Netgear have been making quality network hardware solutions for domestic use for a very long time now. So when they offer up a product such as the WNDR4300 (admittedly not a very catchy name!) as a ‘Premium Edition’ you’d be hoping they’ve packed it full of premium features and premium performance.
The Netgear N750 Wireless Dual Band Gigabit Router WNDR4300 Premium Edition, to give it its full name, is the top of the Netgear home router range excluding the ‘ultimate performance’ routers that feature the Gigabit wireless connections. When you compare the features on these ultimate performance routers, it’s mostly that they feature the 802.11ac wireless (up to 1300+mbps) compared to the 802.11n featured on the WNDR430 wireless – which is theoretically up to 750mbps hence the N750 moniker – but in reality around 300+450mbps. Seeing that many wireless devices aren’t able to take full advantage of the Gigabit wireless bandwidth yet, the WNDR4300 should give you all the performance most people would need.
The WNDR4300 is certainly a good looking piece of kit as far as routers go. It has a nice solid feel to it, good quality connectors for Ethernet & USB that have a reassuring definite ‘click’ when inserted, and a clear layout on the front panel LEDs to show activity and give quick status information. The unit can also either by stood on its side using the supplied foot stand, or you can lay it flat. So you can either have it proudly on display or hidden away, the choice is yours.
As expected with a premium product the WNDR4300 comes packed with features. Here’s the box specs to highlight the key selling points from Netgear’s perspective (figure 1). As you can see there’s a wealth of features around sharing media across your home network. This means that you are able to share all your content throughout your own ‘Connected World’ environment. Most of us now have multiple devices that would benefit from this such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, and even smart televisions.
It is a router and not a modem, so you will need to have a separate modem to handle your main internet connection. You then connect your modem to the WAN Ethernet port on the WNDR4300 and it shares that internet connectivity to create your home network with internet access. If you don’t have a modem already, then there is an equivalent model of the WNDR4300 that also has modem features built in.
DNLA support means that any compatible devices that also carry DNLA can share media between them. This is supported by ReadySHARE USB access via the USB port on the router; simply plug in a DNLA supported external hard disk drive or USB stick and you can share your media & files with all other DNLA supporting devices. Great for ripping your films onto a disk and plugging it into your home cinema setup; no messing around with discs, you simply create a library and access them on demand. The router also fully supports Netgear ReadySHARE Cloud service allowing you to access those files from across the internet. So if you’re someone who finds that they are travelling away a lot for work, and have a decent internet connection, you can watch your own film library or listen to your music library – no matter what hotel room you find yourself in. The USB port also allows you to attach a USB printer and share it wireless around your network via the ReadyShare Printer feature. This is a good way to convert an existing printer into a network printer, or even gives you the option of buying a printer without all the extra wireless networking built into it. It’s a simple but elegant solution that should be of great benefit to a home environment so that you can have a single shared printing resource. The WNDR4300 also supports Time Machine feature where an Apple device can backup wirelessly on the network, and also supports TiVo set-top boxes to extend disk space onto an external drive.
Moving onto some of the other features we have Easy Install; a feature that really is as simple as plug and play. I found this to work brilliantly and it really was just a case of hooking the router into my network, attached to my Virgin Media SuperHub and everything was automatically detected, setup, and internet access was granted to everything attached via Ethernet. Simple. The wireless network will also set itself up with zero configuration, but I would obviously urge you to go in and change settings from the default passwords and broadcast names that come written on the packaging.
The wireless comes in both 2.4GHz and 5GHz varieties which can be run simultaneously via a dual band solution. Not only does this ensure there’s less chance of interference, but it also means that it supports all devices. So the faster 5GHz is there as the primary wireless connection, but for devices that don’t support this you can still connect to the slightly slower 2.4GHz connection. Believe me when I say that there are some modern devices (such as an iPhone 4S) which still don’t support it. Wi-Fi Protected Setup is available at a touch of a button on the router it will securely connect devices. This is a great feature for users who don’t want to dive into the settings to create secure passphrases, but for most people this is a feature you should disable, as when this feature is enabled it is possible for a determined hacker to break into a WPS system with brute force, and turning it off is the only effective method of prevention. Still the chances of this are extremely remote, so for most novice users this definitely a much better option than leaving the wireless connection open and unsecured. There’s also a button on the router that allows for simple turning on and off of the wireless. Very useful if you want to restrict household members from using the wireless when you want to restrict usage! Speaking of which there are also parental controls built into the admin areas of the router which means you can restrict those nastier elements of the internet (and perhaps your film collection!) from impressionable young minds on the network.
While on the subject of the admin areas, one of the key features on the Netgear range now are their Netgear genie apps. These apps can be used for full administration of your network, and come in a variety of formats such as a desktop app, an Android app, and also an iOS app. These are very well built, and give you all the critical functions that you need to change key settings on the router. I used all 3 of the apps, plus the standard web interface built into the router that can be accessed by a browser and I have to say I was very impressed with the Genie software on all platforms.
The Genie apps give you full control over your media sharing too, and I found this to be a useful tool in that you could use it to stop and start your media, or even watch it on your connected devices. I found this was a great way to watch films on my iPad streamed directly from my home theatre PC. The standard built in embedded browser software is no slouch either and is nicely laid out, and easy to find what you’re looking for.
As you can see in the shots they could probably make a bit better use of all the extra space when you view it on a high resolution 1080p screen, but overall it’s nice and clear. It helpfully automatically informed me that there was a firmware update awaiting me when I first logged in, and after a couple of button confirms it was downloading, installing, and rebooting with the new firmware. The absolute minimum of fuss to keep fully updated.
Overall the Netgear WNDR4300 package is pretty feature packed and you get a lot of good technology for your cash.
Testing Methodology and Results
The Netgear WNDR4300 was potentially a perfect addition to my own home network, as I have a house full of disparate devices that all have wireless capability, or are hard wired in via Ethernet. I currently use a Virgin Media SuperHub to being in a 100mb cable connection, so have plenty of bandwidth to share around those devices. While the SuperHub is undoubtedly a fine piece of hardware, it has been plagued with issues mainly around its routing functionality, and numerous firmware updates haven’t really improved the situation. Not to mention that the wireless on it is a little unreliable; can’t always keep a solid signal at the other end of the house when browsing on my iPad in bed. It can be a pretty frustrating experience at times. So a large vocal section of the official Virgin Media forums suggest using an external router and to switch the SuperHub into ‘modem only’ mode. So that’s exactly what I did for testing, and where the WNDR4300 is the perfect candidate for routing and network administration duties.
Setting up was a breeze. I plugged the supplied Ethernet cable from the SuperHub directly into the gigabit Ethernet port on the WNDR4300. Everything instantly fired up, and it automatically popped up a browser to let me know I now have internet access!
Five minutes later I had configured both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless networks, and had 3 smartphones, 1 tablet, 2 laptops, 3 consoles, and an iPod all sitting happily connected to the internet, and sharing media with my main PC that was hooked up via an Ethernet cable. Instant home network!
The first test was to ensure that I was getting full speed internet access on each of the devices. The great news was that every single device was able to max out my broadband connection when running the tests on speedtest.net.
A great start indeed for the Netgear router.
The next step was to make my film library available across the network. Again this couldn’t have been easier. You go into the Genie software, select a source for media, and then make sure this is shared. Using the DNLA technology this media was instantly available on all the connected devices. I also put a film onto a USB stick and inserted that into the USB slot on the router. Straight away I could see this was available for access on all the devices again. So far seamless.
The next test was to head up for a spot of tablet and smartphone browsing in the comfort of bed… the opposite end of the house from where the router is! Now this has been the bane of my SuperHub before, mainly due to the range and thickness of the walls in our house. The walls are at least two and a half feet thick, and we sometimes struggle to even get decent mobile phone reception in the middle of house away from windows. I have three devices that I browse the internet in bed with; a latest generation iPad, an iPhone 4S, and a Sony Xperia Android phone. The iPad and the Sony both pick up the 5GHz wireless signal fine, and I get to experience the full speed of the wireless network on these devices. The iPhone 4S unfortunately cannot see the 5GHz network signal at all, so this has to connect via the 2.4GHz signal. The beauty of the Netgear router is that I don’t have to compromise and I can run both flavours of wireless at once. This means I don’t have to stick with the slower form of wireless just to ensure full compatibility with all my connected devices. The results on the 5GHz signal were fantastic. Not only could I get a solid locked on signal allowing me to browse without interruptions, but I could also stream a 1080p film across the network with zero buffering or breaks. The 2.4GHz wireless was not quite so stable and ‘locked on’ as I found every so often the signal would go down to one or even zero bars, and I had to wait a short while for the connection to be restored. Just to ensure it wasn’t the iPhone 4S causing the issues I switched both the iPad and the Sony over to the 2.4GHz connection and experienced the same problem. So it does look like the 2.4GHz wireless was not quite up to the flawless performance of the 5GHz wireless.
I then tried moving some very large files across the network from one very fast SSD to another, and also a network testing tool to measure the speed of data transfer. The great news is that from one device hardwired into the LAN to another I was maxing the connection out and getting a solid 944Mbps. Again very solid performance from the device.
Gaming was also a great experience using the router. I play a lot of games that rely on a good fast connection and I never once had any issues while playing.
I also found some good improvements while watching YouTube videos over my standard SuperHub. I found that there were significant differences in buffering when switching between the Netgear and back again. This was a really big deal for me, as it confirmed that not only was the Netgear great at this, but there were significant issues with the SuperHub in router mode that the Netgear was compensating for.
Netgear have really put a lot of effort into making this a great router that can be as simple or as advanced as you want to make it. The WNDR4300 has really earned its premium badge in offering exemplary ease of use and setup, coupled with a plethora of top end features to create a truly connected home for the 21st century. Having a centralised library of media that can be accessed by any device on your home network is nothing new or ground breaking, but the complete lack of hassle to setup and manage such a network is really a refreshing thing to see , and Netgear have really nailed it with this small sturdy plastic box that sits in the corner and gently blinks at you, while doing all hard work in the background.
Having the dual format wireless is a master stroke that stops one having to make a decision on where to compromise with speed or compatibility. Everything just connects, and everything just works. Having said that I would like to see the 2.4GHz get a little boost in stability, which hopefully could be sorted via a firmware update, as the hardware certainly seems more than capable enough to achieve this.
In my own personal setup I found it improved my home network a great deal and was a big step up from the SuperHub that my ISP supply me with for free. Sharing my media has never been so easy. So listening to music in the kitchen, or my wife catching up on her television programmes on her laptop was always just as easy as clicking a few buttons to gain instant access to them.
The Netgear N750 Wireless Dual Band Gigabit Router WNDR4300 is a great bit of kit, and one that I am seriously considering adding as a permanent addition to my own home network to completely replace the routing duties of my current modem router. It makes the whole process completely plug’n’play and offers great performance to boot on top.
I give it an unreserved recommendation for anyone looking for an easy way to setup their own ‘connected world’, or just improve performance over their existing hardware.