Netgear goes back to its roots

Often at trade shows, upcoming or unique products are sometimes displayed inconspicuously or demonstrated to press behind closed doors.  At this years Cebit Australia, Netgear’s stand prominently focused on their Pro-safe networking products aimed at business and enterprise and their ReadyNAS Network Attached Storage devices.  Consumer oriented broadband networking devices were only a minor feature, however NitroWare.net learnt of a new Wireless-N offering from Netgear that should be of interest to the enthusiast, hobbyist, IT professional and open source/developer Communities.

New for 2009 is the WNR3500L Wireless-N Gigabit router, like its sibling the 3500 it is packaged in what we like to call Netgear’s  ‘monolith’ upright casing in black.  Other than the casing and the core features such as gigabit Ethernet ports, 2.4GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi  and standard firmware features, this is where the similarity ends.  Whereas the WNR3500 uses a chipset from Marvel semiconductor and has 8 internal antennas, the 3500L uses a chipset from Broadcom and has 3 internal ‘metamaterial’ antennas, a unique way to design antennas that allows for the wireless signals to be ‘bent’ allowing for more efficient designs of the wireless devices and variable antenna gain and therefore a stronger wireless signal.  A USB 2.0 port has also been added for use with storage devices or connectivity.

The reason for the change is the significant piece of information here.  By using the Broadcom sourced chipset the router is made compatible with the vast number of open source third party firmware [the router’s operating system] and the internet communities that have sprung up to modify and support such other popular open source internet access devices such as the Linksys WRT54G, Netgear DG834 series and the ASUS WL-520g.  These particular models while built using open source code which their vendors are obliged to offer only officially supported firmware builds and any third party implementations are not supported or covered by warranty.

 

Netgear WNR3500L Wireless-N Gigabit RouterNetgear’s approach changes the game and mirrors their product offerings of a few years back when they were known for creating unique and innovative networking products. Last year Netgear introduced an open source compatible version of their popular WGR614 Wireless-G router the WGR614L and created a community portal to encourage discussion and development of open source firmware alternatives for this model.  While the idea of creating hardware that is tailored specifically to be compatible with open source firmware such as OpenWRT, DD-WRT or Tomato was not new -  Linksys did this with their WRT54GL, the concept of a portal site and some vendor support of community projects was new.  The WRT3500L [L for linux] expands on this idea by offering at least from what we have seen the first high performance Linux/Broadcom  based  router with gigabit network ports on the market.

For those technically minded, WRT3500L Technical Specifications

  • Broadcom BCM 4718 System on a chip running at 533MHz, MIPS Architecture CPU
  • 8MB FLASH, 32MB RAM
  • 1 Gigabit WAN port, 4 Gigabit LAN ports, with Power saving feature for LAN ports,
  • 1 USB 2.0 port
  • 802.11n Draft 2.0 Wireless at 2.4GHz
  • Power switch,  Energy Star certified Power Supply
  • 2 years warranty
  • Price and Availability are to be advised

 

Our Initial Impression of the final WNR3500L specification:  For a premium device that is intended to be ‘tinkered’ with by hobbyists, developers or network gurus, Netgear could have gone step further by adding support for 5GHz Wi-Fi and/or connectors for external antenna.

For the average user, selecting an open source router will not bring any additional benefits other than being able to access future upgrades to the device thanks to the efforts of the open source community.  While enhanced functionality and bug-fixes can be a good thing, third party releases from online communities can be more trouble than they are worth at times especially to novice or non technical people, who are best served by installing the latest official firmware/software release from their device’s manufacturer.  The chance and occurrence of instability, bugs, security holes or broken features due to the rapid development and release cycles commonly associated with open source online communities can be a risk for a user who just wants their device to work without needing to fiddle with it.

Many users may already own a piece of networking hardware or computing device that already runs a Linux operating system or open source software without even knowing or realising.  That is the purpose and goal of embedded such an operating system and software in a computing or communication device, that it it should work seamless and effortlessly and that what is inside the ‘black box’ allows the vendor to quickly and easily develop a feature rich and easy to use device at a lower development, production and sale cost.  Hobbyists and enthusiasts will always have a different view and want to tinker, modify or reverse engineer a device and especially with networking devices, networking professionals will always find an aspect of a cheaper consumer oriented device to criticise.  A device ready from the manufacturer that supports popular distributions such as DD-WRT and Tomato without modification easily caters for these segments of users

 

Also for 2009, is a ADSL2+ Gateway router with Dual Band Wireless N, model DGND3300. Most of the ADSL2+ Wireless-N Gateway on the market only support the 2.4GHz Wireless band and not the 5GHz wireless band due to lack space in the unit, cost and marketing.  Vendors figure if a user needs 5GHz Wireless Network they will add an appropriate unit to their network which is a fair assumption but there are users who look for or require an all in one solution to their networking needs

Unfortunately like other ADSL2+ Wireless-N Gateways the DGND3300 only supports 100Mbit Ethernet local area networking it however does have 8 internal antenna.

Netgear DGND3300 ADSL2+ Gateway with Dual band Wireless-N

To combat the simultaneous dual band Wireless-N router halo products from Linksys and D-Link (WRT-610N and DIR-825 respectively), Netgear have their own offering for 2009 the WNDR3700 enclosed in a new style of cabinet for Netgear, albeit more elegant than that of their competitors.

Core features of this unit are its upright design and casing, simultaneous 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wireless-N networking, automatic quality of service and traffic prioritisation, Gigabit LAN and USB 2.0 connectivity and 8 internal ‘metamaterial’ antennas.  The automatic QoS feature leads us to predict Netgear is using the UBICOM chipset as in the Linksys and D-Link products.

Netgear WNDR3700 Dual Band Wireless-N Router

Further information on the DGND3300 and WNDR3700 is available at netgear.com while more details for the WRT3500L are pending.

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