In my case, my 8-year-old Speedstream 5100 finally bit the dust two weeks ago. Obviously, it was time for an equipment upgrade, and I had no intention of buying a bare modem. I had reviewed the Netgear DGND3300 modem router back in 2010 and found it to be a very versatile device, minus it's several shortcomings. Does Netgear's latest offering bring anything new to the table? Let's take a look!
PROS: Dual band, NAS capability, front USB port, flexible SSID configuration, DLNA support, muted LED lights
CONS: USB and DSL connectivity can drop out, may overheat with poor ventilation, manual firmware update required, can be expensive
Netgear's DGND3700 builds upon the strengths already apparent with their (now discontinued) DGND3300. Rather than repeat much of the same with regards to what I mentioned in that review, I'll just point you to a link and you can read up on it there.
Netgear's design has changed pleasantly. Gone is the funky blue light show from the side, and the front status LED's are more subtle and less intrusive - to the point that these won't be annoying to have flashing, but actually make you look in close to see what the device is doing. It's definitely a step in the right direction.
Netgear keeps the dual band 2.4GHz and 5GHz radios, but rather than have both on all the time, you now get the option of turning either one on, or off. That's great if you plan to upgrade to 5GHz hardware in the future and need compatibility with your existing farm of 2.4GHz gadgets. It also means you can turn off the radio you don't need or aren't using, allowing the DGND3700 to stay a few degrees cooler under load.
Another great addition is the ability to use four completely independent SSID's for each band, for a total of 8 SSID's. That brings a ton of flexibility and functionality when it comes to assigning your wireless networks, since it allows you to have your computers, handhelds, guest devices, etc. all operating and policed differently.
Of course, the DGND3700 comes with a built-in modem, allowing you to ditch that two-device setup for a single connectivity solution. I admit I like the convenience, and the streamlined appearance definitely reduces desk clutter. It's also a lot more appealing compared to the pricing ISP's will command for their in-house hardware. If your DSL modem is on the brink of death, a solution like this makes for a great upgrade.
But you don't have to use the modem that's built-in. For cable and fiber-optic customers, Netgear also included a WAN jack on the back, allowing you to connect 3rd party modems. Again, that's a bonus for DSL jockeys looking to upgrade their ISP later on.
In addition to the USB port on the back for connecting a hard drive, Netgear also provides a USB port on the front. This is great for plugging in things like thumb drives if you quickly want to share files or copy something to take with you. Speeds are limited to USB 2.0, but I can live with that, since USB 2.0 is more than capable of streaming VOB files and won't even stress a wireless connection.
Unlike the DGND3300, Netgear has opted to use gigabit Ethernet on the DGND3700, something that will particularly come in handy when combined with the faster 5GHz band. While I don't have a WNDA3100 on hand for testing, the dual-band wireless USB dongle would make for a rock-solid combination with the DGND3700. Alternatively, if you have one of the newer 3x3 wifi cards in your notebook (Intel 6300 or Killer Wireless 1103), you too should be able to take advantage of the faster 300Mbps 5GHz bandwidth.
Another welcome addition to the DGND3700 is DLNA support for network media players. So devices like a Xbox360 and PlayStation will be able to play back media files stored on a hard drive attached to the DGND3700. It's a great alternative to investing in a dedicated HTPC, as all you need to purchase is a relatively cheap external hard drive, and create your own media server accessible from any device on your network.
Speaking of access, the advanced USB settings in the web interface allow you to configure in detail how you want that plugged-in hard drive to work, letting you set up network folders, HTTP and FTP access and define read/write password protection at the drive/folder level. With a powered USB hub connected to the DGND3700, you can in fact have simultaneous access to multiple 3TB-4TB hard drives, expanding your network storage to mammoth proportions. Forget cloud storage - this solution does WAY more and costs a lot less!
I'll be honest that over the short time I've been using the DGND3700 it has performed flawlessly, with the exception of two minor problems. The first of those was a drop in internet connectivity for no apparent reason, requiring me to disconnect the phone line from the back and reconnect for the problem to go away. This has only happened once, but the fact that it did at such an early stage is rather annoying. Given that the modem is integrated with the wireless hardware and router, any failure could render the entire device an expensive door stop. I hope that doesn't happen!
In a similar fashion, I have had the attached USB hard drive drop out, requiring me to power the drive off and back on to get it to appear again on the network. I'm fairly certain it's nothing to do with the drive or the Sata-USB interface, as it's working solid otherwise. As with the modem, this has only happened once, but it would kill any remote file access.
Netgear advises to keep the unit in a well-ventilated space, and I can definitely concur with that. With moderate usage on just the 2.4GHz radio in a rather balmy 28C ambient environment, the DGND3700 does get warm. Nothing dangerous or uncomfortable, but putting your hand on it you do notice the heat. Using both radios, I would definitely put it some place open and near air flow, especially if you happen to live in a warmer climate.
Finally, the DGND3700 has the ability to check for and download firmware updates through the web interface, except that I was unable to get it to work, receiving a -1 error. Yet the latest firmware update is rather important as it provides compatibility for 2TB+ drives, for example. My solution was to grab the file from Netgear's website and do a manual firmware update. No big deal, all went smooth, but a small hassle nonetheless.
I really like the Netgear DGND3700 modem router. It provides a ton of features and functionality, some of which you may never even end up needing or using. The fact that it offers so much and let's you do so many things with it makes it all but future proof.
Incidentally, for the hard-to-please, Netgear will be bringing an even newer device to market soon. The DGND4000 promises even faster wireless performance, with the ability to integrate a USB printer for network printing and a revamped Genie web interface. Given all that the DGND3700 already brings to the table, I'm not in too big of a hurry to look at the newer model, especially since I can now buy inkjet printers with wifi and RJ-45 connectivity built-in.
At $170, however, the DGND3700 certainly commands a premium over what a separate DSL modem and wireless router would cost. I don't remember how much the DGND3300 was priced at, but I know it was definitely not that much. Do bear in mind, however, you are saving a ton of money on what you would shell out for cloud storage, and with the purchase of a cheap external hard drive, get a full NAS solution as well, alongside DLNA media server capability. The ability to plug in thumb drives on the front for file sharing/copying is a great convenience, and if you already own a notebook with 3x3 wireless or a Xbox360, having the DGND3700 as your network center will definitely pay dividends. Of course, if you have no need at all for a built-in DSL modem, you'll most likely be looking elsewhere.