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By: William Van Winkle
Does it seem weird to anyone else that this is the first holiday season in which we have official 802.11n gear? If you already have a Draft 2.0 router, odds are that there’s little to no performance benefit tied to getting a new, bona fide 11n replacement (in fact, you'll probably find a firmware soon, if not already, to bring it up to speed). Moreover, don’t expect a new model to deliver miracles of performance improvement. We’ll soon have a networking roundup on Tom’s Hardware showing that the latest crop of 11n routers still average in the 50 to 80 Mb/s (TCP) sustained throughput range.
However, the latest flagship router from Netgear showcases many of the feature advances that show there’s a lot more to routers than megabits per second. For starters, the WNDR3700 features a 680 MHz processor for rapid handling of many concurrent transfers and sessions, as well as delivering high WAN to LAN speeds, making this a good fit for fiber and DOCSIS 3.0 cable subscribers. Worldwide, WAN speeds are crossing the 100 Mb/s (fiber) threshold, and in South Korea, even 500 Mb/s has been spotted coming into peoples' homes (now you know what to ask for next year). The real purpose of that 680 MHz chip is to deliver WAN to LAN speeds in the 400 to 500 Mb/s range and be ready for whatever the future brings.
More importantly, the WNDR3700 is one of the new breed of simultaneous dual-band (SDB) routers with discrete 2.4 and 5.0 GHz radios. You can’t bond streams from these two radio bands into a single super-stream, but you can roughly double your total bandwidth by, for example, running a high-def video stream or two on the 5.0 GHz radio while concurrently running VoIP, games, and file transfers on 2.4 GHz. This is further aided by the many quality of service (QoS) features Netgear integrates, particularly for video on the 5.0 GHz band.
If you’re the file sharing type—including sharing with yourself if you work from multiple locations—this is one of the friendliest routers I’ve ever seen. The ReadyDLNA (successor to UPnP-AV) server support is worth a nod if you’re the media streaming type, but I’m far more interested in using the router’s single USB 2.0 port to plant a fat external hard drive on my LAN and use the router’s self-supplied IP address to access the drive’s files and folders from anywhere across the Internet, including cell phones. Naturally, the external drive can also map as a local drive to any other system on the LAN in good NAS fashion.
The WNDR3700 supports up to four SSIDs—one for your private network and three for everybody else you don’t want snooping around your data. All four LAN ports are gigabit, you can throttle radio output power to minimize broadcast range, set limits on Internet usage in a given period (in case you get billed by data downloaded), and much more. This is an incredibly well-stocked router sure to satisfy in 2010 and well beyond.