The Netgear Centria (model WNDR4700 or WNDR4720) was first announced during CES 2012. Almost a year later, it's now available, and for the most part it lives up to the status of being one of the finalists in CNET's Best of CES contenders.
Supporting the latest 450Mbps data speeds on 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency bands at the same time, the all-in-one router offers fast Wi-Fi speeds and even faster network storage performance when hosting an internal hard drive. It also has a lot of features.
It's far from perfect, however. The slightly buggy and sluggish Web interface and the flimsy drive bay as well as the rather inconvenient placement of ports and buttons will likely make it frustrating for novice users to set up and use. The router doesn't support the latest 802.11ac standard, or hard drives larger than 2TB, and at the current price of $230 diskless or $350 with a 2TB drive, the Netgear Centria is one of the most expensive routers on the market.
That said, like the recently reviewed
Design and setup
The Netgear Centria shares the same design as the
While this hard-drive support is acceptable, the router's drive bay could use some improvement. While you can easily remove or install a hard drive, it's not easy to know if the drive is properly inserted, or if the drive bay lock is in its proper place. The only way to find out is to turn the router on and wait to see if the hard-drive status light is on. The router takes about a minute to fully boot up, and in my trials, I had to do this about three times before it finally recognized the hard drive. It was hard to pinpoint the exact problem, but the drive bay is rather flimsy and things seem too easily pushed into a slightly wrong position. The good thing is you won't need to install a hard drive very often.
The router comes with a detachable base. From a placement point of view, there's no reason why you'd want to take this base off; it doesn't make sense to place the router any other way and you can't mount it on a wall, either. In fact, you might also wish that the base wasn't there at all, because together with the bulky part of the hard-drive bay it makes the router's ports and button on its back very hard to reach. In fact, you can't plug in the power cable or network cable without lifting the router up or tilting it to the side, and even then, those with big hands will have trouble with this simple task.
On the back, the router has four LAN ports and one WAN port, and all of them are Gigabit Ethernet. This is a good thing; it means you're guaranteed to have a fast wired network. It also has a USB 3.0 port, a power button, and a reset button that brings the router back to factory default settings. There's a second USB 3.0 port on the side of the router, where you'll also find its SD card slot. This is the first router from Netgear that comes with an SD card slot and USB 3.0. There is only one other router I know on the market also offering an SD card slot and USB 3.0, which is the
The front of the router has a flat surface with a white LED Netgear logo and four blue LED indicators for power, Internet, Wi-Fi, USB devices, and the internal hard drive.
The Netgear Centria is easy to set up. The router doesn't come with a CD of software, but it comes with instructions on how to hook it up to the network and computers using network cables. On its front is a label that shows its default Wi-Fi network and its password. With this information you can connect any wireless device to the network. After that, from a connected device, you just launch a browser and you'll be greeted by the router's Web interface, which will walk you through the setup process via a few steps.
After these steps, the Centria will also prompt you to download and install the Netgear Genie and Netgear ReadyShare Vault Backup applications. The former lets you manage the router from the desktop, and the latter allows you to back up a Windows computer to the router's internal storage.
Netgear Genie offers detailed instructions and deeper access to the router's settings and encompasses all platforms, with a desktop application, a Web interface, and a mobile app for Android and iOS devices. Regardless of which platform you use, you gain similar access to the router's settings and functions. There are also functions offered only for the particular platform. For example, the Netgear Genie app for mobile devices comes with a feature that supports streaming digital content from any DLNA server in the network or router's storage.
For those who are used to the Web interface, it can be accessed anytime by pointing a connected computer's browser to the router's IP address, which by default is 192.168.1.1; the default username and password to log in are admin and password. The interface is very organized and easy to use, though it's a little sluggish when you move from one item to another.
Despite the physical similarity, unlike the R6300, the Netgear Centria doesn't support the new 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard. It supports only the Wireless-N standard, offering up to 450Mbps on the 2.4GHz and 5GHz band at the same time. The Centria is also capable of housing an internal hard drive, while the R6300 doesn't.
In features, these two routers are very similar. Both of them come with a few features available in previous Netgear routers, including OpenDNS-based Parental Controls, Netgear Genie, and network storage. The Netgear Centria provides more comprehensive network storage options, however.
The Parental Controls feature was first introduced with the WNR2000. To use this, you first need to have a free online account with OpenDNS; you can make an account in Netgear Genie or just go to OpenDNS' site. After that, you can use Netgear Genie (from any platform) to sign in with OpenDNS and choose from among five overall Web-filtering levels, high, moderate, low, minimum, and none, where high means most traffic will be blocked and none means that nothing will be blocked.
Netgear Genie, be it the mobile or desktop app, is easy and fun to use. The software lets you manage the router the way you would using the Web interface, and the mobile app enables you to stream digital content stored on the router. It also has Network Map, which shows an illustration of connected clients and their information, and Traffic Meter, which allows you to control the router's Internet connection. 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, Traffic Meter doesn't offer bandwidth control for specific computers, so you can't use it to restrict one individual from downloading too much.
The Netgear Genie app, unfortunately, works only when you're within the local network. This means that you can't use it when you're away from home. It would be much better if it could work over the Internet, the way
Netgear Centria's network storage feature is much more powerful than the R6300's. For one, it supports Time Machine right out of the box, allowing Macs to back up to the router's internal drive. For Windows computers, ReadyShare Vault Backup also works well. The router supports Mac and Windows network protocols; shared content on its storage is available to both platforms automatically. You can use Windows Explorer to browser the router's hard drive (or connected USB drives), and on a Mac, these shares appear automatically in Finder. By default, all content is available to everybody with full read and write access. The default admin user can enable sharing restriction by accounts, making certain share folders available to certain users and so on. Most importantly, this feature offered very fast preference changes in my testing. More below.
For local networks, the Netgear Centria can also stream digital content stored on the hard drive to DNLA-compliant network media players, such as the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. This feature automatically scans the router's storage for digital content, and makes it available to devices within the network, including when new files are added. You can't designate folders for this feature, meaning the router always scans the entire drive for streamable content.
If you want to add more storage to the network via the router's USB port, the Netgear Centria can host two external hard drives at a time and work with drives formatted in NTFS or FAT32. Its USB ports provide enough juice to power bus-powered drives.
Apart from hosting data for the local network, the Netgear Centria can also host data for remote users via its ReadyShare Cloud feature. To use this feature, you'll need a free account at Netgear's ReadyShare Cloud Web site, then to associate that account with the Netgear Centria, using the Netgear Genie app or the Web interface. Unfortunately, no matter how I tried, I couldn't register any account with the reviewed unit. I created a few accounts, and with all of them I ran into the "username or password incorrect" error, even though I could log in at Netgear's site. Hopefully this bug will be worked out in the next version of the firmware.
In addition to all that, the Centria offers other basic features found in most modern wireless routers, such as port forwarding, IPv6, VPN pass-through, guest networking, and so on. For security, the router supports all variations of WPA and WPA2 encryption methods.
The Netgear Centria performed very well in my testing. It's the first router that offers network storage speeds close to those of a dedicated NAS server. Via a Gigabit Ethernet wired connection, the router tested at 35MBps for writing and 59MBps for reading, which is by far the fastest among routers that also offer network storage features. This type of performance is comparable to that of some dedicated NAS servers.
As a Wi-Fi router, the Netgear Centria also excelled on the 5GHz band, scoring 218Mbps in close (15-foot) range, being the second fastest among the N900 routers on our chart. When I increased the range to 100 feet, it was even more impressive at 178Mbps, topping the chart.
The router did not perform as well on the 2.4GHz band, however, with just 45Mbps in close range and 34Mbps for long range, about average among its peers. To make up for this, the Netgear Centria offered very long range, up to about 290 feet, on both bands, and it passed the 48-hour stress test without disconnecting once.
On the downside, the router is rather noisy. I could hear its internal fan humming all the time, even when it wasn't hosting a hard drive. This fan indeed keeps the router cool, however.
Despite its bulky, impractical design, somewhat flimsy drive bay, and sluggish and rather buggy firmware, the Netgear Centria is a good buy for those looking for an all-in-one networking and storage option for their home.