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Netgear Centria WNDR4720 review

Netgear Centria WNDR4720 review

Company

Netgear

Price

£275

The Centria WNDR4720 is Netgear’s offering in the crop of network devices that serve as both routers and Network Attached Storage (NAS). The WNDR4720 is a dual-band router and a NAS with 2TB of storage (Netgear also offers the WNDR4700, which doesn’t come with any storage and you have to supply your own drive).

While the Centria is not a powerful performer as a router – and it’s even weaker in performance terms as a NAS – the combined functionality makes it an attractive device for creating a robust home network. With this single device you have the means to deploy a wireless network, shared storage, multimedia streaming, and even backup.

The Centria is a competitor to Apple’s Time Capsule, which is a NAS/router combo. The Centria is priced at around £275, pretty much at the same level as the 2TB version of Time Capsule (which is £250). Another competitor in this space is Synology’s DS213air which also combines routing functionality with a NAS (although it’s slightly pricier at around the £350 mark for the 2TB version).

If you need a more powerful router than the DS213air offers, the Centria is the better option of the two. If you are mostly focused on NAS capabilities, then look to the DS213air.

There’s one other caveat to note with the Centria: There are some issues with the new Desktop Genie app you can install to manage the device, and these bugbears are pretty frustrating right now.

Specs

The Centria’s design follows in the footsteps of the boxy shape introduced with Netgear’s R6300 router. This large device operates upright on a built-in stand. Design is one of the big drawbacks of the R6300, in my view. The bulky case makes placement options within an entertainment centre, for example, limited.

The model I tested, the WNDR4720, is an N900 dual-band router with 2TB of integrated storage on a 3.5in SATA HDD. There are two USB 3.0 ports and an SD card slot. The Centria also has four Gigabit LAN ports and a Gigabit WAN port.

On the side of the case are three buttons: WPS, Wi-Fi on/off, and a one-touch backup button. LEDs on the front correspond to each button, and these are lit when the buttons are activated. On the opposite side of the case is a door that opens to where the HDD sits. It’s a bit of an effort to get your fingers around the HDD to pull it out. The drive’s backplane sits so far deep into the Centria that it’s somewhat difficult to ensure that the drive is seated properly. You’ll know if it isn’t if you don’t see the HDD’s LED light up green when the Centria is powered on.

There are also five more LEDs on the bottom front panel, representing the status of power, WAN connection, Wi-Fi, HDD status, and USB device connection.

Centria setup

The WNDR4720 ships with wireless networking pre-configured. In fact, the SSID and password are printed on a sticker affixed to the unit. As soon as I powered the Centria up, I saw two Netgear SSIDs – one for the 2.4GHz radio and one for 5GHz, in Windows’ listing of wireless networks.

You still want to go through the setup process to establish your WAN connection and make sure all the settings are the way you want them. To do this, open a browser from a computer connected to the Centria, to the address routerlogin.net. This kicks off the Netgear Genie setup wizard.

The setup process has been updated in Netgear’s newer device line, as I first noticed when reviewing the R6300. I was impressed that the setup wizard elegantly avoided any possible IP address conflicts with my ISP assigned address by changing the router’s IP addressing appropriately.

The setup wizard then checked my Internet connection. I received confirmation that I was connected to the Internet and the interface displayed the router’s settings including the wireless settings, and the HDD state. The wizard then scanned for any connected USB devices.

Setup gives you the option of installing Netgear’s newer management apps: the Desktop Genie, for monitoring and repairing your home network, and ReadyShare Vault – a backup app. While I’ll dig deeper into each app in separate reviews, I did install the Desktop Genie, since it’s relevant to managing the router functionality in the Centria. After installing the desktop version of Genie, I encountered a few issues.

Genie conflicts

When you install the Desktop Genie, you can use its desktop shortcut to get to the router’s settings and monitoring tools. Typically, you would just open a browser to the IP address of the router, and use the device’s management software for configuration, which is also called the Netgear Genie. The fact that both are named Genie is confusing.

While the Desktop Genie has more features than the default Genie interface you get by typing in the IP address of the router in a browser, I found it was problematic to use. When I first opened Desktop Genie, I was greeted with a Login Failed error message, despite the fact that I could go into the browser-based interface using the same admin login and password. There was a little help icon to give me more information about the error, which told me that “your Netgear router does not yet support all Desktop Genie features,” and that this was something Netgear was working on.

There were areas within Desktop Genie I could access at times, and I would then get a login failure message in later tries. For instance, I was able to click a monitoring icon and see a nice real-time graph of my router traffic, but then when I clicked to go into wireless settings, I would get the failure notice.

Desktop Genie became so disruptive of my review of the Centria that I closed it and did the rest of the review just using the web interface of the router – the regular Genie, as I refer to it.

As mentioned, I’ll dive deeper into the Desktop Genie in a separate review. The app has a lot of promising capability but functions like beta software when used with the Centria. This is despite the fact that the Desktop Genie web page lists the Centria as a supported router.

ReadyShare and router features

Back in the stable world of the web-based interface, I found the typical Netgear controls. In Wireless settings, I could change the SSID, the wireless mode, set security options and more. “Attached devices” shows what is currently connected to the Centria via wireless and wired connections.

As with most Netgear home networking devices, parental controls are powered by OpenDNS. As I’ve discovered in past testing, the controls work well, although since you are setting the controls via the OpenDNS cloud service, there’s a bit of delay in applying settings.

Netgear typically offers a wide array of features in its routers, and that’s the case here. Besides functioning as a router, the device can act as a repeater. Guest networks are also supported. Advanced QoS lets you set a maximum uplink bandwidth limit and there are predefined QoS rules. By clicking a radio button, you can give priority on your network to Skype, online gaming, or other types of applications and services. You can also set custom QoS rules.

The Centria also features some of the best IPv6 support in home networking. The device can auto detect IPv6 traffic, allows passthrough IPv6, and lets you get more specific with IPv6, enabling, for example, 6to4 tunnelling.

The ReadyShare section of the interface is for managing the Centria as a NAS. You can set Centria to use ReadyShare Basic settings – just using it as a local NAS – or use Readyshare Cloud, which allows access to data on the drive from anywhere. There’s also the option of ReadyShare Printer for printer sharing, and ReadyShare Vault for using the NAS for backup.

There’s a preconfigured shared folder once a hard disk is detected. This folder can be accessed through Mac sharing, HTTP, or FTP. You can set permissions to share and view free and used space.

Since the Centria is an HDD-based NAS, Netgear’s SMART technology – the same that’s used in its line of ReadyNAS devices – monitors the health of the hard drive and will warn in case of imminent drive failure.

I’ve always found Netgear’s routers to be more feature rich than its NASes, and that’s the case here as well. However, even the basic NAS functionality should suffice for lighter-needs home NAS users.

Performance

As is often the case when I test multi-function networking devices, the performance of each function is typically less than the performance of a device dedicated to that specific task. I have yet to see a router/NAS combo with better performance than that offered by standalone routers or NAS devices. The Centria’s router performance is sub-par when compared to Netgear’s latest dual-band routers. The NAS performance is more in line with the performance we see when testing consumer-only NAS devices, however.

Yet it’s not really fair to pit a combination device directly against a device dedicated to one function. So I am comparing the results to the most recent router/NAS combination device I’ve used, Synology’s DS213air.

As a router, the Centria averaged 37Mbps in 2.4GHz mode, when testing about 15 feet away from the device. This is not stupendous throughput when compared to Netgear’s own N900 Wireless Dual Band Gigabit Router WNDR4500, which managed 83Mbps using the same testing script at the same distance. However, this is a little better throughput than what Synology’s DS213air could manage at the same distance; 29Mbps.

At 5GHz, the Centria managed 76 Mbps at 15 feet. Again, that’s considerably slower than the WNDR4500 which cranked out 172Mbps at the same distance. Synology’s DS213air only supports the 2.4GHz band, so the dual-band capability of the Centria gives it an advantage in router functionality over the DS213air.

Testing the NAS performance showed the Centria to be a match for other older, consumer NASes we’ve tested, but performance lags behind NASes on the market targeted to both consumers and SOHO users. It recorded a read speed of 17MBps and was slower on writes at 12.5MBps. In comparison, the DS213air performed more like a true small-business class NAS – even though it’s targeted at consumers – with reads at 53MBps and writes of 45MBps.

It’s important to note that the DS213air uses two hard disks, and the fact that you can configure the disks in RAID 0 means it’s capable of data rates that blow away the Centria’s NAS performance.

So, if you are looking for a combination router/NAS and need more from the NAS side, you’d want to go with the DS213air over the Centria. Of course, as a router you want the dual-band capability and faster speeds delivered by the Centria.

Verdict

As I’ve already mentioned, I generally find combination networking devices to be less ideal than having a good, dedicated router on the network and a separate NAS. However, consumers seem to love the combo idea, and many vendors are taking cues from the popularity of Apple’s Time Capsule and producing their own NAS/router products.

The Netgear Centria is okay in terms of its performance as a NAS and a router, but the fact that you get both in a £275 device means it’s not a bad deal. You are certainly not going to find more granular router settings with any other device of this type on the market, not even in the Time Capsule.

The Centria is so big you’d think Netgear would offer another drive bay in it for a second HDD to provide data mirroring or a NAS performance boost. It’s only got one drive, however, and NAS performance is significantly slower than that seen with the DS213air. On the other hand, you do also get the two USB 3.0 ports on the Centria and Netgear’s ReadyVault backup, so there are at least ways to achieve data redundancy.

The DS213air is the superior NAS product while the Centria leads in router functionality. If you can afford the NAS performance sacrifice, the Centria is not a bad bet. The DS213air still has the edge in my book, though, because it has very good NAS performance and at least a reasonable built-in router.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Model

Netgear Centria WNDR4720

Networking Options

802.11n (2.4GHz and 5GHz dual-band)

Device Type

Router/NAS

NAT

Yes

Quality of Service

Yes

Security

WEP, WPA, WPA2, WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup)

Stateful Packet Inspection

Yes

Pros

  • Router and NAS in one device
  • Dual-band router
  • 2TB of storage

Cons

  • Underwhelming NAS performance
  • Buggy management app
  • Inconvenient design

Company

Netgear

Price

£275

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