|Image credit: Netgear|
PROS: Solid signal, speed, security features, storage flexibility
CONS: Unable to disable 2.4GHz band, funky blue light show, limited SSID configuration
One of the things I've always longed for, along with wireless access, is a central storage area that I can save files to and access with any notebook/netbook I happen to be using. For one thing, it protects me from hard drive failure by keeping my important stuff separate, but it also makes working with multiple computers far easier. With the ability to share my internet connection, it made sense to share my files with multiple devices as well. The DGND3300 let's me do just that, along with access to my files on the go through any web browser. That's great when I may only have my smartphone with me and need to access/get a certain file. It also allows me to stream media files, letting me use my TP2 as a fantastic mp3 player, for example, and use my bigger notebook at home as a multiple-room movie jukebox.
Indeed, the capabilities that this one USB port provides on the router opens up a wide choice of uses, be it backup, file saves, sharing, streaming and/or syncing. Even better, the ability to connect a USB hub let's you use multiple storage devices (hard drive, USB thumbdrive, SD card reader) all at the same time. If your vision is to put together 7 humongous hard drives for a 10+TB remote storage subsystem, the DGND3300 let's you do just that.
When compared to subscription cloud storage, which can cost as much as $250 or more annually, this solution is not only economical, but much more secure, less restrictive and considerably faster. You're not sending out your important files to a third party to maintain and you don't have to put up with server or client failures that can happen, stopping you from accessing or syncing your files. Another big factor is the amount of storage space, with cloud services limiting you to a set capacity - why pay $100 per year for a measly 60GB when you can buy 640GB of storage for around $80? Over just a three year period, you've spent $300 on cloud services versus $80, and most hard drives go beyond 3 years in life. Finally, there's the issue of bandwidth - with the DGND3300 I can stream a movie, run a backup or save a large file with my notebook over wifi while keeping the full DSL bandwidth free for internet use. A cloud service, by nature, would eat into your DSL bandwidth, and can tie up your internet connection (and computer) for long periods, making surfing very slow, perhaps even impossible. Indeed, cost and bandwidth make cloud storage more limited and prohibitive than people tend to believe.
Back to the DGND3300, having dual bands serves two purposes. First, the 5.0GHz band provides performance much better than 2.4GHz radios, as it has more channels, longer range and stronger signal. If you are in an area where 2.4GHz networks are predominant (multiple SSID's broadcasting, bluetooth or wireless land-line phones), going to 5GHz will allow you to bypass these devices and establish a network where there otherwise may be no channel space left. Second, the fact that you have dual bands allows you to share your internet connection on two separate networks, letting you, for example, use your computers on the faster 5GHz frequency while keeping smartphones and older wifi devices still connected at 2.4GHz.
When running on 5GHz, speeds peak at 300Mbps, while 2.4GHz runs concurrently at the slower 54Mbps. That's great if you have a mixed collection of wireless devices, as most users will. It also supports wired Ethernet connections for 4 non-wifi devices, but those are limited to 10/100Mbps speeds. Too bad there's no 10/100/1000 option - I'd like to see that in the next model.
With the WNDA3100 wireless USB adapter, you have the ability to bump up your 2.4GHz wifi to 5GHz. The device is not much bigger than a USB thumbdrive, but does come with an extension cable for remote mounting if used with a desktop. A small LED on the device blinks green when using 2.4GHz and blue when on 5GHz. In testing with a popular netbook I found the solution very impressive, with full speed and signal strength. Not once did I ever drop a signal, and it would automatically connect on boot-up at full 300Mbps speed every time without fail. The fact that I was totally separate from the other 2.4GHz networks in range eliminated any chance of interference and created a further level of wireless security. This would be my solution of choice without hesitation for a desktop needing a wifi connection, but also for a notebook/netbook that didn't come with a dual-band radio on-board and I was looking for extended range, enhanced security or faster signal.
Being dual band means the DGND3300 broadcasts on both frequencies. This means that comparable devices will pick up two SSID's, one for 2.4GHz and one for 5GHz. You cannot turn off the 2.4GHz signal if you want to be 5GHz exclusive, which means it will constantly broadcast a second SSID and MAC address. That opens up a security vulnerability I would rather not have, especially if I'm in an area where rogue users worry me. My suggestion to the Netgear folks - how about letting me choose which band I want, and turn the other one off?
With that characteristic comes the issue of network assignment. The DGND3300 allows for a total of four SSID's, but it lets you have only two SSID's for each band. Even then, one is assigned by default as a guest network on each frequency, leaving you with now only one SSID for each band. I'm pretty certain I have no need for two guest networks. While this may have been done due to technical limitations, I would have preferred to assign the four SSID's as I like, on whichever band I happen to need.
Finally, while it is cool to look at, the top of the router (or right if mounted sideways) houses an array of bright blue LED lights that blink at random to signify packet movement. Some may appreciate the funky blue light show, but at night they literally illuminate an entire room wall - that can make sleep a challenge if you, by virtue, happen to have your bed in the same room as the router. Thankfully the lights can be turned off by holding down the large button for a few seconds.
Another small problem I found with the WNDA3100 was that it would cause audio interference when I plugged in headphones. The issue diminished somewhat when I relocated it to a USB port on the opposite side of the netbook, but it was still noticeable with my high-end headphones. Listening with the netbook speakers was fine though. This was not a problem with the netbook hardware itself, as far as I know, since the interference went away completely when the WNDA3100 was yanked from the USB port. Unfortunately, I did not have time to test with another notebook, but if listening with headphones is important, I definitely recommend you try before you buy.
The Netgear DGND3300 is a solid and impressive all-in-one device that gives you wireless internet sharing and limitless storage access - it effectively breathes new life into your boring DSL connection with a host of features, security and improved performance. With the exception of not being able to disable the 2.4GHz band and fixed SSID assignment, I am really liking the device and would recommend it for those on DSL who also need an easy way to set up a NAS. That said, if you currently pay for cloud storage, getting a wireless router with a USB port can free you of those monthly/annual fees, and with the price of external hard drives so cheap, you have the ability to now host your own web-accessible storage server for free.
As for the WNDA3100, this is a device that is seriously useful for a desktop system and would suit a netbook/notebook as well when network range/performance is paramount. It avoids you having to use your stock 2.4GHz radio, but be warned that it may cause audio interference with headphones on some systems. Other than that though, performance was flawless.
The Netgear DGND3300 and WNDA3100 complement each other perfectly and makes for a rock-solid combination. If your plan is to move all your PC's in the house to fast 5GHz and keep existing handhelds like your smartphones working on 2.4GHz, as I do, this setup will fit the bill perfectly, and lets you easily create a central storage hub that can be accessed locally at home and remotely while on the go. If you want better flexibility in SSID assignment, or have no need for a built-in DSL modem, look elsewhere.