Top positive review
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An Experienced, but Unfussy, User's Initial Opinion
on October 25, 2008
I picked up this router for two reasons: (1) I wanted to upgrade from my Wireless-G to Wireless-N (draft), to make file transfers faster between my computers; (2) I wanted to give whichever router I liked less to my parents, so I could have wifi there when I visit them. My existing router was a Linksys WRT54GS, which had good wireless-G speeds (I couldn't complain) and excellent uptime, stability, and reliability. It's main drawback is that the firmware doesn't have some features I want, such as the ability to set stable IP addresses to my PCs, and it can't be flashed to Tomato or DD-WRT. When I received the router, I decided to replace it, without using the Windows-based setup wizard (networking equipment shouldn't requires Windows), and set it up in the manner of an advanced router user.
First Impressions/Hardware Impressions
This router looks very nice. The lines are clean (there is no external antenna). The plastic is shiny. The lights on the front are stylish. The only thing I didn't like was that the manual said that the unit MUST be used in the vertical position, due to concerns about operating temperature (and probably the internal antenna, too). This is fine and all, but I liked the ability of the Linksys and other routers I've owned to be wall-mounted or positioned horizontally. The router is set up thoughtfully, and I like the on/off switch; I've never seen one on a router before, and I don't intend to use it, but it's nice to be able to turn off a piece of electronic equipment for a change! The packaging was spartan, sensible, and minimal, which I liked.
The router comes with a CD with a Windows-based setup wizard. As a Mac and Linux user, this made me a bit nervous. Netgear seems to understand this, and helpfully point you toward the help files on the CD-ROM, which in turn point you toward "manual" setup instructions. The instructions were clear, concise, and had clear illustrations. They are minimal, however. They don't outline the capabilities of the router's firmware, which I was very curious about.
As far as my Internet research told me, open-source, third-party firmware such as DD-WRT is not compatible with this router. I would love to run alternate firmware on my old Linksys router, but the version I have (version 5 of WRT54GS) doesn't support it. Fortunately for me, this router's firmware has a lot more functionality. Using the manual setup instructions, I found I could connect to the router using the address [...] instead of its IP address, which I thought was a nice touch. (Routers like this one have a web interface, which lets you adjust all available settings from one of your PCs.) The firmware presents you with a three-pane interface. The right-hand pane is context-sensitive help for each function. The contextual help is pretty useful, actually, for intermediate-to-advanced users. Most home users wouldn't look at it, I don't think. Anyway, the first time you connect to the router, it automatically checks for firmware update--a good feature. The best feature of this router, to an advanced user with a home network set up, is IP address reversation: You can force the router to give the same IP address to each of your computers, every time they connect. This is great for home servers, and is so easy to set up on this router, as compared to setting up static IPs on each computer. The router also has Quality of Service (QoS) features, which allow you to shape how much bandwidth is used for internet, voice, instant messaging, video games, and so on. Personally, I don't use this, but I would have loved it back when I was a VoIP customer. There are, of course, many features that I consider standard, such as DHCP and port forwarding. All in all, I was impressed with the stock firmware and don't feel a need to replace it.
Large (1 GB+) file transfers between my wired Linux server and my wireless-N MacBook are faster than with my old wireless-G router. I'm happy. I can't compare it to other wireless-N routers, though. As for Internet speed, it certainly seems snappy, though it could just be my imagination. I am not sure if it is any faster than my wireless-G router was; if anything, my cable modem is slower than this router can handle, so I didn't expect much change.
What I Didn't Test
I'm an advanced user, and don't mind setting up the wireless network and security myself, through the firmware. Therefore, I didn't test the WiFi Protected Setup feature. I didn't test the wireless range because I have a rather small apartment and it isn't an issue I'm concerned with. I didn't get Quality of Service because I tend to use the Internet for only one thing at a time. I've only had it for a short time, so I cannot comment on stability or robustness.
If you buy this router, remember to set a new password for it, set up Wifi security, and change the SSID (the network name) so you can easily identify it!
I really like this router's firmware features, and think that I will hold onto it, and pass my Wireless-G router on to my parents. I'm a little concerned about the stability issues that other reviewers mentioned, so I'm going to dock the router one star for now, and revise my review (if I'm allowed to) in several months or so.