certain MACs should they exceed a preset, per-MAC limit.

Genie, the Windows- or Mac-bound application to make setting up your network easier, is actually decent, and it covers a good portion of configuration options. The network map in particular helps you see what's connected, and can assist in diagnosing issues. When you're not using it, Genie becomes a system-tray app, ready to help when you need it.

Performance

After analysing the spectrum with InSSIDer, an empty channel of either 1, 6 or 11 is chosen for 2.4GHz wireless testing.

We use iperf to determine throughput, running eight streams with a TCP window size of 1MB and an interval of one second. The test is run for five minutes in three different locations on two separate occasions. The locations are in the same room as the router: one floor down around spiral stairs and with concrete walls and floors, and two floors down under the same conditions.

The wireless throughput is tested using three chipsets (the Atheros AR5008X, the Ralink RT2870 and the Intel Ultimate-N 6300), and then all results are averaged.

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We had a few issues with compatibility with our wireless chipsets; our Intel chipset would not connect at speeds above 54Mbps, and our Ralink chipset had miserable performance through 5GHz. In both circumstances, turning WMM on helped somewhat, although the Intel chipset would still not connect above 130Mbps.

While this hurt the final scores, performance was generally on target.

":"5ghz="" throughput="" (in="" mbps)","tests":["netgear="" wndr3800","avm="" fritz!box="" 7390","netgear="" wndr4500","netgear="" dgnd3700"],"products":[{"productname":"location="" one="" (same="" room,="" no="" obstructions)","slug":"","ratings":["189.67","151.33","140.67","120.67"]},{"productname":"location="" two="" (one="" floor="" down,="" some="" obstructions)="" ","slug":"","ratings":["135.50","104.53","100.97","92.6"]},{"productname":"location="" three="" (two="" floors="" ","slug":"","ratings":["8.53","2.56","0.41","0"]}],"explanation":"(longer="" bars="" indicate="" better="" performance)"}"="">

Performance at 5GHz isn't the best we've seen, with close performance in particular suffering. As is usual with 5GHz, the most struggle happens in the third location, where only the Intel connection was able to hold stably.

Warranty

Netgear covers the WNDR3800 with a two-year warranty; equal with Billion, and a decent period for such a product.

Conclusion

The WNDR3800 was a little fickle with our test chipsets, affecting our wireless performance results. Still, for the price range it's a decent router, and it should fulfil most needs.