I have to say that I was really keen to find out the results of this review as my current wireless setup is aging and so I was eager to see what is up and coming in the networking market for me to get my teeth into and replace my very old US Robotics wireless router. Netgear were very kind to send us their latest and greatest in wireless routing, the Netgear Centria, it has all the latest wireless technologies that you could ask for in a wireless router and more.

Introduction

I have always had a soft spot for Netgear as they are good at what they do and stick to what they know. I have always seen their products as stable and reliable, not always the fastest but in networking it is not speed that always counts. I do like Netgear’s support/updates as they always seem to squash bugs before I even know about them and applying these updates is very easy to do. These reasons are why I believe that they are one of the biggest players in the networking market and always seem to be on the bleeding edge of networking technology for home use.

Netgear describes the Centria as a powerful, all-in-one automatic backup/media server and high-speed WiFi router. The Centria is a dual band high-performance router with the added convenience of automatic data backup for both PCs and Macs.

The Centria comes in two models and these are:

The WNDR4700 allows you to insert your own hard drive into an internal storage bay
The WNDR4720 comes with an internal 2 TB hard drive.

You can easily upgrade the internal hard drive yourself anytime in both models. Today I’m going to be reviewing the Centria WNDR4700, which is the model without the hard drive and this is the only difference between the two models.

Since Netgear is calling this an all in one backup, WiFi and media server - I will be looking at testing all three of these areas to ensure that the Centria can cope with all of the functions that it has to offer and ensure that it doesn’t take on more than it can handle by offering this all in one functionality.

I have high hopes for the Centria as it was one of the finalists in the best of CES 2012 and was awarded with the highly coveted ‘CES Innovations Design and Engineering award’ and to be honest it does look the part, but this is something that I will go into later in the review.

Product Specifications and Features

Netgear lists a lot of key features for the Centria which includes the following:

• Faster WiFi - Now up to 900 Mbps
• Improved 5 GHz range
• Automatic, continuous back-up for your PC & Mac—ReadySHARE® Vault and Apple® Time Machine-compatible
• Removable & Easily upgradeable internal hard drive
• Two SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports for greater storage capacity or other USB device connectivity - up to 10X faster than USB 2.0
• ReadySHARE Cloud —for secure, remote access to personal content
• Single-click SD card back-up

As you can see there is a hell of a list of key features that the Centria offers; data backup, wireless N technology, cloud backup to secure your personal data off site and also a streaming media server.

This is not just some simple wireless router but also a fully-fledged NAS which could take away the need to have a NAS as well as you wireless router, saving you money and power, but that of course depends on how it performs in my tests.

The Centria comes in a rather large box but when you realise that the unit has the dimensions of 256 x 206 x 85 mm you can understand why it comes in such a big box. Talking about the box, inside it you get the Centria itself, the power brick for it, some paperwork such as the guarantee and the network cable from the Centria to your DSL (Cable) modem. There is no need for an installation disk as everything that is need for installation is housed within the Centria.

After unboxing the Centria you start to understand just why it won a CES Innovations Design and Engineering award. As you can see from the above pictures it is just gorgeous with some very sleek lines and no fiddly bits to get it to stand up, you can just tell that Netgear have spent a lot of time getting the unit just right.

Not only does the unit look good in the daylight when you can see it clearly but also when you have all the lights off at night the LEDs for the wireless, HDD, WAN look fantastic, even the actual Netgear logo lights up and it all looks classy, but not out of place. I’m normally not one of those people who likes a lot of LEDs and ‘bling’ on routers but I think that it works with the Centria and that the lights are not just there for your information but as an overall part of the design.

Software and Setup

After switching on the Centria I firstly noticed the noise that came out of the unit with the hard drive installed, to put it into context, I have a server with 6 drives in RAID 5 and the Centria with a single hard drive makes more noise than all of the servers hard drives combined. I had a look through the web interface to see if there was any way to get the hard drive to spin down after a length of time without any read or writes, but there are no ‘power saving’ option for the NAS aspect of the Centria. This is a shame as the drone from the HDD really started to annoy me after a time as the unit was in the usual place of my wireless router.

I do hope that Netgear will update the firmware on the Centria to allow for the hard drive in the unit to spin down when not being used or, less likely, add some noise cancelling design to the HDD caddy within the Centria, I don’t think that I could live with the noise over a long period of time as I spend a lot of time in the workshop where the Centria would be based.

The interface for the Centria is what I have come to expect from Netgear, a simple, easy to understand yet powerful way to control your networking device. The interface is very responsive and has two effective modes:

1. Basic which guides you through the simple setting up of the Centria, a sort of hand holding guided tour through the device and what you can do with it.
2. Advanced for people that have a good understanding of networking and how a device like the Centria work, or you have gotten use to the Centria and just want to see what else you can do then this is the mode for you where you can lose yourself in advance settings galore.

As you can see from the below screenshot the Centria’s basic interface gives a few standard options for you to be getting on with, for setting up your device and every one of the items is clickable so if you want or need to change anything on the device I recommend that you do it from the ‘Home’ page.

In stark contrast from the basic ‘Home’ screen the advanced one gives you more information about the configuration of the Centria. One section of information that I found useful when setting up the device on my home network was the information related to IP addresses, the fact that the Centria was acting as a DHCP server and the external IP address for the WAN (Wide Area Network ie. the internet) interface was from my ADSL router, the IP address information was ideal to say the least as it made it a breeze when configuring the Centria and other devices.

Now looking at the user interface I’m going to start from the top of the list. The Internet section of the router gives you information about, well, the WAN link that the Centria is connected to, in my case, my old BT business hub. The business hub has given the Centria a private IP address of 192.168.1.65 on the BT business hub’s network. You can also setup the Centria to use PPPoE (I’m not going to get into PPPoE within the review as I could spend another three article explaining it) if your service provider (ISP) allows for it. This would mean that the Centria would manage the connection between you and your ISP and your DSL modem would act as a bridge.

The wireless tab allows you to setup the security of the wireless network, such as the type of wireless encryption used, the encryption password and down to more basic settings such as the name of the wireless bands, as you can see here I have changed their names so I can identify between both the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz range by adding ‘_5G’ at the end of the 5Ghz band.

Attached devices tab gives you an overview of what is attached to the Centria. This shows both wired and wireless devices and as you can see from the screenshot it is very well defined and gives you a lot of information about the devices attached. I normally find this page useful for the wireless devices, to see if any unwanted guests are using my wireless connection and although unlikely; if the encryption password has been cracked.

The parental controls, now this is where it gets interesting, you are required to sign up for an OpenDNS account. Now as a rule I hate signing up for additional services bundled with products, even more so when I’m being forced to if I want to use a function (Parental Controls) of a device that I have paid over £200 to use. For the interest of the test (and the arm twisting of Steve, our editor) I begrudgingly signed up for a free account.

As you can see it looks pretty basic from the Netgear application to setup the parental controls but you can always add or remove sites from the OpenDNS website where you can customise rules how you see fit which is pretty good for parents. It does take a few minutes for the settings to take effect and the sites to be blocked, I learnt this the hard way by getting very frustrated. Personally it is just not the function for me. I can understand the need for it and if I was a parent I would probably use it, although I would rather the blocking be achieved by the device itself rather than a third party provider which I have to sign up for.

ReadySHARE is basically where you setup all of your attached devices such as the shares for the HDD and who can access it, as well as setting up users and giving the permissions to different areas. You can also setup printers here that you have attached to the Centria. You will also need this to safely remove any external hard drives that you have attached to the Centria via USB, which I always recommend to avoid losing any data.

Last but not least is the Guest Network settings this is pretty cool and I have seen it on other devices where it allows you to setup a guest wireless area where you can let friends and family have access to your internet without letting them have access to your internal network and devices such as; your printers or more importantly data that is stored on other devices such as a NAS.

Testing

Okay, now on to the wired performance of the Centria. I’m going to test the NAS throughput and compare it with the throughput that I get from my custom built Windows 2008 server which does have a more powerful RAID card and hard disk setup but I do not see this being an issue as in both occasions the network will be the bottleneck but we will see which network interface card (NIC) will limit the performance of both setups the most.

I decided that I would use a file around 4Gb is size to mimic that of an iso (disk image) to see what it would be like to copy one to both devices. I did expect the throughput to be a little better to the server but please do not let that put you off as the difference is not major and when considering the cost difference between both the Centria and my server as the performance it is not that much of an issue.

If you take a look at the screenshots you will see that the Centria had an average of 210mbps write and the server 236mbps which is negligible and I really did not notice the difference. Same with the completion time the server completed its write in around 2 minutes 25 seconds and the Centria in 2 minutes 51 seconds.

Even though the Centria on paper was slower when compared to the Server I would not call it a loss as the Centria costs a lot less when compared to the custom built server and when you look at the results the Centria was a very close second.

Now on to the wireless performance; the Centria, as with most 802.11n wireless routers, comes with both 2.4 and 5 GHz wireless networking bands basically the 2.4 GHz offers slower speeds than that of the 5 GHz range but the 5 GHz range has a shorter ranger over the 2.4 GHz.

I’m doing to test the speed of both the 2.4 and 5Ghz networking bands to show the speeds that they are capable of and how reliable they are. As I for one still prefer to use wired networking where possible but with speeds of up to 900 Mbps (as quoted by Netgear) there may be a chance of me fully converting over to wireless N if the Centria lives up to what its wireless performance offers! I will be using a 1Gb file to measure the performance of the wireless as I think that this will give a good idea of prolonged use.

As you can see from the above test the 5G band is quite a bit faster over the 2.4G band which is really what I expected but neither speed come close to the 900mbps that Netgear has been trumpeting around on their website and advertising media, but I never expected that anyway. As their 900mbps transfer speeds are a combined total of the devices capabilities. So that’s 900mbps if you combine both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz speeds.

I was impressed with the wireless speeds as when compared to 802.11g which I was barely getting around 12mbps using my old US Robotics Maxg wireless router, which when you compare that with the Centria which is giving me an average of 75mbps it’s a fantastic leap for wireless networking!

Conclusion

I have to say that I really like the Centria a lot; it has got great wired and wireless capabilities which are comparable to other dedicated devices such as switches and NAS’. I would say that I’m really surprised but I’m really not when you hear and read all of the praise that the Centria got coming out on the back of CES.

Talking about CES I can also see why the Centria won Innovations Design and Engineering award as it is gorgeous, even my other half commented on how fantastic it looked when she saw it. I have to say that Netgear do some of the better looking electronic equipment on the market. Although this doesn’t matter when all you want is the best performance you can get, it doesn’t hurt for the aesthetics to look pleasing especially if you are going to have this in your living room or somewhere visible in your home.

There are only two bad points that I can bring up with the Netgear Centria, they are:

1. The HDD noise, it is loud, it never stops, there are no power saving option for it, which means that it’s always spinning thus wasting power. I know that this is obviously also dependant on the drive used in the unit, i.e. a noisier drive would make it louder but even a noisy drive is quiet if it’s powered down when idle. I also noticed that I’m not the only reviewer that has noted this so please Netgear release a firmware update with some power saving options, you know it makes sense!
2. The parental control, this might be a personal annoyance but I hate having to sign up to a third party service when this function can be handled internally by the Centria. Do not get me wrong the parental controls do their job and they do it well, only slight issue is with the delay between applying the settings and them propagating through the openDNS servers.

If I was considering an all-in-one router with or without the NAS capabilities I would definitely consider the Centria, it has everything that you could ever want from a either a router or a NAS and then some! The package not only performs great but is neatly wrapped up in a nice sleek black case with some pretty and understated LEDs which tops off a damn fine (albeit noisy) all-in-one media package.

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